Steven: A piece of my ministry puzzle that has come up quite a bit lately is the issue of leaving one person behind to benefit the rest of the group. A struggle I had a few months ago took place when my small group boys were transitioning from 7th grade to 8th grade. In our ministry context, students have to re-register each year for small group, update their information, and they’ll be placed in the same small group they had before. Out of 13 guys I had in 7th grade, 3 of them fell through the cracks in the transition.
I reached out to all 3 of them multiple times, encouraging them to re-register and not be left behind. The problem was this: I wanted them to be in the group more than they did. They had gotten connected to the other guys in the group over the course of a year, and I didn’t want all that to go to waste. Unfortunately, they didn’t see the same benefit I did.
I’m still struggling to take a position in my mind about this issue, but here’s where my mind goes:
On the one hand, I know that in order for my group to continue to grow spiritually and connect with each other, I need to focus on those that want to grow and look out for the group as a whole. Sometimes this will mean leaving a man behind.
On the other hand, I recently heard something from a very wise ministry leader that went something like this: “A true pastor is a shepherd–he’ll leave a flock of 99 to go after the 1 lost sheep.”
When I think about these two sides, I don’t really know which side of the coin I land on right now. What I do know is that I will continue to be the best leader God enables me to be for the group that currently wants to grow.
Matt: This is a topic that I’ve struggled with. A part of me never wants to turn a student away, but at the same time I know how detrimental a disruptive non-participating student can be to a group. The other thing I’ve figured out is that there are some students in small groups only because their parents want them in one, not because they want to be in one. Sometimes those end up being the disruptive ones because they are in a place and doing something that they do not wish to be doing. The behavior probably has nothing to do with you but it’s his or her way of getting back at their parents for making them do something they don’t want to do.
I’ve learned over time that a disruptive student in a small group is a huge distraction for the ones who want to be there. One important thing to note here is that I think you need to give a student more than one chance to correct behavior before you cut them loose. However, once you give the final ultimatum you need to follow through. You also need to let them know that if they want to come back in the group they are welcome, but the behavior has to change and they need to demonstrate to you that it has and some time probably needs to go by. In other words, don’t let them back the next week. Your students who want to be there, who want to learn more about Jesus and how to have a relationship with Him don’t want to be distracted and that disruptive student probably bothers them as much if not more than it bothers you.
Here’s how I would ask a student to leave the group:
- Explain in detail why you have made the decision you have.
- Make sure the student’s parents are aware of why you’re doing what you are (make sure you talk to them when you first tell a student that behavior needs to change or they will have to leave).
- Make sure you let your high school or junior high ministry staff know what’s going on. Sometimes a student might just need to move to a different group and be given a chance there.
- Let the student know you didn’t come to this conclusion quickly but that you have really given it thought and you think this is best for everyone involved.
- Let them know they are welcome back as soon as they can change the behavior but it HAS to change or they cannot come back again.
- Pray for that student. Pray that a new season will come to them and they will be ready to learn more about Jesus and be ready for all that a small group can bring to them.