A cast of characters
The next time you sit in a small group, take a look around. There is likely a variety of people represented… different backgrounds, different lives, different journeys, different seasons. In order to lead a diverse group follow Jesus and grow spiritually, a small group leader needs to have a long-term perspective.
If you have led a small group for any length of time, there comes a point when the newness wears off. Often in an effort to prevent stagnation, the small group leader searches for the next best study to create some fresh sparks. Or, the leader might just run in circles while trying to keep the plates spinning and the diverse group engaged.
Have I arrived?
When does a person “arrive” spiritually? I hope your answer is “Never” (…or possibly “when we get to heaven.”) Although there can be tangible spiritual growth throughout life, there should never be a point when we claim that we have “arrived.”
Learning to follow Jesus is something we continually strive for, yet we never reach a finish line (this side of eternity). But that doesn’t mean it is like a carrot in front of a donkey – striving for a prize that you will never reach. And it’s not like running on a treadmill – lots of effort but no forward movement.
Think of it this way…
Learning to follow Jesus is like the growth of an oak tree. Examining the growth rings will show that there may have been some lean years and years of abundance; there may have been droughts and floods. But there is growth through all the various seasons and stages of its life. As long as the tree is alive, it continues growing.
So it is with followers of Jesus. We are designed for long-term growth throughout all the various seasons and stages of life.
Impossible to pre-program
A small group leader is given the responsibility to lead people who are often at various different stages of life, different spiritual backgrounds, and different places in their spiritual journeys. Because everyone is different, spiritual growth is nearly impossible to pre-program within a small group.
How does a small group leader think long-term with the group? Consider the primary areas in which EVERY individual follower of Jesus needs long-term lifelong spiritual growth. There are three:
• A continually growing relationship with God
• A continually growing knowledge of God’s Word
• A continually growing obedience and surrender to God’s will and instructions
Continued growth in each of three areas is the long-term goal. These areas are essential to every believer’s life. They each have limitless life-long room for growth; and they are vital for the mission Jesus called us to. These are not sequential; rather they should continuously be growing in parallel with the other areas.
But I’m dealing with the short-term.
In terms of a person’s life-long spiritual journey, often a small group leader may only play a relatively short role. Things change, people come and go, and every individual grows differently.
Rather than thinking short-term (the next Bible study, or helping people connect with each other, or doing a mission project together), think in terms of these primary areas that need continual growth. Sort-term goals are important – but they need to chosen as components that sustain the long-term goal.
Whether you are part of a person’s life for many years or just a season, help them make progress along their spiritual journey.
Design your small group gatherings to focus on growth in each of these three areas (not necessarily all in one week – but over the span of each year.)
Regularly ask yourself: How can I help the participants in my group grow…
…in their personal relationships with God?
…in a deeper knowledge and understanding of God’s Word?
…in obedience and surrender to God?
Make your short-term decisions based on long-term growth in these three areas. If the small group leader is intentional, every participant in the group will benefit in a way that is specific to them.
Do you need help figuring out what to do? Here is a list of practical studies and ideas to get you started.
More to come
In the next several small group leader posts, we’ll examine the more practical side of this. And yes, it involves many of the components of small group life that you may be familiar with (like discipleship and community). And yes, your church’s small group plan will apply just fine. But you will likely find yourself enjoying the journey along with your group.
You may also find this interesting: A Healthy Small Group Engine