Having the spirit of a servant is essential for group leaders. Small groups should not be used as a platform for building the leader’s ego. Leaders must guard against possessiveness toward group members or manipulation of those who may be spiritually weak. Christ, not the group leaders, should remain the focus. A servant’s heart can be exhibited by encouraging group members to become all God intended them to be.
Having a good attitude is essential to being an effective group leader. A bad attitude will spread among group members and destroy the purpose of the group. The leader’s life should exhibit gentleness, purity, and a loving spirit. Positive attitudes can be as contagious as negative attitudes. Submissiveness to the local church is a quality that is needed for all group leaders. Without submissiveness to each other and Christ, groups will do more harm than good. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
Spiritual maturity. Group leaders should have a Bible-based foundation. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Having a good knowledge of the Scripture (see 2 Timothy 2:15) along with Bible-based common sense is extremely important. The groups should be led by individuals who are not recent converts (see 1 Timothy 3:6). To avoid possible pitfalls, group leaders should be people of proven character. “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap” (1 Timothy 3:7). They should have strong commitment which displays reliability, faithfulness, and follow-through. Spiritual maturity, gentleness, and humility are a special combination for group leaders.
Emotional stability. Group leaders should exhibit a balanced lifestyle with confidence, however, not arrogance or overconfidence. “For God did not give us the spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Those who cannot discipline their own lives will not be effective in leading others to wholeness in Christ. Leaders should be team players, flexible, and adaptable.
Being responsible people, they should speak and work in reality, never advising group members to stop taking medication or cancel the doctor’s care. Small groups are not places to fantasize, exhibit self-punitive characteristics, or heap condemnation on people. S. Bruce Narramore notes:
A third emotion related to guilt feelings and fears of punishment is what I call constructive sorrow. Paul writes of this in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10, where he reminds the Corinthians there is a difference between worldly sorrow that leads to death and godly sorrow that leads to righteousness. Constructive sorrow is a love-motivated emotion closely related to guilt feelings yet radically different. Whereas psychological guilt is a self-punitive process, constructive sorrow is a love-motivated desire to change that is rooted in concern for others. I believe a confusion of psychological guilt and constructive sorrow has often interfered with the church’s efforts at promoting wholeness and health in the body of Christ (33).
Group leaders who have overcome a life-controlling problem should understand that their purpose is to facilitate learning and growth. They should not put themselves in a position as an expert, based on personal experience. A helper who has been affected by a family member’s life-controlling problem should be aware of personal attitudes. Being intolerable to the values and lifestyles of others may prevent group members from receiving the help they need. Stephen P. Apthorp in his clergy handbook on alcohol and substance abuse notes:
If a recovering alcoholic or recovering drug abuser is selected to be the “spark plug,” it must be made clear to him that he is to be a facilitator of people, not a teacher or an expert witness by virtue of his personal experience. One of the fundamental characteristics of many a recovering person is the need to be in control and the need to control. . . . By the same token, selecting a parent whose child has been impaired by drug abuse may meet the requirements of enlisting a committed person, but in some cases the injury is such that it blocks the person’s ability to tolerate others’ attitudes, values, or lifestyles (33).
Communication skills are extremely important in small-group interaction. Whether verbally or with silence, group members are always communicating in some manner. Effective communication requires active listening and having genuine concern for each group member. Since it is easy to develop poor patterns of interacting with people, communication skills require practice.
Open-ended questions help create discussion in the group. These types of questions cause the participants to have a better understanding of themselves. Repeating the content of the group member’s message helps individuals know that they are being heard and that you are with them. When confronting is needed, care-fronting skills should always be used.
As mentioned earlier, communications are enhanced by having people sit in a circle. Having the need for eye contact, all group participants should be able to see each other. Group members who sit across from each other tend to communicate better than those who sit next to each other. Group facilitators should sit across from each other and acknowledge all contributions to the group process. No one should ever be put down for a comment that is in error.
Group leaders should guard against the temptation to dominate the discussion. It is a common temptation to answer most of the questions, to be the super Christian, or to turn the group meeting into a platform for preaching. The leaders should give direction to the group process by starting the discussion then steering the conversation according to the curriculum being used. It is best to divert conversations on controversial subjects that may cause division among group members. Although the sharing of past experiences can be interesting and in some cases valuable, the focus of the small group should be on the present in the person’s life. Since conversation on intellectual levels often results in surface discussion, it tends to kill personal sharing. There is a difference between what persons may think versus what they feel.
Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
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