Spiritual Responsibility at the Small-Group Leader Level

Somewhere between "hands on" and "hands off" lies the key to a balance in authority.

How can a church be assured that spiritual growth is happening in its small groups? Most churches adopt a structure between two extremes.

Hands on?  In some churches, there is the "hands on" approach. The leaders feel a strong sense of spiritual responsibility for what happens in their groups. They desire to have close contact in the supervision of group leaders, a unified curriculum, a standardized group meeting schedule, and frequent reports from group leaders.

Hands off?  At the other end of the scale is the "hands off" method. In these churches, those responsible for the spiritual oversight of the church prefer to allow group formation to happen more informally, and enforce little structure on the groups.

Our Structure:  The Authority of the Small Group Leader

Our church has adopted an authority structure that falls somewhere between the extremes described above. We allow a large amount of authority at the group leader level.

What the structure looks like.  We have a full-time small groups pastor, along with coaches who each work with 5-8 group leaders. But the group leader is the one who makes real shepherding and discipling happen. We free the leaders to shape their groups based on the individuality of the group itself. The key to success in this structure is to only ask people to lead groups whom we can trust to be good spiritual leaders. That is, we recruit the right person, and then grant them the freedom to listen to and act upon God's leading for their group.

Recruiting and training is key.  In order to be sure the right people are placed into group leadership, we require the following of potential leaders:

  • Participate in our four-week small group leader's basic training

  • Serve as a co-leader with one of our existing leaders for at least one year, and be recommended for leadership by that leader.

(Side note:as small groups pastor, I work with our small group leaders through an eight-month process every January-August to raise up leaders out of their groups.)

What are the benefits?

  • Only qualified leaders lead groups.

  • Leaders aren't hassled by unnecessary bureaucracy.

  • Sufficient accountability to ensure that groups are accomplishing the necessary basics for spiritual growth of the individuals in the group.

  • We are assured that every group is involved in Bible truth.

  • We know that every individual in a group will be shepherded and cared for properly.

  • Groups and their leaders can easily mold to the individual needs of their group members.

  • Qualified lay leadership is being raised up in our church.

  • The church's overall leaders have fewer worries about what is happening in the groups.

Challenges to this approach.

  • Compared to some methods, groups start more slowly. For example, a church in a fast-growth mode might not have time to wait for the extended training this method implies.

  • It's not foolproof:leaders can still "drop the ball" if they don't continue to lead as they have been trained.

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