Being a Small Group Leader

basglBeing 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:

  1. Knowledge of God
  2. Character
  3. Teaching ability
  4. Encouragement of others
  5. Leadership

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.

framework

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.

Caring for One Another

caringWho of us wouldn’t want our churches to be genuine communities of meaningful, caring relationships? Perhaps this is your experience already. People invest in each other, they look out for one another, they show genuine interest, they seek help, they ask what they can pray and then they pray. They do more than offer support to others, they show deep empathy, compassion, and practical care. Maybe this is a bit of overreach, but you see glimpses of it and you want it more and more. Right?

If you’re a pastor or church leader, there is a danger of burning out due to the endless expectations that people place on you. Are you tired and weary from being expected to be the ‘minister’ to everyone? Do you wish that some other people would step up a bit, or that other leaders would share the load? Do you long for a community where everyone is looking out for one another?

Or are you getting disappointed that ministry has become more and more like social work? Are you worried that people’s health and finances and relationships are what seem to matter most? Do you lament the lack of spiritual engagement between people throughout the week, and worry that Sunday conversations rarely get beyond small talk?

Let me offer a suggestion for taking things deeper.

Ed Welch has released a new book called Caring for One Another: 8 Ways to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships. Get yourself a copy, read it, and start getting those around you to buy in. Following on from one of his previous books, Side by Side, he provides a simple and practical resource for equipping Christians for real interpersonal ministry. It’s a brief book—8 short chapters that get us thinking about how to encourage each other to live in the light of the gospel of Jesus. There are great ideas, Biblical foundations, practical recommendations, and each chapter finishes with questions for discussion and application.

This book is intended to be read with others. I can see it providing a good tool for one-to-one meetings with key leaders, or in small group leader training, or with a pastoral care team. It’s not specifically a book for leaders—it’s intended to mobilise everyone in the church to be encouraging and building each other—but I’d start by working these things through with leaders and then mobilise them to equip others.

Welch’s book is less of a ‘how to manual’ and more of a ‘keys to the heart’ guide—but practical and hands on nonetheless. He shows deep understanding of God’s part and our part in God’s work of changing people. Humility, prayer, understanding our weaknesses and sin, reflecting carefully on suffering, and knowing the power of God and the gospel are all critical. Caring for One Another moves well past the theoretical. It aims to grow intentionality and to activate us in relationship with each other. It’s grounded in a deep understanding of how people tick and it’s littered with great ideas and suggestions for making things happen.

I’ve read through this book quickly, but I plan to go over it again, and probably again, and again, by reading it with others. I recommend you do too.

Welch writes in his closing:

Caring for One Another has identified ordinary features of person-to-person engagement. There is nothing new here. The purpose has been to remember and live out applications of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But in that, the very power of God is further on display, and the church is strengthened and drawn together. (p67)

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.