Co-leaders co-operate

nutsboltssmalliconI’ve recently been teaching a course to train leaders—not simply to prepare and lead Bible studies, but to exercise pastoral ministry in the context of their groups. After one session a leader approached me concerned that I had lifted the bar too high. She explained how it was all she could manage to put in the time to understand the Bible passage and lead the group in a helpful study and discussion. How could I reasonably expect leaders to focus on equipping others, encouraging prayer, caring for people in times of crisis or chronic struggles, supporting people as they share their faith with others, and more?

I sympathise with her concerns and I don’t want to lay burdens on people who are already serving as best they are able. By the same token, these groups are the natural context in our churches for encouraging genuine Christian relationships, spurring each other on, helping one another develop our gifts for service, and for exercising loving concern for one another. So what is the way forward? Am I expecting too much? Is this simply idealism?

These concerns support a strong case for groups having more than one leader. Two is usually better than one, and it’s certainly the case when it comes to our growth group ministry. Two leaders can share the load between them, and ideally utilise each other’s strengths.

When leading a study, one leader might be focused on the content being taught, discussed, or applied. The other might pay closer attention to the group dynamics, working out who is engaged or who is off with the fairies. A co-leader might be able to address the problem where someone is dominating discussion while others are prevented from contributing. Co-leaders can co-operate to assist everyone getting maximum benefit from the studies. But the teamwork can go further.

One leader might focus on preparing the material, while the other manages the communication with the group, arranging supper rosters, or planning times of prayer.

One leader might be the point of contact for pastoral concerns, while the other is spending time training new leaders and building the leadership base.

The leaders might tag-team, leading a week about, a month about, or a term about. This would allow greater preparation time, provide variety in the approach, and help keep the leaders fresh.

In a mixed group with male and female co-leaders, they might decide to focus on building and strengthening relationships along gender lines.

If we feel like every aspect of leadership depends on us, then we will likely be overwhelmed very quickly. Burnout will become all too common. But if we get people to team up, then leadership will not become as much of a burden.

Consider—consult—contribute

nutsboltssmalliconThere are many reasons why people might find it difficult to speak up in a Bible study. Some will fear getting the answers wrong; some will be too shy to speak up; some will be intimidated by the group setting; some won’t have their head in the game and be distracted by other matters. So how can we make it easier for people to engage?

You might also find that the same people tend to dominate discussion. They are quick to jump in and answer questions or perhaps they will tend to offer an opinion on most topics. Some people are more confident in handling the Bible and others rely on their experience or general knowledge in answering questions. So how can we get others to contribute and keep the study from being a forum for one or two ‘experts’?

Here’s a suggestion: try the consider—consult—contribute approach.

Consider
When you ask the group a question get people to take some time to consider the answer for themselves. Point them back to the Bible and get them thinking about what it means and how it applies. No one needs to speak up at this point.

Consult
Then suggest people get together in twos and threes to discuss their observations and answers together. If there are only two or three people, it will make it easier for the less confident people to speak up. Make it okay for people ‘not to be sure’ and get people cooperating by sharing their thoughts and ideas. Encourage people to listen to each other and give one another equal time.

Contribute
After people have had time to work things through in their pairs and triplets, a few people can be invited to share their little group’s findings with the group as a whole. If you ask a few questions using this approach, then you can ensure that a variety of people contribute by sharing with the group.

Sounds of silence

nutsboltssmalliconYou ask a question of your group and you’re met with blank looks and the sounds of silence. What do you do?

We all have different tolerance levels when it comes to silence. Some leaders are tempted to jump in and immediately answer their own questions. This isn’t a good idea, as it doesn’t do much for group dynamics! If you need to answer your own questions then you might as well be giving a lecture, not leading a small group discussion or Bible study.

As a general rule you can assume that the silence will seem longer to you than it will to others. People need thinking and processing time. Some need more than others. If the silence continues for an unbearable period, then you might want to ask the group if anyone understood your question. Perhaps your question was unclear, confusing, or too complicated. Maybe you’ve actually woven more than one question together and people are trying to unpack what you’ve asked. It might be helpful to rephrase your question, or ask if there is someone in the group who could repeat the question in their own words. Asking good questions is a skill to be mastered and we will pick up on this in other posts.

Leading growth groups

swiss_army_knifeLeading 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.

Qualifications

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.

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)

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:

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: 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; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 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.

And remember

when the chief Shepherd appears,
you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

We live, breathe, think, act and speak in the light of eternityLeaders, 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.

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.

Serving the church in growth groups

swiss_army_knifeSome churches see growth groups as subsets of the whole church. Others view church as the sum of all the growth groups. Whichever direction we’re coming from, it’s helpful to consider the relationship between the groups and the wider church. There are some things that the growth group can do more effectively than the larger congregation and vice versa.

Perhaps the greatest strength of a growth group is the emphasis on relationships and the opportunity to be more personal and specific in ministry to one another. In larger churches people can easily get lost in the crowd. People may not see the need to contribute or the opportunities that exist for them to use their gifts. If things always seem to get done by someone somehow, then we may not feel there is much for us to do.

There are two significant ways that growth groups can work to serve the church. The first is by seeking to encourage and equip each member of the group to use their God-given gifts to serve God by building the church into maturity. The second is by the group collectively seeking out ways to serve the whole church according to its mission and needs.

Before we look at these opportunities, it’s important to stress that Christian service should flow from the gospel. Christ came first to serve us. He brought us into relationship with God through his death, and gave us his Spirit to enable us to serve him out of love. If we overlook, or assume, the gospel then people will end up serving out of guilt, obligation, or some other wrong motive. Such motivation and thinking will destroy the Christian and the church. It’s not about what we have to do for God, it’s about all what God has done for us and others. Let’s seek to keep Biblical perspective.

Encouraging people to grow their gifts in service

Growth groups provide a more intimate environment for people to learn to serve one another. Ministry grows and develops as people look to the needs of others and consider how they can use what God has given them to meet these needs. Leaders should seek to make the most of the opportunities to spur on the members of the group in ministry to each other. Why not set the goal of every member of your group being actively involved in Christian service—this term, or this year? Your group could be just the place to start. Here are a few ideas to get you going:

  1. Bible study: Different members of the group may benefit from the opportunity to prepare and lead studies in the group. This can provide a good training opportunity as the leader assists in preparation or provides feedback afterwards.
  2. Hospitality: People can learn to exercise hospitality by hosting the group from time to time. They can also be encouraged to have people to meals, invite others out, and create opportunities to share in each other’s lives.
  3. Supper or meals: A member of the group can take responsibility for organising this. Everyone can contribute food and drinks as they are able. It helps for this not to fall to the leader to make all the arrangements.
  4. Prayer: Each member of the group can be encouraged to share matters for prayer, and to pray for the others. Ask people to keep praying for matters throughout the week. Someone could take on the role of prayer coordinator.
  5. One to one: People can be encouraged to meet individually with others in the group for a particular purpose. A new Christian might appreciate doing some basic Bible studies with an older Christian. Someone going through a tough time might enjoy regular support and prayer. A person checking out Christianity might be willing to read through a Gospel with someone.

It’s worthwhile for leaders to take the time to get to know the members of their groups so that they can encourage them into areas of service, and to persevere in their service. Consider these questions: Are people currently serving in an area of church life? Do they have gifts in children’s or youth ministry? What evangelistic opportunities do they have at work? How do they go about reading and applying the Bible for themselves? Do they show initiative in service? What examples have you seen of them sacrificially putting themselves out for others?

If you can’t answer many of these sorts of questions about the members of your group, then arrange to connect with people on a more personal basis. Perhaps, you could spend the next term having a different group member, or couple, over each week before the group meets so as to get to know them and further the ministry conversation.

If your church has a formal process for encouraging people into Christian service, then leaders can help facilitate their members being involved in this. Our church offers ‘serve chats’ which explore issues of gifts, ministry experience, training, and needs and opportunities. Leaders can encourage their group members to engage in these chats or offer to conduct one themselves.

It’s also helpful for leaders to be aware of the needs and opportunities in the church. Pastors should keep leaders informed of the needs for musicians, Sunday School teachers, people to visit nursing homes, people to pray in church, church welcomers, people to host evangelistic courses, and the like. This will create a dialogue within the life of the group and church. The church makes known its needs and the group identifies who is gifted, interested, suitable and available. Likewise, leaders should stay turned to ministry training opportunities and encourage the right people to participate.

Growth groups have another advantage for encouraging Christian service. Each week people open the Bible, learn of God and his grace, and are moved to change and put their trust in God. Sometimes this has very specific ministry application and the leaders and their groups are able to follow this closely with members of the group. For example, if the application area has to do with giving generously to the gospel, then the group can help people work through what it means to give generously and how specifically to make it happen at church.

The group serving the church

Some churches arrange ministry responsibilities in rosters or teams based around growth groups. Our evening church engages the groups in setting up and packing up church on a rotational basis. It’s too big a job for one or two people, and it gets the growth groups serving together. Similar things have been arranged with hosting newcomers courses, with groups providing refreshments, welcome teams, and other areas. There are all kinds of possibilities.

The danger of the ‘group rostered on’ approach is that it may not account for the particular circumstances or gifts of the group members. It could lead to service out of duty rather than coming from a particular passion to serve. Sometimes there can be resentment simply from being rostered on. If things are arranged this way, then it’s important for good communication with the members of the group.

Another angle on groups serving the church is where the initiative comes from the group itself. We encourage growth groups to discuss together whether there are practical ways that the group can be serving the church. Perhaps the group could enquire of the pastors or church leadership team about the needs and opportunities that they could meet collectively. It might be a one-off project, or an ongoing commitment.

There is a power in collective thinking and action. It helps people to be dependent upon one another, to value each other’s gifts and difference, and to cooperate to achieve something greater than people could do on their own. People get to see one another in ministry and this tends to spur each other on further in our service.

There are many examples of how groups can serve a church. A group could organise a church camp or a social event. They could coordinate an outreach event, or visit a local nursing home. Perhaps, they could offer a baby-sitting service to parents in church who rarely get time off. They could provide specific support for a missionary serving overseas. They could commit to additional prayer for a particular need of the church.

The service doesn’t need to be limited to the church either. We are wanting to see our family, friends, neighbours, workmates and others come to know Jesus personally. The group could decide to coordinate an event to help people understand Jesus better. They might see a need in the local school or community, such as catering for a breakfast club, or buddying with disadvantaged kids, or gardening support for the elderly. They might join together to help provide support and finances for a local chaplain.

We want to encourage our growth groups to be nurseries for Christian service. People can learn to look around and see the needs of others to know Jesus and see the needs of Christians to be loved and grow into maturity together. The growth group provides a wonderful context to match the gifts that God has given to the opportunities for their use. Let’s not take for granted or waste what God has so generously given.

10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.  (1 Peter 4:11-12)

Multiplying leaders in growth groups

swiss_army_knifeswiss_army_knifeswiss_army_knifeswiss_army_knifeWe’re forever feeling the desperate need for more leaders. The shortage of leaders to cope with the growing demand for new groups, the exit of leaders moving on for reasons of work or the like, people dropping out of leadership when their lives change due to relationships, the attrition of leaders who’ve been serving for years. These are all reasons that we keep banging the drum for more people to sign up as leaders. They’re all reasonable reasons, but they’re not THE reason we should be committed to multiplying leaders. There’s a better reason by far…

We want to keep spreading the great news of Jesus Christ, because this honours God and it leads to people’s lives being transformed.

God’s word changes people. It keeps reminding us that we are not at the centre of the universe – God is! He is number one. He deserves all honour and praise. God has given us the great news about Jesus Christ so as to rescue people from despair and darkness, and to bring them into life and hope. We want to keep multiplying leaders so as to keep this news in front of people. We want more and more people in groups being encouraged to honour God, to trust God, to live for God. We want our groups to grow together in the truth of God’s word, in love for one another, in prayerful dependence on God, and with a passion to see others reached with the good news of salvation. We want to equip leaders who are focused on doing their part in building God’s kingdom.

The maths we are looking for is multiplication. We don’t want to divide leaders, nor do we want to subtract them. But it’s not enough to simply add leaders either. Our goal is for leaders to grow leaders to grow leaders. If one leader grows one leader in one year, then we have two. If the two leaders grow one leader each in one year, then we have four. If the four leaders grow one leader each in one year, then we have eight. You see how it can work.

If only the first leader adds one leader each year, then in ten years you have eleven leaders. But if every leader adds one leader each year, then in ten years you have over one thousand leaders! This is the power of multiplication. Of course, this is an ideal world. It doesn’t allow for drop out, attrition, failure to train, poor systems, and everything else that gets in the way. But what potential and it all starts with just one leader.

If this is going to happen, then multiplication needs to be built into our DNA as churches. We should not only seek to add a leader, but to add a leader who will add a leader who will add a leader. We need to communicate a vision for multiplying leaders. When someone is recruited and trained as a leader, we should be calling them not simply to be a leader, but to be a recruiter and trainer of more leaders, who will do the same.

Jesus didn’t just call men to himself. He called men to call men (and women and children). The Apostle Paul didn’t simply call Timothy to succeed him. He called him to this continuing task…

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.  (2 Timothy 2:2)

Teasing this out, Paul is saying: ‘You Timothy (#2) take my words (#1) and entrust to reliable people (#3, #4, etc) who will do a good job teaching others (#5, #6, etc).’

Not counting the many witnesses, there are at least four generations, and six or more people, involved in this responsibility. Paul is looking to the future. This is his last letter. He’s nearing the end of his ministry and he’s passionate about the ministry of the gospel continuing. He wants the gospel to be protected and the way to protect it is by ensuring its faithful spread.

Perhaps you have heard the story of the Wollomi Pine. It was thought to be extinct, until a very small population of trees was found in the wild in NSW. The species needed to be protected, so what was the strategy? Fence off the small plantation to protect from outside influence? Would this ensure its survival? No. The plan to preserve the Wollomi Pine involved planting seeds everywhere. Nurseries, greenhouses, in the wild, wherever a patch of ground could be found. The key to its survival was its spread. It’s the same with the gospel. We guard it by passing it on to others who will keep doing the same.

What does this mean for our growth group leaders? It means we seek to keep growing leaders, not to meet our needs, but to guard the gospel, to honour God, and to see people’s lives transformed for eternity. So how do we do it?

Leaders on the look out

We want all our growth group leaders to be on the look out for more leaders. Sometimes we might see ready-made leaders just waiting for an opportunity to be asked or step up. This can happen due to people changing churches or being trained in another ministry, such as a university group, but not yet serving as a leader at church. However, more importantly, we should be looking for opportunities to grow new leaders, so as to keep multiplying.

There are a few things to look for in seeking out suitable people. I suggest looking for FAST people. Such people are faithful, available, sacrificial, and teachable. They show their commitment to the group by turning up each week. They do more than turn up. They’re seeking ways to serve others, following up people during the week, asking about answers to prayer. You’ll find them in the kitchen doing the dishes. They go out of their way to offer lifts to others. They show restraint in Bible study, not dominating the discussion, but contributing thoughtfully. They offer to lead a study here and there and ask for feedback and help. They look for ways to serve at church or in the group and they’re open to being trained.

Connecting with core people

Having identified potential leaders, we need to invest in them. Engage them in thinking about leadership and give them opportunities to grow. If there are one or two people in the group who could fill this role, then we suggest talking with them. Excite them about the potential to become leaders a little way down the track. Spend extra time with these people. Perhaps have them for a meal before the group now and then, or catch up for a coffee. You could talk together about how the group is going and how they could take a role in preparing to lead. You could pray for the members of your group. Maybe they could meet one to one with someone else in the group to pray and read the Bible. They could take a responsibility for some organisational role in the group such as coordinating meals, or sending out prayer points. It will help to give them opportunity to lead some studies or coordinate the prayer times. If they’re inexperienced at leading studies, then you could meet with them to help and provide suggestions and support. Give them helpful encouragement and feedback afterwards. Remember, you want to build leaders, not cut people down. So be thoughtful and considerate.

Apprenticing leaders

We want to encourage all our group leaders to seek to identify and purposefully get alongside one or more others in their group each year for the purpose of multiplying leaders. Some churches describe this process in an official or organised manner as ‘apprenticing leaders’. This is what we want to be doing, whether it’s ad hoc, informal, formal, or whatever. The apprenticing strategy has great strengths. It’s on-the-job, highly relational, contextual, personally targeted, intensive training. The apprentice gets to learn from the practitioner by becoming a practitioner also.

This can also reveal a weakness of apprenticeship training. It depends very much on the quality of the trainer. If the current leader sets a poor example, fails to invest time, neglects their leadership responsibilities, or has a maverick attitude to leading in the church, then these problems can sometimes be reproduced down the line. For this and other reasons, we recommend complementing the apprenticeship approach with a training course.

Training courses

Most training courses begin with a curriculum to be transferred to the participants. The key is to identify what should be in the core curriculum for growth group leaders. Two courses stand out in our experience. Both are reviewed on this site: Growth Groups and Spice it Up. Growth Groups is the longer and more detailed of the two courses. Spice it Up is briefer, but seeks to incorporate wisdom from both Growth Groups and Leading Better Bible StudiesOver the years many of our training courses have drawn on material from these and other sources.

These courses rightly focus mainly on the preparation and leading of Bible studies as the core component in the life of the group. We believe the emphasis should be here, because this is how God changes our hearts. However, we desire our growth groups to be contexts of prayer, pastoral care, every member ministry, promoting the gospel, training, supporting the church, and more. For this reason, a tailored training program that addresses the range of growth group issues is required.

We suggest that a course be conducted at least once a year, with sufficient time to prepare new leaders to begin leading in the year ahead. Third term seems ideal for this. We can build on the apprenticing work that has begun in the earlier part of the year, and give opportunities to put things into practice in the later part of the year. The hope will be that trained people will go on to become leaders, but this should never be assumed. We may discover that some people are not suited to serve in this way.

Multiplying groups

If we are going to multiply, or even add, groups in our churches, then this will require leaders to move from one group to another. There are a number of possible approaches:

  • groups disband at the end of the year and an increased number of groups begin in the new year, incorporating new leaders
  • some leaders are kept back from groups at the start of the year, so as to lead groups as needed later in the year
  • apprentice leaders take over the leadership of the group they belong to, while the existing leaders leave to start another
  • newly trained or apprentice leaders leave a group to start another group
  • the group divides into two with newly trained or apprentice leaders taking one half and the existing leaders the other

There are strengths and weaknesses with all these approaches. Disruption to relationships and the welfare of existing groups should be avoided where possible, but we will need to prepare for some discomfort if we are going to keep growing the growth groups ministry. Good communication, no surprises, sufficient time and preparation for change will all help.

Not just groups

The strategy of multiplying leaders is not just for our growth group ministry. Our goal is for every area of service within the church to embrace the culture of multiplication. Let’s keep training and equipping one another to build the church of Jesus Christ through evangelism and edification, for the sake of God’s glory.

Who could you get alongside to equip for ministry? How can you pass on what you’re doing to others? Not doing much? Then whom could you ask to train and equip you?