Most of the time, having a co-leader is awesome. It’s awesome to have someone else walking through the SGL experience with you. It’s awesome to have someone you can silently laugh with when a kid says something ridiculous during group. And it’s awesome to have someone you can rely on when you can’t make it to church that Sunday.

But if we’re being honest, sometimes having a co-leader is . . . frustrating. Like when they dominate the small group’s conversation, give the students potentially bad advice, misinterpret a passage from the Bible, or tell personal stories that don’t really relate to the discussion.

If you have a co-leader, you probably experience moments like these every now and then. It happens to all of us, and maybe you’ve even been that co-leader before. It can be difficult to know how to respond. While every situation is unique, there is one question that can help us to clarify the way we react in those potentially frustrating moments.

Here’s the question: Is this hurting the group or is this just not how I would have done it?

Personally, this question has been so helpful over the years. When I’m leading my middle school guys and my co-leader begins steering the conversation in a direction I wasn’t anticipating—and I’m tempted to get frustrated—I ask myself this question. And most often, in those moments, the answer has been this just isn’t how I would’ve done it.

The truth is, my co-leader is just being himself, leading out of his personality, and sharing from his perspective. That’s not a bad thing, and it doesn’t make him a bad small group leader. He’s just different than me, and that’s actually a good thing.

  • Is he really dominating the conversation, or would I have just not talked this much?
  • Is he really giving the students bad advice, or would I have just said it a different way?
  • Is he really misinterpreting the passage, or have I just never thought about it from that perspective?
  • Is he really telling a story that doesn’t relate, or could there be a kid in the group that needs to hear this?

If you think about it, the differences between you and your co-leader actually make small group better for your students. Different stories, different questions to the group, (slightly) different theology . . . it all adds up to a better, richer small group experience for your students.

So the next time your feel yourself getting frustrated with your co-leader during group, ask yourself: Is this hurting the group, or is this just not how I would have done it?

If it’s actually hurting the group, then talk to your co-leader about it after group ends. Explain exactly why it was harmful to the group. Be careful not to simply address leadership or personality differences. And then suggest a better approach. You’ll probably be surprised at how receptive your co-leader is to constructive feedback. After all, they don’t want to hurt the group.

But of course, if you’re like me, your co-leader isn’t hurting the group at all; they’re just different than you. And that isn’t a reason to interrupt or shut down your co-leader during group. In fact, sharing our thoughts, perspectives, ideas, insights, and differences is what small group is all about.

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CJ Palmer

CJ is the Managing Editor for XP3 High School at Orange and one of the hosts and producers of Rethinking Youth Ministry, a podcast raising the bar for student leaders everywhere. CJ has been leading small groups for middle school students at North Point Community Church since 2007, which means he's probably spent more time talking to middle schoolers than adults in his life. He also placed 5th in his 8th grade class field day fun run. CJ and his wife, Teri, live in Alpharetta, Georgia, with their robot vacuum named Barbara.

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