"Be sure you know the condition of your flocks" (Proverbs 27:23). Do you know the spiritual condition of the people in your group? The biggest difference between a teacher, facilitator, or host and a shepherd-leader is that the former do not necessarily need to know their sheep or lead them spiritually. But that is precisely the role of the shepherd-leader.
As a small-group shepherd-leader, you are in the most strategic position in the church to effect real, lasting life change and spiritual growth. But how?
- As a shepherd-leader, be concerned for where people are in their spiritual journeys. Treat each person with grace, not judgment. At the same time, help group members grow.
- Personally assess where group members are on their spiritual journeys. Spend time with them outside of meetings, asking what they believe, their spiritual practices, and their goals. Observe how they are living in relation to the fruit of the Spirit.
- Model a disciple's lifestyle. You are a model for what life change looks like.
- Keep providing the culture. Continue to draw the group into increasing levels of authentic community. By meeting regularly, people will be in a place where they can grow.
- Provide a process for growth to happen. This takes application-oriented Bible study as a group, one-on-one mentoring, serving together, and leadership development.
You are not the Chief Shepherd of the flock. That title belongs to Christ Jesus. Yet he has entrusted—as an act of stewardship—a small group of his people to you for this season. Therefore, "be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care" (1 Peter 5:2).
Healthy small-group leaders are servants first.
Jesus made this one very clear. You can't be a leader in his kingdom unless you first have the heart of a servant. This is an attitude that comes through surrender to Christ as he transforms you into a humble servant. Why do you want to lead? If it is because it is the best way for you to serve the group, then you are on the right track. If you desire leadership for any other reason, reconsider this role. Find another way to serve the group first.
Healthy small-group leaders are growing in competence.
While leading a healthy small group has more to do with heart than skills, there are still some core competencies that will help you lead a healthy group. Others have produced long lists of competencies for small-group leaders. I won't reproduce them here, but I do suggest you learn these competencies over time. On his blog, Ben Reed shared five skills good leaders usually have. Here are his five, and seven more of my own. Great small group leaders …
- Embrace the messiness of relationships
- Are quick to offer grace because they've been given so much grace
- Ask for help
- Look a lot like good pastors
- Are patient with group members who are difficult to love
- Pray regularly for group members
- Keep the group moving toward goals
- Practice authenticity/transparency
- Are quick to listen and slow to speak
- Ask great questions
- Lead as part of a team
Now here's the good news: you don't have to do all of these alone! In fact, healthy leaders share group roles with a core team and the rest of the group. Just don't forget: God did not make a mistake when he called you to be the shepherd-leader of the group he's put under your care. When you are healthy and growing spiritually, your group will also be healthy and growing. That's God's plan. So I encourage you to commit right now to this vital principle. Your group will not be healthy without you as a healthy leader!
—Excerpted from Small Group Vital Signs. Used with permission from TOUCH Publications.