Mentoring growth group leaders

swiss_army_knifeEveryone needs encouragement. It’s pretty tough doing a job on your own without the support of others spurring you along. Growth group leaders are no different. They require training and resources, but they also depend on encouragement. In a church with many leaders, no one person can be relied upon to provide all the encouragement. We trust it will come from a number of sources. God’s Word is our primary source of inspiration. We look to the members of each group to not only support one another, but also their leaders. Co-leaders can meet and pray and share together about their group. Fellow leaders can catch up and support each other in their roles as leaders. A pastor can catch up with leaders here and there to enquire about how they’re travelling and suggest ways ahead. All this can happen quite naturally without any planning or any specific structures being put into place. However, the truth is it usually doesn’t!

Our plan is for every growth group leader to be able to meet up with a mentor (or coach) to encourage them in their ministry. We will arrange a meeting once a term where all the leaders get together, but we are also depending on purposeful mentoring relationships being established. Mentors should aim to connect with the other leaders at least once a term, ideally face-to-face, to share together in different areas.

HandSometimes we can get stuck in wondering what to talk about when we meet with others. How’re you doing? Good. How’s the group? Oh, it’s okay. What’ve you been studying? The same as everyone else! Need any help? Nah, I’ll be all right. Well, I’ll see you next time. Okay!

We can do a lot better! I suggest five areas to give you focus each time you meet together. To keep it memorable, you might want to think about each area as one finger!

1. Passage

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  (Hebrews 4:12)

At the heart of all ministry is the Word of God. God speaks and gives life. He cuts deeply within us to transform us into the likeness of his Son, Jesus. Our growth groups are focused upon the Scriptures because we desire to see change in people’ lives. For the same reason, we want to shape our mentoring times by opening God’s word together. This isn’t the place for a detailed Bible study together, but we do want to hear from God each time we meet.

There are many different approaches we could take to looking at the Bible in our mentoring meetings. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Choose a few verses that have stood out in your recent Bible studies and share what they have meant to you.
  • Choose one of the pastoral letters (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus), take a few verses at a time, and reflect together on what you learn about Christian leadership.
  • Read through one stanza of Psalm 119 each time you meet and share any new insights into God’s word.
  • Take a short New Testament book, such as Philippians or James, read a few verses each time to encourage each other.

2. Personal

12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 

15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.  (1 Timothy 4:12; 15-16)

Leadership involves teaching in word and example. We’re called to walk the talk or stumble the mumble, as I heard recently! Mentors should take an interest in the lives and teaching of their leaders, but we can’t expect people to do what we’re not prepared to do. This means that mentors also need to be open about themselves. Each mentor meeting should allow time to share together about ourselves. This might be a little awkward at first, but will become easier as our relationships grow.

It’s helpful not to be prescriptive about what you discuss together. Some weeks there might be a big issue that takes most of the time. Other weeks there may be very little to discuss. Here are a few suggestions to get you going:

  • Get to know a little about each other’s lives – family, work, interests, etc.
  • Share together about how you became Christians.
  • Is there something you’ve been really encouraged with recently?
  • Is there something you’re finding hard?
  • How are you finding being a leader in the group?

3. Pastoral

Growth groups are about more than Bible study. They’re about the lives of the members of the group. It’s important that we recognise that everyone is different and that God is in the business of working in each person differently. This means we need to think specifically about individuals. Mentors can encourage their leaders to show an active interest in each member of the group. One way to do this is simply asking what they have observed.

Our greatest desire is for every member of our groups to know and love God, to place their trust firmly in Jesus, and to look forward to the hope of heaven. We want to spur the members of our groups on to love and good works, that God has prepared for them to do. This means a leader is rather like a Christian ‘coach’ urging the members of the team forward.

Mentors can help this to happen. We can discuss and pray about the people in our groups. As we do this, it’s important to be motivated by love. There is absolutely no excuse for gossip. We need to respect confidentiality. Many times we can talk productively without even needing to mention specific names or details.

Sometimes there will be people in our groups with very great needs. They could be very ill, going through a marriage break up, struggling with depression, out of work, having a crisis of faith, or struggling with other serious matters. This may be beyond the capacity of the group or its leaders to deal with on their own. The mentor may be able to assist by linking the leaders with the wider support of the church, or other resources.

Two books that will assist you to think pastorally about the members of the group are Mission Minded by Peter Bolt, and The Trellis and the Vine by Tony Payne and Colin Marshall.

4. Practical

It takes skill and practice to lead a group well. While we don’t expect mentors to necessarily be trainers, we do want them to encourage their leaders to keep getting better at their ministry. There could even be times when a mentor and leader will undertake a training course or refresher together.

A browse through the contents pages of Leading Better Bible Studies by Rod and Kaen Morris, or Growth Groups by Col Marshall, will highlight a number of aspects to group life worth exploring together. And reading the chapters will give you plenty to discuss! Further, we are aiming to produce a range of papers on this site to assist you with improving your small group leadership. Matthias Media has also started a monthly Home Group Leaders Digest which should offer some helpful ideas.

We’re looking to mentors to take the initiative in encouraging leaders to develop as leaders. Ask questions, be specific. For example:

  • What aspects of preparing or leading a Bible study do you find most difficult?
  • Why do some studies work better than others?
  • What do you think is stopping the group from opening up in prayer times?
  • How do you think social activities could help the group to click together?
  • What plans do you have for the term ahead?
  • Have you considered any ways that the group could serve the church together? What?

One area of practical consideration and long term importance is equipping new leaders. We are keen to be apprenticing leaders within our groups by giving them opportunities to lead and work through issues of leadership. If we don’t do this, then we won’t grow. Mentors can take a role in encouraging the leaders in their task of developing new leaders:

  • Have they identified people who could be potential leaders? Who?
  • What are the leaders doing with their apprentices? (e.g. preparing studies together, praying for members of the group, reflecting and planning together, following up members of the group one-to-one)
  • Have they encouraged their apprentice to participate in a training course, read some helpful books, come to a leaders meeting?

5. Prayer

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.  (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)

Without God we can do nothing. We can’t make a person trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus for their salvation. We can’t fill a person with love for others. We can’t save a person from the judgment of God. We can’t guarantee their future for all eternity. BUT God can… and more! So we are to rely on him, call out to him, ask him to be actively working in our lives and the members of our groups.

As mentors meet with their leaders, so we want them to pray. Together, humbly, asking God to be graciously at work. Allow the time to speak together with God, not as an afterthought, but as the most practical use of your time together. God loves to hear our prayers and he is more willing to bless us with answers than we are to ask him our questions.

One thought on “Mentoring growth group leaders”

  1. Everyone needs encouragement.

    Huzzah! My “encouragement” had the desired effect.

    Conversely, you encouraged me to get “Encouragement” (Crabb and Allender) off the shelf again. (But I suspect I will need still more encouragement to read it.)

    Your vision for leadership mentoring is inspiring, and, as someone who benefited from your mentoring (if only in a comparatively small way), I can testify how consistent your mentoring has been to this vision, and how effective it was for me and for others. A little goes a long way.

    Pastoral epistles — absolutely, yes! You have always been using them. I recall with great fondness and gratitude (a) The SOCM 1990 segments on 1 Timothy, (b) hearing you on 2 Timothy both recently and years ago at FOCUS main meetings — I remember doing the Bible reading for chapter 1 and somewhat naughtily introducing it as “Paul’s last words, so listen up”. Plus, hearing Don Carson on 2 Timothy (at NTE), and going through Titus at church at the beginning of the year has cumulatively brought their significance into even sharper focus to me. As Carson encouraged us, it’s never too early to start thinking about “finishing well”.

    One thing I would add (which you already know, but which others may not) about group mentoring meetings such as you describe: they can be absolutely glorious. But they also can be mildly, or even very intimidating for a beginner (or perhaps even someone more mature). I can recall being very impressed with others’ confidence and progress and feeling somewhat insecure. And conversely, as I got the hang of things, the difficulty was in suppressing any urges to show off (and I doubt I always succeeded). The mentor should not assume that every mentoree will openly admit to their deepest insecurities, let alone failures. I wondered if this would be particularly true of introverts (which, if some of the stats are right, make up about half the church), but on further reflection I guess this can equally apply to extroverts. So no matter how well you think you have facilitated relationships of openness and trust in the group meetings, it will only go so far. At the one-on-one mentoring meetings you have to sensitively but deliberately ask the right questions so that you find out what the mentoree actually needs help with — which may be something very basic to their life and/or doctrine.

    Definitely going to buy the two recommended books I don’t already have.

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