Five Things Every Group Leader Should Do
Last Sunday I walked into a classroom in our church’s building. There were 75 empty chairs and a dry erase board at the front, and I had the same thought I do most every week: “Help me, Jesus.”
It’s intimidating to be a leader of a group, whether you are leading a home-based small group, a Sunday school class, or some other kind of church gathering. If you don’t feel this way, then maybe you should reconsider what you’ve been tasked to do: You are the leader for this group of people. If there is a question regarding a biblical text, you’re the de facto authority. It is largely in your hands whether that hour or so will be well spent or wasted. You are going to stand before a group of human beings and help move them forward in their Christian walk. And then one day you will stand before God and re-evaluate together how it all went (Heb. 13:17; James 3:1)
Feeling it yet? I hope so, because you should. It’s a weighty task, and one that deserves great care. That nervousness is healthy, because it’s really just a reflection of what you (and probably your group) know to be true—you aren’t smart enough, entertaining enough, or talented enough to bring about real spiritual change.
That’s actually good news, if you let it be. It can either move you to paralysis and endless second guessing, or it can move you to deeper dependence and faith.
FIVE TIPS FOR SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHERS
If you believe that God has put this group of people together for this purpose, then the best way to exercise that faith is to work hard. To get better. To make sure you are doing everything you can to embrace the Spirit of God who speaks through what God has spoken. In light of that, here are five things every group leader should put into practice.
1. Over-prepare, then limit yourself.
The resources are out there for the taking. Never before has so much information been available so easily. You can access commentaries, teaching plans, and sermons from hundreds of resources online. After you start doing your research, you’ll quickly find out which of these resources best serve your own preparation and you’ll return to those again and again. And when you do, you’ll find that it’s no longer a struggle to fill your class time. The bigger struggle you’ll have is limiting your scope.
That limitation is important or your class will simply become the means by which you show everybody how smart you are. That’s a fail. Instead, articulate to yourself in writing what your main point is, after deriving it from your personal study. Then use that main point as a gate for all the other information.
2. Foster an atmosphere of openness and discussion.
Instead of thinking about the most effective way you can teach, think instead about what question you might ask in order to help someone else in your group articulate the information. It’s okay if you stand at the front and simply give out the information, but it will be a more engaging and memorable experience if people come to the same conclusion seemingly on their own. After all, the goal is for truth to be expounded.
3. Let people tell their stories.
Often if I’m leading a group in which people seem to be shy or have trouble participating in discussion, I’ll ask the group for a personal example of something that relates to the larger point, then use that personal experience to springboard into a larger discussion:
- “What is one time on a vacation when your plans didn’t go exactly right?” (for moving into a discussion of patience)
- “Tell us about a time when your children did something that genuinely made you happy.” (for moving into a discussion about obedience and love)
Using these stories fosters the kind of open atmosphere you’re looking for and, at the same time, makes people more willing and confident in contributing.
4. Pray for your group. Specifically.
In a group where discussion is fostered, you’ll inevitably come to learn things about people’s lives. As those things come up, write them down. Pray for them throughout the week. Then, the next week, pull the person aside and ask them more about their situation. Not only is there incredible value in caring for people like this, it also links them emotionally to what’s going on in your group.
5. Think about the future.
To really think about the future of the people that God has entrusted to you, your goal must be bigger than seeing how big or popular your group could become. You have to recognize that your group will have people who will be able to lead their own groups in the future. If your focus is on that future, your work of equipping future leaders will become regular part of what you do. Give them opportunities to lead the discussions and teach the lessons. Help them by evaluating with them how things went. And then work with them to move them into greater leadership roles in the future. It’s about multiplication, not addition.
Leading a group is an immense responsibility. It’s one that should be crafted and honed; one in which you and I can both grow. But by seeking that growth actively, we demonstrate our faith not in our ability to lead or teach, but in the God who has given us this responsibility.