It's kind of strange to think of him this way, but I believe that Jesus was the ultimate small-group leader. In part 1 of this article, I explored that claim in light of Jesus' fitness to teach spiritual truth, his audience, and his goals.
In part 2, below, I'll explore Jesus' focus as a group leader, his methods, and the results of his work. These six explorations are a combination of my own study and the influence of a book written by J. M. Price in 1946 called Jesus the Teacher.
Jesus' Focus as a Group Leader
- Jesus focused on the long haul. Jesus took a deep course when considering the life development of his followers. He looked at the future possibilities of his group members, not just their present status. Jesus knew that it took time to develop character by forming values, attitudes, and habits.
What about the members of your group. Where will they be spiritually when your group ends? How can you improve your teaching to show "long-term thinking" when it comes to leading your group spiritually?
- Jesus focused on personal needs. Jesus started where people were in the journey of becoming his follower. He started with personal interest and needs. Then, as those needs were met, he was able to lead his followers to the deeper places he wanted them to go.
What about you? Are you in touch with the emotional, physical, and social needs of your group members? How do your group's life experiences reflect that you are conscience of these needs?
- Jesus focused on spiritual needs. Jesus did not spent time on incidental matters. He did not focus on geography, history, or customs. He did not set up elaborate systems of doctrine. He did not even stress Scripture memory, as far as we know. Instead he focused on the heart of man's problems—our spiritual state.
What about you? What are the spiritual needs of those you lead? How can your leadership play a role in guiding them to the next steps in their spiritual quest?
- Jesus focused on a moral conscience. The Pharisees and Scribes sought to make people change through external pressures. For example, one of their laws had 42 regulations regarding how one could tie a knot on the Sabbath. Jesus pointed out that external pressures did not work (Luke 11:46). He appealed to the moral consciousness of man. He did not use emotional manipulation or ask people to do anything as evidence of acceptance of truth. He wanted decisions that were inwardly motivated, so he appealed to that in his teaching.
What about you? How does your teaching motivate people to change? Do you focus on external pressures, or on the internal work of God in the moral conscience of man? Think of your next lesson. How will you appeal to the moral conscience of your listeners?
- Jesus focused on the best in people. Jesus believed that the best way to get faith out of someone was to show your faith in them. He stressed the future possibilities of his disciples, showed interest in them, and inspired them to achieve what is good. He took the most unruly people of his and made them into people of incredible character.
What about you? Why do we sometimes lean towards the doubt, discouragement, and defeat of those we influence? What practical steps can we take to lead as Jesus did and focus on the potential best in those we serve?
Jesus' Methods as a Group Leader
Many a group leader has taken 30 minutes to teach a truth with their mouth, when other methods would make the truth clear in about two minutes. Jesus was a master at using a variety of methods to communicate truth. Effective group leaders would be well served to study Jesus' methods and put them into practice.
The following are just a few examples of Jesus' masterful skill in using a variety of methods to help his "group" understand God's truth
- Jesus used objects. Jesus was a close observer of nature and made considerable use of natural phenomena in his lessons. Some examples are: sun, rain, vines, branches, fig tree, mustard seeds, ears of corn, wheat, tares, sparrows, ravens, eagles, vipers, oxen, foxes, dogs, sheep, goats, light, and soil—just to name a few.
Jesus also used a variety of everyday human objects as conduits of truth. He placed a child in the center of his group, for example. He washed feet. He pointed to Caesar's coin, a water pot, a skin of wine, a lamp, a bushel, a widow's mite, a farmer sowing seed, men catching fish, men constructing a house, and a king going to war. Nothing escaped his eye. He constantly used current events and daily chores to make truth come alive.
What about you? How aware are you of the elements of nature around you when it comes to illustrating truth?
- Jesus used drama. The Jewish culture was quite used to reenactments of history. Their feasts and festivals often took on lives of their own. Instead of reading about the past, they relived it. Jesus understood that, and used this knowledge to inaugurate several dramatic moments that have been celebrated by his disciples for millennia. The Lord's Supper is a good example of this, as is Jesus' dramatic entry into Jerusalem on a donkey.
What about you? How can you create a dramatic experience to communicate truth? Is there a place or event your group can experience together in order to gain a better understanding of truth?
- Jesus used stories. This method stands out as Jesus' primary method of communicating truth. He is without a doubt the world's greatest storyteller. The word "parable" is used about 50 times in the New Testament, and there are a number of allegories and other illustrations that bring the total closer to 100. Such stories deal with people, animals, and plants and include the Good Samaritan, the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the Prodigal Son.
Jesus used stories to secure attention, shed light on a principle or truth that had previously been stated, and deliver an entire lesson. What about you? When was the last time you told a story instead of using Bible studies? How can you use the stories of your group members as a part of your lessons?
- Jesus used lectures. Lectures are designed to present information that is not known by the listener. Jesus seemed to use lecture primarily for large groups. For example, the Sermon on the Mount was a lecture He spoke to thousands of people there. He also lectured in John 14–17, which was his farewell speech to his disciples. Indeed, the New Testament holds about 60 discourses of Jesus to large groups of people.
What about you? When is it appropriate to lecture in a small-group setting? How long should you talk before inviting others to interact? How can you help group members better prepare to interact with the topic being presented?
- Jesus used questions and discussions. Questions provoke thought. They get people involved in the discussion, help clarify truth, and reveal whether group members are learning. Questions should be clear, short, and understandable.
Jesus began asking questions publicly as a 12-year-old boy in the Temple. The Gospels contain approximately 154 questions that He asked. Some of these include: Why do you call me good? What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? Do you love me more than these? Two great examples of how Jesus used questions and discussion are the Samaritan woman and Nicodemus.
What about you? How much time do you put in preparing questions for your lesson? What kind of questions do you ask? Here are some of the different types of questions that Jesus used in his teaching, and that you can use, as well:
- Personal preparation—What are you struggling with?
- Personal interjection—If you had been there, what would you have done?
- Observation—What is being said here?
- Background—Where else in Scripture does this appear?
- Reflection—Why is this important?
- Personal Evaluation—What is God saying to you about this?
- Application—What is the next step for you? What are we to learn from this?
- Personal preparation—What are you struggling with?
Jesus' Results as a Group Leader
- People felt valued. Before Jesus came, the religious leaders looked down their noses at publicans and sinners. Jews would not interact with Samaritans; Gentiles were regarded as heathens; women were the servants of men; and children were looked on as property. Jesus changed all of that. His life and teaching and interactions with all people raised their value—regardless of gender, race, social status, or age.
What about you? How do you affirm the value of your group members? Is your group open to all people? Are you taking seriously the training of children? Are women allowed to lead?
- Lives were changed. Changing lives was at the very heart of what Jesus came to do. He came to break the bondage of sin and set our souls free to follow Him.
What about you? What lives have been changed by your leadership? How were they changed? How have people become more free to follow Jesus as a result of your leadership?