With Mother’s Day quickly upon us, we at The Small Group Network thought it fitting to look at some parallels between motherhood and small groups.
Who better to walk us through this than Carolyn Taketa?
As a mother and a ministry leader, I have often reflected on the parallels between my role as a mom and my role as a small groups director. Motherhood is a terrific training ground for ministry. Apostle Paul recognized this connection in 1Thessalonians 2:7-8, “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you.” Many of the skills, character traits, and heart required to be a godly mother are the same as those required to be an effective small groups ministry leader. The following are seven leadership practices that are transferable whether you are leading a child, a family, a small group, or a whole ministry.
7 Leadership practices from motherhood
1. Be fully present.
When my daughter Sarah was three years old, she was telling me a long story while I was doing some paperwork. At one point, Sarah interrupted herself, put her hands on both sides of my face, pulled me close nose-to-nose, and said, “mommy, I’m here. Listen to me.” I wonder how often people in our groups are trying to tell us the same thing.
Listening requires being fully present in the moment and putting aside all distractions, especially cell phones. We must pay attention not just to the words spoken but the body language and the emotions behind the words, to empathize, ask follow-up questions, affirm, and speak truth with big doses of grace. When we are fully engaged, focused with our minds, bodies, and hearts, people experience the love of God flowing through us.
2. Serve Sacrificially.
Motherhood in many ways is synonymous with sacrifice. It starts from the moment you give your body to nourish an unborn child and is a consistent theme throughout much of your child’s life. Mothers serve and give out of love, even when it is unnoticed, unappreciated and they get nothing in return. Likewise, as ministry leaders, we are called to serve even when it is inconvenient, uncomfortable, or unappreciated. In love, we give time, energy, and resources because Jesus first loved and served us.
3. Be a #1 fan.
Children love gold stars and shiny trophies. These symbols of accomplishments along with cheering from the sidelines, words of affirmations, hugs of support, all speak value to a child. Conversely, when things do not go as desired, my kids know that they are valued regardless of their performance and I will comfort and help pick them up when they fail. Similarly, the people under your care need to know they matter to you and you are on their side. So, be sure to celebrate spiritual next steps or any small “wins.” Encouragement is so critical to people’s hearts as they take steps of faith, apply Scripture to an area of life, or move out of their comfort zone to serve others.
4. Be okay with messiness.
Early in my parenting I picked up after the kids constantly, kept a fully prepared kit in the car for any contingencies, and tried to “bubble wrap” my kids from harm. I soon came to learn that a certain amount of mess and unpredictability is a healthy norm. Control is an illusion and no matter how much you try to protect your child, they will get hurt at times and will hurt others. As leaders, it is helpful to acknowledge and even embrace the messy imperfect nature of any group or ministry. We are sinful people living in a broken world and it will get messy. Yet, it is often in the mess that we find authenticity, healing, freedom, and restoration from our savior.
5. No two are alike so know each one well.
My two daughters have different personalities, characteristics, and preferences from each other. I have made it my mission as a mom to know each child deeply so that I can teach, guide, motivate, and engage them in ways that fit their wiring.
Likewise, each member of your group has a unique personality, diverse set of life experiences, various learning styles, and giftedness. They are also at different points in their spiritual journey. Your role as their leader is to know how they are wired, where they are with God and what their next step of faith might be. Knowing your people is critical to shepherding them well.
6. Model what you want them to become.
“Do what I say and not as I do” is a humorous parenting mantra because we understand that kids are like sponges that pick up whatever the parent is doing, not necessarily what the parent is saying to do. Since leadership is more “caught than taught,” modeling spiritually healthy behavior may be the most effective way to lead. As Apostle Paul told the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” Consistently model an authentic walk with God, share your struggles, demonstrate how you submit to Jesus in your own life and take steps in obedient faith.
7. Always point them to Jesus.
I love my daughters more than I ever imagined possible. Yet, I recognize that my love is small drop in the bucket compared to the infinite unconditional love that God has for them. I am limited but God is not. I can only do so much to influence, prepare, or equip them for life. The most essential thing I do as a mother is to keep pointing to Jesus, shepherd them the best I can, pray like crazy, and entrust them to God’s care every day. Similarly, as a leader, your responsibility is to love and care for your people with prayer, wisdom, and diligence. Then let it go. The rest is up to them and the Holy Spirit who is at work in their hearts.
Like motherhood, leadership at any level in ministry requires much love, sacrifice, intentionality, and investment. Yet, when you partner with God in influencing another person, you experience not only the joy of seeing change in their life but the joy of experiencing transformation in yours.
Carolyn Taketa is the small groups director at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, CA and serves as a Small Group Network area leader for Santa Barbara/ Ventura County. She is a former attorney, married, with two daughters who give her many reasons to be thankful every day.