Leading Solo No More (part 2)

How to develop a core team of leaders from your existing small group

Note: This article is part two of a two-part series; click here to read Part One. Both sections have been excerpted from Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership, by Michael Mack.

What to do if too many of your members think they should be on the core team

I've also had leaders inform me that if they asked select group members to be part of their core team, other members would wonder why they were not asked and hold a grudge. How do you handle this problem?

First, diagnose the issue behind it. The root of the problem is most likely one of two issues:

  • The group has lots of mature Christ-followers who are potential leaders (which is a great "problem" to have).
  • The group contains immature people—leader "wannabes"—who need to move past their petty jealousies and grow up.

If your issue is that you have mature Christians in your group who could be leading a small group themselves, perhaps it's time to talk about sending them out to start new groups. Remind them that this is a main reason for developing a core team, and, since the group has an abundance of potential core-team members, you will now begin the planning process to send some of them out together to team lead new groups.

If you discern that the members of your group are mature and are called to serve as leaders, go ahead and invite everyone to be a part of the core team. Consider the group a leadership-training group and turbo-charge their leadership development as preparation to send them out to launch new groups. Bathe the whole process in prayer, of course, listening very closely for the Spirit's voice in how you develop and then deploy these emerging leaders.

More likely, however, group members who complain about not being "picked" to be on the core team are immature in their faith, emotionally immature, or both. Their response to your asking others—not them—to be on the core team uncovers a host of possible spiritual and emotional issues too numerous to discuss here.

Some people with a low self-esteem try too hard to be noticed or to be seen as important or successful. They may see the core team as an opportunity to climb the church ladder of success, which is a poor motive for leadership. Other group members do not have a biblical understanding of spiritual leadership. Like several of Jesus' apostles, they seek to have more authority and to be in charge. "Instead," said Jesus, "whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:43-45).

As you discern God's plans, keep your eyes open for group members who seek to serve others. Look for those who see participating in leadership as the best way they can serve the group. Immature group members need discipleship. As they grow in Christ and take responsibility for their emotions and actions, they are being developed into future leaders. When the time is right, invite them to be part of a core team when God calls them to this role.

What to do if a person wants to be on the core team against your judgment?

How do you respond to a person (let's call her Julie) who wants to be on the core team but is not ready or called? Tell her that you'd like to see her grow into this role in time and as God leads. Encourage her to keep pursuing God and be faithful to the group. Challenge her to serve without a title or position. If she wants to be called a leader but will not serve, she is not ready to lead. Put the focus on God, serving, and the good of the group—and off of the wannabe leader.

I've found that some group members just want to be more involved. And as the group leader, that's what I want, too. The more everyone is involved, the more they will have a sense of ownership in the group. In chapter 6, I discuss sharing roles with everyone and I provide a list of possible roles. Everyone has a role, and some of them (the core team) will have leadership roles.

Don't make a big deal or strong public differentiation between the core team and everyone else in the group. If an alien showed up for your group one night and said "Take me to your leader," you'd introduce the alien to everyone—all of whom would be pointing upward to God. Perhaps not everyone is a part of your core team, but everyone can lead in some capacity through servanthood.

If Julie gets her shorts in a twist because she was not invited to be on the core team after you've followed the advice I've offered here, invite her to take on a specific role; something in line with her gifting or interests. She could be the group prayer champion, food coordinator, timekeeper, social chairperson, or any other role that fits her. This is a way for her to serve the group, but she also is involved in leading in that group role.

3. Do Ministry Together

Once you have your core team, you now must act as a team. I've seen a variety of hazards I want to help you avoid once your core team is set:

  • Don't go back. I've seen leaders (and I tend to be one of them) who have a core team but then continue leading alone. Don't do it. In fact, ask your core team to hold you accountable. (By the way, the next step will help with this.)
  • Create a very clear plan of action. Who will do what and when? How will you communicate with one another? How often do you want to meet separately from the group to play, pray, and plan? Ask everyone on the core team to write down the decisions made when you meet.
  • Become a team. Enjoy fun activities together and build friendships with one anther as a core team, away from the other members of your group. Take a ropes course or go camping together. Eat together. Love one another. Bond with them and let them bond with you.
  • Share the role of shepherding. Look at your group's roster when you meet with your core team. With whom do your core team members have natural relationships? Utilize those friendships as a point of origination to shepherd them through the core team members.

    Apart from natural friendships, you can also shepherd group members based on things they have in common with core team members. In a young couples group, several of the couples did not have kids while others had toddlers. One couple with young children on the core team strategically shepherded the other couples with kids. It was a natural alignment. Later, as the group grew, the couples with kids were sent out to launch a new group. It could not have happened more organically and easily!
  • Share the role of disciple-maker. Especially with newer Christians in the group, employ core team members to provide one-on-one discipleship for those with whom they have a natural relationship. Shepherding and discipleship go hand-in-hand.
  • Actively develop your core team members. Leadership development is easy and natural with the core-team approach, but it does require effort on your part as the leader of the core team. For example, strategically give your core team members opportunities to lead group meetings. Then, visit with the core team afterwards to encourage the person and provide feedback. If you do this with other core-team members, everyone will benefit and become an encourager. I like doing these recap sessions right after a meeting, when possible. They don't have to be long meetings, but they sure are powerful for developing core team members into future core-team leaders.
  • Attend training together. When your church has leadership training, recognition, or other small-group leadership events, the whole core team should attend. If your church only invites the main leaders to these trainings, extend an invitation to your core team. (Of course, make sure you've received approval from your church ministry leader first.)

4. Extend the Kingdom

Core teams make for healthier small groups, and healthy small groups grow. As you move to a core-team model, your group will surely grow and multiply. It is just the natural result (the fruit) of doing small-group leadership as a team, leading from the second chair, and enjoying the role without the burnout.

Groups that are led by second-chair leaders who share leadership with a core team send out new leaders more easily and quite naturally. It does not need to be forced. In my church, we do not put any time limits or even group size limits on groups. We simply help them to be healthy and let it happen spontaneously.

You can set a goal for group multiplication in the future. Think of it as a group "win." But then focus more on the health of your group, which will produce the win, than on the win itself. In other words, don't force it. Let God add to your number daily those being saved. Let him make things grow. Team with him and your core team to see God's Kingdom extended to more and more people.

Core-team leadership is far more fun and rewarding than leading alone!

—Excerpted from Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership (TouchUSA, 2009), by Michael Mack. Used with permission.

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