Tuesday, July 29, 2014

10 Can't-Miss Principles for Finding the WRONG Leaders

Through my assessment of small groups as well as my experience leading groups and coaching other leaders, I’ve observed a direct correlation between leaders who hog leadership and groups that do not grow or multiply. 

Leaders who lead healthy, growing groups share leadership with two to three others ... but not just any two or three others. I've seen leaders pick the right people and the wrong people to share leadership with. Let's look at how they end up choosing the wrong ones (and, by the way, these also work well for church leaders looking for small group leaders):
  1. Start by developing a recruiting strategy. Make a list of who you think are the right people. Use the normal list of qualifications: knowledge, abilities, charisma, and especially physical appearance. Then consider how you will twist arms to get the ones you want to take on this job.

    A Better Idea ... Ask the Lord of the Harvest to send these “workers.” Yes, start with prayer. Trust him to help you know whom to ask.

  2. Announce you are looking for some co-leaders. Ask the group who wants to join you in leading the group. Or send around a sign-up sheet.

  3. Let the group decide. Better yet, ask everyone to make a case for why he or she should be a core team member (after all, this is an exclusive club!) and then have everyone in the group close their eyes and on the count of three, point to the people they think should be on the core team. The ones with the most votes win!

    A Better Idea ... Wait and watch whom God leads you to. I wouldn't even tell group members you are looking for "co-leaders." Once you have begun praying, watch for whom God puts in front of you. Listen to his voice as you talk to people. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as you interact with group members.

  4. Take anyone who is willing to help. People are busy; no one will want to sign up for this duty. So take anyone who might say yes. Don't worry about their spiritual lives.

  5. Wait until you get potential co-leaders who meet all your expectations. This is an important job. These people may someday be leaders of new groups, so be cultivate extremely high standards. If no one meets your leadership expectations, don't do anything. Just keep leading alone.

    A Better Idea ... Watch for potential, not perfection. Look for servants, not saints. Look for humble hearts, not superior skills or incredible intelligence.

  6. Recruit people like you. Things will go much more smoothly if your core team members will lead with exactly the same style as you. After all, you are the leadership model. They should have the same gifts as you and will make decisions the same way as you.

    A Better Idea ... Do just the opposite. God will likely lead you to people who do not lead like you. Because of that, you may not even see them as "leaders." Set aside your expectations and trust God to do what only he can do. He is looking for Christlike, not you-like leaders.

  7. Look for people who have the most obvious leadership skills, people who have the spiritual gift of leadership, and people who are successful in business.

    A Better Idea ... Consider the condition of their hearts. God will lead you to men or women after his own heart. By the way, leadership is not the only spiritual gift God can use to help lead a group. In fact, those with the gifts of mercy or shepherding or evangelism or other gifts might be the better matches with the gifts you have. Remember, it's God's job to put the body together, just as he wants it to be.

  8. Look outside your group. It's unlikely that a suitable core team member is in your small circle. So look around your church for people with superior leadership abilities. Maybe an elder or deacon. Perhaps a businessman who isn't connected yet.

    A Better Idea ... Look around you. Perhaps God has already put your core team members close to you. They may be the women or men in the group with whom you already have close relationships or those whose gifts complement yours.

  9. Just do it all. It's probably easier for you to keep leading alone. What real difference can it make?

    A Better Idea ... Begin now to share ownership of the group with everyone. Let everyone be involved in the group process. This will help you lead into sharing leadership. (Read my post on the difference between sharing ownership and sharing leadership.) People hesitate to be on a team when the leader does too much. As the group’s leader you must grow in your ability to allow others to use their gifts.

    Leading alone leads to frustration and burnout for the leader and does not effectively help people in your group grow.

  10. Focus exclusively on caring for your group members. You are the group's shepherd. It's all about the people in your group right now. Don't be concerned about anything outside of or beyond that.

    A Better Idea ... and this is VITAL ... Remember that sharing leadership is part of the discipleship process. It was part of how Jesus discipled and developed Peter, James, and John in his group. Sharing leadership is also a vital ingredient in multiplying leadership, reproducing groups, and expanding the kingdom of God. It's a necessary part of our great commission to go and make disciples of all nations.

Leaders who hog leadership keep God's kingdom from growing. Don't do that! 


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Read More about Sharing Leadership with a Core Team

Leadership Is Not a Solo Act
The "Right Person" to Lead a Small Group
Two Rocket Boosters That Will Propel Your Small Group to Accomplish Christ's Mission
How to Help Group Members Keep Growing and Growing


See more about how to develop a core team and share leadership in my book, The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership.

You can also purchase it in Portuguese here! (I spoke on this topic at two conferences in Brazil in March 2014.) 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Should Happen with a Leader Who Has No Time for God?

What should a church or small group pastor do when they discover that a small group leader is not spending time daily with God--assuming this is an ongoing issue?

Yes, there are times that most of us have gone through the desert, and perhaps we've allowed our time with God to slip down our priority lists. But we know these times are temporary.

But what should a pastor do if a leader confesses they have been stuck in this situation for a long time, and what should the pastor do if the leader seems to be OK with this (yes, these may be two different situations)?

  • Ask the leader to immediately step down from leadership ... at least until this situation changes
  • Develop a personal weekly mentoring/discipleship process with the leader
  • Get a small group coach involved
  • Develop a training program to teach leaders how to have a quiet time
  • Enforce accountability upon the leader(s)
  • Nothing: This situation is between the leader and God
  • Other: ____

What would you do?

Please comment below.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Final 4 Vital Characteristics of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader

In my previous post, I shared the first 4 characteristics of a life-changing leader. Read that post first. While those are the most fundamental, the next 4 are no less vital:

5. Healthy small group leaders are friends with non-Christ-followers
Small group leaders may or may not have the spiritual gift of evangelism, but they do intentionally seek out friendships with those who are not yet friends with God. These friendships are genuine and unconditional . . . no strings attached. Yes, they pray diligently for their friends and watch for opportunities to share their story and the gospel, but they don’t leverage the relationship to force conversations about Christ. Rather, they allow God to use them to shine his light. They allow the overflow of God’s love to pour out of their lives naturally.


6. Healthy small group leaders are shepherds
Transformed, surrendered leaders invest relationally into and lovingly guide the group that God puts under their care. I believe being a shepherd is the main role of the small group leader. All the other attributes describe how to do this one well.

“He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young” (Isaiah 40:11, NLT). Great small group leaders invest relationally into the individual members of the group, and not just during group meetings! Do you know the spiritual condition of your flock (Proverbs 27:23)? The biggest difference between a teacher, facilitator, or host and a shepherd leader is that the former do not necessarily need to know their sheep or lead them spiritually. But that is precisely the role of the shepherd-leader.


7. Healthy small group leaders are servants-first
Jesus made this one very clear. You can’t be a leader in his kingdom unless you first have the heart of a servant. Why do you want to lead? If it is because it is the best way for you to serve the group, then you are on the right track. If you desire leadership for any other reason, reconsider this role. Find another way to serve the group first.


8. Healthy small group leaders are growing in competence
While leading a healthy small group has more to do with heart than skills, a healthy leader is a learner. So remain teachable. Keep reading leadership articles, books, and blogs. Go to every leader training class your church offers. Listen to leadership podcasts and attend leader training events offered in your area.

Most importantly, spend time with Christ every day. Be in his Word, not just to study leadership principles (which are ample in the Bible), but to be filled up so that you may overflow into the lives of others.


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This post is adapted from my book, SmallGroup Vital Signs (TOUCH Publications). 

More About Healthy Leadership

5 Minute Daily Devotions for Leaders ... C'mon Man!
Leader Burnout Is Universal
Silencing the Monkeys in the Banana Tree




Thursday, July 17, 2014

The First 4 Vital Characteristics of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader

One of the fundamental differences between healthy and unhealthy small groups is the spiritual vitality of the leaders. While imperfect, healthy leaders have a soft heart that God can use to accomplish his will. They are highly committed first to God, and then to the group. Healthy leaders have at least eight attributes. Today I'll share the first four:

1. Healthy small group leaders have been transformed
One of your main functions as a small group leader is to build an environment where spiritual transformation is experienced. This happens best when you have first experienced transformation yourself. What happened to Peter and the other disciples between the gospels and Acts to bring about the transformation they experienced? It was a process that Jesus began three years earlier but that came to fruition with the power of the resurrection (John 20), the power of reconciliation (John 21), and finally the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Then Jesus used these transformed leaders to build a great, world-transforming church. He can do the same through you when you spend time with him and allow him to transform your life!


2. Healthy small group leaders live surrendered to God
One thing the apostles learned from Jesus was how to live and lead in surrender to God’s will. Great small group leaders turn to Christ for everything: who to invite to the group, the group’s purpose, and the what to study. To do this, you must pray and then wait before making decisions. Great group leaders know if they surrender their leadership to Christ they will accomplish far more than they can do in their own power.


3. Healthy small group leaders are committed to their calling
God first calls people to lead, then he gifts them to lead, and last, he empowers them to lead. The leadership God has entrusted to you is a precious gift of his grace (Ephesians 3:7) you should never take for granted. Accept it willingly, develop it, and multiply it by the mighty working of his power. Be a good steward of his gift to you!


4. Healthy small group leaders are friends
Jesus called his group members “friends.” But perhaps that word meant more to Jesus than we think: “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus said, “that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Real friendship is sacrificial.

A healthy leader considers the members of the group as his or her friends, not as students, participants, or “people who show up to our meetings.” As the leader, you invest into those friendships. A group member from our church wrote:

Joe and I have been in small group with Gary for about five years now. I wasn’t sure about joining a “Bible study,” but this group is so much more. The friendships we have formed are everlasting. Our small group, with Gary as our leader, not only studies the Bible, but we hold each other up; we encourage each other in good and bad times; we have moments where we laugh and sometimes cry; we love each other no matter what; and we know in our hearts that Jesus Christ is always with us. Gary keeps us focused, and he is one of the best friends Joe and I could ever have!

Wouldn’t you want someone in your group to say the same about you? Become their friend!


Read the next four vital characteristics of a life-changing leader.


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This post is adapted from my book, SmallGroup Vital Signs (TOUCH Publications). 

More About Healthy Leadership

5 Minute Daily Devotions for Leaders ... C'mon Man!
Leader Burnout Is Universal
Silencing the Monkeys in the Banana Tree


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Small Group Peloton: 7 Principles Your Group Can Learn from Cyclists in the Tour de France

Are you watching the Tour de France? One of the most remarkable elements in the race is the peloton. Cyclists ride in tight packs to save energy by drafting (up to a 40 percent reduction in drag in a well-formed peloton), but there are many more advantages of the peloton, including the encouragement from other riders and the teamwork involved.

I enjoy cycling in a group: riding together, taking turns at the front, talking about life as we roll along, and helping one another when bikes or bodies break down. There is a sense of community on these rides.

Authentic community is an indicator of a healthy small group that I discuss in my book Small Group Vital Signs. Your group cannot be healthy and growing if you are not living in authentic, biblical community.

Here are seven principles for developing authentic community that we can learn from cyclists:
  1. Become a Group. Before you can build teamwork, you need to know one another. A great cycling team, as in any sport, spends time together, getting to know one another personally. It's really good to know the tendencies of the people I ride with. Same goes with small group members.
  2. Develop Bonds of Trust. In the peloton or even a paceline, you must trust the riders in front of and around you. If a rider in front of you just touches his or her brakes, it can cause many riders to crash. In a small group, you must develop a trust among one another. For one, discuss the vitality of confidentiality. Group members must be able to trust others in the group for authenticity to take hold. To go along with this one, a great cycling team and small group develops a commitment to one another and to their shared goals as a team. Trust and commitment go together like a chain and cogs. 
  3. Become a Team. Each cycling team member has his or her own unique strengths and weaknesses. Some are sprinters, some are climbers, and some are "domestiques," that is, cyclists whose role is to support and work for other riders. It's important for your group members to know what gifts and talents they bring to the group--for the good of the group. Every single group member should have a role. 
  4. Develop the Team. Your work is not finished once you form a team. Cycling teams spend lots of time on the road practicing for all kinds of different situations during events. As your small group works together using your individual gifts and roles, both during group meetings and as you serve others together, your teamwork will become stronger and stronger. But you must get out of your comfort zones to make this happen! 
  5. Share Leadership. In a paceline, each rider takes turns up front. This is a way of serving the team, and it is often hard work. But everyone takes a turn, giving the others some time to recover for their next time up front. (A leech is a rider who takes advantage of the draft from other riders but never takes a turn up front. Be sure you don't have any leeches in your group!) Now here's the really cool part. In a good paceline, the front rider actually gets a small help from the riders behind him or her. Somehow, and I don't quite understand the science behind it, the slipstream provides a kind of "push" for the front rider. Sharing leadership with your group may be the best thing for the group you ever do! 
  6. Confess and Speak the Truth in Love. Cycling team members must get really good at real, transparent communication with one another. They know that to get better as individuals and as a team, they must be able to say "my fault" or correct other riders. Learn how to care enough to confront sinful behavior in an environment of unconditional love and with God’s grace. If you can’t speak the truth in love (and with the person’s best interest at heart) then you’re not ready to speak. Keep praying. 
  7. Have Fun Together! Riding with a finely tuned team is lots of fun. You go faster and can ride farther together. Healthy, genuine community should be exciting and fun! Laughing together builds friendships and can even build trust and set the stage for deeper discussions. 

More Post on Authentic Community

Community Is Not All It Should Be (even in Brazil)
5 Surefire Ways to Screw Up a Small Group
Relearning our New Testament Calling

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

4 Specific Things You Can Do to Make Your Group More Christ-Centered

You may be familiar with this graphic that shows how to
live a Christ-directed life. How could you apply this to
your small group? 
Over more than 20 years of doing small group ministry, I’ve learned this: There are many skills and techniques you can learn to help you lead a good group. But nothing else even comes close to the magnitude of the first vital sign of a healthy group.

A healthy group is Christ-centered. Christ is the real leader, and the group is primarily focused on him, experiencing his presence, carrying out his purposes, and living by his power. This is where group health starts, because all the other vital signs are dependent upon how well you as a leader keep Christ at the center of your life and your group. When you put yourself or anyone or anything else at the center of the group you’ll lack the power to accomplish much of anything.

So here are 4 specific ways you can make your group more Christ-centered.

1. Recognize His Presence. I begin every meeting with a worshipful prayer, recognizing Christ’s presence with us and his leadership of the group. I sometimes include Matthew 18:20 in my prayer, remembering that Jesus said that whenever two or more come together in his name, he is actually there in our midst. Then I watch for what he does during our meeting. It's sometimes easy for me to forget that Christ is actually there in our midst throughout the meeting. He does not leave us during the Bible study. His Spirit is there to help us understand and apply his Word. He certainly does not forsake us during our prayer time. He hears each of our requests, so we don’t have to repeat them back to him at the end!

2. Depend on His Power. I find that many groups need to learn to take members’ hurts and problems to Jesus, not just to one another. I often hear concerned group members give all kinds of advice for a person’s personal issues during the sharing of prayer concerns. As the leader, ask members to simply listen, and then take the concerns to Jesus—not to a recommended book, a miracle diet or exercise program, a referred doctor, or even a platitudinous Bible verse.

3. Seek His Purposes. “What are Christ’s purposes for our group?” Begin with that question and then study the Great Commission and other passages. Ask, “Why did Jesus say he came into the world?” (to seek and save the lost), and then remind the group that just as the Father sent him into the world, so he sends us into the world (John 17:18). Ask the group to imagine some big ways you as a group could make an impact on your community. Ask them to imagine something so big that if God isn’t in it, it would be destined to fail. Then read Ephesians 3:20, and make some God-sized plans!

4. Move Beyond Study. As you open God’s Word as a small group, don’t just study Jesus as the historical figure of antiquity. Move beyond discussion about the stories of what Jesus did, to talk about—better yet, experience—what he is doing. He is indeed present in your group meetings—right now. Recognizing this will make all the difference in your group.

More Posts on Christ-Centeredness



Friday, June 20, 2014

UPDATE: You Can't Teach an Old Blog New Tricks


A quick update today.

I've launched a new blog, called "Life's Highs & Lows: Living Life to the Fullest Despite the Circumstances." Those circumstances include living with type-1 diabetes, which I've been doing since 1971, but the blog will include more than that.

While the blog you are reading right now will continue to tackle issues dealing with small groups, discipleship, leadership, and whatever, the new blog will be my personal site where I'll talk about living positively with diabetes, writing, marriage and family, and other stuff I'm passionate about.

Why start another blog? Simply put, I've found that trying to combine the two isn't very effective. The subject matter is just too disparate (that's my Word of the Day: disparate). 

So ... if you';ve come here recently because of my posts about diabetes, please go to and follow my new blog site. But if you're interested in tips and ideas about groups and leadership, please stay engaged here!