Choosing leaders is an important responsibility, so much so that Paul charged Timothy to appoint overseers for the church at Ephesus, and left Titus on the island of Crete specifically for that purpose. He gave them both guidelines as to what to look for in church leaders (1 Tim. 3:1–12; Titus 1:5–9). Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus—while not as strictly binding for small-group leaders as for church leaders—offer helpful guidelines as to what to look for in potential small-group leaders.
Paul succinctly details the character traits required for leadership: “Above reproach…respectable…having a good reputation…upright…holy…having a clear conscience… blameless…” (1 Tim. 3:2, 7–9; Titus 1:6–8). Of course, this doesn’t mean the leader must be sinless—that would make Jesus the only qualified small-group leader!—but it does speak to the importance of character as a primary consideration for identifying leaders.
A small-group leader with a good reputation, whose character is above reproach, is one whom small-group members will want to follow—and one whom they will benefit from following. Paul told the Philippians, “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do” (Phil. 3:17). Again, Paul instructs, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice” (Phil. 4:9). As we evaluate potential small-group leaders, one question to consider is, “Would I want the members of this person’s small group to follow their example?”
Paul stresses the importance of self-control in the life of a leader, giving examples of areas in which self-control is a key quality: moderation in the use of alcohol (and in general), and faithfulness in marriage (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6–8). Note that while Paul speaks of faithfulness in marriage, Paul himself was single. Faithfulness in marriage includes faithfulness to a potential future spouse by abstaining from sex outside of marriage.
As part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23), self-control is an important characteristic for all believers, but especially key for leaders. Small-group members will tend to follow the example of their leaders, and leaders who lacks self-control will not set a godly example. Also, leaders who lacks discipline cannot be counted on to prepare well for small-group meetings—whether in preparing the Bible study, planning logistics, or maintaining healthy relationships with members.
Gentleness—another aspect of fruit of the Spirit—enables small-group leaders to relate to members and to build relationships, and Paul specifically names this trait (1 Tim. 3:3–4; Titus 1:7). The leader who is overbearing and quarrelsome shows disrespect for group members—and they quickly recognize it. This type of leader insists only on their interpretation, discourages members from expressing differing thoughts, and reduces what should be engaging group discussion to nothing more than a lecture.
By contrast, a leader who is gentle and humble honors small-group members—respecting their opinions and encouraging discussion. Paul calls us to value others above ourselves in humility (Phil. 2:3). The leader who is able to communicate to group members that their contributions are valued—whether in Bible study discussion or elsewhere—inspires commitment within the group and encourages spiritual growth.