Some of you maybe have heard of a little booklet entitled, “All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten,” written by American minister and author Robert Fulghum. It was originally published in the ’80s and shares some simple wisdom about how the world could, perhaps, be made a better place if we all just adhered to and applied some of the basic rules we learned as children. Simple, but important things like:
- Play fair
- Don’t hit people
- Clean up your own messes
- Don’t take things that aren’t yours
- Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody
- Put things back where they belong
- Leave things better than when you found them
- Wash your hands before you eat (and especially after you use the restroom)
- Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you
- Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work most every day some.
- Take a nap every afternoon
- Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all kinda like that.
- Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die…and so do we.
- When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
Can you even imagine how positively our home, workplace and even our Life Group community relationships might be affected if we were to apply more of these basic principles going forward?
As long as we’re taking a little look back and for things we might apply and improve upon in our ways going forward, how many of you remember those simple little report cards where all we were basically graded on was “how well we played with others” and things like that?
What kind of a grade do you think the people with whom you are in community today would give to you?
Would your family members, workmates or even the people in your Life Group essentially say that you “play well with others?”
If you’re like most of us, you can probably think of a few areas in which you could do better.
We all can get better at the way in which we “play in the sandbox” of our relational lives.
And, if you don’t think so, I challenge you to review the rest of this post. At the very least, you’ll be affirmed in the awesomeness that you are, and in position to coach and assist the rest of us.
Here then, are some grown-up tips from Joel Comiskey of smallgroups.com on ways we can be better community members (especially within our Life Groups).
How To Be a Great Small Group Member
Be a Good (Better) Listener
Go into your small group committed to listening. Try to understand rather than be understood. There are a lot of hurting people who come to small groups to unload. They need your compassion and empathy. The first place to start is to listen intently.
Don’t be so quick to share your story. Listen to the stories of others. In one sense, when you listen to others, you are earning your right to be heard. Granted, at times this can be hard and painful. You will have to listen to poor decisions, bad habits, and people who grate on your sensibilities. Yet, listening is one of the chief characteristics of love, and Jesus told us to love one another and be patient with one another.
After you have thoroughly listened, be ready to contribute. Some people in the group may talk too much, but the other extreme is not talking at all. As a small-group leader, I rejoice when a proactive listener also contributes to the discussion. When I ask people to share their thoughts, I often hope that so-and-so won’t blurt out an immediate answer because I know (s)he already talks too much. I’m hoping that other members will share their reflections, but far too often the quieter ones hesitate.
Don’t allow one or two people to dominate the entire meeting. Be a contributor. You have something important to say. Even if someone else has given the “right” answer, there’s always more than one way to apply the answer. Other people in the group want to hear what you think.
Share with Transparency
Tactfully, tell the group how you really feel. Open up the windows of your heart and let people see the real you. I’ve noticed that the best small-group members share their joys and struggles. They respond to the lesson questions based on how God is working in their lives. They speak in the first person, rather than the third person.
Some group members always give impersonal answers about what the Bible says, what others should do, or how people in general should live. Their answers might be correct, but they don’t go deep enough. They don’t zero in on how God’s Word has touched their own lives.
Take advantage of the intimate, family atmosphere of the small group by sharing what’s really happening in your life—and allowing others to hold you accountable. One of the key differences between a small group and the weekend gatherings is the chance to share personally, receive prayer, and get to know others more deeply.
Be a Responsible Member
Responsibility means the leader can count on you. The best small-group members make a commitment to be there for each gathering. They also let the leader know in advance when they can’t make it. Granted, life presents unforeseen obstacles. But if you can’t make it to the group, call or text the leader that you won’t be there.
Responsible membership also involves arriving on time to the group. I remember one member who was consistently 30 minutes late. I know they didn’t behave this way for doctor’s appointments or for scheduled client sessions (he was a lawyer). Yet, with their actions, they were saying to everyone else that the small group wasn’t really a priority. Their late arrival was also a distraction because we were often already in discussion or even praying when they entered. Someone had to answer the door and their arrival normally disrupted what we were doing. Make it a point to arrive on time and, if for some reason you just can’t, still show up but notify the leader and seek to make the least intrusive entrance you possibly can.
Finally, responsible members maintain confidentiality. They realize that what is shared in the group stays in the group. You might be tempted to share a juicy detail about a group member’s life with someone you know well. Refuse to do so. Make a personal commitment to share from the “I” perspective. Don’t tell other people’s stories.
Discover Your Spiritual Gifts
Attempt to discover your spiritual gifts within the group—and then use them. The small-group atmosphere is the best place to discover and use your spiritual gifts. All of the spiritual gift passages (1 Corinthians 12-14, Romans 12, Ephesians 4) were written to house churches. The first church building was discovered in the third century, so for the first couple hundred years, the church met in the home and occasionally came together in larger celebrations.
As you discover and use your spiritual gift in the small-group atmosphere, God will use you to build up other members in the group. For example, if your spiritual gift is counseling (i.e., exhortation), look for opportunities for one-on-one conversations after or before the group. If you have the gift of helps or service, discover ways to use it. You might volunteer to bring the refreshments, open your home, or pick up someone who needs a ride. If you have the gift of teaching, acknowledge that, at least for the purposes of your present group, teaching happens on the weekends (from the stage), but look for appropriate opportunities to assist in shedding light on the biblical passages the group is discussing or maybe find challenging.
Reach Out / Serve
New people give new life and meaning to the group. The best small-group members invite others to join their group. Or, if your group is full, invite them to sign up for another Life Group. Who can you think of from your circle that’s not currently in a Life Group? Is there someone at work who is experiencing a divorce, a job loss, or some other need? Let them know what your small group means to you and how he or she might also benefit.
Look for new people in church on Sunday or at other church events you attend. Often new people are hungry to build relationships, and an invitation to your home group will help them get connected. Adopt and maintain the mind-set of Christ. When you walk in to a room (or other place where people are gathered), instead of thinking, “here I am, serve or entertain me,” seek whom those who God may be putting in your path to serve and assist by asking, “where are they.” When you see a need, seek to find out if there’s some way you may be able to fill it.
Pray for One Another
Paul said to the Colossians, “For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is” (Colossians 2:5). Paul was not physically present in Colossae when he wrote his letter to the church, but he was with them in spirit through prayer.
Praying regularly for one another helps us to enter more meaningfully into each other’s lives and the stuff we all face, apart from being physically present. After praying regularly for group members, you will have increased awareness to build them up when you personally see them. Make it a habit to pray regularly for those in your group.
Consider Taking the Next Step
After learning how to become an excellent small-group member, God might ask you to take the next step and join the leadership team. The Christian life is a series of new steps and challenges, and God regularly asks each of us to take the next step. For some, the next step is joining a group. Other people need to enter the church’s training to grow in knowledge and eventually join the leadership team or even lead a new group. Listen for what God is calling you to do next.
You will learn more as you give and become responsible for others. You’ll learn to depend on God in a deeper way and your faith will grow to new heights. You will also help fulfill the pray of Jesus when he said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:37-38).
I hope these tips challenge you and really help you to take a look at ways you might become (even a) better group member; in all of the small group communities in which you take part.
This side of heaven, life is a constant process of improvement and growth. When we listen to the wisdom of our Heavenly Father and those he places in our path, remarkably, our relationships continue just continue to get better and better. We’re more attractive when we commit ourselves to continuing to learn to do relationships better and to thrive in community.
Right here with you,
—Joel Comiskey is founder of the Joel Comiskey Group and author of numerous books, including The Relational Disciple.