The leader who is able to avoid quarrels and who can gently guide a discussion is in a good position to help group members work through differences of opinion or interpretation, which will inevitably arise. The leader should be sensitive to unimportant discussion topics and keep the conversation on track, rather than promoting arguments about trivial matters (Titus 3:9).
The leader must have their heart and their treasure in the right place (Matt. 6:19–21). One who seeks leadership for the wrong motives—whatever they may be—will not put the needs and growth of the group’s members first (1 Tim. 3:8; Titus 1:7–8). The sincere leader—the one seeking to lead in order to serve—has the group members’ needs and their growth as a top priority.
Modern Western culture does not place the same strong emphasis on hospitality that Eastern culture did (and still does). Still, the leader needs to be in some sense a “people person” and hospitable, able to relate to small-group members (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8). This doesn’t mean the leader must be an extrovert or constantly engage in social outings. The leader, however, should have a concern for others and a desire to meet their needs (Phil. 2). The hospitable person has a heart of servanthood, wanting to make guests comfortable, and to create an environment in which group members will grow spiritually.
The servant leader goes beyond meeting needs that have been identified—the truly hospitable leader anticipates the needs of group members and works to meet those needs. Group members respond positively to this type of leader, and are more likely to follow the established example, meeting each other’s needs as the early church did (Acts 2:44–45; 4:32–37). The group leader cannot command this type of servanthood—it must be exemplified in his or her life and leadership.
Faithful to the Word
The leader needs to be sound—and continually growing—in the Word of God, keeping “hold of the deep truths of the faith” (1 Tim. 3:9; Titus 1:9). This will benefit the group in two specific ways. First, the leader will be able to encourage group members using God’s Word without misleading them by taking Scripture out of context. By “correctly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), the leader can help group members navigate the difficulties of life.
Second, the leader who is grounded in the Word will be able to refute false teachings. Paul specifically mentions teachers who claimed the Resurrection had already taken place, and who were discouraging the faith of the believers (1 Tim. 6:20–21; 2 Tim. 2:16–18). As with all of these characteristics, knowledge of the Word—and wisdom in applying it—is a journey in which we are all constantly growing. The important value here is that potential small-group leaders understand and believe firmly in the foundational doctrines of the Word.
When I was a small-group leader at an Urbana missions conference one year, we were warned in an early morning leaders’ meeting about a cult group on campus teaching baptismal regeneration—the idea that baptism, and only baptism—brings salvation. Our coaches showed us in Scripture the error of this doctrine, and prepared us to address any questions our group members might have after an encounter with one of the cult members. By grounding us in the Word, our coaches equipped us to protect our group members from being led astray by false doctrine.