by Joel Comiskey
The best leaders prepare disciples in the group, just like Jesus. They empower members to actively participate, be part of a leadership team, and eventually be part of a new small group. They understand that the small group is an excellent place to prepare disciples who make disciples. They are not afraid to ask Mary to lead the ice-breaker or to invite Jim to lead worship. Eventually, they liberate others to facilitate the lesson. They know that people learn best “on the job,” so they joyfully allow members to get involved.by
Many still believe that small groups and Bible studies are the same thing. For many, group leaders are Bible teachers. The reality is that few small group leaders are qualified to teach. The best group leaders are facilitators who transparently share their lives with those in their groups, praying always that Christ will be formed in a new way within each person.
Perhaps we would be more willing to release leaders if we would remember that a small group leader’s task is to facilitate. A facilitator’s job description focuses more on guiding the communication process, praying for members, calling, visiting, and reaching the lost for Christ. Facilitators are trained to guide discussions, encourage others, and grow with the rest of the group.
The root definition of “facilitator” is to make easy. The role of the facilitator is to make it easy for others to participate. Communication in a classroom takes place between student and teacher (question-answer). The teacher imparts information while the students take notes. Communication in a small group flows among all members. Elizabeth, a member of the group, feels just as free to direct her comments to John, a group member, as she does to Jane, the group facilitator. Often the facilitator simply observes the communication that’s taking place.
The facilitator is not passive—but listens and lets others share. A facilitator interacts just like other group members, sharing personal reflections, experiences, and modeling transparency.
In our book, Groups that Thrive, we found that one statement correlated with unhealthy groups: “I like to lead the entire small group meeting myself.” This is a death warrant for small groups. It turns members into passive hearers, expecting them to sit in yet another meeting. The leader grows as he or she ministers, but the hearers don’t have a chance to exercise their spiritual muscles. But when the group shifts to our group, everyone takes ownership and works to help the group thrive and grow. This takes time, prayer, and effort.
Empowering others to participate in the group requires forethought, prayer, assigning responsibility, and debriefing on progress. Empowering others requires effort. Doing it alone is far easier, at least in the short term. It is easier right now to do everything yourself. However, it’s far less work a month or two from now when others are carrying the load and owning the ministry of the small group. What’s more, it just makes the group more fun! And who doesn’t want that?