Becoming a small group leader can be such a great step in your relationship with God, and is a dream for many. However, it can often come with feelings of fear, anxiety, and more.
For Emily Lentz, a junior at Mizzou and a small group leader for 11th grade girls, made this dream come true. I sat down with her to help me better understand what her experience has been like as a leader:
Q: When did you become a small group leader? Why did you want to become a small group leader?
A: I became a leader for high school age girls during the second half of my freshman year of college when I was 18, but before that, I spent three summers at a Christian summer camp leading girls ages five to ten. I’ve wanted to be a leader in some capacity since I was really young. I actually attended the same summer camp that I worked at, Sky Ranch in Texas, for nine years, and during those years the college-age girls who taught me completely transformed my image of the Lord. I wanted so badly to take after them and help others the way they helped me.
Q: What has been your favorite part about being a leader?
A: Working with younger girls I was so amazed by how readily they accepted the Gospel. Obviously, it’s easy to say that they’re young and impressionable, but Jesus tells us to have faith like a little child. It wasn’t that they were just being obedient, it was that they understood the simple message of salvation without the doubts that come with adulthood. They unknowingly helped me grow my own relationship with God every day. When I started working with older girls I was nervous about relating to them, but as I got to know my fifteen-year-olds, I was struck by how familiar all their problems were to me. I felt like it was only yesterday I had experienced what they were going through and was able to give advice that I wish someone would have given me. I think the Lord has granted both me and my girls the ability to understand each other better as the past few years have gone on, and as a result, have deeper conversations about what it looks like to live for Jesus. Nothing is cooler than hearing them say something intelligent, bold, or questioning (not even necessarily about Christianity) when a month ago they would have just stayed quiet.
Q: How has being a leader changed the way you view yourself?
A: Being a leader has changed me subtly, but deeply. I’d say that first, it’s made me infinitely more confident in my words and actions. Sometimes I just have to trust in my education and my knowledge of the Lord and say: “This is the answer to your question.” without any doubt. It’s also reassured me that Jesus is constantly speaking through me, that it’s by his grace that I can teach in the first place, and that even when I am struggling to express them, His words don’t lose any of their power. With this has also come a healthy dose of self-awareness. I am more conscious of what I say and how I act. My girls won’t take my lessons seriously if I contradict them with my own lifestyle. I am not always perfect by any means, but it’s made me more willing to try to maintain high standards for myself.
Q: What has surprised you about becoming a leader? Was there anything you didn’t expect?
A: In the beginning, I was really surprised by how many tough days there were. I don’t just mean that lessons were hard to plan, but some days I just didn’t want to teach them. Other days I felt like I had messed up too much to teach a quality lesson to my girls, and relied on my co-leader to teach instead. Sometimes I didn’t understand why the Lord was allowing me to continue ministering when I felt like I was constantly making mistakes. But feeling this way has given me a better understanding of the Lord‘s forgiveness. It’s easy to forget that even the Jesus most trusted disciples weren’t perfect. Teaching is a challenge, mentally and physically, but anyone can do it.
Q: What are your biggest pieces of advice for someone who is wanting to become a small group leader?
A: The best advice I can give to someone who wants to be a leader is to just try it out! Ask around your church, or search for jobs like I did that only last a summer or so. It’s easy to feel nervous and for that reason, I’d say you should try to examine your motives and your knowledge of the Bible. Remember that as a leader your goal isn’t to tell your students the same story over and over, but to challenge them. Make them examine tough passages, read new books, answer hard questions. To do this, you have to have already examined those passages, read those books, and answered those questions. Most importantly though, I think that every leader needs their own mentor who is challenging and pouring into them. I myself have a mentor who is married and works in the church, in other words, a life stage ahead of me in the same way I’m in a life stage ahead of my girls. Also, just have fun! Kids and teens and college kids (or whoever you’re leading) are fun and smart and individual and will 100% change you for the better.
(Photos from Emily)