A third conversation from my past explores what it means to participate in God’s activity in our groups and in the world. This dialogue occurred within my own soul. This is my story. I’ve had a unique opportunity; while I was in my early twenties, I began helping authors write on this topic as an editor. Behind the scenes I gained a wealth of knowledge about what it means to be a great small group leader.
About three years into this journey, I entered into group leadership at my church with gusto. I’d received the right training. I’d been mentored by an experienced group leader. I’d been involved in groups that flourished. I knew the actions that consistently led groups to live out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. These included things like
• praying for your group members on a regular basis
• inviting people to your group
• contacting group members
• getting people involved in discussion
• raising up a new leader from within the group
• facilitating fellowship activities
I knew all the leadership actions that had been proven effective and produced results, and I did them. However, my group never came together as a community, and it failed to have any impact on others outside the group, even though everyone had a clear vision for both.
At the same time, I had a friend who was leading another group. He was doing all of the same things I was doing, but his group was flourishing. I wish I could say I rejoiced in his success but, alas, I must be honest—this frustrated me. So I redoubled my efforts. I performed the activities with even greater effort, to no avail.
Over the years I’ve talked with many pastors and group leaders who have confessed similar experiences. And in many cases they assumed that they just hadn’t found the right combination of actions. So they looked for the next group innovation or new way of leading groups to provide a new strategy for leadership. And with this came a new list of actions. We need to figure out a new program. Or meet on a different night. Or study different material. Or take a break and start back up in a couple of months. Or meet as a smaller group. Or meet as a larger group. Or . . . Or . . . I’ve even heard some leaders say they’ve just never figured out the right formula for small groups.
The search for the right leadership formula is the essence of the problem. There is no ideal program that provides the ideal list of ideal actions. Small group leadership is not a franchise model. A standardized approach works for training people at McDonald’s, but small groups are about people, not French fries. God is at work in the world, and God works through relationships. We cannot make a fail-proof list for group leadership. We need more. We need to think in terms of leading so that we discover how to join God in what God is doing in those relationships.
M. Scott Boren, Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015).