Have you been leading a growth group this year? If so, how will you care for your members over the summer break? If you’re anything like me, it’s the last thing on your mind. I usually reach the end of the year like a shipwrecked survivor reaching land: collapsing on the sand exhausted, weeping and praising God for my survival. All I want is to rest, relax, and use the night our group usually meets for watching gloriously bad television.
Rest is a good thing and group leaders need it, but it is still worth thinking about how we can care for our members during any break. The summer can be a time of backsliding rather than growth. Losing the regular time of growth group, general changes in routine, and holidays away from church can lead to members praying less, reading the Bible less, and losing ground in the fight against sin. Additional pressures such as the stress of Christmas and (dare I say) having any school age kids around more can increase temptations to sin. Some members may even be moving away without a plan for which church they’ll join. It’s a risky time! So how can we motivate our tired selves and wisely care for our members over summer?
I think two verses from Galatians are helpful. In 2:20 Paul says, “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. This verse tells us the truth we need to hear when our capacity for love feels drained. We need to remember that Jesus first loved us, even individually (note the “me” of this verse), and gave himself for us. Prayerfully reflecting on this sacrificial love of Jesus will motivate us to love others.
The second verse is 6:9, in which we are called to “not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up”. God is not ignorant—he knows that weariness is part of the Christian life! However, he wants us to persevere because, like a farmer awaiting a harvest, good things will eventually come. This verse applies to all life and ministry, so it’s right that we do good and not give up caring for our members over the holiday periods.
With that gospel motivation in mind, let me suggest three practical ideas.
First of all, continue to see yourself as the leader of your members even though you’re not meeting weekly. Pray for them, look out for them on Sundays, and catch up with them if possible. If they’re moving to a new location then help them find a good church to join. Your pastoral responsibility continues until they land once more in your group or another’s.
Secondly, involve the whole group in mutual encouragement over the summer. There’s no reason why you should be the only person spurring group members on! Brainstorm together how this could work. You could have a road trip to visit someone in their home town; you could send someone a postcard; you could use social media to keep in touch; or you could use that group time for casual hang outs together. Invite the group to think about how they can help each other over summer.
Thirdly, set some new goals together. You could commit to everyone reading a particular book of the Bible together, such as Isaiah or Acts. You could choose a great Christian book for holiday reading, such as Ray Galea’s From Here to Eternity. An evangelistic goal could be to have at least one non-Christian friend or relative in your home over summer and invite a non-Christian to a church event. Having goals can give your group a sense of purpose, a reason to meet and a reason to encourage each other.
Group leading is tiring and rest is God’s good gift to us. So enjoy the break, collapse on the beach, even watch that bad television if it helps… but remember the gospel! Remember how it motivates us to love our members, do good and not give up. With prayer and by God’s kindness, this summer needn’t be season of stagnation, but rather a time of refreshment, encouragement and growth for you and your group.