Leading God’s people in any area is a significant responsibility. This is true for church pastors and elders, but also for growth group leaders. We see growth group leaders as little ‘p’ pastors. They’re accountable for how they handle the Bible in their groups each week. God calls us all to handle his word with care and skill. We expect that our leaders will devote themselves to understanding, applying and teaching God’s word faithfully.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
In particular, we expect them to apply God’s word in leading people, overseeing and caring for God’s little flock—his small group of sheep that meet in a lounge room or coffee shop each week! This is a limited, yet important responsibility. Leaders do this as a part of the larger church, under the authority of pastors, who have broader responsibility for the whole bunch of sheep under their care.
Growth groups need leaders who will apply themselves to servant leadership in the body of Christ—leaders who have Christ-like character, who are competent to lead others, and who have clear biblical convictions being worked out in their lives. 1 Timothy 3 provides descriptions of people suitable to lead and serve the church. It’s helpful to consider these words carefully in relation to growth group leaders and potential leaders.
1 Here is a trustworthy saying: whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
While these words are specifically outlining the qualifications for an overseer, they give us relevant criteria to apply to growth group leaders. Leaders need to be above reproach, well respected inside and outside the Christian community. They must be faithful in their relationships. If someone is unfaithful to their wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, housemates, or work colleagues, then they cannot be trusted to lead a group in following Jesus.
Leaders should display godly character of life. There’s an emphasis on self-control—especially in the areas of temper, alcohol, money, and relationships generally. Notice that the primary qualifications aren’t based on skill, but on godliness of life. They don’t emphasize charismatic personality, confidence, education, training or influence. Godliness, shaped by the gospel (v16), is what counts most.
In the midst of discussion about godliness, Paul says they must be able to teach. This will involve the gift, skill, and ability to understand, articulate and apply the Scriptures. But in Paul’s mind, teaching is far more than imparting information. Able to teach is a character of life thing—what you are teaching is character of life—if you don’t have it then you can’t teach it.
People need opportunity to grow and mature before they are thrust into leadership. We shouldn’t push young Christians, or people who are new to church, into positions of leadership too quickly. There is no given time frame, and maybe sometimes we can be too slow, but it’s wise to allow time to understand what people believe and see how they live and treat others. We shouldn’t be making people leaders so as to give them a job or encourage them to get more involved with church. Leadership is not a right or a church career path—it’s not a matter of doing your time and then being promoted. It’s about sacrificial humble service.
These verses, in 1 Timothy 3, show that godliness lies at the heart of Christian leadership. They also point to the importance of both church and growth groups being marked by Christ-like lives and gospel-shaped doctrine. Truth and godliness must never be compromised. Our personal lives, and our church and growth groups, are to reflect God’s truth and love in words and actions.
Attitude in action
Growth group leaders as little ‘p’ pastors are to model the same attitude as Christ Jesus, who led through humble service. The Apostle Peter taught this to the other leaders of the early church:
1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5:1-4)
The church and its growth groups belong to God. They’re not mine, or yours, or ours—they’re God’s. Our groups, more importantly, the people in them should matter to us because they matter firstly to God. How we treat the people in our groups matters to God. What we do in church and growth group matters. Our use or abuse of money, sex, power, and privilege matters. There are no excuses for mistreating what’s precious to God. Our hearts need to be changed so that we see things as God sees them, so that we love people as God loves them.
The Apostle Peter encourages his fellow pastors to have pastors’ hearts, and he describes what this will look like. We can apply this to growth group leaders:
not overseeing out of compulsion but freely,
according to God’s will
The leader is called to oversee God’s people voluntarily. He’s to do it because he’s willing, not because he must. It shouldn’t be the position, the obligation, or the demands of the pastor, that motivates the leader to serve. The leader is called to serve freely, willingly, voluntarily, of his own accord, not because he has to, but because wants to. Just as God loves cheerful givers when it comes to our money (2 Corinthians 9:7) so he loves cheerful givers when it comes to Christian leadership. This is pleasing to our Father in heaven.
But what about when ministry becomes a chore, a drudgery, a ball and chain? What about when the only thing that gets us up for the group each week is our sense of obligation, duty, and responsibility? Then it’s time to pray. It’s time to remind ourselves of the gospel. It’s time to dwell again on the grace of God who has given us everything we need to serve him. It’s time to ask God to fill us with his Spirit, so that we rediscover the mindset of Jesus Christ who delighted in serving others. It’s time to draw on the strength of God who delights in working through our weakness and frailty.
not for the money but eagerly
The Bible makes it clear that we can’t serve both God and money. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Greed is idolatry and it’s a slippery path to destruction. But we don’t pay growth group leaders, so how does this apply?
Peter calls us to banish greed from our hearts. Ministry is not about earthly rewards. It’s not about making ourselves comfortable. It’s not about what we can get, but what we can give. If we have the opportunity to lead God’s people in our growth groups then we should remember what a privilege it is to be entrusted with something so precious to God and give of ourselves eagerly.
It’s so tempting to put our own needs first. Our world tells us to do this all the time. We’re urged to make sure we get all we can and to protect all we’ve got. Looking out for our own interests is simply ‘normal’ behaviour, isn’t it? No. Not for people who have already been given everything from God. Those who belong to Jesus Christ have already received so much. We have every spiritual blessing in Christ. We’ve been adopted into God’s family. He’s our Heavenly Father, who knows all our needs, and promises to watch over us.
The implications of this are profound. Because God has promised to take care of our needs, we don’t need to spend our time worrying about them. We don’t need to protect our own interests. We’re liberated to look to the needs of others. We’re freed to serve God and serve others eagerly.
not lording it over those entrusted to you,
but being examples to the flock
The Apostle is passing on a lesson that he received directly from Jesus…
42 Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Mark 10:42-45)
Now Peter passes this on to his fellow pastors. The leader is to be the servant. Authority is to be exercised with humility. The supreme example of this is Jesus himself. He humbled himself, even to death on a cross. Jesus wasn’t in it for himself. He didn’t stand on his rights. Jesus made no claims to position or prestige, even though he had every right to do so. Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, offers us the ultimate example of what a pastor should be like.
Humility flows from following the example of Jesus, but it doesn’t happen without a profound change of heart. Let’s pray that God will liberate us from our selfishness, our controlling desires, and our quests for recognition. Let’s ask him to remind us daily of his generosity and grace towards us. Let’s dig deep into God’s Word and read again of God’s amazing love for his enemies. Let’s ask God to help us forget ourselves and to focus on serving those around us.
Let’s ask God to remind us that it’s not about our service of Jesus, but his service of us. This is the good news. He loves us and has sacrificially given everything to us. Let this be the motivation to serve our groups.
when the chief Shepherd appears,
you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
We live, breathe, think, act and speak in the light of eternity. Leaders, here is your reward. As you live and even suffer for Jesus now, so you will one day share in his glory. This isn’t something we deserve, we don’t earn it, and we can’t demand it. It’s not payment for services rendered. It comes freely from God to the undeserving.
Let our hearts be satisfied in Jesus. Let’s fill our minds with the things of Jesus. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus. Let’s trust him, serve him, seek to honour him, proclaim him, model our lives upon him, and point others toward him. For this is the love of Christ in the life of the leader.