One of my favorite verses about discipleship is found in Mark 3:14. It says that Jesus “appointed twelve . . . that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.”
The first part of the disciples’ training was just being in relationship with Christ. Before he sent them out to preach, he first invited them to just be with him—walk with him, eat with him, and watch how he handled conflicts. Discipleship—growing to be more like Christ—is developed in relationships with people.
Help Group Members Understand Their Role
Every person in your group is an important part of the process—not just the leader. The sooner your group members realize this, the healthier your group will be, and the easier your job will become. Ideally, as time goes by and relationships become stronger and deeper, group members will earn the right to speak into each other’s lives and help each other live the truths found in the Bible. Everyone plays a role in each other’s lives, whether you realize it or not.
Impress from a Distance; Impact Up Close and Personal
Our traditional idea of a leader is someone who is slightly above those he or she leads, someone who keeps a slight distance from the followers. A Christian leader, however, should follow the example of Christ, who came to serve. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). God entrusted to you that group of people you meet with every week. As a leader, your role is to serve them by determining where they are in their spiritual journey and encouraging them to take their next spiritual step. While small group studies are an important part of your small group meetings, do not make the mistake of thinking those studies are the reason for meeting. Your focus should be on developing people, not discussing a passage.
The Goal Is Transformation, Not Information
The goal is not to get through the study every week, although good small group studies are wonderful tools for generating discussion and learning Scripture. While you may get through the study, the goal is not to finish the curriculum. The goal is to get the Word of God and the truth of God into the lives of the people who sit in that room with you. You want to see it become more than just another learning experience. You want to see the truth of the Scripture reflected in the lives of group members.
Spiritual Growth Is More Caught than Taught
Is your life a reflection of your faith? If it were possible for your group members to live your spiritual life for 24 hours, at the end of that 24 hours would they want to give it back to you, or would they want to hang on to it? Is your relationship with your spouse, children, friends, and co-workers a reflection of your Christian faith? Do you walk the walk or just talk the talk? These are the true requirements of leadership—not that you have it all together, but that each day you are making choices that honor God and that you are always trying to move in the right direction.
How you live your life says much more about your leadership ability than how you lead a group meeting. You cannot teach what you don’t know. You may be a biblical scholar, but if you don’t lead an honest life and try to have loving relationships, then all of that knowledge is meaningless. “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3). The best thing you can do for your group members is to be in close relationship with Christ. If you have that, everything you do will flow from that relationship, and you will show your group members how to worship God rather than merely tell them how.
Steve Gladen, Leading Small Groups with Purpose: Everything You Need to Lead a Healthy Group (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012).