Note: This article is excerpted from our training tool Unlock Spiritual Gifts.
During my first few years as a small-group leader, I became very interested in the spiritual growth of my group members. I learned early on that a group needs to be more than social interactions and intellectual stimulation, otherwise it becomes a country club or a Bible class—neither of which is a pathway to Christian community.
I wanted deeply for my group members to experience spiritual transformation. I wanted them to be changed through our experiences together. I wanted them to be better people and better disciples of Jesus. I wanted that for myself, as well.
Become a Spiritual Leader
Unfortunately, no sooner had I developed these goals than I ran into a pretty big problem: I didn't want to take any direct initiative in encouraging my group members to grow. In other words, I wanted my group members to experience spiritual change, but I found myself unable to push them toward that change in any direct way.
Part of my hesitation came from my philosophy of ministry. I believed then (and still believe now) that the Holy Spirit is responsible for spiritual transformation in the lives of people. I knew I couldn't push people to grow, nor could I "trick" them into spiritual growth using clever questions or innovative techniques.
However, the main factor in my hesitation was a lack of confidence in myself as a spiritual leader. I've never been a pastor, which meant I didn't feel qualified to speak directly to my group members about their spiritual lives. I also dislike confrontation, so I didn't want to imply that anyone in my group was struggling in a certain area or needed to get better.
In short, I decided to lead the group in a passive way and wait for the Holy Spirit to "do his work." The results were mixed. I know I grew spiritually in those years, and I believe some of my group members did indeed respond to the Spirit's work in their lives. But I can't say so with any kind of certainty because I never got directly involved.
Recently I've learned to take a more active role in the spiritual lives of my group members. I still believe that the Holy Spirit is the only source of transformation, but I also believe I have a role to play in helping my group members respond to what the Spirit is already doing in their lives.
After all, the apostle Paul wrote these words to the members of the churches in Thessalonica, not just to the leaders of those churches:
Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we exhort you, brothers: warn those who are irresponsible, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all (1 Thessalonians 5:12-15).
Help Group Members Identify Their Gifts
One of my favorite ways to encourage growth within my group is to help my group members understand and use their spiritual gifts. Here are some suggestions for how you can do the same.
The Direct Approach
Take it from me: it's okay to take a direct approach when it comes to the spiritual gifts of your group members. Even if you're not a pastor, even if you don't consider yourself a spiritual leader, and even if you've never done it before—you can still make a positive impact in your group members' lives by directly and specifically encouraging them to identify and use their spiritual gifts.