Two months after deciding to pursue Christianity, I signed up for a mission trip. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I was ready for the challenge. During the weeks leading to our departure, our team met several times to iron out the details for our trip, including the itinerary.
"Does anyone have any questions about the schedule?" Our team sat in the unkempt living room of our college-aged team leader. Half-eaten donuts littered the coffee table—some from our meeting and some not.
"Can you explain the morning devotionals?" a fellow team member asked.
Our team leader took on a professional looking demeanor and held up the schedule. "The morning devotionals are a chance for us to encourage with each other. Think of it like a mini small-group study."
I scanned over the schedule and noticed names on each day. I raised my hand. "What do the names mean?"
"They let you know which day you'll lead the devotional." He turned over the itinerary and ran his finger down the list. "For instance, you're leading the one on Friday morning." I stared at him with wide, helpless eyes. I was terrified.
The youngest person on the team, I was just starting to read the Bible and understood very little about how to adequately interpret what I was reading. How could I lead a devotional that would be true to Scripture and actually encourage my teammates?
I would have given anything to opt out of that experience. But I didn't. And to my surprise, that Friday came and went with relative success. I'm not sure how much my team learned, but I learned a lot. In fact, it was one of the most impactful parts of the trip for me. It forced me to take ownership. I was expected to know a section of Scripture well enough to lead a stirring discussion. Leading helped me grow, and it was a huge step in my spiritual development.
We Grow as We Lead
In my experience, leaders grow a lot as they lead—and that includes small-group leaders. Think back on all the ways you've grown since becoming a leader. I'm willing to bet there's been an exponential spike in your growth.
But I imagine you didn't become a small-group leader for your own growth—you probably wanted to help others grow. One of the best ways to foster growth in your group members is to give them opportunities to lead. Consider the many ways that handing over the reins can help your group members grow.
Leaders must have a strong grasp on the material.
When you lead a small group, you have to be more familiar with the material than everyone else. If you don't do your homework, you can't come up with helpful questions about the subject matter.
By giving up your role as a leader from time to time, you'll give group members this same expectation. They'll need to read and re-read the subject matter so that they can do justice to their study. Because of this, they'll learn more than is possible to glean in a single hour-long meeting. These nuggets of knowledge will stick with them and contribute to their overall spiritual development.
Leaders must understand the goal.
Every effective group meeting should have a goal—whether it's striving to teach your group a theological concept or inspiring them to make a change. Leaders know what the group needs, and they make a plan to meet that goal.
When you hand over leadership to someone else, you're allowing them to practice this important leadership. In order to come up with a goal for the meeting, they'll need to understand the needs of the group. This kind of others-oriented thinking will put them in a pastoral position and that will help them grow.
Leaders must lead the charge.
Bible study is most effective when there's a call to action—when we consider how we'll immediately apply what we're learning. Leaders not only ask this of their group members, but also go first by applying Scripture to their own life in practical ways.
When you hand over leadership, you give others a chance to think about practical application in new ways. It's a chance for them to set the example and go first in application.
How to Hand Over the Reins
Even if you're convinced of the benefits of sharing the leadership of your group, you may have questions about how to do that effectively. You don't want to overwhelm your group members, but you also want to give them enough to challenge them.
Set up a consistent rotation.
How often you delegate leadership is totally up to you. But generally, allowing each group member to lead twice a year is a good place to start. This rhythm is uncommon enough to keep it feeling significant, yet regular enough for familiarity and the ability to learn and implement changes along the way.
Teach them how to lead a group.
When you're ready to have someone else lead, it's necessary to show them the ropes. Imagine you're training an employee on how to do a job. Bring out the training you've received: notes from training events, videos you've watched, or books you've read. Then think: What tricks have you picked up along the way? What do you wish someone would have told you when you started leading?
Explain how to ask questions that facilitate discussion as opposed to questions that yield one-word answers. Go over what to do when silence enters the room and how to pick conversation back up. Teach them how to start a meeting and end it. Go over what happens if a discussion gets derailed and how to bring it back. Set up your group members for success by giving them what they need to lead well. If you need help with this, ask your coach or director for tips.
Help them come up with a goal.
Learning how to come up with a goal for the group meeting is really important, so you don't want to do this for them. But it is a good idea to guide them. Let them brainstorm the needs of your group on their own. Get them on the right track by asking exploratory questions: "Where do you see room for growth in our group?" "What topics or studies would our group benefit from the most?" "What questions or activities will spark thought-provoking discussion and life-change?" The more they're thinking pastorally, the more they'll grow. Help them determine the best-suited goals and productive ways to meet them.
Let them lead.
Take the backseat and let them run the show. Be there for guidance and support during the actual small-group meeting, but only jump in if you're truly needed. You've helped them plan. Now it's their moment to take ownership as a leader.
Review the experience.
After the meeting, discuss what went well and what didn't. I like to do this outside the group time but within a week of the meeting. Explore their strengths were and make note things they can work on. Ask them what they plan to do differently next time and what they'd like to continue to do in the future. Encourage them in their growth.
Spark Growth in Your Group Members
Having group members lead is one of the most effective ways to spark spiritual growth. We grow when we open ourselves up to experiences we haven't had before. Leading a group invites us to rely on God as we enter unknown territory. Through the experience, your group members might even be inspired to break off and lead a group of their own—which would be a huge win. The possibilities for growth are endless. All you have to do is give them the chance to thrive. Handing over leadership will jump start growth in your group in profound ways.
—Justin Marr is a small-group leader and blogs at TheSocialHunger.com.