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Small Groups & Leaders
Audio from Chip's most recent Web Conference.More from this series
Chip: Well, welcome to the Living on the Edge Webinar. I have a good friend right here, Jim Blazing. Our topic today is: What is the job of a small group leader? And let me introduce Jim, and then maybe you could take a minute and just give a little bit of your background.
Chip: Jim is in charge of all of our discipleship. He came from a church really known around the country for small groups. So, Jim is in charge of all of our discipleship, all of our small groups. Tell us just a little bit about you and then I want to jump right in and talk about what makes a small group leader really good.
Jim: Sure. It’s great to be here, first of all. And I would say, something about me, I’m very passionate about discipleship, about seeing people’s lives transformed, changed. And early on in my Christian journey, I got to be a part of small groups. So it has been a DNA that God has put in me to be in community with other people.
And so my entire journey has been small groups. My wife and I have participated primarily in a leadership role for the last almost thirty years now.
Chip: I want you all to think with us on something as we get started.
But, Jim, I want to ask you a question, and then I want you to think about this. What is the greatest small group you were ever in and what did that small group leader do that made it great? It was a great experience. You felt connected, you felt loved, you wanted to go to it, you felt like you really grew. So what did the leader do that made it a great small group?
Jim: Yeah, that’s a great question. First of all, I remember pretty much my first small group, being very insecure about going to the group, do I have enough knowledge? Do I know how to navigate this newer Christian life? And what is the appropriate thing to say? And are there spiritual giants in the room? And Bill was the first leader that really imparted to me, Hey, love people where they are, open up your heart, transparency, vulnerability.
It was so inviting that I just had to return to it. And it really stimulated a hunger to grow and to know God more, because there were people who were real and authentic around me.
Chip: Well, what we all know is life change happens in the context of small groups, but there’s not anything automatic about being in a small group that necessarily makes life change happen. And they rise or fall with the leader.
So I just want to jump in and the real job of a small group leader, and I want you to comment on this, is that the job of the small group leader is not to lead a meeting, but to disciple or develop people. Tell me about, how do you think about that in terms of: Okay, A is I’m a small group leader, I’m supposed to lead a meeting, versus, My job is to develop people’s lives, to disciple them.
Jim: Sure. First of all, what comes to mind in me is just, Do I have an intentional mindset entering into it? And what I mean by “intentional” is: Beyond curriculum, beyond what we want to deliver material-wise, it’s more about recognizing the people, intentionally leading them down a process. So it’s not: Let’s just get through the curriculum so we can have our coffee and cake and whatever. But it’s actually helping position people in a group before God, in discussion with each other, using the Word of God where they will intentionally grow.
Chip: One of the things I try and think about, is just ask yourself the question: Is my unconscious, or even conscious goal to get through all the questions and the study, or is my goal to get the study in the people? And there’s a real difference there.
You might jot down, if you’re able to take notes with this right now, Colossians 1, verses 28 and 29, where the apostle Paul clearly outlines: This is my goal when I meet in a group. He says, “And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we might present every man mature in Christ.”
And, by the way, if you feel tired and worn out, like, This is really hard and I’ve got a job and there’s pressure and there’s preparation, verse 29 says, “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power that works within me.”
And the words labor and striving, it’s a picture of an athlete in a gym pushing hard and so it takes a real commitment, but it’s not about leading a meeting, is it?
Jim: No, and here’s the piece with this, many of you feel this tug on your heart or this call to do it and then the response is: Am I qualified? And the answer is: None of us are really qualified. We all make mistakes. We make mistakes with people, we make mistakes with how we facilitate discussion. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to remember that we are all on a journey together and we are doing this to really bring people into the kingdom and move them towards spiritual growth.
And the Holy Spirit plays a big role in this. We play a role to be prepared as best we can and that involves us studying content and the curriculum, having an idea of where we want to go. But it’s also seeking help and counsel from other leaders that we know for training.
Chip: And I think just recognizing that different people come into your group at different stages and your goal is to move them to the next stage.
Chip: Principle number one then is: The goal of a small group leader is not to lead a meeting well, it’s really to use the meeting to develop and disciple people.
Principle number two is, and I want you to comment on this one, that the number one priority of a small group leader is a healthy walk with Jesus Christ. Before the meeting, before anything else, the number one criteria, God’s agenda for a small group leader, is your own personal relationship and walk with God. Speak to that as someone who leads all these groups and trains all of our leaders.
Jim: Yeah, and I would say we can’t take, move, motivate, lead anyone beyond where we have gone ourselves. And so for us to have integrity when we lead a meeting is that we have searched our hearts, that we have spent time with God, that we are on a consistent path of growth ourselves.
Because it’s out of that that the Lord creates passion in our hearts and gives us the ability to be transparent, because we own what it is that we are doing, and it’s important to us.
Chip: And I think one of the things, first to say, is that all of us struggle, okay? So this isn’t like you have it all together or that you spend an hour every morning with the Lord, you have memorized your three verses this week, the greatest gift you can give your group is the authenticity of you really walking with God, dealing with issues, spending time in God’s Word.
We all get to where it has been a crazy morning, one of the kids is sick, you just get in, you barely get the house cleaned, the group comes over, and you realize, Oh my gosh! I was supposed to watch the video or I was supposed to pray this through, and we are all going to have those moments. But what I would say is you don’t want that to be the habit. You really want to be a person who walks in integrity, and spends time with God.
So we have talked about, What’s the goal? It’s to develop people, not have a meeting. We have talked about, personally, your own life, your own walk with God. And the third here is this environment of reality or authenticity. What is the role of a small group leader in creating that invisible sense where you walk in, you sit down, and you go, Man, this is for real.
Jim: Sure. I think that, number one, people want to feel, when they walk into a group, is safety. Let’s remember, a lot of people who come over, maybe for the first time, have never walked in the home of someone else to sit down and discuss something. And so the greatest thing that I think we could do is create this environment where there is safety. It’s invitational, there’s someone actually at the front door who is greeting, who remembers names. There are people who are in the group that they go around and are others-centered, others-focused, who are intentionally embracing and engaging people.
And I think the leader’s responsibility is to mobilize the group to be very interactive and relational, so that that environment positions people in a tender, intimate, and safe place where the Holy Spirit can come through our discussion in the Word, and really impact lives.
Chip: Two practical things, at least for creating an environment, and
one is, crazy as it sounds, food and some drinks and when you walk in…
Jim: So, let me interrupt you for one thing. So monthly in a group I did two years ago, once a month, our small group met around our dining room table and we
actually had a meal together and we studied and had discussion while we were reading and having a meal. And those were the most special nights we had.
Chip: It’s interesting, Jesus ate with the disciples a lot. It’s interesting that the last time, when He was going to send off His small group, He ate with them. And it’s interesting, the next time when we meet with Him, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, we are going to have a meal.
The other thing I would say that creates a real group and authenticity, and I think this is if you’re leading the group. You can talk around things, and never get – if I go to a group and I don’t feel like I connect from the heart and it gets really real, I just don’t have a lot of time for meetings.
And so what I found was, appropriately, is somewhere in that evening, I need to model sharing something vulnerable.
Chip: That honestly, there has got to be enough risk that if it’s not well received, I am going to feel bad. But if it is well received, I’m going to feel like, because we all do this, I’m going to feel like this is safe. So this particular group was with some staff members. Well, they think I’m the senior pastor, I’ve been doing this for a while.
So early on, we were reviewing surrender and some other things. So I remember early on talking about, “Theresa and I had a pretty significant disagreement,” and I was looking at their faces like, Now, dude, are you really going to tell us about a fight you had with your wife?
Chip: Now, was it a real blow up? No. But it was like, what I wanted them to know was: We are going to talk about our marriages and our lives. I don’t have it together. And when I took that step, you could just watch, Oh, that’s legal. We’re going to do that. That’s helpful.
Jim: So that’s setting the pace and tone for the group through transparency and humility is huge.
Chip: So small group leaders don’t lead meetings, they develop people. Number two, they are not perfect but they authentically walk with God. Number three, they create safe, authentic environments. And number four, this is a very simple one, they are great listeners. You actually do a lot with our small group leaders, teaching them how to listen well.
Jim: I think it’s really important that we listen well to validate who people are, to let them know they are important, but even beyond that is to get their story and understand their worldview. In other words, if we are going disciple or intentionally lead someone on a journey, we have got to know where they are coming from and what they believe, so that we are not trying to just cram something in there that they have no grid to receive.
Chip: I want to speak to those of you who have either the gift of teaching or exhortation or prophecy. I don’t mean like telling the future, but I mean declaring the truth.
If you are a small group leader, your challenge, and I am speaking to me, this has been my biggest downfall is I am listening to people and while I am listening to them, verses are coming through my mind, I can fix this one.
Chip: Okay, buddy, dude, I can fix this one! So if you would just shut up, just get done with this story, because man…
Jim: I’ve got that same disease.
Chip: Yeah, I’m coming at you and what I have learned is there is a time and a place, but this is not a preaching platform. This is not, Hey! I got eight people to come to my living room so I can talk all the time. This is a place where I really need to listen.
The fact of the matter is is that I need to listen and ask great questions that are behind it to say, “Wow, that’s an amazing, boy, that’s a very tough thing you have come through. Where do you find hope? From what we have studied so far in this passage, where has God spoken to you?”
And what that does is, all of a sudden now, we are saying, “Hey, they authority is not the small group leader. The authority is the Scripture. And what you shared matters, which really means you matter.”
And the only other thing I would say is if you talk too much, as a small group leader, and I have been guilty – if people in your group don’t get to talk, then what you have said is: You don’t matter.
Jim: That’s right.
Chip: So we have to create a way where we listen, but where people get to be involved. So, one of the skills of being a good listener is asking questions, A, that are open ended. And then the skill of follow-up questions.
Chip: So help us, Jim.
Jim: Well, I think follow-up questions are really important. And you’ve got to be careful here that you don’t create a one-on-one relationship that moves everybody else out.
But sometimes you pitch a follow-up question to the individual that is asking, and sometimes you pitch that same question at a different, saying it a different way or at a different level to someone else in the group.
So it would be like, “Hey, great response. I love what you are sharing. What do you think about it, Chip?” And so now we are starting to move the discussion around the room. But I would say moving from a surface level and then following up is always driving more to the core.
Think of it as if you’re moving dirt out of the way so that you can find something that is buried there that you really want to bring to the surface. And Jesus was the master of that.
Chip: And I would say, The first and early questions need to be, “I feel” questions. Because you can’t be wrong. Right? And then you want to move toward, “Where do you feel like God is speaking to you? What are you going to do? What does it look like to respond to this passage?”
Jim: Yeah, that’s good.
Chip: Well, now, that gets pretty threatening. But if you start this way and then the follow-up questions go that way, you are gently taking people on a path from, because this is how our brains work, This is, I kind of feel, I don’t know that I have really thought about it. But at the end of the day, Jesus said to a group of people who had believed on Him, “If you abide in My Word,” in other words, you put it into practice, trust it and act on it, “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Chip: And I think a lot of small groups, we don’t abide in His Word, we circulate His Word. “What do you think about that? What was your answer for question seven?”
Jim: Yeah, and I’m thinking even one of the things that a leader can do is set the tone at the beginning of the group. So literally last week, with a group of guys, we sat down as a small group, young professionals, and I just set the tone by saying, “Guys, think of it this way. We are going to go to the gym this week. And I’m going to ask you guys to work out hard. We are going to go around the room and I really want all of you to participate in this.”
And so I literally set the tone on the front end and the guys knew in advance how we were going to interact with one another. Let your people know where you’re leading them. We are not trying to manipulate people somewhere. We are trying to lead them where they embrace it and it’s imparted into who they are.
Chip: And the way I think we really need to do that is realize, Okay, the group is different in week one than it is in week three, week five, week six. So we are moving toward that.
And then I think at some point in time, as people are more secure, you really have to ask yourself, because you can sit in a group and realize, We have been talking about a lot of stuff. And Greg over there has been talking about this struggle in his marriage. Or Sally about this thing at work every week, every week, every week, every week. And we have been studying that very thing.
Someone needs to say, “Sally, you have talked about overwork, over-demanded, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So tell us, what do you feel like God wants you to do, and how can we support you? Specifically, what would look different this week?
Chip: And that takes some courage, but I will tell you, we all need that from one another.
Jim: Yeah, in this same men’s group, we were in a discussion about the wisdom of God. And so we got done studying the material and some guy shares with a great heart, “Hey, I need wisdom on something going on in my life.”
And so he started to turn to the other guys and say, “What do you guys think?” And I said, “Hold on.” I said, “First of all, what did we just study? We talked about wisdom. Where’s the answer to the questions that you have?” And so we went to the Word of God together and he had to take the Word of God and actually look at it and then start to respond by it coming into his heart and moving out.
And instead of just, people want to default to asking someone else what they think, without digging in. And I think if we are good about asking questions and then holding people to a commitment level and we come to them one-on-one, I think there is great value to that.