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Four Steps to Form a Personal Support Group

As you minister to others, don't neglect your own need for challenge and encouragement.

When my husband and I planted a church, our entire focus was on what we could do for others. We wanted to win people to Christ, disciple them, and send them out to do the same. We became single-minded, and we worked harder than I ever thought possible.

This was all good, but somewhere along the line, I lost perspective on what I needed. I was so consumed in what others needed and in learning to be selfless that I lost myself entirely.

I began to think about this more when my husband, Brad, visited a pastor friend of his who built a small church into a church of thousands. Since Brad was staying with him for a few days, this pastor invited him to his Bible study. Of course, my husband expected this pastor to be leading it, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, it was a group of people he had assembled who would challenge and encourage him. He chose all mature Christians whom he felt were smarter and wiser than he was. The sole focus of this group was to keep him accountable and help him grow and learn in ways he couldn’t without the help of others.

This was astounding to me, and it startled me into realizing I had no one speaking into my life. I simply blundered ahead and expended myself for others without once concerning myself with my own heart and mind.

So, I began to pray about assembling a similar group to challenge and encourage me. I wanted this group to be all mature Christian women I could emulate and learn from. Nine people came to mind, so I approached each of them with the idea of doing a Bible study that was for mutual encouragement. I was hoping to get at least four or five to commit, but all nine agreed! We are now on our third year together, and it has been the most rewarding group I’ve ever been a part of. These women not only teach me but also walk through life with me, and that’s something I need as I lead.

If you don’t have a group of people supporting, encouraging, and teaching you as you lead, follow these steps:

Eliminate something in your schedule.

It’s likely you’ll have to pull out of something to fit this in. Consider passing a responsibility onto someone else (you will be astounded at how many people can do the job you think only you can do). The simple act of letting go of a responsibility will make you feel remarkably free.

Choose a time that will not feel squeezed in and hurried. A two-hour time period is ideal, which is longer than we tend to make our groups, but having an extended time gives each person in the group the chance to loosen up and slow down long enough to think—something that’s extremely important to accomplish accountability and to dig below the surface.

Hand pick and close the group.

This is not the kind of group you’ll want to advertise on the website or announce from the pulpit. To ensure it's made up of those you truly trust, people who will challenge you, you’ll need to carefully pick each person and make it a stable group that doesn’t change.

That doesn’t mean the members can never leave (no pacts sealed in blood!). People may move away or feel the group isn’t meeting their needs. That’s fine. But if a person leaves, only replace him or her with someone you trust equally as much.

This group can include church members or those outside your church. Depending on your position in the church, the latter may be necessary. The important thing is that you admire and trust these people. They may be other leaders or people who take their faith seriously and want to help others do so as well. These people will provide mutual encouragement, so they should be at or near your level of Christian maturity.

Keep the curriculum simple.

You don’t want to spend all your time in the group covering complex topics, discussing church methods, or debating theology. For that reason, it’s good to keep your study fairly basic. Our group uses the Pathways Bible Study Method, a straightforward and fairly easy way to study any book of the Bible. This has turned out to be a great vehicle to learn from each other and face our flaws together.

I strongly recommend you study the Bible and not simply share things about your lives. As you study the Scriptures together, God will use them to hone you and point out that which really needs to change in your lives.

Stick with the group over the long haul.

If you want to set a pattern of honesty and vulnerability, you’re going to have to meet consistently for a long period of time. It took at least a year, and in all honesty, probably two years, before our group felt comfortable enough to really share the deep stuff going on in our hearts and minds. Now in our third year, we are almost raw in the way we share with each other, and God is using it to dig out old, tangled roots that only he can expose and destroy.

These women make me aware of how hard I protect my reputation among those in the church. Because of that, I have rarely let others get close enough to see my true struggles. After several years with these women, I’ve been able to admit sins that are persistent problems, ways I’ve failed as a parent, hopes I’ve had that now seem forever beyond my reach, and doubts that I’ve consistently wrestled with. This group has also challenged the way I understood some passages of Scripture and forced me to reconsider things I’d been taught along the way.

When we’re thick in the ministry, we can’t be thin in having our own faith challenged and encouraged. Consider how you can surround yourself with good people who will help you walk ever closer with God and will reenergize you to invest in others.

JoHannah Reardon has been in Bible studies for over 40 years but has never enjoyed a study more than the one she is currently in. Find her family devotional, Proverbs for Kids, and her many novels at www.johannahreardon.com.

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