Who Says So?

Lurking beneath the surface of small group life and leadership is the issue of authority.

Jason shared with his small group that he had moved in with Jackie…even though they weren't married. As Jason's group leader, what should Nick do?

Jackie was excited about the new direct marketing company she had joined. As a group leader, she felt it was a natural step for her to tell her group members about the company's great products and opportunities. As Jackie's coach, Barb knew that this practice was against church policy (and could damage the group), but Jackie was such a great group leader and she didn't want to turn her off. What should she do?

Lurking beneath the surface of small group life and leadership is the issue of authority. It is not frequently discussed openly, but it affects the way leaders act in these and other situations.

Some leaders are afraid of hearing what Moses heard from the Israelites: "Who made you ruler and judge over us?" Many others ask themselves the question Jeremiah did, "Who am I to say anything?"

Authority can be a touchy subject in 21st century America. However, in order to effectively lead a group or coach another leader, we need to inwardly come to terms with it. Specifically, group leaders need to understand and embrace the authority given them by God and by their church. And the foundation for exercising authority is submitting to authority.

Our authority from God

Has anyone ever told you to "mind your own business?" Ironically, the New Testament asks us to mind each other's business. And in a small group we have the chance to do just that; to encourage one another, to bear one another's burdens, to weep with those who weep and to mourn with those who mourn… yes, even to "admonish one another". After all, if my friends in Christ won't help me recognize where I am slipping or cheer me on to obedience, who will? And how can I grow to maturity if no one helps me?

Hebrews 10:24 says "let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." That was written not just to pastors, but to all believers!

Exactly how leaders "spur on" will depend on their church's philosophy of small group ministry. But regardless of approach, the primary source of authority to speak into someone's life spiritually comes from our standing with God. Who am I to pray boldly for someone's healing? I am a child of God who has been given the promise that I can ask anything in Jesus' name. Who am I to hear about someone else's inner life? I am part of the body of Christ, connected both to Jesus and to His people. Who am I to urge someone else to walk away from a sin? I am fellow traveler on the path with Jesus who is seeking to steer from sin and stay close to Christ.

The more people feel the honest love of the leader, the more they will allow that leader to speak into their lives. Just as "Friends don't let friends drive drunk", the more we care about people the more we will risk getting involved in their lives. People will respond best when they sense that the group leader is truly connected and growing with Christ (not perfect).

Realistically, not everyone will respond in a positive way to a group leader's authority. Even so, when exercised in love and humility, it has great disciple-making power.

Might group leaders slip into legalism and force their own interpretations on people? Perhaps. The answer to that concern, however, is effective leader training, not abandoning the biblical injunction to watch over one another in love.

Our authority from the church

The other source of authority for a group leader is the church leadership. When we train our group leaders at Crossroads Church, we remind them they have authority delegated from the senior pastor. When they go into a hospital room they are an extension of the pastoral ministry of the church. When they lead a group, the group members can be assured that this leader has been trained by the pastoral staff and is operating according to the standards and practices of the church. The role of group leader is created by the church and for the church. No leader should think of their group as a private fiefdom.

In order to wield authority in a group in a healthy way the leader must be submitted to the authority of the church's leadership. This means leaders will speak positively about the ministry and direction of the church, both in the group and out. Leaders must be loyal and defend the leadership and ministry of the church within their circles of influence. Leaders need to advance the vision of the church. If leaders cannot or will not do this, then they should not be leaders. Pastors ignore this principle at their own peril, and group leaders who have integrity will be submissive.

As a group leader, who am I to spiritually influence someone else? I am a child of God and an extension of the ministry of my church.

When group leaders use their God-given and church-granted authority in a healthy manner, they can advance the king dom of God in marvelous ways.

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