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Part 2: Small Group Leadership

The small group leader is not the only teacher, and the small group is not a traditional class sitting in rows of chairs listening to a lecture. Learning comes through interaction, discovery, modeling of leaders, problem solving, and the study and application of the Scriptures.

Who can lead? The small group leader should be willing to help the people in the group to have the best possible experience of discovery as they study the Bible for themselves. It is not necessary to be an expert on the Bible, or to know all about group dynamics. Sometimes people hesitate to lead because of their lack of experience or background. Many people, however, who have very little formal training make good group leaders, especially if they have good coaching.

In addition to Christian faith, the most important requirement for being a good group leader is a willingness to be an apprentice/assistant leader prior to leading a group, because this is the best way to learn to be a leader. (Southern Baptist Study)

No ministry can grow faster than it develops its leadership, and the best place to be developed is as an apprentice leader. (The Pyramid Principle says the leadership base determines the impact and size a church is going to have. In a healthy church, the worship structure will be in direct proportion to the size of the leadership base.)

Our goal as a church is that our pastors be focused on priorities and not worn out (Ex. 18:17-18,22-23; I Pet. 5:1-4).


  • One of these priorities is time to pray (Ex. 18:19; Acts 6:1-4, especially verse 4) for others and to train others to pray.
  • Pastors should have the freedom to major on teaching and equipping people for ministry and life (Ex. 18:20; Eph. 4:11ff; Acts 6:4; Acts 20:27). They are to teach the whole counsel of God, modeling spiritual life to those for whom they are responsible, equipping others for ministry and correcting when necessary (1 Thess. 5:12; 2 Tim. 4:2).
  • They must emphasize directing the affairs of the church—giving direction, seeing the big picture, inspiring vision. 1 Tim. 5:17—"The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." Heb. 13:7—"Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith."
  • How can we release pastors to focus on their priorities? Following a structure that sets others free to minister. Jethro's advice to Moses in Exodus 18 becomes the model for ministry administration.

    The One to Ten Plan

    Exodus 18: 14-26

    14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, ‘‘What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”
    15 Moses answered him, ‘‘Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and laws.”
    17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, ‘‘What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”
    24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.

    The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.
    Jethro says to Moses: "90 percent of the problems out there will be routine, i.e., can be handled at the level of 1 in 10. If the one dealing with the situation doesn't know what to do, he passes it up to the one who above him. If that one doesn't know what to do, it is passed to you, Moses, and you can take it to God and figure it out. Then you come and tell the people the solution. Once the precedent is established, you probably won't have to deal with it again. We'll be able to deal with it down the ranks."

    In essence, they set up a system of appellate jurisdictions in which an appeal from a lower level came up the ladder of authority. Only when no one else could handle it was it brought to Moses, who then then took it to God.

    Most of the problems dealt with by senior leaders don't need their involvement; they could be handled by many others. (For example, people have called me to ask that I finish the soul-winning process they've begun.) Many pastors spend up to 20 hours a week counseling, and most of those counseling needs are of people who are not in a small group.

    There are numerous negative results of senior leader-centered ministry:


  • Obviously, it wears the pastor out. It depletes his energy, (i.e., sponsors burnout).
  • It destroys the "eagle flying" of the pastor—his ability to get the big picture.
  • It robs the pastor of his priority ministry, the Word of God (Acts 6).
  • People elevate or demean the leader because he doesn't live up to everyone's unreal expectations.
  • Jethro's system, on the other hand, has several benefits:


  • The pastor has fewer things to think about.
  • His advice is more valued and sought after when he releases others to minister.
  • Perhaps best of all, he succeeds in developing others in ministry.

  • There are some special symbols in order to picture this:

    Xa: apprentice leader of 10. He studies under an X.

    X leads a small group and provides mentorship for the Xa. As the apprentice leader graduates, he says, "You can be a leader of 10, but you have to also mentor an Xa."

    L: a person/a pastor in a smaller church who has been successful in spawning groups and mentoring Xa. Soon they can graduate from being an X to an L (for fifty). They will now supervise a whole group of Xs and provide the training and supervision that Xs and Xa's need.


    Tasks of Leadership

    The tasks of leadership are basically simple. As you lead, be ready to pray, prepare, guide, care and be coached.

    Task 1: Pray. Prayer deepens and strengthens both the group's leader and its members. It is important that we pray for wisdom in making decisions about the group and its study or activities; for our own lives and roles as leaders in the group; and for each member of the group by name and for the group as a whole, both between and during meetings.

    Because a basic purpose of the group is spiritual growth, a reliance upon the Holy Spirit as demonstrated through prayer is essential. Further, when the leader prays for group members by name during the week, he/she gains a heightened sensitivity to each and to the work of God in each life.

    Task 2: Prepare. There are three major elements of preparation for a group meeting:

    Preparing the location, setting and resources which the group will use

    Preparing for the meeting itself


  • How will the meeting begin and end?
  • What will happen at the meeting apart from Bible study?
  • Will people be asked to share or to pray? If so, it would be useful to think about ways of building relationships and finding or developing a "sharing question" to aid in this.
  • How should time be apportioned for the various activities of the meeting?
  • Will reports on the week's activities be given by one or more members?
  • How can adequate time be made available for interaction with Scripture?
  • Preparing for the interaction with Scripture. This is the most demanding of the tasks, and it usually involves the leader spending time working on the text which the group will study when it comes together. After personal study, the leader must make decisions about the questions to be asked and the procedures to be followed during the group meeting. If the group is using pre-prepared study materials, the leader may need to decide which questions to omit or which to add at the meeting. A good Bible study leader carefully prepares before the meeting. Often this step of preparation is concluded when the leader writes on a card or single sheet of paper the questions which will be asked or procedures which will be followed during the group time. This card or sheet of paper can be placed in the leader's Bible and be used unobtrusively during the meeting.

    Task 3: Guide—the participants to love, learn, do and decide. During the meeting, the leader should help the group move through its activities on time and in an ordered way. The functions of loving, learning, doing, and deciding are a means of growth for the members.

    If various parts of the meeting have been assigned to other group members, e.g., if someone has been asked to lead the discussion, the leader will still want to help whenever needed to keep the group moving along in its work. Otherwise, the group may get bogged down, spend too much time on trivial issues, stay too long in unproductive debate/controversy, and neglect one of the above functions.

    Key aspects of the guiding task include:


  • Beginning and ending the group on time
  • Making sure each person can see everyone else easily
  • Asking good questions in a logical order
  • Keeping the discussion moving at a lively pace
  • Pulling the group back to the main subjects and away from tangents or unprofitable debate
  • Involving as many members as possible
  • Keeping a check on the time so that each activity is given enough time

  • Asking Good Questions

    While each of these aspects is important, probably the most vital is asking good questions. Good questions are clear, focused on one main idea or thought at a time. They require more than "yes" or "no" as an answer. They are clearly based on the text. They are conversational in tone rather than stilted or formal; interesting, but not too complex. Finally, good questions are open-ended, allowing for more than one response.

    In asking questions, the leader should not be afraid of silence, which gives people time to think. He should not criticize an answer but ask, "What do others think?"

    It's always a good idea to focus the answers by asking, "Where do you see that in the text?" A good leader broadens the discussion by asking, "Does anyone have anything to add?" He is also careful to use only questions that have not been answered in the previous discussion. He should not answer his own questions, but after others have spoken, should feel free to participate in the general discussion.

    Good questions are valuable because they help the leader to evaluate the group members' understanding of the Bible. They cause the group members to think, preventing the group leader from becoming an authority figure. They allow the group members to discover spiritual truth for themselves.

    The Bible discussion leader asks questions to help the others become "discoverers." The leader is not a teacher, but is a guide and a participant himself, using questions that help the group discover, understand, and apply biblical truths. He does this by: launching, guiding, and summarizing the discussion, and helping group members apply what they have learned.

    A good launching question is one that simply asks the group members what they have discovered on their own in a particular question or section of their Bible study preparation. This means using phrases such as, "What did you learn in this section about...?" "What did you discover in this passage about...?" What did you observe in this question about...?" "In this verse, what impressed you about...?"

    To guide the discussion means keeping it moving, and drawing out the principal thoughts the group is sharing. You can ask questions like: "Who else would like to comment on that?" "What does someone else see in this verse?" "Does anyone else want to add something?"

    When the discussion wanders away from the Bible, you may need to get the group back on track by saying, "What we're discussing is interesting, but we've left our topic. Perhaps we could discuss this more at a different time." Then you could present a thought-provoking question that draws the group back to the biblical issues you were discussing.

    Often during the discussion someone will ask, "What does it mean?" Discussing together an answer to this question should be valuable, because you know the group is discussing its own concerns. But don't let the discussion go off on a tangent.

    So the first two important parts of your job as a discussion group leader—to launch and to guide the discussion—are done almost entirely with questions.

    The other two parts of your job—summarizing the discussion and helping the group members apply what they have learned—may take less of your total discussion time and depend less on questions. You may want to summarize the discussion frequently during the group's time together each week. Your summary can be of what the group has been talking about in the last few minutes, and what you may have learned from the text.

    The summary can also serve as a transition to another topic. One of the most helpful ways to make sure that your summary is what the text says is by understanding the principles of inductive study and some of the simple rules of biblical interpretation—e.g., Scripture interprets Scripture.

    To carry out the fourth part of your job—helping group members apply what they have learned—you can ask questions to help them put biblical truth into practice in their lives. This could mean helping them remember such things as important doctrines, God's attributes, God's promises, and verses on the authority of God's Word. Then you and they will need to decide what steps of action to take to conform your lives to God's standards. An easy way to make application is to discuss how to use what you have learned to help someone else grow spiritually.

    When asking application questions, use discretion in directing a personal question to a particular individual. Only ask an individual about his personal application when you are sure it would benefit the group present.

    One way to encourage personal application of what your group is discovering in the Scriptures is to have everyone write out an intended application at the end of your discussion time. Then they can share the results of this application plan at your next meeting. This pattern encourages writing short-range applications and expecting God to help them apply what He has brought to their personal attention.


    Task 4: Love. During and between meetings, a good leader should demonstrate love and concern for the well-being of each of the group members. Careful observation and listening to each member to discern spoken or unspoken needs will help accomplish this.

    Task 5: Be Coached. No small group should function independently from the leadership of the local church. It is the Pastor(s)' role to oversee all ministry within the church—(I Pet. 5:1-7; I Thess. 5:12-13, etc.). Because of the Jethro principle, however, the wise senior pastor will find ways to coach and release small group leaders to lead their groups.


    The following represents a way to develop a leadership community. It was developed by Carl F. George, author of Prepare Your Church For The Future. It centers around a V.H.S. (Vision, Huddle, and Skill Training) meeting . In monthly or bi-monthly meetings, the following elements represent the core of the time together with leaders of all types of small groups.

    Vision. Such a meeting might open with a brief time of worship, after which the Pastor proclaims his heart and vision for some aspect of the church's life. It is really a rallying cry: "Go for it. This is where we have been and where we are going by God's grace and strength. Let's believe the Lord for great things," etc.

    Huddle. Typically, the huddle section centers around tables. Each "L" forms a cluster with his/her five Xs and maybe Xa's. This is the time to do diagnostic coaching, answer questions, solve difficulties in groups, exhort one another, and pray for each other.

    Skill. After everyone regroups, the skill portion of the meeting begins. This focuses on the skill training of the X's so that they might be more effective in their ministry. Topics might be listening skills; how to confront; evangelism skills; counseling principles; how to use spiritual gifts in the group; conflict management; the necessity of confidentiality; inductive Bible study.


    Styles of Leadership

    Students of small groups have discovered that there are various styles of group leadership, some more helpful than others. The four most common are autocratic, authoritative, democratic, and laissez-faire.



    Total control, with members as listeners and followers

    Determines goals and policies

    More interested in subject matter (content) than people (process)

    Makes decisions regardless of other views

    Talks too much

    Focuses attention on himself or herself

    Group members are almost puppets


    (Definite yet Responsive)

    Strong control, with members actively involved in the discussions

    Has a definite purpose and plan, but is open to modification

    Active and energetic and seeks the activity of others

    Prepared to give direction and support as needed

    Uses communication skills to involve others

    Takes responsibility until others can assume it

    Uses personal power to empower others


    (Group Centered)

    Shared control, with leaders and members sharing functions

    Shares leadership responsibility

    Believes in other people

    Creates a sense of security and belonging

    Ensures that others have a chance to lead

    If leader withdraws, group will not fall apart

    Sees that group discusses all policies



    Minimal control, with members directing

    Doesn't prepare and lets things drift

    Doesn't seem to care

    Causes the group to accomplish very little

    Encourages fragmentation through indiscipline

    Makes no attempt to appraise or regulate events

    Lacks courage in making decisive plans




    Patterns of Leadership

    One leader for every session. This is the most common pattern, when one person directs the activities of the group during its meeting for an agreed number of meetings, e.g., eight to 10 weeks. At the end of this time, the group may wish to select another leader, or continue with the same one.

    Partnership pattern leadership. Two or three people are designated as the group leaders and share the various tasks of leadership week by week.

    Rotating leadership. Each member takes a turn at leading.


    Empowering and Equipping Leaders

    Constantly share your vision with your leaders.

    Motivate by

    Motivate by reaffirming

    Motivate by picturing the

    Motivate by communicating

    Motivate by constant

    Concentrate on recruiting and developing leaders.

    for more leaders—Matt. 9:35-38

    Identify and challenge leaders.

    Encourage by creating a climate in which leaders are free to fail.

    Celebrate wins.

    Provide systematic and.


    Job Descriptions

    Small Group Leader

    Organize and lead regular cell group meetings. Healthy cell groups (Acts 2:42-47) involve these essential ingredients:


    • Teaching—learning and applying God's Word
    • Fellowship—building supportive, mutually accountable relationships
    • Worship—praising God for who He is and what He has done
    • Prayer—listening to and sharing intimately with God; interceding for others and God's work in the world
    • Power—experiencing the filling and outpouring of the Holy Spirit
    • Ministry—using spiritual gifts and loving each other in practical ways to meet needs
    • Evangelism—impacting our society and sharing the good news so that people become Christ's disciples
    Provide pastoral care to all members of your group and their families as appropriate (visit in hospital, home, etc.).

    Pray for all the people in your cell group each week.

    Listen to the Holy Spirit on how he wants to work in and through the people in your group. The Cell Group Leader needs to ask, "How does the Holy Spirit want to release the unique gifts of people in this group?"

    Train an apprentice leader who will branch off to begin his or her own cell group.

    Be available to help baptize, lead communion, collect offering, etc.

    Be faithfully involved in Ministry Community.

    Small Group Supervisor

    Facilitate care group effectiveness:


  • Help Care Group leaders formulate goals and plans; monitor the implementation process. Encourage and affirm Care Group effectiveness and growth.
  • Attend each Care Group every 3rd to 6th meeting and debrief with the leader personally.
  • Help leaders to discern group and individual needs. Ask probing questions to enable leaders to identify priorities and determine next steps to be taken.
  • Guide leaders to facilitate the use of spiritual gifts in their groups.
  • Shepherd care group leaders


  • Pray consistently for each leader. Spend extended time in prayer to determine Ministry Community huddle agenda.
  • Build personal relationships with every Care Group leader supervised.
  • Make regular contact outside the Ministry Community setting. Offer personal encouragement and/or guidance to each leader.
  • Schedule periodic planning times with your Care Group leaders (at least quarterly). Follow-up Care Group leaders who miss Ministry Community.
  • Cultivate apprentice leaders


  • Help Care Group leaders to identify and invest in potential leaders. Meet with potential Care Group leaders and give vision for future ministry possibilities.
  • Invite them to Care Group leaders orientation meetings. Follow up to enable apprentice leaders to launch their groups. Identify with the Care Groups those with gifts and/or burdens for target group ministries.
  • Multiply yourself by developing someone who can serve as a Supervisor.

  • Fifty Micro-Skills Sets Leaders Need

    Fuller Evangelical Assoc., 1991


    1. Listening
    2. Responding
    3. Challenging
    4. Confronting
    5. Evangelism
    6. Vision and strategy
    7. Leadership
    8. Recruiting
    9. Follow-up
    10. Nurturing
    11. Communicating the whole picture
    12. Administration
    13. Problem solving
    14. How to run a meeting
    15. Facilitating sharing
    16. Counseling
    17. Discernment
    18. Credibility and example leading
    19. Spiritual authority
    20. Bible study skills
    21. How to reproduce an apprentice X group
    22. How to reproduce a group leader apprentice (Xa)
    23. How to make contacts with prospects
    24. How to welcome newcomers to the group
    25. Worship leading and music
    26. Identifying gifts
    27. How to link with outreach projects
    28. When to ask for assistance
    29. Healing prayer
    30. How to manage disruptions
    31. How to handle child care
    32. Deliverance ministry
    33. Recognizing abuse
    34. Holistic health
    35. Time management
    36. Loyalty and teamwork
    37. How to affirm
    38. Management of attitudes
    39. Conflict management
    40. Personal disciplines
    41. Teaching prayer
    42. How to overcome shyness
    43. How to use referrals
    44. Legal implications
    45. Confidentiality
    46. Sharing ministry
    47. Listening prayer
    48. Stewardship
    49. Pastoring and shepherding skills
    50. One-to-one discipling

    Functions of a Small Group Leader

    Neil F. McBride (How to Lead Small Groups)

    1. Listening—Being a good listener, really hearing what people have to say.

    2. Leading discussion—Guiding, or teaching others how to guide, effective discussions.

    3. Enabling group decision making—Helping the group make choices at various points in its corporate life.

    4. Understanding and leading group process—Being knowledgeable and skilled in facilitating group dynamics.

    5. Practicing (modeling) openness and caring—Setting the example by being honest and empathetic, and actively seeking ways to assist group members.

    6. Dealing with conflict and problems—Guiding the group to confront and resolve interpersonal strife and general difficulties.

    7. Following up members outside of group meetings—Expressing concern for them at various times apart from regular meetings.

    8. Attending planning and learning opportunities for group leaders—When applicable, participating in the training and organizational meetings of any existing larger overall groups' program.

    9. Evaluating progress—Making judgments and decisions about various aspects of the group's existence and accomplishments.

    The Role of the Holy Spirit in Leading Small Groups

    "An important foundation undergirding the role of a small group leader is the place of the Holy Spirit within the group. Simply put, He is the unseen, but present group member and leader... (The leader's) role is to facilitate the Holy Spirit's ministry in the members' lives through planning and guiding the group's condensed form, there are seven ministries the Holy Spirit performs..."—Neil H. McBride, How To Lead Small Groups, p. 22.


    • He indwells—Rom. 8:9-11
    • He guides—John 16:13
    • He teaches—John 14:26
    • He convicts—John 16:8
    • He intercedes—Rom. 8:26
    • He enables with spiritual gifts—1 Cor. 12:11
    • He unifies—Eph. 4:3