At some point, most small-group leaders feel very overwhelmed and under-qualified for the task at hand. In those moments, we are aware of the need to develop our leadership ability. But those moments come and go, and developing our own leadership capacity often gets put on the back burner. And even when we do have the desire to improve our leadership skills, we often don't know where to start. What tools will help?
Dave Earley has taken a really good shot at making leadership development doable with his new book, The Small Group Leader's Toolkit. He also makes the case through personal stories and examples that leadership development is a high priority. It's worth the investment of your time and energy.
Dave has been very hands-on with small-group leadership and ministry over the years, both in the local church and now in a teaching capacity at Liberty Theological Seminary. This book reflects his experiences in developing leaders. His stories and leadership development ideas are packaged into ten practical topics that he calls "power tools" for personal leadership development. (Conveniently, each tool begins with the letter P.)
Each chapter lays out a new tool, explores why the tool is vital, gives tips on how to overcome personal roadblocks you may have experienced in the past, and then gives ideas of how to successfully integrate that tool into your ministry. To make it even easier to use each tool, Dave has included helpful worksheets that contain unique, industrial-strength exercises.
Here's a quick summary of the ten chapters/power tools:
- Prayer. This is the most important task of a spiritual leader. Period.
- Personal Integrity. The process of becoming a leader of integrity includes consistent self examination, self-discipline, and self-reporting to a trusted accountability partner. It does not happen in a weekend, but through practice, discipline, and wise decisions.
- Passion. A leader's passion is that intense, driving, overmastering feeling or conviction. It stirs the emotions, affections, devotions, and decisions of a leader. A leader with mediocre skills but great passion wins out over one with great skills and no passion.
- Purpose. A leader with purpose sees potential opportunities when others see obstacles. They see the possibilities of the future when others only see problems. And, they see God in and through the whole process and the end product. Developing a purpose statement for yourself and your group is critical.
- Priorities. Establish small-group priorities through a process of evaluating, eliminating, estimating, and activating. Then, use the provided grid system to clearly see what to focus on—and more importantly, why you should focus on that priority.
- Planning. It is not complicated. A good plan takes into consideration only three major issues: destination, present location, and a road map. Successful spiritual leaders not only have God-given dreams and carefully laid plans, they take action to see those plans become a reality.
- People Skills. Relationships are just like bank accounts. Realize it or not, you have a relational account with every person within your sphere of influence. Every positive interaction makes a deposit in that account. Every negative dealing creates a withdrawal in that relational account. Leaders gather followers who are willing to be challenged as they continually make relational installments into them.
- Persuasion. When you want to PERSUADE someone, you spell it this way: Positive expectations, Exposure, Recognition, Significance, Unselfishness, Affection, Demonstration, and Encouragement.
- People Development. It is not enough to lead through the use of all these power tools. It is not sufficient to love people so they like you enough to follow you. Nor is it enough to motivate others to action. Real leaders also develop other leaders. They help other people change from follower to leader.
- Partnership. Never think that by doing all the work, you are serving others. Your role, in part, is to get others involved. People grow by doing ministry rather than receiving ministry. The more you have other people do, the better.
As with Dave Earley's other books and articles, this book is practical and well written. If you've been a small-group leader for any length of time at all, you'll find yourself saying things like, "I can totally relate to that," or, "I think I will use that at my next meeting."
- The book would make an excellent group leader ongoing training tool and is suitable for leaders of any experience level. Each of the ten "power tools" could be its own training theme.
- The exercises and tools at the end of each chapter are a great resource for personal development and group interaction.
- The book is not overwhelmingly long or complex. At 140 pages, it is a relatively easy read for anyone.
While the book is relatively short and straightforward, becoming proficient at all ten topics can feel overwhelming. While the book does make some statements about the relative importance of one tool verses another (for instance, prayer is held up as a "if you don't do it, don't bother doing the rest of them" kind of tool), in general, the ten tools are not prioritized for you. Earley just lays it all out there and you have to make the determination about which areas will have the greatest impact on your leadership.
The Small Group Leader's Toolkit is unique in that it's not a devotional or "how-to" for leading a group, but it contains core disciplines of relational ministry and principles of leadership development and multiplication that would benefit any leader or ministry.
If it sounds like this book would be useful for your ministry, you're probably correct.
—Dan Lentz; copyright © 2009 by the author and Christianity Today.