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3. The Who Of Small Group Leadership

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Character Qualities of Good Small Group Leaders

What are some character qualities of good small group leaders? There are many, but we will only consider a few:

1. A good small group leader is above reproach in his or her character.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” It was not that Paul was perfect. The only perfect model is Christ; however, we need to model imperfect people who are striving to be like Christ. They fall and make mistakes, but they get back up, confess their sins, and continue to serve Christ. We need imperfect models like Paul, and that’s what good small group leaders are. They are not perfect, but they are continually striving for it. The righteous fall down seven times and get back up (Prov 24:16). That’s what makes them righteous and a good model. When they fail, which happens commonly, they won’t stay down.

Similarly, good small group leaders are striving to live a life that is above reproach in every area—their entertainment, relationships, devotional life, etc. When Paul gave Timothy qualities of church elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, he said they needed to be “above reproach” in verse 2. Above reproach is the summarizing characteristic for an elder—it covers every other characteristic in the passage. It means there is nothing in these people’s lives to take hold of and accuse them of. By living a life that is above reproach, it keeps others from stumbling because of their lives, and it hinders the enemy’s ability to attack them (cf. Eph 4:26-27, 6:13-17).

When God looks for somebody to use, he finds a person with godly character. They may not be especially gifted, but they have a heart for God and they are aiming to obey him. Second Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” He finds those with character—a right heart—and he equips them to serve. This must be true of us. God can’t greatly use somebody with faulty character—meaning they are living with unconfessed sin or areas of compromise. He looks for people with character so he can use them.

Therefore, as small group leaders, we must be quick to confess and turn away from our sins. If we have sinned against others, we should quickly confess our sins both to them and God. Unconfessed sin hinders our relationship with God and others. David said, “if I cherish iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps 66:18). Christ said we either gather people to him or scatter them away from him (Lk 11:23).

Do you have any unconfessed sin in your life? Are there anyways that you are compromising?

Discussion Question: Why is it important for small group leaders to be above reproach in their character? What happens when small group leaders lack godly character?

2. A good small group leader is an abider.

Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” All quality ministry comes out of abiding in Christ. From that relationship, there is an overflow, not only into our lives, but the lives of others. Small group leaders must be people of prayer, the Word of God, worship, and service, among other things. Without abiding, we have nothing to give anybody else.

Consider these passages: Psalm 1:1-3 says:

Blessed is the man … whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.

The person who delights in and meditates on God’s Word day and night (all the time) will be like a fruitful tree. Trees don’t produce fruit for themselves, but so others can eat from them. In the same way, good small group leaders live in the Word, and the fruit of love, patience, wisdom, and encouragement flow from their lives. Like Christ, people start to gather around them so they can eat. This must be true of us as well, as we lead those that God assigns to us.

Similarly, Colossians 3:16 says,

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

The word “dwell” in this text means “to be at home with as a resident.” When the message of Christ is richly at home in us, instead of like a visitor, we will naturally teach and admonish others with wisdom. We’ll lead people in worship to God, and we’ll have a thankful disposition.

Small group leaders must be abiders. It is from an abiding relationship with Christ and his Word that all good ministry flows.

Discussion Question: How can small group leaders strike the balance of work, family, and ministering to others with abiding in Christ? What disciplines have you found helpful?

3. A good small group leader is a caring shepherd.

In John 10, Christ contrasts himself with the Pharisees and other false teachers by saying that he was the good shepherd, and all before him were hirelings. When the wolf comes, the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep, while the hireling just runs away.

Small group leaders represent their Lord and Savior as under-shepherds. They help feed the sheep, clean them, give them rest, and protect them. Obviously, none of us can perfectly discharge these duties, but we must aim for them. Daily, we should pray for the people in our small group. When they don’t show up, we should contact them and see if they’re OK and ask if they have any prayer requests or needs. Those who are struggling, we should give special attention to.

Even as a pastor, this is something that I’m still growing in. As a young believer, I was mostly at bigger churches and never had any real relationship with my pastor. I didn’t attend small group or youth ministry, and therefore, I had nobody to hold me accountable. When I became a pastor, I had to learn without ever clearly seeing a model of somebody shepherding and investing in my life. I did sit under good preaching, but I lacked personal attention. And therefore, shepherding is something I’m still growing in. To be honest, shepherding comes with a lot of pain. These days, I find myself up late at night because I’m worried about a member in my small group who is in a compromised dating relationship. I’m worried about members who are struggling with their faith and potentially turning away from God. There is heart pain with being a shepherd, but we must bear it willingly. It is part of carrying our cross (Lk 14:27). It is part of taking on the yoke of Christ (Matt 11:29).

Discussion Question: In what ways have you experienced the pain of shepherding, as you care for malnourished, sick, and struggling sheep? Do you have any tips that make this easier?

4. A good small group leader is an equipper.

Leading a small group is not a one person show. Each person in a small group has gifts and skills to contribute, and a good leader recognizes that. In fact, Scripture says this is true about good pastors. In Ephesians 4, Paul talks about how God gives gifted leaders for the purpose of equipping the church to do the work of ministry (v. 11-13). In one sense, good pastors are trying to work themselves out of a job. They are equipping people to study the Word, teach it, evangelize, counsel, and serve in general.

This is also true of good small group leaders. If leaders try to do everything, they will eventually burn out. Small group leaders should discern the gifts of their members and put them in positions to excel in the use of those gifts. Is someone great at administration? Ask them to write down everybody’s prayer requests and send them out in a weekly email, with announcements. Is somebody gifted at worship? Ask them to lead worship. Is somebody demonstrating the gift of teaching through the questions they ask and the way they answer questions? Ask them to teach one week. Does somebody have a powerful testimony? Ask them to testify. Good small group leaders equip others to do the work of ministry. They are producing future leaders.

Paul said this to Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim 2:2). We should be searching for reliable people, or it can be translated “faithful people,” who can eventually lead and teach others. Therefore, when leading a small group, look for Timothys—those who will one day lead others.

In seeking to equip others, it may be helpful to formalize their ministry. Ask somebody to be “the host.” This doesn’t mean that they host every week necessarily, but that they oversee that ministry. They have people sign up to bring drinks or host the group at their house. Ask somebody to be the small group “administrator” by overseeing administration. As mentioned, administrators send out the weekly emails with prayer requests and important information. They might also set up a monthly fun outing like going to dinner and a movie. Ask somebody passionate about missions to be the “mission coordinator.” Encourage him or her to research various ways that the group can serve once a month or once a semester and to oversee planning it. In many ways, the small group is the “church miniature,” and it should function that way.

Discussion Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced people’s gifts or passions show up in the midst of small groups? How can we encourage those people to use them strategically in small group or other ministries?

Good small group leaders are abiders. They abide in Christ through prayer, the Word, worship, etc., and they minister from that overflow. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing good spiritually. Good small group leaders are shepherds. They care for the sheep by feeding, protecting, and guiding them. Good small group leaders are people whose character is above reproach. By our character, we either push people to or away from Christ. Finally, good small group leaders are equippers. They realize that the people within their small group have various callings and gifts, and they aim to stir their members towards love and good deeds (Heb 10:24).

Discussion Question: What are some other character qualities of good small group leaders? Which one or ones do you feel God is calling you to work on most?

Copyright © 2017 Gregory Brown

The primary Scriptures used are New International Version 1984 unless otherwise noted. Other versions include English Standard Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, and King James Version. In the “Sample Small Group Lesson,” the primary version used is the NIV 2011.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.

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