The first time I led a community group, I was completely in over my head. I didn’t really know what I was doing. And I wasn’t alone in that. Most of the community group/small group leaders I know tend to feel that way—especially when they’re getting started. Unfortunately, that tends to be the default for a lot of us.
When it comes to much of ministry work, we’re flying by the seat of our pants. That is partly because we’re doing things involving people and people are inherently messy. Despite what you might have heard or read elsewhere, you can’t systematize them. Not really.
That being said, after having done this in different church contexts for many years, I’m finally starting to feel like I’m getting a handle on it. Specifically, I’m starting to understand what it means to be a healthy community group leader.
1. A healthy group leader is actively growing as a Christian
One of the most important aspects living as a Christian is this: what we do is the fruit of who we are. Anything and everything we do is rooted in who we are in Jesus. So a healthy group leader is going to be a person who is actively growing as a Christian.
- Knowing God through Scripture, prayer, and practical acts of worship
- Growing in the essential character traits all maturing Christians should aspire to (1 Timothy 3:1–7)1
- Showing care and compassion to all people, regardless of their beliefs
- Building genuine relationships and sharing the gospel with people who don’t know Jesus
The specifics of all of these practices will look different for all of us, of course. And these are very broad buckets. But if what we do is the fruit of who we are, we need to invest in developing our faith.
2. A healthy leader wants to foster a healthy culture—as a group member
Because community groups are a practical expression of gospel culture, a group leader will play an active role in nurturing that culture. But that means a group leader actually has to buy into that kind of vision—to see that it is real and matters for their own lives, and for others in the church.
And part of fostering a healthy culture—a gospel culture—is being a part of it. A healthy group leader shouldn’t stand apart from the rest of the group. He or she has to be a member of it too. If part of a gospel culture is being a safe place, that means that a community group has to be safe for the leader to not be okay too. They need the rest of the group to speak into their lives as much as the group needs leaders to do the same.
3. A healthy leader invests in others
Groups are a place where disciple-making happens in realtime. Group leaders are investing in the people in their groups in a few different ways:
- Regularly praying for group members
- Listening well and giving practical guidance and encouragement as needed
- Building relationships beyond the setting of the group gathering
- Showing honor to group members, recognizing and inviting all to celebrate God’s work in others
- Identifying and developing potential future community group leaders
Note: these examples are exactly that—examples. Group leaders need to focus on investing in people in their groups in ways that reflect their gifts and unique personalities, honoring the way the Lord has fashioned them.
4. Healthy group leaders support other leaders
Group leaders need one another, to help one another develop as leaders and serve our groups. So that means talking to one another, whether by text or (preferably not in my case) a phone call. They ought to gather together every so often as well to encourage one another and invest in one another. To share how God is at work, the challenges they face, and what they’re learning as they are growing as leaders.
5. Healthy group leaders know they need grace
Ultimately, group leaders know that they, like every other person, are far from perfect. The people who lead groups sin in many different ways. They fall short in building relationships and struggle with prayer and engaging Scripture. They are tempted to pretend in the way we all are. But a group leaders in a gospel culture desires to have enough self-awareness that they can be honest about their faults and failures. To receive correction and encouragement humbly as they seek to grow as followers of Jesus.
In other words, group leaders in a gospel culture know they need the gospel the same way we all do and turn to Jesus, knowing he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and make us whole and holy, completing the good work he began in us the day we first believed (Phil. 2:13).
- While these characteristics are identified specifically as those for an elder in the church, they are the same that all Christians are called to everywhere in the New Testament.