Being a Small Group Leader is a new book written by Richard Sweatman. Richard oversees the small group ministry program at Hunter Bible Church in Newcastle. He’s been using this material to clarify expectations of leaders in their church for a number of years. Now Matthias Media are making it available to a wider audience.
Being a small group leader is an important responsibility and one that is variously understood and applied in different churches. In many ways, each church that seriously engages in small group ministry should consider producing a resource like this. Here are the qualifications, job description, and modus operandi for leaders. It’s a simple book to use as you recruit, train, encourage, and mentor your leaders. If you’re thinking of becoming a small group leader, then this is worth a read.
Richard identifies 5 core competencies for a small group leader:
- Knowledge of God
- Teaching ability
- Encouragement of others
Each of these competencies sit within a framework of grace. We will be more equipped in some than others, we will need to develop some more than others, but we must recognise that it will ultimately be God who develops these competencies in us, so we must rely upon him in prayer.
As Richard considers each competency, he provides us with the grounds for the competency, a description of how it will be demonstrated in a small group setting, and some suggestions for developing the competency further.
Knowledge of God is more than what goes into the head. It impacts the heart and hands as well. This is relational knowledge, shaped by the Bible, contemplated and digested by the leader, and applied in words and action. This knowledge is important for more than individual and personal reasons. Leaders are called to set an example, teach, and guard God’s people in the truth. They need to know God well so as to lead others in relationship with him. Richard offers practical suggestions to grow in our knowledge of God through prayer, Bible reading, theological reading, and further theological training.
Character is that quality of being tested in life and proving solid. (p25) This area of competency matters because it’s really about applying our knowledge of God into our lives. Leaders are required to have integrity. Without it, people will not follow. Hypocrisy undermines leadership. But this isn’t a pragmatic competency—it’s one of essence. Richard outlines the Bible’s path to growing in character. It comes through prayerfully applying the word of God, in fellowship with others, as we face the trials of life. It is only by God’s grace that we can grow in godly character.
Teaching ability is the third competency identified in this book. Richard describes ‘the ability to teach’ as a skill, listed alongside many character qualities in 1 Timothy 3:
Here is a trustworthy saying: whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 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. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 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 NIV emphasis mine)
Richard unpacks this skill with reference to awareness of others; an ability to let the group discover things for themselves; an ability to explain things; and creativity and a sense of fun. I agree that these things will help a small group leader to teach well in a group setting, and that these are skills worth developing, but I wonder if there is something else going on with ‘ability to teach’.
Given that ‘ability to teach’ is listed alongside other character qualities, are we meant to understand ‘ability to teach’ as a character quality also? The one who is qualified to teach is the one who puts their words into practice. They teach through example as well as words. They teach with life and doctrine. I know that this overlaps with the former points of the knowledge of God and character, so maybe I’m pushing an unnecessary barrow.
This book offers helpful suggestions about how to grow as teachers. The bottom line is that you grow as a teacher by teaching. But it doesn’t hurt to get hold of some quality resources and to seek further input, feedback, and coaching. Interestingly, this book suggests other books as the place to turn for such training (see especially Growth Groups by Col Marshall).
Encouragement of others is the fourth competency listed for small group leaders. Encouragement is at the heart of Christian ministry. It’s more than saying nice things to people. It’s about valuing a person’s walk with Jesus and doing what you can to urge them to keep on following him until the end. It’s about leading people to keep trusting their Lord and Saviour whatever obstacles, temptations, or threats might come their way. Leaders are called to help people to stay the course.
This is about more than preparing and leading a group once a week. The challenge to small group leaders is to engage with the lives of the people in the group, to stay interested and connected throughout the week. This calls for investment in prayer for others, thinking about others, reaching out to others, offering help, following up on how people are going, and more. Richard refers to some helpful books for leaders, including Encouragement: How Words Change Lives by Gordon Cheng.
Team Leadership is the last of the competencies. Competency in knowing God, growing in godly character, ability to teach, and encouragement will all be essential to good team leadership. Yet it’s more than the sum of these parts. Leadership involves inspiring others to follow. It requires abilities to organise and manage, to listen and to communicate, to exercise direction and to submit to authority, to be wise and generous, to overcome fears and to grow in confidence, to be dependable and to depend on others.
This book is a very good primer on leading Christian small groups as part of a wider church ministry. It’s practical and purposeful. It offers questions for discussion and application. It doesn’t claim too much for itself, and generously links to other resources to explore matters in more depth. It’s a helpful and humble book seeking to equip competent and humble leaders who will depend on God’s grace to lead others in following Jesus Christ.
If you are the leader of a small group, or training others in leading small groups, or recruiting small group leaders, or overseeing a small group program, then I’m sure you will find many uses for this book. It’s worth buying for yourself and others. If you are keen to dig further into small group ministry, then you might like to check out some of my earlier posts by clicking on the small group ministry category of macarisms.