By Michael C. Mack
One of the fundamental differences between healthy and unhealthy small groups is the spiritual vitality of the leaders. Healthy leaders have a soft heart that God can use to accomplish his will. While imperfect, they are highly committed first to God, and then to the group.
Healthy leaders have the following attributes:
One of your main functions as a small group leader is to build an environment where spiritual transformation is experienced. This happens best when you have first experienced transformation yourself.
What happened to Peter and the other disciples between the Gospels and Acts to bring about the transformation they experienced? It was a process Jesus began three years earlier, but that came to fruition with the power of the resurrection (John 20), the power of reconciliation (John 21), and finally the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Then Jesus used these transformed leaders to build a great, world-transforming church.
He can do the same through you when you spend time with him and allow him to transform your life!
Healthy small group leaders live surrendered to God.
One thing the apostles learned from Jesus was how to live and lead in surrender to God’s will. Great small group leaders turn to Christ for everything: whom to invite to the group, the group’s purpose, and what to study. To do this, you must pray and then wait before making decisions. Great group leaders know that if they surrender their leadership to Christ, they will accomplish far more than they can do in their own power.
Healthy small group leaders are committed to their calling.
God first calls people to lead, then he gifts them to lead, and last, he empowers them to lead. The leadership God has entrusted to you is a precious gift of his grace (Ephesians 3:7) you should never take for granted. Accept it willingly, develop it, and multiply it by the mighty working of his power. Be a good steward of his gift to you!
Healthy small group leaders are friends.
Jesus called his group members “friends.” But perhaps that word meant more to Jesus than we think: “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus said, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Real friendship is sacrificial.
A healthy leader considers the members of the group as his or her friends, not as students, participants, or “people who show up at our meetings.” A leader invests into those friendships. A group member from our church wrote:
Joe and I have been in small group with Gary for about five years now. I wasn’t sure about joining a “Bible study,” but this group is so much more. The friendships we have formed are everlasting. Our small group, with Gary as our leader, not only studies the Bible, but we hold each other up; we encourage each other in good and bad times; we have moments where we laugh and sometimes cry; we love each other no matter what; and we know in our hearts that Jesus Christ is always with us. Gary keeps us focused, and he is one of the best friends Joe and I could ever have!
Wouldn’t you want someone in your group to say the same about you? Become their friend!
Healthy small group leaders are friends with non-Christ-followers.
Small group leaders may or may not have the spiritual gift of evangelism, but they do intentionally seek out friendships with those who are not yet friends with God. These friendships are genuine and unconditional . . . no strings attached. Yes, they pray diligently for their friends and watch for opportunities to share their story and the gospel, but they don’t leverage the relationship to force conversations about Christ. Rather, they allow God to use them to shine his light. They allow the overflow of God’s love to pour out of their lives naturally.
Healthy small group leaders are shepherds.
Transformed, surrendered leaders invest relationally in and lovingly guide the group that God puts under their care. I believe being a shepherd is the main role of the small group leader. All the other attributes describe how to do this one well.
“He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young” (Isaiah 40:11, New Living Translation). Great small group leaders invest relationally in the individual members of the group, and not just during group meetings!
Do you know the spiritual condition of your flock (Proverbs 27:23)? The biggest difference between a teacher, facilitator, or host and a shepherd leader is that the former do not necessarily need to know their sheep or lead them spiritually. But that is precisely the role of the shepherd-leader.
Healthy small group leaders are servants first.
Jesus made this one very clear. You can’t be a leader in his kingdom unless you first have the heart of a servant. Why do you want to lead? If it is because it is the best way for you to serve the group, then you are on the right track. If you desire leadership for any other reason, reconsider this role. Find another way to serve the group first.
Healthy small group leaders are growing in competence.
While leading a healthy small group has more to do with heart than skills, a healthy leader is a learner. So remain teachable. Keep reading leadership articles, books, and blogs. Go to every leader training class your church offers. Listen to leadership podcasts and attend leader training events offered in your area.
Most importantly, spend time with Christ every day. Be in his Word, not just to study leadership principles (which are ample in the Bible), but to be filled up so that you may overflow into the lives of others.
Michael Mack is the author of a dozen small group books and studies, including I’m a Leader . . . Now What? available from Standard Publishing. This article is adapted from his latest book, Small Group Vital Signs, which is available online at www.touchusa.org.