I recently came across this fascinating video about a World War II propaganda poster from Great Britain. The poster features a burnt-orange background and an outline of the royal crown, along with the words “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Designed for distribution during times of attack or invasion, the poster was never actually circulated to the public. In fact, nobody would even remember it existed if not for the owners of a store called Barter Books in northeast England. They liked the poster, had it framed, and hung it on one of the walls of their store.
In the years since, the poster has become one of the iconic images from the 20th century.
“Keep Calm and Carry On.” I think that would’ve been a great slogan for a war-torn world more than 70 years ago.
And I think it’s a great slogan for small-group leaders today.
Bad Stuff Will Happen
If you happen to lead a small group, or if you’re thinking about leading one in the future, there’s at least one thing I can promise you: Bad things are going to happen.
Not terrible things. You won’t need to contend with murderous Nazis or anything like that. But bad things will happen for sure.
People in your group will experience conflict, for example. Or you’ll spend a lot of money buying a curriculum series that bombs. Or someone you really like will leave the group because they’re “not being fed.” Or your church will decide that your group has become too large and needs to be split.
Or all of the above.
When those things happen, you’ll be tempted to throw your hands up and walk away. Maybe you’ve experienced that temptation in the past. Maybe you’re experiencing it now.
You don’t have to be pushed around by those negative circumstances, though. You have the ability and the capacity to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Because the success or failure of your small group is not dependent on your abilities as a small-group leader.
It’s Not Up to You
That’s worth repeating: The success or failure of your small group is not dependent on your abilities as a small-group leader. In fact, if it were up to us to produce healthy and growing small groups, we would always fail.
Think about it: You are not able to transform ten people from spiritual infants to spiritual giants by meeting with them once a week. You are not equipped to change peoples’ lives by cooking up some nachos and writing a few discussion questions. Billy Graham is not equipped to do that.
Rather, any spiritual growth that occurs in a small group has its source in God. It’s the Holy Spirit that transforms people and conforms them to the image of Christ. Not you. Not your ability to purchase the perfect Bible study.
In other words, any success that your small group experiences can be credited to God. It’s not up to you.
So, when those bad things happen, you don’t have to worry that they will prevent people from growing spiritually. You don’t have to worry that your failures will somehow damage the people you care about.
You are free to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
—Sam O’Neal is author of The Field Guide for Small Group Leaders (coming in May 2012 from InterVarsity Press) and an editor for LifeWay Christian Resources.