Confessions of a Lousy Small-Group Leader

by Jeremiah Hayes

Small groups don't always turn out like we plan. But all God requires of a small-group leader is a faithful commitment to build friendships and invite people to see who Jesus is.

I’m a lousy small group leader, and I value comfortable, clean living. It should come as no surprise, then, that while I was lamenting my rather dismal mid-term grades in the convenience of my comfortable apartment (complete with two bathrooms, a wide-screen high definition TV, surround sound, and a spacious, well-tended yard), I was visited by the Lord of the Universe who had a slightly unwelcome suggestion. On our beloved New Mexico Tech campus (although it is not well known), there exists a dark prison reserved for incoming freshmen guys called West Hall. Posing as a dormitory, West is actually a place where unwitting high school graduates are contained within solid brick walls, cold floors, and shared bathrooms with a lingering fragrance that torments nearby souls. It would appear the Lord was either challenging my comfort and convenience, humoring himself, or both. Thus it was that, while I was lamenting my final grades that semester, I also found myself signing up for a cell in West Hall in lieu of one of the most lavish apartments in town.

Let me stop here to say that this is not another article about the humble sacrifice and brave move of a senior to a freshman hall. This is about the humble lessons I have learned about what is valuable in the eyes of Jesus, and what we will be judged on at the closing of time. The challenges were unforeseen, and the fruit unexpected. After the greatest summer in my life where I was paid (literally) to grow close to Jesus, I was sadly confident that the Lord had resolved that I follow through with his plan. So I hit West Hall like a politician seeking re-election by putting up fliers, helping people move in, inviting them to our large-group meetings, and making sure everyone knew about our New Student Outreach events.

I had been aware for awhile that God wanted me to lead a small group with these West Siders as my target members. Despite all logic, I felt he wanted me to host it on Friday nights. Relationships had begun, and invitations went out. I was hopeful. Then reality set in. I will never forget that first Friday night, scouring the empty halls and shouting, “Is anyone here? Bible study! Come to Bible study!” And so I found myself, alone, in the TV lounge reading my little Bible, and feeling very sad. The next week was the same, except there was also an unhappy freshman, watching re-runs of Stargate, to keep me company. He was not interested in the Bible.

By week three I was familiar with many individuals in my wing, and felt perfectly comfortable walking into their room and disrupting their day (perhaps the most effective recruiting technique). I was confident the fruit of my labors would start to pay some dividends. But, to my surprise, only one person arrived, late, and he was already a fellow believer. We studied Mark, and discussed very little in the dim TV lounge. On week four we met in my room, and we added another Christian to our small study. The next week was interesting. My invitations were received emphatically and it appeared several men who had become my good friends would come. But no one came, except my two faithful brothers, and I was humbled again. Still, very little fruit.

And then the dam burst. Ironically, no one who had attended previous studies showed up, but ten people (many of whom I had been harassing for the previous seven weeks) who had rarely, if ever, pondered Jesus, swarmed into my small room. We bantered, we read, we ate; we did all those things that make a Bible study leader happy and content. I left the evening feeling satisfied and pleased that the fruit of my labor had finally been born. And then the lessons began. It was apparent that I was assessing, as I have always done, the worth of my study on how many non-Christians came and received the Word. I have always been told that one of the ways to gauge the amount of life in a group is if it grows. But deeper yet was the understanding that when I stand before the Lord, I would point toward the people who had been touched by my life as evidence that I had been faithful with what God had given me.

All of these deep-rooted beliefs were now convicting me. Obviously, basing the worth of our efforts on how many people attend our events has been rightly viewed as shallow for some time. But how many of us still feel that sense of regret when our studies fall short of our expectation, or experience great fulfillment when our Bible studies are packed with people and engaging conversation, or are left melancholy when we sit alone?

The passage we studied on the night of the ten was Luke 5:27-28, “‘Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.” Like the paralyzing smell of our bathroom, I was struck with a truth that has left me questioning many of the pre-chewed beliefs I have held over the years. I gave more thought to the end of this life, when I stand before the King of Kings and give an account of everything I have done. Will I be judged by how much fruit I have cultivated, or how whole-heartedly I have yielded to Christ?

At first I thought these two measuring rods appear the same (the amount of fruit is directly related to our submission, right?), but now I see differently. It is not our job to bring about the fruit, just as it is not our job to save souls. The only thing we will be judged with as we stand before Christ is to what extent we carried out that simple, two word command: “Follow me.” Every mention of our bearing fruit is within the context of abiding in Christ and allowing him to work in and through us. It is simply our job to follow and yield no matter what; the fruit is his work. To put it another way, when I stand before the Father I will receive no more honor for the week in which ten people encountered Jesus, than the Friday night when I sat alone in a cold, dim TV lounge. I followed Christ, and he chose to show forth visible fruit one week, and to keep it hidden another.

As I write this, Bible study will commence at its normal time in three hours. These white, brick walls and cold linoleum floors may be the only audience to hear the grace of Jesus. And even now old thoughts tend to creep in. “Who will come?” I wonder. Will I fall asleep content knowing so many have come to hear the word, or will I be saddened because so few have shown up? Or will I rest in the fact that I have followed Christ? I have remained faithful and will continue to build friendships and invite people to look at who Jesus is; and if and when Christ decides to draw these men to him, I will rejoice. If I see no visible fruit until the day I die, I will still rejoice, for I have left everything and followed him.

—Jeremiah Hayes is a senior at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, NM. He is majoring in basic sciences (or InterVarsity). He enjoys talking about what Jesus is doing in his life, and folding Pizza Hut boxes.
Copyright 2005 by Jeremiah Hayes.