By Allen White
As a new group leader, there are a few things to think about as you go into your first meeting. In fact, there may be too many things to think about. Focus on the basics and you will have a great first meeting.
As the leader of this group, you don’t have to be the expert. If you’re using video-based curriculum, there’s your expert, so let the video teaching lead the way. Otherwise, just follow along with the instructions in your study guide. But, before the meeting it’s a good idea to review the video and the discussion questions yourself. The videos are only 7-8 minutes long, then just read through the questions.
If you find your group doesn’t have time to complete the entire discussion guide, that’s ok. Prioritize the questions for the time you have available. As you get to know the group, choose questions that are appropriate for the group. If your group has been together for a while, or if your group members are well beyond the basics of parenting, then maybe skip the first question, and go for the second question which is maybe more of an accountability question regarding what they committed to do in the previous meeting.
Pray for Your Group.
If you feel anxious about leading the group or even inadequate, that is perfectly normally, especially if you are leading for the first time. The Bible says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV). So how often should you pray? Pray every time you feel anxious. God will give you peace.
The video and discussion guide are pretty easy to use. It’s practically a no brainer. But, just because the curriculum is easy to use, doesn’t mean you should go into the meeting “cold” spiritually. Commit the meeting to God. Invite His presence into your meeting, then watch Him work.
Guiding the Discussion – Not a teacher, more of a referee.
While everyone should have a chance to share their thoughts and experiences, as the leader your job is to facilitate a discussion, not to teach a class. You want to make sure everyone gets their word in. You also want to make sure no one dominates the discussion. If someone tends to jump in on every question, politely say, “Now, on this next question let’s hear from a few of you who haven’t had a chance to share.” If the person dominating the meeting continues to do this, then you might need to talk to them outside of the group meeting.
Since you as the leader prepared ahead of time for the lesson, don’t count on all of the group members preparing ahead for this meeting. Remember, they are assigned two extensive lessons in the workbook each week. When you ask the discussion questions, it may take the group members a couple of seconds to put their thoughts together. That’s ok. Don’t feel you that as the leader you need to fill the silence. Let them think a minute.
Praying Together as a Group.
Habits are hard to break and sometimes hard to start. Changing attitudes and behaviors requires more than just will power. It requires God’s power. At the end of every meeting subgroup into groups of 3-4 people, so everyone can talk about their needs, and then pray together. In a large group, some people won’t share, and it will take a much longer time, so subgrouping is necessary.
Also, limit the prayer requests to what is personally affecting the group member. Now, they may be concerned about Aunt Gertrude’s big toe or something they read about on the internet, but this really isn’t the place to discuss that. As much as you can keep the focus of the prayer time on the changes group members need to make related to their parenting style.
Ask for Volunteers.
Don’t lead the group alone. Just because you are the designated leader, you do not need to do everything for the group. In fact, delegate as much as you possibly can: the refreshments, the home you meet in, and even leading the discussion. If you do this right, you might only need to lead for the first session, then others will lead for the rest.
As group members become more involved in the leadership, they will feel a stronger sense of ownership in the group. Pretty soon the group will go from being “your group” to being “our group.”
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By Allen White
“I believe that God is directing me to ____________________.” How do you handle that in a small group? Whether the group member feels led to quit his job, move to another state, or end a relationship, how do you help your group member discern the truth?
From the very beginning, God has been in relationship with people. Today, we’re not walking in the garden with God in the cool of the day or getting inspiration to write new books of the Bible, but God does speak to us. The question is how do we know that it’s actually God and not wishful thinking or indigestion? Here are some tests for what you might be hearing:
1. What does the Bible say?
As followers of Christ, we believe that the Bible is God’s Word. All truth is God’s truth, certainly. But, any direction attributed to God must square up with God’s Word. God isn’t going to contradict Himself. That wouldn’t make any sense.
Let’s say your group member feels closest to God in nature, so he feels led to quit his job and spend more time seeking God out in the woods. The problem is that he’s not independently wealthy and isn’t ready to retire. His wife will have to carry the load of the family finances. She hasn’t worked outside of the home for years, and he would basically expect her to do everything she’s doing now, plus provide the total family income. This may seem farfetched, but in over 20 years of ministry, I’ve heard some doozies. This one is hypothetical, however.
While it may seem spiritual to connect with God in a peaceful place, it’s also spiritual to provide for the needs of your family. If you don’t, you’re worse than an infidel (1 Timothy 5:8, KJV). When God’s leading conveniently confirms our own desires and violates God’s word, then we must question whether the person has actually heard from God.
This is just a silly example, but I’ve heard of people feeling led to leave their spouse, stop paying their taxes, stop giving to the church, buy a new car, drill an oil well in a specific spot – you name it. While God does speak to us, the primary way He speaks is through His Word. If what they are hearing doesn’t line up with Scripture, then they need to listen again.
2. How does it line up with other circumstances?
Sometimes people feel a leading from God to escape a problem. I believe that we should allow God to help us work through problems. We come out better people on the other side. “But, my wife just left me. It’s the perfect time for me to go to the mission field.” Not so fast there, buddy. On the Holms-Rahe Stress Test, divorce is one of the highest stressors there is. (And we didn’t need a stress test to tell us that). If you add leaving your home, friends, and your church to taking on a new job, a new culture, a new climate, a new language, and so on, not to mention the spiritual toll of divorce, it’s the recipe for disaster.
But, sometimes the circumstances line up. When the person is not in the middle of a problem, when they feel a leading and finances line up, and the house sells, and the spouse agrees, God’s plan just might be coming together.
3. Has the person sought godly counsel?
Who has the person consulted on this leading? Have they talked to mature believers and pastors who will ask the hard questions and tell them the truth? Or, have they just sought out people who would easily agree with them? Every believer needs people in their lives who love them, but aren’t impressed with them.
They shouldn’t be in a hurry for quick affirmation. It’s important to ask others to discuss the potential leading and to pray with them. God often uses others to confirm a leading.
4. What does the group members sense in their guts?
When the group first hears the news, what is their reaction? What do the faces around the room say? As you’ve spent time together, you’ve started to get to know each other, good or bad. Does this news fall in the category of group excitement or “Here we go again”?
5. What other confirmation have they received?
Is there independent confirmation? Someone out of the blue says, “You would be really good at…” then describes exactly what the person feels led to do without any knowledge of the leading. The Lord works in mysterious ways, but not in careless ways.
If the person is gaining confirmation from dreams or fortune cookies, then he needs a little help. If he feels led to buy a new white car, suddenly he will see white cars all around him. Guess what? They were already there.
6. What if they’re unwilling to listen to others?
There is a place for godly counsel, and then there’s a place for the person to make his own decision. Even if he makes a mistake, it’s his decision. If you and the group strongly feel that he is in error, once you’ve had your say, don’t continue to bash him. But, you also don’t need to offer support for the endeavor.
The Bible tells us, “Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.” (Proverbs 20:30, GNT). If the member will not listen to the group, then there’s no choice but to allow them to have the experience and learn from it. You should continue to pray for the person and show concern for him. You should also avoid trying to rescue the person when things go south.
If the person is particularly obnoxious about it, then the group might need to implement the disciplinary teaching in Matthew 18:15-17. The last resort would be for the group and the individual to part ways.
Sometimes people get caught up in the moment and feel that God is calling them. Sometimes God does. How do you know? If it’s a calling, then it will last. If it’s a temporary feeling, then it will pass – unless he’s already told people, then his pride might get in the way of his senses.
You want to encourage people to listen to God. These situations come with a label – “Handle with Care.” But, as you guide your members through these criteria to confirm their callings – God’s Word, circumstances, godly counsel – God’s leading will become clear. All of us make mistakes along the way. But, if we don’t try to discern God’s voice, then we never will. The goal is to hear God more clearly with less confusion. It’s possible to lead your group members there.
Unfortunately, this is not automatic for groups. It takes some work to get there. Here are a few things to consider in helping your group reach a closer, more open place:
1. How often is your group meeting? Groups that meet more frequently tend to gel more quickly, if they are willing. But, it’s not just the Bible study that helps this. How often do you connect with each other? The early church connected daily (Acts 2:46). That may not seem possible in this day and age. Actually, it’s more possible. Social media like Facebook and Twitter allow us to connect with people not just daily, but even hourly. Instant messages, text messages, and cell phones provide avenues for us to connect. What would it mean to you to have someone leave a message on your cell phone just to say that they are thinking about you and praying for you? These connections help groups grow closer.
2. What happens outside of the group affects what happens in the group. This actually cuts both ways. If your group is made up of couples, close friends (prior to the group), or relatives, the relationships they bring into the group will affect the closeness of your group. If couples are close and open with each other, then they will be open in the group. If couples aren’t as close or open at home, but try to be open in the group, you’ll see plenty of fireworks or tears as a result. It might be wise to have couples reflect on questions together rather than openly share in the group at first.
On the other hand, if your group only meets together for a weekly Bible study, you are also missing out on the opportunity to gel. If your group socializes or serves together on occasion, this will help to deepen the relationships in the group. Even prayer partners getting together outside of the group meeting will help the group gel.
3. The speed of the leader, the speed of the team. This is a saying I picked up for Willow Creek Community Church where Bill Hybels pastors. As the leader, your group will be as open as you are. If you freely share your own hurts, habits and hang-ups, so will the group. If you are more reserved as the leader, your group will also be more reserved as a whole. Rick Warren puts it well, when he says, “Revealing the feeling is the beginning of healing.” As you open up as the leader, your group will also open up and be drawn closer together.
4. Does your group want support and accountability? It’s great to provide an opportunity for these things, but it’s not so great when it’s imposed on you. In fact, if your group members don’t willfully volunteer for accountability, it can easily turn into legalism and defeat. I would recommend offering the idea of having prayer partners for a short period of time. A pair of group members (same gender of course) would meet together a couple of times a month outside of the group meeting. They could meet in-person, by phone, or even online to pray for each other and encourage each other. If the group members like it, then they will continue. If not, it was just a short-term commitment. Once the commitment is over, they are no longer obligated to continue.
5. Some groups never gel, and that’s okay. On the surface, everyone may seem to get along very well. But, once people get to know each other a little better, some may wish that they hadn’t. That’s okay. Some personalities just rub each other the wrong way. If your group has been meeting for a while and has tried all of the above, but still doesn’t seem to gel, it might be time to be honest with yourself and your group: it’s time to re-group. Not every group works. Whether you decide to break for a season, then form another group later on or just encourage the group to try other groups, it’s not right for an ill fitting group to be forced to continue.
My hope for you and your group is that you will grow to become a close-knit group that challenges and encourages each other. It’s not automatic, but it is worthwhile. As your group continues to get together and get involved in each others’ lives, you will begin to gel.