by Reid Smith
One of the greatest preventable mistakes made by group leaders is when they try to carry too much – the “I’ll just do it myself” syndrome. If we follow the examples of Jesus and the Apostle Paul, we will purposefully develop others as they serve alongside us (Luke 6:12–13; 2 Timothy 2:2).
Your health and balance as a leader – not to mention the overall health of the group – is dependent on others who will serve alongside you. Having someone to co-lead your group will enhance how you connect with the diversity of people circled up with you. Your co-leader will strengthen how people are cared for in your group and can provide feedback that you would not have otherwise received (Proverbs 27:17). The impact of your leadership will be increased exponentially with the support of one or more co-leaders.
We can find guidance on how to select co-leaders in Luke 6:12-13: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” In this passage, Jesus gives us a four-step process for choosing a co-leader:
- He prayed – Earnestly seek the Lord for clear direction and wait until you get it.
- He called – Initiate a time to personally connect with who He places on your heart.
- He chose – Tell prospective co-leaders what you see in them and why you’re choosing them to partner with you (cf. Mt 16:16-19).
- He designated – Empower them to champion specific aspects of group life in keeping with how God has graced them. For practical ways on how you can go about this, see my post entitled: “Leveraging Spiritual Gifts to Build Community.”
In the process of selecting your co-leader, let them know how you’ll work with them, what it looks like and what they can expect. Start with the end in mind and share a vision for how their leadership will help grow biblical community. Ultimately, experienced co-leaders multiply options for handling numerical growth so new groups can branch out and more people can connect to Christ and the community of His Church.
Groups that have more members taking on more responsibilities are better at making disciples who grow deep and impact wide. Now let’s turn our attention to some tips and tactics for developing your co-leader:
- Give your co-leader smaller tasks at first and look for opportunities to celebrate their accomplishments. After a period of time, let the group know how this person is helping the group in this role of service (Matthew 23:11-12; Mark 10:42-45). In other words, don’t announce that somebody is your co-leader before they’ve started as if it’s a position, but rather affirm the difference their support is already making for the group.
- In the beginning, be sure to shower your co-leader with encouragement. As the relationship grows, you can address areas where they need further development. Be sure to end your coaching times on a positive note, and pray together.
- As co-leaders progress, increase their level of responsibility by preparing for meetings and taking the lead with special events and outreaches. Don’t just delegate tasks to them, but empower them to succeed with greater assignments by applying the following developmental model:
- I do, you watch
- I do, you help
- You do, I help
- You do, I watch
- Find ways to share your life with your co-leader outside of regular meeting times. Meet them on their home turf. Discover what’s in their heart and what outcomes they want to achieve in the next season of your group.
- Know their birthday, anniversary, and what makes them smile, e.g. a specialty coffee, dessert, handwritten note, etc. Then deliver on it!
- Pray for them by name each day. Keep notes on needs and answers to prayer that you can revisit with them.
- Take time with your co-leader to informally debrief group meetings while the experience is still fresh. Ask them to share their observations: What did they feel good about? What observations or questions do they have?
- Make your relationship a priority by listening to their questions, empathizing with their anxiety, and sharing helpful resources that will build their leadership competency.
- Share the frequency with which you’d like to communicate, but do it using methods they prefer, e.g. text, phone, FaceTime/Zoom, email, social media, etc. (See my post entitled “Leadership Investment Rhythms” for more on how you can organize for this.)
- Make an encouraging deposit into their leadership at least once a month with Scripture, quotes, an excerpt or executive summary of a book, video or podcast.
- Loop them into the larger network of leaders you know so they glean from their wisdom and grow in confidence.
- Don’t limit yourself to just one co-leader: Invite group members to take on more responsibility when you sense they are ready for it! People can serve in a variety of ways that will create full-bodied group life and develop their leadership through outreach, communications, coordinating meals or childcare, social outings, etc.
It is never too early to appoint co-leaders! The Apostle Paul knew this. He usually had dozens of people around him who were friends and “fellow-workers” (Philemon 1:24). Several from his missionary band led house churches that were instrumental with the initial spread of the Gospel! Then and now, the multiplication of healthy leaders and groups depend on the kind of missional partnership that is forged with co-leaders (Philippians 1:3-6).