When I talk about small groups with new leaders, I love to share the story of John Sculley. In 1983, John was a rising executive at PepsiCo. Pepsi had taken over the number one spot in the soda market from Coca-Cola. John's work with PepsiCo caught the eye of a young entrepreneur and businessman. The businessman approached John and asked him to join a relatively new company as their CEO. If John accepted the offer, he would be giving up a future of unlimited possibilities with PepsiCo. John was not convinced he should take the offer until the businessman said, "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life? Or you can come with me and change the world." That was all he needed to say. John accepted the offer of businessman Steve Jobs and did quite literally change the world through the Apple Corporation.
Without saying a word, new small-group leaders communicate that they are ready to get out of the pew and make an eternal difference through leading a group. They are ready to change their world. And while that's an exciting prospect, leading a small group will be one of the most challenging things they will ever do.
How do you lead a small group that changes the world? It doesn't take a rocket scientist, but it does take someone who is willing to nurture specific qualities and to follow some basic guidelines.
Myths About Small-Group Leadership
The first myth about small-group leadership is that leaders must be experts. The idea is that leaders must be a Bible encyclopedia, Billy Graham, and Dr. Phil in order to simply meet the minimum qualifications. When I search for small-group leaders, I turn down offers from self-proclaimed experts because they usually want to lead only to feed their ego. The truth is that the best small-group leaders are real and transparent. They are simply themselves, nothing more and nothing less.
The second myth is that small-group leaders need to have certain spiritual gifts or talents in order to lead a small group. This myth includes the thought that the best small-group leaders need to have the spiritual gift of teaching, shepherding, or even evangelism. If this were the case, churches would have very few small groups. The truth is that leaders need to use their own spiritual gift mix and God-given abilities. My experience is that leaders who leverage their spiritual gifts and abilities tend to have very effective small groups.
The third myth is that small-group leaders must have their life all together. If someone comes to you and says that they have their life all together, don't believe it. While they may have most everything together, they still have one issue: denial. The best small-group leaders realize they don't have their life all together and check continually to make sure their spiritual feet are heading in the right direction. Leaders don't need to be spiritual giants. Instead, they only need to be a growing disciple of Jesus Christ.
At the end of the day, leaders just need to keep it simple. Don't try to be someone you're not. Be yourself, and pursue your relationship with God.
You're Not a Pilot
How do effective small-group leaders facilitate their meetings? I like the way my friend, Jake Zauche, describes facilitating groups that produces life-change. He says, "Don't think airliner when leading a small group." In an airplane, the pilot sits in the cockpit, separate from the rest of the passengers and crew. Other than the flight crew, the pilot does everything to get the passengers to their destination. The pilot is the one who operates the controls to make the plane takeoff and land. The passengers don't have any responsibility for getting to their destination. They just have to sit, sip their soda, take a nap, or read and wait for the pilot to get them to their destination safely.
A small-group leader shouldn't be like an airplane pilot. This type of leader does everything for the small group and then some. For instance, they may directly teach the group, preaching a sermon or reading a lengthy section from a book. They may ask a question only to give the correct answer after only a few seconds. They may be overly focused on getting through the material or feel they must impart their knowledge to the group each week. Group members with this type of leader won't add much to the discussion—because they can't. And they will come to depend on the leader to feed them spiritually. This keeps the group from fulfilling its purpose to change the world.
White Water Rafting
As you ride down the rapids of a white water rafting adventure, a guide sits in the back of the raft with eyes on the rapids ahead and on the passengers. And the passengers aren't just sitting back and sipping soda. They're equipped with oars to help move the raft safely forward. Everybody works together; however, it's the guide who is giving directions leading the group down the river. The guide doesn't have total control over the direction of the raft, but he or she does give directions to each person to get the raft safely through the rapids.
An effective small-group leader is a guide rather than a teacher. A good rule of thumb for leaders to facilitate more than teach is the 80/20 rule for talking. As a leader, allow yourself to talk 20 percent of the time so that rest of the group members can talk 80 percent of the time. Implementing the 80/20 rule dictates that the leader asks good questions in order to facilitate discussion. When there is good discussion about Scripture and its application, there is an opening for the Holy Spirit to change lives.
The small group that changes lives doesn't require a leader who is especially clever, creative, or brilliant. It does, however, take a leader who will guide the group. A group won't experience life change without someone guiding the process of transformation. And when the leader guides well, the small group is prepared to change the world.
—Mark Ingmire is the Small Groups and Adult Education Pastor at Savannah Christian Church in Savannah, Georgia; copyright 2013 by Christianity Today.