Sharpening the tools of the trade

swiss_army_knifeYou may have heard the story of two woodcutters working hard to fell trees. One woodcutter worked non-stop for eight hours and managed to fell twenty trees. The other took a break for fifteen minutes every hour and managed to fell forty trees in the same period. How do you explain the difference? You would think that the one who kept on working would have achieved more.

There are two reasons why the second woodcutter managed to fell more trees. Firstly, he spent ten minutes every hour getting some food and drink, resting, and stretching his muscles. Secondly, he spent five minutes every hour sharpening his saw. The former guy ended up dehydrated, exhausted, sore, and struggling to fell trees using a blunt saw. The second guy was regularly refreshed and at the end of the day his saw was just as sharp as when he began.

There are lessons here for growth group leaders. Too many people ‘used’ to be growth group leaders. They’re now tired, discouraged, burnt out, and disinterested in taking any more leadership responsibility. It’s hard enough getting some ex-leaders to agree to even be in a group, let alone to lead one. This is not good and it should be avoidable. How awesome would it be for Christian men and women to be just as keen in leading growth groups in their seventies as they were in their twenties. If we’re going to achieve this, then we need to help people through their thirties and forties!

Refreshment

God knows that we need refreshment. We’ve not been designed for perpetual motion. God made us to have activity and rest each day. God has made our week so we work six days and rest on the seventh. The sabbath reminds us to trust in our creative and redeeming God. The world won’t stop if we do! God knows we need regular refreshment and we need to discover this too.

Please read the paper on Rhythm in Growth Groups if you haven’t done so already.

Leaders should plan to take regular breaks from their leadership responsibilities. If the groups naturally break for school holidays, then take the opportunity to do something different. Take time off over the Christmas period before starting up in the new year. Share the leadership among suitable people in the group, so that you’re not left doing everything. If you just need time-out for a week now and again because everything has become too much, then ask someone to cover for you and take some time off.

I remember one week, years back when I was very stressed with ministry. I couldn’t face my group that night, so I rang my co-leader explained the situation, and went to the movies instead. The group understood!

We want leaders to be in this ministry for the long haul. For this reason we recommend a sabbatical from leadership about every six years. Take a year off and refresh. Don’t pile yourself up with more and more different things. Recharge so you can get back into it for another six years.

Some groups can be very stressful. Perhaps there’s a difficult member causing problems for everyone. Maybe tensions or broken relationships are taking their toll. These situations increase the need for leaders to be refreshed. We might need to ‘rescue’ leaders from such groups, help them work through issues, debrief, and take time out before starting up again.

Sharpening the leadership tools

There are a number of tools involved in leading growth groups. You can get an indication of the diversity by reading the different topics in this toolkit. You will benefit from regularly sharpening each one of them.

Refresher courses:
If you haven’t participated in a training course for leaders, then we recommend you do. Much of what we do in life and ministry we make up as we go along. It can be enormously helpful to engage with some theory, learn from experienced leaders, put what we are trying to do into some kind of plan or framework, and develop appropriate skills for leading others in Bible study, prayer, and ministry together.

If you can identify areas where you are lacking, then seek out courses that will help you focus on these areas. Instead of doing an entire course, you may benefit from joining in one or two modules, or meeting with a trainer to focus on a particular area.

Reading good books:
The world is full of books and not that many are worth reading. However, we recommend sharpening your saw by reading some good Christian books. You might like to consider books in three different areas:

  1. Small group leadership
  2. Biblical theology
  3. Christian living

You will find a list of helpful books related to leadership and leading Bible studies in the Growth Group Leaders BibliographyTalk with your mentor or pastor for further ideas about books and other helpful resources.

Feedback:
Receiving feedback is a gift. It will help you to know more about how others are receiving your leadership. Then you can respond with more of the good and less of the not-so-good. You can attract feedback from a variety of sources:

  1. Your co-leader
  2. Apprentice leaders
  3. Members of the group
  4. Your peers or mentor

The most natural place for feedback is from your co-leader. As you meet to review and plan your meetings, you can discuss what’s working and what’s not. They can give you feedback on your studies, how you handle people and difficult situations, group dynamics, leadership style and more. Ideally, this feedback is regular, friendly, and mutual.

You can invite apprentice leaders into the same conversations. This has the advantage of helping them tune into the strengths and weaknesses of your leadership, as they prepare for their own. Don’t be threatened—they can learn from your humility. They can suggest ideas and learn from yours.

You can also invite members of the group to provide feedback on different aspects of group life and your leadership. Consider, once a term, asking the members of your group to fill out a survey. If you catch up with people on-to-one you might invite them to share a couple of positives and a couple of areas they think the group could improve. Just be careful not to breed a critiquing spirit within the group. The first thing we should always challenge is the attitude of our own hearts.

You can also invite feedback from your mentor or other leaders. The weakness of this feedback is that people are not ‘seeing you in action’. The strength is that they will be better informed about what to comment on. If someone visits the group from time to time, the dynamic invariably changes because of the ‘outsider’, but it can still help people to offer valuable insights to your leadership. If you meet with a mentor or other leaders on a regular basis, it’s worthwhile sharing your reflections on how you are going, for their advice and comment.

Prayer and reflection:
Set aside time on a regular basis to pray about your leadership. God is the one who gifts you for this work and he will equip, sustain, and grow you. Ask God to make you more like Jesus, to give you a heart to serve, and a willingness to listen and learn. Don’t forget to thank God for the changes he brings in your heart and mind.

Focus your prayers on the group and on the lives of the people in the group. As you prioritise others in your prayers, so you will grow as a servant leader.

As you read Scripture and helpful Christian books on leading groups, take the time to jot some notes, discuss the points with your co-leader and others, and commit to praying about these matters.

Meeting with pastoral staff, mentors, and other leaders:
Many people struggle with isolation as leaders, so make the most of the opportunities available to meet with others.

As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.  (Proverbs 27:17)

If your church offers a structure of supervision, mentoring, or coaching, don’t let the opportunities pass you by. Commit to meeting together regularly. Make a priority of participating in leaders meetings, team training, or whatever is happening to encourage leaders. If you feel like you’ve heard it all before, then share this with your overseers. They will appreciate the feedback. Maybe you don’t think you will learn anything from another meeting, but perhaps you can encourage other leaders in their ministry. As you do, so you will become a better leader.

If there is nothing arranged in your church for the support or training of leaders, then I suggest you speak to your pastor about getting this happening. If he is overwhelmed and can’t offer anything currently, then maybe ask if there is the possibility of meeting up with more experienced leaders for the time being. As a last resort, if your church is resistant to offering any support to you as a leader, then perhaps you could seek out support from mature Christians from another church or Christian organisation.

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