So, here are some thoughts on what I’ve learned from being involved in leadership in a Christian group at uni. They’re mostly pretty cliched and obvious, but I learnt them (or at least claim to have done so), so I’ll share them just in case they could be useful. After years of failure and frustration (amidst other things) with an eventual modicum of success, I think I have, at least, something to say about what not to do. I’m really pleased with what God has done through the group, believe that in the end it was a good use of my time, and look forward to seeing what happens now.
In a word, it’s all about direction – work out the way to go with the help of others, and go there whilst taking people with you. Actually, that is probably too vague to be good advice, so don’t base your life on it.
1) Put people first, or at least high up the list. Great programmes are pointless if people don’t get the point or are too tired to participate. That said, there’s a balance, and a lot of people could benefit from being pushed a little, so it’s not a great idea to immediately cave in to people’s natural apathy or laziness. A group which aims to ‘just hang out and be friends’ isn’t going to be hugely productive (some people will probably disagree with this, as it’s cool in Christian circles to prioritise ‘community’, but to me it’s fairly obvious that mere social groups without a goal are not going anywhere), but getting the scales even is a challenge.
2) There’s lots to do out there. The work of Christian ministry is never done, so please pick a task and get to it. Even try starting something new; there’s plenty of need for that. If you leave it to “others”, there’s a good chance it won’t happen or that they’ll burn out, or both. The God who upholds the universe doesn’t need us, but he does use us and recognising this is part of our function in life.
3) God uses the everyday small things as well as the big things. Making a small effort to chat with a person has sometimes been far more productive than things that many hours (and a few dollars) were invested into. HOWEVER, big events and programmes provide unique opportunities too and can produce unseen fruit, they just need some people around who are able to do the ‘small thing’ of connecting with others too.
4) If you do nothing you won’t be criticised. If you want to do something different than the status quo, to start with you’ll get a mix of flak, lack of comprehension, and merely being ignored (the default position). The movement from being ignored to being criticised can come with a small thrill, as at least they’re engaging! The shift from criticism or lack of comprehension to actual support is gold. Note, constructive criticism which provides real alternatives (and ideally is accompanied by offers of help) is great.
5) Don’t assume you’re on the same page as people – you’re probably not. “Communication is the key” and other such gems of obviousness. This was true in small and big ways within the group, within the wider organisation, and with the leaders of other groups; I think it would’ve helped to check people’s understanding of purpose and practice/method more often. You don’t want to find out at the end of the year that things didn’t work out so well because people privately disagreed on what is important.
So yeah, put first things first, and get to it. If you’re not sure what to put first, please do talk to me about it.