The number one barrier to someone stepping up to lead a small group is the word leader.
Take five seconds right now and think about what you imagine when you hear that word. Go ahead, I’ll wait. What came to mind? A CEO of a large company? A head of state? The senior pastor of your church?
We all have preconceived ideas of what a leader should be, sound, and look like. I imagine someone who is tall (I’m short), extroverted (I’m an introvert), a scholar (I, um … struggled), and forceful (definitely not me). Basically, someone who is the opposite of me.
There is no template for an effective leader. Every successful leader is flawed. In fact, the Bible is filled with damaged and flawed leaders. Here are just a few:
- Adam, the first human being, couldn’t lead his own family. His firstborn ended up killing his brother.
- Eve, the first woman, became greedy and took the first bite (literally) into sin.
- Noah, the last righteous man on Earth at the time, got drunk and slept in the nude (in view of his kids).
- Abraham, the forefather of faith, let other men walk off with his wife on two different occasions.
- Sarah, the wife of Abraham, let her husband sleep with another woman and then hated her for it.
- Moses, the humblest man on the face of the earth, had a serious problem with his temper.
- David, the friend of God, concealed his adultery with a murder.
- Peter, the man Jesus named “the Rock,” denied Christ three times.
- Paul, the author of most of the New Testament, was a Pharisee who persecuted Christians before becoming one and was hampered by a “thorn in the flesh” after becoming one.
I could go on and on, but you get the picture: the Bible shows us men and women who had issues just like us. Yet, God still used them to build a movement that has not slowed down in more than two thousand years. Even with the death of the only perfect leader, Jesus!
Michael Kelley says that “Leadership is the joyful acceptance of responsibility at a given moment.” I like that definition because, ultimately, leading a small group is supposed to be joyful. It won’t always be easy or fun, but knowing you were integral in someone’s life being changed through the power of community is one of the most joyful things you will do.
To help us know what a small group leader is, let’s consider a few things he or she is not.
1. Someone who has all the answers.
A leader who has all the answers is not a leader anyone should follow. First, it’s impossible, but most of all, we want to follow someone humble enough to admit they don’t know it all.
2. Someone who can teach the Bible weekly.
There are some with the gift of teaching, but a small group experience is not about one person teaching and the rest learning. It’s a shared discussion where we are all growing together.
A small group leader is a facilitator of a synergistic conversation with the Bible as the guide.
3. Someone who is everyone’s best friend.
Our job as small group leaders is not to make deep relationships with every person in the group. Not only is that unwise, but it’s also unhealthy.
Our goal should be to find two to three same-sex people in the group we can disciple outside group time and help other people in the group do the same.
I identify with what Paul said in 1 Corinthians:
“I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power”(1 Corinthians 2:3–5).
Isn’t that freeing? God chose me and you, sinners and flawed human beings, because He wants all our faith to be in Him, not in our own abilities. When your group members look at you, they are not putting their faith in you as the leader, but in the Spirit’s power working through your weakness.
The Shepherd Leader
Peter gave us this definition of leadership as he exhorted the elders of the first-century church:
“Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but willingly, as God would have you; not out of greed for money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:2–4).
Notice Peter did not say, “Teach God’s flock.” The spiritual gift of teaching is not the most essential gift for a small group leader. In fact, the teaching gift sometimes does not translate well into leading a small group. That is one reason why a senior pastor is not always a great small group leader. I always suggest a teaching pastor be in a small group but not lead a group.
The elders of the church were put in place to shepherd the congregation in the same way we as small group leaders are to shepherd our portion of the church.
Although we are not that familiar with shepherds in today’s society, God chose shepherds throughout the Bible to lead His people. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David were all shepherds chosen as leaders by God.
Jesus even referred to Himself as a shepherd: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me” (John 10:14).
Small group leaders are called to follow in His footsteps.
Chris Surratt (@ChrisSurratt) is a ministry consultant and coach with more than twenty years of experience. He served on church staffs prior to becoming the discipleship and small groups specialist for Lifeway Christian Resources. He is the author of Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group, from which this is excerpted and adapted with permission from B&H Publishing Group. You can follow his blog at ChrisSurratt.com.