By Michael C. Mack
How many people can you effectively lead, shepherd, and disciple? Let me ask the question another way: If you want to see true transformation of people’s lives, into how many people can you invest your life?
How about Jesus? How many people did he disciple? Three of his four disciples, Peter, James, and John, became Jesus’ inner circle or what could be called his core team. Jesus poured his life into these three men, investing into them and modeling a life surrendered to the Father. He took these three away with him to pray and heal, as well as when he was transfigured. Jesus did not ignore the other nine apostles, but he concentrated his time on these three.
Jesus knew something vital that we may overlook: No one can effectively lead, disciple, or shepherd more than about three people. Not even Jesus attempted it. Leading, discipling, and shepherding are based on close relationships in which the leader invests into the lives of those he or she is leading.
Another vital principle goes along with that one: No leader should ever lead alone. Healthy leaders who lead healthy, growing groups share leadership with two to three others. Leading alone leads to frustration and burnout for the leader and does not effectively help people in your group grow. I’ve seen a direct correlation between leaders who share leadership and groups that grow and multiply.
So how do you move from leading solo to team-leading the group? Here are seven steps you can take.
1. Share the load
Ask God to show you whom you should ask to be part of the core team and begin to share leadership with them. Here are a few things that will help you discover the right people for the team:
• Don’t recruit, at least not in the way we usually think of recruiting. Instead, ask the Lord of the harvest to send these workers. Trust him to help you know whom to ask.
• Know what you’re looking for. Look for potential, not perfection. Look for servants, not saints. Look for people with humble hearts, not superior skills or incredible intelligence.
• Look around you. Perhaps God has already put your core team members right around you. They may be the people in the group with whom you already have close relationships or those whose gifts complement yours.
• Don’t do it all. People hesitate to be on a team when the leader does too much. As the group’s leader, you must grow in your ability to allow others to use their gifts.
2. Don’t go back!
I’ve known leaders who have a core team but continue to lead alone. Don’t do it. In fact, ask your core team to hold you accountable. The next step will help with this.
3. Create a clear plan of action.
Determine who on the core team will do what and when. How will you communicate with one another? How often do you want to meet separately from the group to play, pray, and plan?
4. Share shepherding.
Look at your group’s roster when you meet with your core team. With whom do your core team members have natural relationships? Use those friendships as a point of origination to shepherd them through the core team members. In one group at our church, a core couple with young children strategically shepherded the other couples with kids. It was a natural alignment. Later, as the group grew, the couples with kids launched a new group. It could not have happened more organically and easily!
5. Actively develop core team members.
Leadership development is easier with the core team approach, but it requires intentionality on your part. Give your core team members opportunities to lead meetings. Then visit with the core team to encourage and provide feedback. If you do this with other core team members, everyone will benefit and become an encourager. I like doing brief recap sessions right after a meeting, when possible.
6. Attend training sessions together.
When your church has leadership training, recognition, or other small group events, the whole core team should attend. If your church invites only the main leaders to these trainings, extend an invitation to your core team. (Of course, make sure you’ve received approval from your church ministry leader first.)
7. Extend the kingdom.
Core teams make for healthier small groups, and healthy small groups grow. As you move to a core team approach, your group will surely grow and multiply. It is just the natural result of doing small group leadership as a team. In my church, we do not put any time limits or size limits on groups. We simply help them become healthy and the groups branch off or multiply naturally.
Valerie has been a core team member in a woman’s group. About a year ago she told me she thought she was ready to start her own group, so we discussed a time line. She came to our training class. She helped lead. Then life grew hectic. Her brother was in a car accident and was in a coma for weeks. When he came out of it, Valerie became one of his primary caregivers. Leading a new group would have to wait. Through all of this, God was preparing Valerie for leadership. She has grown in her relationship with God, trusting and depending on him more than ever. Now Valerie is sharing leadership with a core team in a new group.
Over the last couple of years, Valerie’s leaders invested into her life and allowed God to overflow from their lives into hers. Valerie would not say that I or her small group leaders called her to leadership; she’d say God has called her. I can’t wait to see what he will do through her as a leader!
Adapted from Small Group Vital Signs (TOUCH Publications, www.touchusa.org). Michael Mack is the author of a dozen small group books and studies, including I’m a Leader . . . Now What? available from Standard Publishing (www.standardpub.com).