This article is excerpted from our resource Finding, Recruiting, and Training an Apprentice.
For some small-group leaders, finding an apprentice is about as difficult as walking around the block. They automatically think of that individual or couple in their group who has been blessing the socks off the rest of the group members—encouraging people, praying diligently for the group, volunteering to lead discussions, and making the best apple pie north of the Rio Grande. They are easy to tab as future leaders because they stand out so clearly within the group.
But if that doesn't sound like your situation, don't worry. Small groups that have an obvious choice for an apprentice leader are the exception, not the rule. It's much more common for a group to contain a leader who does almost all of the work, and then a collection of group members who always receive and rarely give.
In those cases, we often don't know where to begin when it comes selecting someone as a potential apprentice leader. And that's okay. In fact, it's an opportunity to help one or more of your members experience significant spiritual growth—and an opportunity for you to grow, as well.
The following steps will help you navigate through the process.
Pray, Pray, Pray
The first thing you need to remember when searching for a small-group apprentice is that you are not qualified for the job. You don't have sufficient wisdom to discern the spiritual lives and maturity of your group members and figure out which ones are ready to step toward leadership.
That job belongs to the Holy Spirit. He knows what your group needs, what you need, and what your next apprentice needs. And the way to hand over the recruiting responsibility to the Spirit is prayer. "Pray to the Lord of the Harvest ______," Jesus said, and his words remain sharp and active today when it comes to identifying and recruiting spiritual leaders.
So, if you want to move beyond your own wisdom and smarts when it comes to finding a person to join you in the spiritual leadership of your group, pray for your small-group members every day. Pray that God would be working in their lives, and pray that he would be sanctifying them through the Holy Spirit. And as you pray for the growth and development of your group members, ask God to raise up workers for the harvest in your community. And ask for wisdom to see who those new workers may be.
Use the Eye Test
As you interact with the Holy Spirit in prayer and request eyes to see the people that are ready for a new step, you also need to be watching your group members. Specifically, watch their eyes and their faces as they participate in group meetings, and as you interact with them in the "real world."
Which person's eyes really light up when it's time to dig into God's Word? Who gets excited when the discussion goes deeper? Who displays empathy and a kind heart when other group members open their hearts or confess their sins? These are the people that may be ready to join you in leadership. These are the people that you need to especially lift up to the Holy Spirit in prayer.
In the same way, if you have a person or two in mind that you think the Spirit might be calling into leadership, watch their faces and their behavior within the group. If they pass the "eye test," it may serve as a confirmation of the Spirit's leading. If they seem bored or disinterested during important elements of your group's time together, you may be barking up the wrong tree.
In addition to the "eye test," there are some questions you can pay attention to as you pray, and as you observe the members of your small group.
- Who is faithful?
- Who understands your vision (and the vision of the small group ministry)?
- Who is eager to learn?
- What person/couples seem to be the natural leaders of the group/team?
- Do they have the ability to train others?
- Who would be good candidates to be trained to minister along side you?
Again, as you think through these questions, be sensitive to the work and leading of the Holy Spirit—especially if that leading is taking you in a direction you don't want to go, or a direction you hadn't thought of before.
Don't Impose Your Own Boundaries
One final piece of advice as you go through the process of identifying a small-group apprentice: don't limit your opportunities. Be open to new directions that you didn't think of—and even new people you don't know very well.
For example, it's possible that your next apprentice will be a person that is not currently part of your small group. This is not an ideal situation, normally, but if you keep coming across a person that shares your passions and is being called by God to take a new step in leadership, there may be something going on. Don't resist it out of hand.
In addition, your church leaders may have identified people who are on fire for God and need to be mentored for leadership in a small-group setting. It may be that your group is just what these future leaders need.
—Sam O'Neal is managing editor of www.SmallGroups.com; copyright 2010 by the author and Christianity Today International.