How do you prepare for a tough workout at the gym? Most athletes will tell you that the best way to prepare is to eat well and get a great night’s sleep. Why? Because when you’re in the moment – when you’re halfway through a set of 50 pushups – the desire to keep going dramatically decreases.

And if you haven’t prepared well beforehand – if you haven’t filled up first – it’s tempting to half-heartedly push yourself and coast to the end of the workout. Maybe the next workout will be better, you think to yourself.

The same is true as a small group leader. If you’re like me, you have those moments when the going gets tough and you feel like tossing in the towel early on Sunday morning. The kids won’t listen. They won’t engage. They just aren’t “getting it” that day. Eh, it’s just not going to happen this week. Maybe next week will be better. Honestly, I’ve had more of these moments than I’d like to admit.

But what if there was a way to have fewer of those moments? What if we could have fewer Sundays when conversations derail and we just call it a day?

This is where “filling up first” comes in. “Filling up” means preparing mentally and spiritually before you show up. When we fill up first, we’re equipping ourselves to push through and navigate the moments we feel like throwing up our hands in frustration or exhaustion.

When we don’t fill up, it’s like we’re coasting in a car without gas. It kind of works, at least until you need to drive uphill. Then reality sets in.

The reality is that filling up first matters if we want to do anything other than coast as small group leaders.

So, what does filling up practically look like? For me, filling up means investing in my own spiritual journey before pulling into the parking lot on Sunday morning. It means learning about that week’s topic before the speaker delivers the message. It means praying for my guys before walking into the small group room.

The time I spend filling up throughout the week can feel insignificant in the moment. But when one of my guys throws a Skittle across the room and derails the conversation, these moments of filling up can be the difference between asking another question to get things back on track and ending group five minutes early.

The best athletes are the ones that keep pushing forward when the going gets tough, and the best leaders are the ones that keep pushing forward when conversations derail and progress feels slow. And filling up first makes pushing forward a little bit easier.

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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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