The commitment of leadership
Imagine with me that you’re on a plane to Greece. You've wanted to go there all your life, but you've also been hesitant because you don't know the language or the culture…AND there is SO much you want to see and do, you don't know where to start! You're excited, but getting more and more nervous that this was a mistake. What made you think you could travel alone to a foreign country! The plane lands. Where do you go? What if customs won't let you through? What if you can't even find the bathroom? What if…wait, there is a smiling face holding a sign with YOUR NAME. You approach the smiling face, and she welcomes you to Greece IN ENGLISH and tells you that your travel agent back home contacted her to help you as you begin your journey. She comfortably navigates you through baggage and customs until you are standing in the beauty of the country you've always wanted to explore. She equips you with local maps, landmark suggestions, historical information, and makes sure you know the words for "bathroom" and "McDonalds hamburger" (in case you need some American food). You are now free to roam and discover Greece, always knowing that your guide, and new friend, is there to help you when needed. Soon what was unknown becomes familiar. Your trip is a huge success and the experience of a lifetime. And, you're eager to return to discover more!! Ladies, YOU are the smiling face, and YOU can make a difference to women coming to your small group for whatever reason, with whatever anxieties. You can help navigate your women to discover an experience of a lifetime in their walk with God, and to become more familiar with His Word and truth so they are eager to return and discover more! (Joan Floyd, Small Group Leader Training at Crossroads Bible Church, 2006)
What is “commitment?”
A commitment is “a devotion or dedication to a cause, person, or relationship.” As a small group leader, you are making a commitment both to your group and to the ministry as a whole. What does that look like? What is involved in the day-to-day, ongoing management of a small group?
Think About It:
What do you think your commitment to your small group will look like?
The following pages will cover 7 responsibilities of a small group leader that are considered the “nuts and bolts” of your commitment to your small group. Paying attention to these will help you be an effective servant-leader for your small group.
#1 Prepare Beforehand to Serve Your Group
Preparing ahead of time frees you to focus on the women in your small group during your group time. This may take the form of knowing the discussion topic for the day, knowing who is leading that day (if you have a co-leader), knowing which women are struggling that week, or even how to set up the room.
Here are some other ways that will help you prepare beforehand:
Bible study group leader —
- Prepare the next lesson before going to your group. This allows you to offer suggestions to your ladies on interesting or difficult questions as they prepare for the next week.
- Review the current lesson and be prepared to either lead the lesson or support the leader during the discussion.
All groups —
- Talk with your co-leader about your group on a weekly basis. You are a team with different perceptions and unique observations and ideas. Work together to offer your ladies your combined "best.”
- Attend leaders meetings or ministry planning meetings.
- Be committed to spending time with Jesus and his Word yourself. Keep your relationship with Jesus fresh.
Think About It:
What will be your biggest challenge in doing this?
#2 ESTABLISH a Caring Atmosphere
How many of you can walk into almost any room, anytime, and feel comfortable? Your group will have the confident, the nervous, the insecure—all kinds of women. You need to be their "welcoming guide" so they will want to continue their journey week-to-week.
Here are some ways you can help make walking into the group a highlight of a woman’s week:
- Arrive early enough to your group to greet the first woman.
- Ensure emotional comfort by asking non-threatening questions such as “How long have you lived here?” or “Tell me a little about yourself.” Some questions that may be considered threatening are “Do you have kids?” and “Are you married?”
- Only mention personal issues when no one else is listening unless the group already knows about them.
- Do not speak in a critical manner about any church, denomination, or political figure. Try to quickly diffuse any such topics when they come up.
- Communicate unconditional acceptance in your eyes, manner, and the way you respond to what a group member shares. They need to trust you won’t make quick judgments about them. They need to be assured of confidences being kept.
Think About It:
What did a past small group leader do to establish a caring atmosphere for your group?
#3 ENCOURAGE Interaction while Directing the Discussion
A good discussion leader encourages all the women to contribute to the discussion and interact with one another while retaining control of the group and maintaining biblical integrity. Your group depends upon you to be the “thermostat” (sets the tone; the group adjusts to that) rather than just a “thermometer” (adjusts to the group, lets the group set the tone).
Here are some suggestions for accomplishing this:
Bible study group leader —
- Guide your small group into the living, transforming Word of God by opening and reading the Bible together in your small group. (See steps for Inductive Bible Study at the end of the handbook.)
- Encourage the women to discover God’s Word on their own during the week, taking time to complete the lesson, and to share with each other what they have learned. Model having your own lesson completed each week.
- Provide an accepting environment that allows the women to openly wrestle with God’s Word as a small group through interaction with one another. Mark the application/share questions clearly so you won’t accidentally call on anyone for a share question, especially if it asks a woman to reveal personal information.
All groups —
- Ask questions that will get the discussion going and then help direct it once it starts. How would some of you answer this question? What do you all think about that? Does anyone else feel that same way? What might this look like in a person’s life?
- Limit your own talking except to “prime the pump” to get a discussion going and to direct the discussion once it begins.
- Affirm a woman after she shares. (For example, “Thank you for sharing that.”) Clarify the truth, though, should the comment need further explanation. Correct error gently, if appropriate.
- Ensure emotional comfort by diffusing critical remarks.
- Encourage the women to say, “I would like to hear what someone else has to say,” if they are uncomfortable answering a question.
- Consider calling on specific women to answer the question rather than asking for a volunteer. This avoids the same women volunteering, consumes less time, and allows you to call on each woman. If you sense someone prefers not to be called on (or she has told you so), honor that request. However, try to find out if she feels insecure about her answers or the element of surprise. Then, include her in ways she feels comfortable.
- If a woman asks a question, and you don’t know the answer, that’s okay! You are not expected to have all the answers. Share with her you are not quite sure but will find out for next time.
- Silence is okay! Count to 10 or 25 before jumping in and breaking it! Let the women have time to think.
Think About It:
Why is it important for the leader to encourage interaction between the group members and not just with yourself as “answer woman?”
#4 MANAGE Time Wisely
You and your co-leader (if you have one) need to ensure that group time is wisely used not only for discussing small group questions but also for caring for one another. Here are some suggestions for accomplishing this:
- Start your small group on time. Even if only a few women are present, they will soon learn to be prompt.
- If you are not leading the discussion, learn to help your co-leader move the group along. Watch the time and any signals given by the leader. Use a comment such as, “We had better move along, or we won’t finish” to graciously interrupt a discussion when needed.
- Bible study group leader: move quickly through basic observation questions. Call on one person for an answer then move on. Or, sum up several questions into one.
- End on time - whether or not any of your women have children in childcare.
Special Situations —
What do I do if a woman breaks down in tears? Some suggestions for managing this graciously:
- After a couple of minutes of letting her share and/or cry, stop and pray. The leader can say, “Let’s see what God has for us in his Word that applies to this.” If appropriate, move on to the other discussion questions.
- Sensitively listen while at the same time keeping the group from asking more questions that might prolong the sharing. Judge whether the issue is one that the group might help to “fix.”
- After ~5 minutes, if the woman is still overcome by emotion, the co-leader (or another woman) should take her aside to continue giving her support through listening and prayer.
Think About It:
Why is it important to manage group time wisely?
#5 PURSUE Relationships
“The more you get to know a person, the more you get to teach them.” (Howard Hendricks)
Picture each woman wearing a sign that says, “Do you care about me?” She wants you to pursue a relationship with her. Spend time connecting with each woman in your group. If you successfully connect her with you, you have a greater chance of her connecting with the other women in the group because she’ll want to come. Here are some suggestions for accomplishing this:
- Establish immediate contact with women by calling them and welcoming them to the group (including before the first session). Also, ask if she has any questions about the group or childcare (if applicable). For new women joining the group or those who missed the first session, make sure she has her study book or other ministry materials she needs. Deliver them personally if necessary. Also, tell her about the group members since she missed the first day’s “Get to Know You” time.
- Pray regularly for your women. Pay attention to the needs and hurts expressed by the women in your group. Discuss with your co-leader (if you have one) the needs you can help meet, either as a group or individually, or the hurts that you may need to address.
- Stay in touch with your women—by phone, card, email, lunch, or chat at church. Find ways to connect with your women outside of Bible study.
- Take notice of their skills, interests, and gifts and suggest opportunities for them to be used. For example: if you have a photographer in the group, ask her to take a group photo.
- Keep their phone numbers handy—in purse, in phone, etc.—for a quick call when you have a free moment.
- When women share with you, really listen, taking notes as needed. Listen not for what you want to hear but to truly understand.
Think About It:
Why is it important to pursue relationships with the women in your group?
#6 PRAY Together as a Group
Sharing one another’s burdens in prayer helps to build community within the group. Managing the time and ways to do so is a challenge. Here are some suggestions for gathering prayer requests from group members or encouraging group prayer:
- Group Journal: Pass a common prayer journal around the group. When it is time to pray, one woman can read aloud the requests while the others write them in their own books.
- Verbal Requests: At prayer time, let the women briefly share requests and quick updates on previous requests.
- Individually Written Requests: Provide sticky notes or index cards so that each person can briefly write her prayer need. Put them in a basket for women to pick from and pray for that day and all week. Or, pass them around the table for prayer time and then give them all to one person who types them and emails them to the group.
- 2-3 Together: group 2-3 women together to share prayer requests and pray for each other. Change the groups weekly.
Think About It:
Why would it be important to establish a process for sharing prayer requests within the group?
#7 MANAGE Crisis Situations
To prepare for potentially dangerous situations, you need to know some basic bits of information:
- The physical address of your group meeting location
- The phone contact of your group meeting location (church office, director’s cell phone, etc.)
- The location of first aid kits, AED (defibrillator), fire extinguishers, and any medically trained personnel within your group or ministry, especially those trained in CPR.
- The evacuation routes to designated safe areas from your meeting room in case of fire
- The location of the shelter area for your meeting room or the nearest safe location for a weather emergency—interior room away from windows.
- Any other emergency instructions for your building
- Whether or not parents are to meet their children to help with evacuation
1. What do I do in case of a sudden illness or accident within my group?
- In the case of an obvious medical emergency (symptoms of heart attack or stroke, unconsciousness, severe bleeding), call 911. Do not attempt to handle anything other than normal first aid responses while awaiting emergency services.
- Also, contact your ministry director or a church staff member. To access church staff quickly from within your building, use a cell phone to dial the church office.
2. What do I do if the fire alarm sounds or a fire is discovered?
- If a fire emergency exists, remain calm, which will help your group members to remain calm. Count the number of people in your group. Keep that in mind as you head to the evacuation area.
- Once evacuated to the designated area, make sure all your group members are with you. A ministry leader should bring you first aid. Do not leave your group to obtain first aid. Await further instructions from a ministry leader.
3. What do I do if there’s an extreme weather alert (tornado, damaging winds)?
- During periods of inclement weather, designate someone to maintain a watch on the current conditions, and if needed, to inform ministry leaders when to take action.
- Should action need to be taken, remain calm, which will help your group members to remain calm. Count the number of people in your group. Keep that in mind as you head to the shelter area. Upon arrival, count again to insure all your group is with you.
- Instruct everyone to sit on the floor, back to the wall, hands interlocked covering neck. Do not evacuate the building unless given instruction to do so by a ministry leader. First aid should be brought to you as needed. Do not leave your group to obtain first aid. Await further instructions from a ministry leader.
4. What do I do if there’s an assailant in the building or other security breach?
- When anyone needs to be secured in a classroom for any reason, the ministry director should access the door key, go to each classroom and say, “Please secure your classroom.” The ministry director should then lock the classroom door.
- Small group leaders should calmly direct group members to a corner of the room out of sight of the main doorway, close the door, and close any blinds if windows are present. Tables turned sideways can be used as barriers. If in an auditorium, go to a side room.
- Group leaders then wait for further instructions from the ministry leader.
Think About It:
What do you need to do to prepare yourself mentally for any of these 4 potential crisis situations?