Perhaps you’ve had the fun of teaching a kid to swim—or at least taking him to swimming lessons. Or you remember you own experience of learning to swim. A lot of children take to water like a duck and others take a little more coaching. And occasionally one kid just won’t do it. She may not like water, but for whatever reason, she has convinced herself, “I just can’t do it.”
One crusty old guy’s approach is to “just throw ‘em in the pond. They’ll figure it out.”
He is not exactly father-of-the-year, and I doubt any of us would follow his advice … but a lot of leaders use his approach in getting people to lead a group. “Just give ‘em a group. They’ll figure it out.”
There are better ways to raise up group leaders!
For some potential leaders, the biggest hurdle may be helping them see that God can use them to lead a group. Like the hesitant swimmer, they’ve convinced themselves, “I just can’t do it.”
Here’s what I’ve learned along the way to get people to jump into the pool of leadership.
Choosing the Right Role
Every good leader does not need to teach a group. Groups need different types of leaders. In the book 3 Roles for Guiding Groups, David Francis and Ken Braddy say that every group needs three roles: Teacher, Shepherd, and Leader. One person may be able to carry out all three roles, but if he can’t, he should pull in others to help carry out the other roles. Unfortunately, many people don’t think they can teach, so they don’t think they can lead … but they may very much be leaders!
My best group experiences have been when I could focus on the role of teacher. I had others who were shepherds; they handled prayer needs and caring for the group. And one individual served as the leader, taking care of planning and organization. You likely have those same potential leadership roles in your group.
- He’s the guy who readily jumps into the conversation when you’ve asked a question in the group.
- She’s the one who shows compassion and concern when others share prayer request.
- She’s the person who wants to help with the next group party.
Preparing Them to Lead
A conversation that begins with “I think you should be leading in our group,” may generate an instant “yes!” … and it may generate a lot of uncertainty. We often see leadership in others before they see it in themselves, but with a little time and patience, we can help them discover how God can use them.
- Let them watch you. If you have your eye on a potential teacher, let them observe how you prepare. Reading a book is fine, but it’s far greater to watch someone’s example.
- Let them lead in small ways. For a group function, walk with them in leading a small aspect, such as spreading the word or organizing food. Or let a potential teacher lead just a small portion of the group discussion. For example, let him take five minutes to tell about the history or background of what is happening in the passage you’re studying.
- Let them fill in occasionally. This is taking “let them lead in small ways” to the next level. I once had a couple who didn’t think they could lead, but I asked them to fill in one Sunday. They did … and survived. I asked them to substitute again. They did … and they discovered it wasn’t so bad. They became two of my best leaders.
- Meet together regularly. We all benefit from regular training and encouragement. As you bring them onto your group’s leadership team, meet together regularly to talk about challenges and ways to strengthen your different roles in the group. All of you—as leaders together—will benefit.
And your group will benefit as more people step up to lead.
Lynn Pryor is a team leader for adult resources at Lifeway. He and his wife, Mary, lead a Bible study group for young adults and have survived raising two sons to adulthood. A graduate of Southwestern Seminary, Lynn has previously pastored and served churches in Texas. Follow him on his blog at lynnhpryor.com.