by Allen White
Some of you know me because I was your pastor at one time. Some of you know me as a fellow small group pastor. Some know me as the guy who wrote an article about Robin Williams that half a million people read. And, some know me as the Vice President of Lifetogether Ministries.
Lifetogether has had an amazing 12 months. We’ve created projects The Daniel Plan curriculum for Rick Warren, Destiny and Elijah for Dr. Tony Evans, Lifegiving Relationships for the Association of Related Churches (ARC), I See a Church with Greg Surratt and Josh Surratt at Seacoast Church, What If with Jonathan Falwell at Thomas Road Baptist Church, You Have It in You by Pastor Sheryl Brady at The Potter’s House of North Dallas, Believe with Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, and In the Gap by Pastor Wilfredo (Choco) De Jesus. And, I’m forgetting a bunch of others.
I am not a video producer. I am an executive producer, which means I solve the problems and pay the bills. While it was fun developing these projects, the greater fun for me is coaching churches who are launching small groups using these curriculum titles. It’s not about numbers. For me, it’s about an ordinary believer gathering a few friends around a user friendly curriculum and experiencing God using them to serve others. That’s why I do this every day.
What do you think about video curriculum?
By Allen White
By now most small group pastors and directors understand coaches are essential to sustain and support small group leaders. While everyone will agree to the necessity of coaches, most don’t know what to do with coaches, and unfortunately, most coaches don’t know what to do period. Beautiful org charts in a lot of churches actually net zero results. Here are some tips to moving your coaches in the right direction:
1. Coaches Aren’t Accountants.
The problem with most accountability in Christian circles is that it becomes too much like accounting. Unlike Santa Claus, coaches do not relish keeping a naughty or nice list. What’s more, group leaders don’t appreciate being supervised by a supervisor. This doesn’t mean we throw caution to the wind, but we also don’t put a cruel task master over small group leaders. After all, “love keeps no record of wrongs,” right? (1 Corinthians 13:5). Read more on accountability that works here.
2. Coaches Aren’t Middle Managers, Bureaucrats or Spies.
Years ago, Carol, one of my coaches, complained to me, “I feel like I’m your spy.” At that point, I was still recruiting and training all of the group leaders myself. Carol and the other coaches were sent out to visit the groups and report back what they saw. No wonder she felt that way.
In recruiting coaches, we work hard to select mature, capable people to serve with us. Then, often because we don’t have the coaching role figured out ourselves, we tend to micromanage them as if they are neither mature nor capable. I didn’t keep many coaches that way.
The key is to elevate the role of coaching. When I chose coaches the next time around, I invited capable, mature people to join me in a journey. We met every week for dinner and to talk about the direction of our small groups. I committed to never make a decision about our small groups outside of that meeting. We led together.
These folks aren’t underachievers who need our constant motivation. These aren’t people who are prone to wander and need a steady reminder of direction. If they are, then they shouldn’t be coaching groups. If they’re not, then they deserve more respect than a place in our little bureaucracy.
3. The Role of the Coach is to Refocus the Player.
My friend and mentor, Carl George has drilled this phrase into my psyche. When you think about a coach in sports, he stands at the sidelines and guides his players. If the last play went terribly wrong, his job is to refocus the players on the next play. They can’t replay the last play on the field. But, if a bad play keeps replaying in the players’ minds, then the next play will also suffer.
Small group leaders have busy lives and are pulled in many different directions. On a particularly hectic day or difficult season, it’s easy for leaders to become discouraged and wonder why they ever got into this business in the first place. The relationship with the coach is key to maintaining momentum in groups. The coach is not making sure the job gets done. The coach is making sure the player is okay.
4. Give Your Leaders the Space to See What God is Doing
The most valuable function of a coach is giving a small group leader an opportunity to reflect on what God is doing in his or her group. Most would admit to the difficulty of working “in” something and “on” something at the same time. It’s nearly impossible. Often group leaders are working so hard in the group, they don’t see the big picture of what God is doing.
By setting aside an hour or so once every quarter, a coach can give group leaders the space they need to see what God is doing and to identify what is next. This is as simple as the coach asking the leaders to list the names of their group members, then asking them to talk about what God is doing in each person’s life. As the leaders discuss their members, the logical next steps will begin to surface for the leader.
Bob – Hasn’t been around for a while. I need to give him a call.
Joe – Struggling at his job. I need to pray for him and give him some encouragement outside of the group.
Steve – Lost his job. I need to check-in with him and see if there’s any way the group can help.
Tony – Making poor choices. I need to pray for him and for the right timing to have a tough conversation.
Brett – Shows strong leadership potential. I need to give him more responsibilities in the group and eventually invite him to co-lead with me.
You get the idea. The coach must approach this conversation as a learner, not as an instructor. It would be easy to quickly diagnose each member and offer next steps, but the next steps determined by the group leader will be the next steps that are actually executed.
To make this work, start with a few assumptions. Assumption #1: Group leaders have made themselves available to God, and God is using them in their group. If a group leader is going through a hard time, he may be wondering if God is doing anything at all. He needs encouragement. But, some group leaders so naturally use their gifts, they might not even realize how gifted they are. They also need a coach’s insight.
Assumption #2: Who you are as a coach is more significant than what you could every say to a group leader. Your relationship with your group leaders is the greatest gift you can offer them. When relationship comes first, tasks get accomplished. Without relationship, leaders easily burn out.
5. Small Group Pastors: Get Out of Your Coach’s Way
How many Team Owners or General Managers have made their coaches’ lives miserable? Small Group Pastors and Directors, like their coaches, should approach their roles as learners, not drill sergeants. God wants to use your coaches. Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle to effective coaching is often a well-meaning Small Groups Pastor.
While you cannot give away the responsibility for the ministry, empowered coaches are effective coaches. Disempowered coaches become burned out middle managers. Your expectation of your coaches should be clear, reasonable and accountable. But, again, don’t approach accountability as an accountant. Give your coaches the benefit of the doubt: “How are your groups doing?” not “Have you followed up on your groups lately?” If your coaching system is in disarray, then you’re probably in the way.
By Allen White
A small group leader complained to small group expert, Carl George, a while back, “My group members won’t come to the group. They would rather go to the movies with their friends. What should I do?”
Carl’s sage advice, “Thank God that they have friends.” If group members are reaching out to people, then your group will continue to grow and share the love of God with others. No meeting is a chance occasion. There are no coincidences in a committed life. Meeting leads to inviting.
Listen to what Small Group Leader Shannon Perry learned at our recent retreat:
Trouble viewing the video? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51zEkl90xyA
Inviting new people to a group is more than just adding names to a role or increasing attendance in a Bible study. We’re inviting new people into our lives. Group members aren’t merely students in our class. They are companions in our journey. Since the stakes can be a little high on both sides, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Will this be the right fit?
Not every group is for everybody. As a pastor, people have a certain expectation of what a pastor’s small group will be like. Got that image in your head? Okay, that is not my small group. Last summer we did a study called “Jaded.” Get the picture. So, when I launched my small group, we packed out the big table at Panera Bread. The second week, we packed out half of the table.
My group is not “The Pastor’s Bible Study Group” where we can think deep and live shallow. We get real in my group. We avoid the softball questions like “If you were a tree what kind of tree would you be?” My group would simply answer, “Jesus.” If the questions start hitting where the rubber meets the air, then my group makes fun of the questions. It doesn’t matter that I wrote the questions or that I’m sitting right there. In this group, you’re going to get real or get lost. I tend to talk people out of coming to my group at times.
Not every group is for every person. Before you encourage someone to attend your group, find out what kind of group they’re looking for. Then, you might invite them to your group, or you might recommend another group.
2. Invite group prospects the right way.
Groups are not classes that go on regardless of who shows up. Groups are more like family. As Eddie Mosley shares in his book, Connecting in Communities,
“The family usually has an understanding about certain things…This is a courtesy that my mother-in-law taught me. Family members don’t bring someone to lunch without giving her warning first.”
We don’t just bring somebody along because they want to come to group. We ask the group how they feel about it. If they resist for the wrong reasons, then we must address their Bad Reasons to Close a Group . But, in doing the good thing of including others, we don’t want to commit the bad thing of disrespecting our group.
3. Who is God directing into your path?
As Steve Gladen says, “There are members you choose, members who choose you, and members God chooses.” God is at work around us. The question is whether we are aware of what God is doing. We don’t need to gear up for a big sales pitch about how awesome our group is. We just need to ask God who He wants to bring to our group, and then be willing to receive them.
4. Is your group prepared to receive new members?
Introducing new members into a group creates some awkwardness on both sides. It won’t always be awkward, but it might be a little awkward at first. The group must be prepared for a little discomfort. This is one reason why it’s good to warn the group in advance and not have visitors pop in at random every week. If the group is committed to including new members, then the new members may stick. If they don’t, then the group shouldn’t take it personally. Most of us didn’t marry our first blind date.
5. It’s not about you.
After that first meeting, it’s good to follow-up with the new member. At this point, a little fear of rejection will kick in. “Did they hate the group? Do they think I’m a terrible leader? Will they call me back?” Okay, now that that bit of neurosis is out of the way, have the person who brought them to the group follow-up with them. If they didn’t like the group, then help them find another group to try. If they liked it, then remind them of when and where the group meets next and of any preparation they need to make.
Groups are living things. Group members come and go. But, if group members only go without new members joining, then we all know where that group is headed. Inviting new members not only brings new life to the group, it just might bring eternal life to the new member. Pray about who to invite next, then pay attention to who crosses your path.
By Allen White
David had Jonathan. Moses had Aaron. Peter and Paul had Mary. John, Paul and George had Ringo (well, until Yoko Ono broke them up.) Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Who is your partner in ministry? Last week, we talked about the importance of a co-leader. But, how do you find one? Here are some qualities to look for:
1. Are they breathing? A dead man will do no good.
2. Is this person a growing believer? It doesn’t really matter how long a person has been a Christian. The question is “are they growing?” Some people have repeated the same two years of their Christian experience ten times, so they’ve been a Christian for 20 years. But, are they growing? Are they actively seeking God? Do they pray and see their prayers answered? Are they allowing God to work in their lives to forsake sin and to see God’s Kingdom grow?
3. Is this person interested in the group? In selecting a co-leader, consider the folks who care the most about your group. Who is there more often than not? Who lets you know when they have to miss? These are good indicators of how important the group is to the person.
4. Who creates warmth? Are people drawn toward the person, or does he repel others? Now, that doesn’t mean that this has to be the biggest hugger in your group. That person could just be needy. You want the person who is open and accepting of others.
5. Who has shown some skills? As your group has passed around the leadership for the discussion, who has shown potential by leading the discussion well? Were they sensitive to what was going on with the group members? Did the discussion get beyond the surface of the questions? While these skills can be taught, if a person shows a natural knack for leading, you might have a winner.
6. Who gives you the most trouble? Often the opinionated and the instigators in the group have leadership gifts. While your first inclination would be to run them off, the better thing would be to redirect them. To engage their leadership ability in a positive way will help the person and help the group.
These are just a few things to look for. In my time with Brett Eastman out at Saddleback Church and Lifetogether.com, I learned that rather than popping the question right away, it’s better to give a potential co-leader different responsibilities and see how they perform. Brett called this “Crawl, Walk, Run.” If they aren’t ready to lead a whole study, could they lead a section of the study? If they’re not ready to lead a section, have them lead the opening question.
Take your time in choosing a co-leader. Don’t just stop with question number one. Take your time, but don’t take forever. Your co-leader will be an awesome ally in your group ministry.