This is a series of posts where small group experts share how group life has impacted them personally.  The entire series can be found HERE.
Steve Gladen is the Pastor of Small Group Community at Saddleback Church. He oversees the strategic launch and development of their 3,500 adult small groups. His new book, Small Groups with Purpose, comes out in June 2011.  You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


Flashback with me to 1977. While most of the living population was born, probably the readers of this blog weren’t born (as painful as that is to say). I was a junior in high school. I was also a new follower of Christ. What was high school like for me? Was I an ESPN 150 Top Pick?

Not even close.

Getting ready to attend my first prom?

No again.

I was actually a late bloomer in many ways. A scholar?

Nope. I had to struggle just to get C’s and B’s. Luckily, gym class was always there to pull up my GPA!

But, surely, I was a sought-after young Christian leader, right?

Not even close.

When I think of what phrase might best describe me during this time, it is “in the background.” I was not a part of the in-crowd, the Who’s Who, the pretty people, or those who were invited to parties. And, worse yet, I had no ideas or the plans for the future. I was clueless. My dad was in business, so I had a vague notion that I would head down that path too. And that pretty much summed up my goals at the time. I enjoyed my life and basically just took it one day at a time.

The Story Begins

Enter a man named Ron Swiger. Ron was an adult in my church who took me under his wing without me ever realizing he was doing it. Our church didn’t have small groups, but they did have Sunday School and a Bus Ministry (Google it – it was a phenomenon in the 1970’s). That Sunday School functioned much like a small group. The Bus Ministry included serving and evangelism. Although the methodologies I use today are different, I realize, now, what a powerful role Ron played in my life.

Ron made sure I was involved and gave me a place to belong. He asked me to be an assistant in the Bus Ministry on his bus. He spent time with me. He did ministry in such a way that I wanted to be like him. He was also my Sunday School teacher. He was far ahead of his time and was a master at promoting growth in his students. He taught me to pray. He challenged me to give back to God. He taught the Bible in a relevant way.

Most importantly, he modeled what he taught. That Sunday School class was probably the best disguised small group of the day. We didn’t just learn biblical facts, we learned how to live life together. We had parties, interacted with the greater church, did outreach events together, and learned to challenge each other to deal with the dark areas of our heart.

Were we perfect?  No. Did I apply everything I learned to my life?  No. But did that class make an impact in my life? Yes!

A growing seed

When Ron stepped out of the role as my mentor, another man stepped in, Bill Brown.  God used him to build on the foundation Ron had started.  During those years of high school, despite my clueless nature, a seed was planted for ministry.  That seed would not bloom for almost 8 years, but it was still firmly planted.  And I owe a lot to those two men and others who had community with me.

What’s the moral of the story? When you look across the horizon of your church, you might not see the next young leader. You might just see a bunch of “clueless” people.

But don’t overlook them.

Because two guys were willing to pour into my life, I am where I am today. Community is where people are shaped for the future. Be willing to shape those God has put before you – not the ones you want to shape.

Has anyone invested in you?

Are you investing in the next generation?