Church small groups are messy because they involve relationships with broken people in this fallen world. It’s never simple or stress-free to be in community with other imperfect people, but it’s always worthwhile, because God will use community to transform your life.

The only way to truly grow into the person God wants you to become is to participate in community, which teaches you how to fulfill the greatest commandments: loving God and other people. So don’t be afraid to plunge into the mess by leading a small group at your church. Here’s how you can discover and fulfill the potential for growth that’s there:

Acknowledge and identify the mess. Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re encountering a messy situation in your church’s community. Then identify what type of mess it is, which will help you figure out what to do about it. Sin messes (situations in which people are rebelling against how God wants them to live) need to be cleaned up by encouraging people to confess their sins and helping them through the healing process. Relational messes (conflicts between individuals) need to be navigated by following the Bible’s principles for relationships, such as loving, serving, honoring, forgiving, encouraging, and confessing to one another. Life messes (crises such as a serious illness, a divorce, or a job loss) need to be cared for by others in the community providing support throughout the crisis.

Ask God to give you His perspective on the mess. God often uses messes to reveal issues that had previously been hidden but need to be dealt with now for community to be healthy. Invite God to teach everyone involved what He wants them to learn from the mess, and to help you see His redemptive purposes for it.

Discover the roots of the mess. Ask good questions about the situation that can help you understand why it became messy and how you can best approach it to work for healing.

Create a plan for walking through the mess together. Figure out which people can provide support, guidance, and assistance in the messy situation. Ask yourself two key questions: “How do we all grow from this?” and “How might God want to get glory from this?”. Then commit to a process for walking through the mess.

Experiment with different ways of making disciples for Jesus. Realize that you haven’t yet imagined all of the different approaches to discipleship that may work for the people in your small group. Consider your gifts, interests, and current sphere of influence, and then ask God to show you how He wants you to leverage those to create community and make disciples. When planning new approaches to your small group’s ministry, consider changes to how you all meet together to talk, pray, and study the Bible; how you serve people in need together, how you enjoy fun activities together, and how you participate in different worship services together.

Lead yourself well. As a small group leader, you’re acting as a role model for the people in your group, telling them to follow you as you follow Jesus. So become a person who other people believe is worth following by relying on God’s strength working through you every day and making it a priority to live with integrity and love. Surround yourself with the right friends: people who will encourage you and support you in your ministry work, people who will hold you accountable to confess and repent of your sins, and people who will recognize your potential and inspire to fulfill it. Ask God to help you develop a tough skin and a soft heart. Find a mentor and learn from him or her. Regularly check your motives for engaging in ministry and keep in mind that the only valid motive is to honor and glorify God.

Aim to grow people rather than programs. Measure your success as a church leader not by how well your programs are performing, but by how the lives of the people you’re ministering to are changing. Be intentional about engaging with the people in your group through meaningful conversations, shared experiences, and celebrating what’s happening in their lives.