In small-group ministry, I've always seen leaders who are doing lots of activity but just aren't firing on all cylinders. Something is missing in their group, and they know it. Others wonder why the group isn't growing, reproducing, or meeting people's needs the way it should. It causes frustration and can make even the best leader second-guess his or her commitment to serve and lead.
Even when we work with leaders to help them identify their passions, gifts, and personality in order to narrow their ministry focus, I notice that some leaders still feel overwhelmed and disappointed that more could be done. Unfortunately, they couldn't be more correct! More can always be done. The problem isn't their commitment, their work ethic, or even their skill. The problem is that they're trying to lead alone and aren't utilizing the power of their spiritual gifts or the gifts of others.
Let me start with what a life-giving group could look like:
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord's Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).
Within this community, we see a variety of things:
- There is a sense of adventure and mission.
- There is a passion for God demonstrated by the activity of the Holy Spirit in and through the community.
- There is a common focus on the pursuit of God (prayer, Lord's Supper, etc.).
- Lives are being transformed and people are coming to Christ.
- Genuine relationships are being formed as people share with each other to meet physical needs through radical generosity.
- There is a clear commitment to orthodox teaching.
What does it take for a community like this to come together? We read in Ephesians 4:11-12: "Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ." These five gifts are given to help form the type of community we read about in Acts 2.
Unfortunately, we often ask an individual leader to create Acts 2 community by playing all the roles of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. That's a lot to ask of a single leader. Instead, we need to learn how to harness the power of all the gifts by recognizing the giftedness of the leader and helping him or her share the leadership chair with others who have complementary gifts. When we can do this, we allow people to really lean into their God-given gifts.
We have seen with regularity that when a group has a leader, an apprentice, and a host, the likelihood of all five gifts being present skyrockets. The result? A life-giving community grows and fires on all cylinders.
Here are five reasons it's important to recognize the fivefold gifts of your leaders:
- It helps the leader operate in areas where he or she is supernaturally gifted.
- It raises awareness for the leader that he or she needs other people with other gifts on their team.
- It helps you know what to expect of the leader.
- It helps you know how to equip the leader.
- It helps you lead with a "yes" and empathize with what's most important to the leader because of his or her gift.
The Fivefold Gifts
Here is a short overview of the fivefold gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:
Apostles love to start new ventures and reproduce groups. They're perfect for getting things moving and getting people committed to a mission. They focus on extending the kingdom into places where it does not currently exist.
Prophets keep things focused on God and the spiritual life of the community. They're passionate about hearing from God and obeying. They are perfect to provoke and challenge assumptions that are often taken for granted. They focus on calling people to faithfulness.
Evangelists fill the group with people and lead people to Jesus. They are perfect for inviting lots of people to the mission and sharing stories. They focus on enlisting people into the movement.
Shepherds help meet the needs of the community and make sure there is harmony among group members. They're perfect for keeping the group intact and healthy. They focus on love within the kingdom.
Teachers make sure that there is good orthodox teaching taking place. They're perfect for making sure everyone understands what's going on and are learning the important truths of the faith. They focus on clarifying the truth of the kingdom.
When we ask a single leader to wear every one of the APEST hats, we limit what God wants to do! While our leaders may have one or two of these gifts naturally, they certainly don't have all of them. Asking them to operate outside of their giftedness limits the supernatural ability that the Holy Spirit has for the church.
This reinforces to me why it's so important for our leaders to share leadership with others. We encourage all of our small-group leaders to have an apprentice and a host as they lead their communities because they're much more likely to have the other four gifts at the table, especially if they have apprentice or host couples! Leaders must learn how to share certain aspects of their ministry with others, and, as coaches, we can help them do that by identifying their areas of gifting.
Alan Hirsch, Tim Catchim, Neil Cole, and J.R. Woodward, among others, have written fantastic works that help people identify their fivefold gifts. Each of them has a fivefold assessment you can take to identify your particular bent. At COMMUNITY, we believe this should be done as part of a coaching relationship, so we've included a quick assessment to help individuals identify their Ephesians 4 gifts in our Coaching Guidebook.
Guiding Your Leaders
Once we know our leaders' gifts, we can understand them better and the way they lead. For instance, Scott may continually be starting new ministries without doing the work of taking care of people within those ministries. We may be tempted to think that Scott is not a good leader when he continually emphasizes one aspect of ministry and ignores others. But if we understand that Scott is an apostle-style leader, we can come alongside him, help him recognize his gifting, and show him how to share his leadership with others that can help organize, clarify, and enlist people into the causes that Scott finds so important.
Individuals have capacity with each of the five gifts, but usually demonstrate an aptitude for one or two of them. The trick is to teach your leaders to value all of the gifts and seek out others to help take on some of the leadership.
If he or she is an apostle leader, then it will be very important to be paired with a prophet and a shepherd so that the new ventures that are started are in line with where God is at work, and that people don't get burned out by pursuing the leader's new vision. Add an evangelist to the mix so that when the new groups are reproduced and start, they don't become anemic and wither because they don't have a critical mass. Teachers will be important to help the group understand the importance of the new endeavors.
If he or she is a prophet leader, you know the group will challenge the status quo. The group may even take on a social justice cause. While the group will care deeply about issues close to God's heart, it will be important to utilize the gifts of a teacher who can make sure that the cause is rooted in Scripture. It will also be important to have an evangelist who can enlist people to the cause. Apostles will be important to make the group commit to the cause. Shepherds will enable the group to safely navigate spicy conversations and make sure that the prophet doesn't burn out by working tirelessly toward the calling God has placed on him or her.
If he or she is an evangelist leader, then the group will probably grow large quickly. There needs to be a plan for how those people will learn and how leaders will be reproduced. Enlist the help of a teacher and an apostle for this. Include a shepherd as a host to make sure all those new people are cared for and feel welcome. Finally, get a prophet on board to make sure that what is growing is what God wants. Prophets may make the evangelist slow down and correct course, but it will result in a large, powerful movement.
If her or she is a shepherd leader, then you can count on the fact that the group will really love each other. The challenge will be getting them to engage in issues outside of their comfort zone, or to invite new people to the group, which may disturb group chemistry. Get an apostle and an evangelist to create excitement and momentum around new ventures. Prophets will provoke this group, but may be pushed to the edge as members in this kind of group. Shepherd leaders will need to keep prophets engaged and value their input. Allow teachers to balance out sharing time to make sure that careful study of scripture is taking place.
If he or she is a teacher leader, then you can bet the group will focus on discussion content. Just make sure they don't focus so much on the study that they don't love people well and meet each other's needs. It might be worthwhile to get a shepherd who can throw a party for everyone to just be together. Fellowship is spiritual too! Challenge the teacher leader to have an evangelist on the team in order to be sensitive to new believers' perspectives and where they are on their spiritual journey. Pairing a shepherd, evangelist, and teacher will grow a group very fast. Be prepared for this. Prophets can challenge teachers but when leveraged well, they will bring a great perspective to the group and may provoke a group to engage mission. Include an apostle to make sure that something is done about what is being learned. The apostle will also make sure that there is an outlet for birthing a new group.
When leaders share responsibility with others in the group, everyone benefits. Leaders are able to lean into their ministry style and depend on others to fill in the gaps. And when the styles of apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher are all leveraged, there's no telling what God will do in and through the group.
—John Wentz serves as Small Group Champion for all 14 campuses of Community Christian Church, and as the Small Group Director for their Yellow Box Campus in Naperville, Illinois; copyright 2014 by Christianity Today.