If spiritual growth is like a journey, then in order to get where you want to go, you need to know where you currently are.
The question that leaders most frequently ask their Groups Directors is, "What should my group study next?" That's why we created the Resources section here at groupleaders.org. It contains all kinds of studies recommended by church staff and group leaders, categorized by topic, group type, length, format, and even the amount of homework required. But sometimes what you really need to know is how a particular resource will help your group, and when in the life-cycle of your group it's best to use it.
So, on Fridays we're going to post some resource recommendations that answer those kinds of questions. The purpose isn't to sell you anything. It's just to make you aware of what's out there and how specific resources may or may not meet the needs of your group.
Today, we'll take a look at Renovate. It's a great study if you and your group want to take a relatively deep dive into spiritual growth. Here's the rundown:
How long is it?
Renovate is eight sessions, so there's a time commitment involved. But it's worth the time.
How is it structured?
Video elements (to view during meetings) and written content make it easy lead. It's relatively plug-and-play, though you'll need to be ready to model the kind of transparency and openness the study demands.
Discussion questions tee up some great conversations, but there's also exercises to do inside and outside of group meetings. In other words, you can expect more homework than a typical study (but it's not overwhelming).
What is unique about Renovate?
Renovate deals with an often neglected aspect of spiritual growth: self-awareness and emotion intelligence. It's never easy to take an honest look at the areas where we have room to grow. The more open and transparent your group members are, the more everyone will get out of the experience.
When should we do it?
It's important that relationships already exist and trust has been established before you use this study. You probably don't want to dive into Renovate until your group has been together for at least six months if not a year.
Renovate isn't an easy study. In fact, it may rock your world. But it offers some phenomenal content that has the power to strip away obstacles standing in the way of your personal spiritual growth.
A leader's goal is to create a helpful, engaging, and relevant environment where people have the opportunity to experience healthy relationships and spiritual growth. After that, a leader let's God do what only he can do: change lives. But that first step of creating an environment is important. That's why the success of a group really does hinge on the quality of its leader. Here are three traits that really distinguish great group leaders:
1. Humility Humility comes from a strong, growing relationship with Jesus. Humble leaders acknowledge that we're all sinners, completely helpless without the love of God. Because they've been so dramatically transformed by this love, these kinds of leaders make every effort to move out of God's way so that he can connect with seekers in his timing.
- Humble leaders approach conversations as fellow journeyers, not as one who are handing off truth.
- Humble leaders "sit" on the same side of the table as their group members. They acknowledge they're also in need of a Savior.
2. Teachability Teachability isn't just about responding to direction and correction. It's an attitude. It's a spirit that says, "I will constantly learn about myself, others, and culture so God can use me in new and different ways."
- Teachable leaders always invite feedback because they know their job isn't to lead perfectly. Their job is to strive to respond effectively to the people God places in their groups.
- Teachable leaders actively pursue what it means to create open and conversational environments for people to explore topics and experience community.
3. Curiosity Curiosity is about engagement. Curious leaders are proactive in reaching out to group members in order to better understand where they are personally, emotionally, and spiritually, and encourage them to take meaningful steps towards their heavenly Father.
- Curious leaders are hungry to know more about their group members. They go out of their way to understand group members' perspective—not so they can change minds, but so they can connect and lead people toward deeper relationships with Jesus.
- Curious leaders don't teach. They ask questions.
These are simple ideas, but pursuing them often requires a shift in mindset. Most leadership books and blogs don't emphasize humility, teachability, and curiosity as key ingredients of great leadership. But they really will improve the quality of your group experience like nothing else. That's because they have the power to break down the barriers of shame and guilt that exist between people. They express a transparency and vulnerability that gives group members permission to be more transparent and vulnerable. And that's huge when you're trying to help others pursue spiritual growth.
Despite its benefits, social media can be addictive, and it can breed all kinds of negative emotions and behavior. I've seen too many people fall head first into a sea of insecurities due to the influence of social media. If this is you, it may be time to take a break.
This past week in his series Ask It, Andy Stanley gave advice that sounds so simple yet can be so difficult: when making decisions, get other people's opinions.
Andy Stanley's current series, Ask It, has gotten me thinking a lot lately about knowledge, wisdom, and the difference between the two. Ours is a knowledge-obsessed culture (we are living in the information age, after all). As a result, we tend to confuse knowledge and wisdom. If we have a problem, our knee-jerk reaction is to throw information at it. Read a self-help book. Watch an instructional video. Google it. We want to believe that if we have enough information, it'll solve our problems.
But it's not quite so easy, is it? Sifting through all the information out there to find what's true and helpful is challenging. That's because knowledge tells only half the story. The other half belongs to wisdom. To clarify things, let's take a quick look at some definitions from Dictionary.com:
Knowledge—acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation.
Wisdom—knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action.
Knowledge is about knowing (duh). Wisdom is about living. One can't be wise without knowledge, but the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake doesn't make one wise. Application is the path to wisdom. This is so true that you can actually become wise by leaning into other people's application. We can learn from the experiences and mistakes of our parents, mentors, bosses, and friends, without having to repeat those experiences and mistakes, if we listen humbly and thoughtfully.
So, what does all this have to do with group leadership? Well, if you've been a leader for any amount of time, you've probably bumped into group members hungry for knowledge. They talk about wanting to go "deeper" in Bible study. There's nothing inherently wrong with digging into Scripture, but keep in mind that our culture over-emphasizes the power of knowledge to affect change. People often don't grasp that just knowing the Bible won't grow them spiritually.
It's more important that your group's interaction with the Bible is focused on personal application than it is on depth. Going deeper for the sake of going deeper won't change your life. But even a "shallow" reading of Scripture—one that doesn't take into account stuff like historical context, literary genre, or rich theological analysis—can change your life, if you ask, "In light of what I'm reading, how can I change the way I live in order to align my heart and my mind more closely with God's?"
Asking that question is the path to wisdom.
Praying out loud is one of the most intimidating things for people new to group. And why wouldn't it be? We (and by "we" I mean Christians who've been in groups for a while) treat it like a public speech or a poetry slam or something. We expect—or at least hope for—eloquence, beauty, and wit. Some part of us likes religiosity. We prefer five-dollar words to fifty-cent ones. Too often in group, praying publicly can be a kind of performance piece. Those new to community sense the pressure.
Let me offer up a confession: If eloquence, beauty, and wit are the standards by which public prayer is judged, I'm mediocre . . . on my best days.
That's because I can't plan out what I'm going to say ahead of time. I used to, but I can't anymore. Doing so plays into many of my greatest weaknesses. I'm an editor by trade. I get paid to manipulate language. I'm good at it. But editing prayer isn't a healthy activity for me for these reasons:
- It's image management. I want to sound smart and wise when I pray. Who doesn't? But what kind of prayer can I offer God if I'm primarily concerned with how I'm perceived by the people sitting in a semi-circle beside me with their heads bowed? Not a particularly genuine one, that's for sure. And why does it really matter if I stumble over my words when I pray? Why does it really matter what others think?
- It's an attempt to dress up what's going on in my heart in religious robes before presenting it to God. Editing is the art of creating clarity by stripping away the rough edges and unnecessary bits of language. It's like sculpting. Chip away at some ugly, unwieldy block of words for long enough and you may just end up with something beautiful and profound. But I'm convinced that, when it comes to prayer, God wants to hear our rough drafts. He's okay with the unrefined bits because he knows what we're trying to say. He just wants us to go ahead and say it. Cleaning things up ahead of time is just a way for me to exert control, but God wants me to give him control.
- It's not relational. I rarely plan out what I'm going to say to people I love. We just talk. When I plan out a prayer, I tend to treat God less like my heavenly Father and more like someone I'm trying to sell a timeshare in Florida. That's no way for me to treat the creator of the universe.
- It prevents me from being fully present. There was a time in my group experiences when I spent most of prayer time ignoring what everyone else was praying so I could think through what I would say. Have you ever done this? Yeah, I know. Don't feel bad. It's not just you. But let's face it: if that's not missing the entire point of praying with others, I'm not sure what is.
Now, what I'm not saying is that people who pray eloquently are poseurs or terrible human beings. Some people are gifted that way. They can reel off amazing impromptu prayers. I'm not one of those people. What I've learned over the years is that trying to be one of those people isn't particularly healthy for me. It doesn't do me any good.
When I look at how Jesus instructs the disciples to pray in Matthew 6:5–15, I think his advice boils down to three points:
- Focus on God.
- Keep it simple.
- Keep it real.
For me, that means embracing my mediocrity as a public pray-er, rather than trying to fix it.
So, as you encourage your group members to open up and pray aloud in group, don't forget to let them know they don't have to be eloquent. They just need to focus on God, keep it simple, and keep it real.
Casting a compelling vision is a key component of good leadership. That's the message of "People Aren't Following You Because You Aren't Being Clear," a recent blog post by Donald Miller.
Here's an excerpt:
"The world is standing before you, curious, asking where you’d like to take them. If you kind of have an answer, they’ll follow somebody else. If you want to be a leader, communicate clearly because that’s the only way anybody can know whether or not they want to join you.:
As you think about how effectively you cast vision, ask yourself these questions. They'll help you assess where you are and how you may be able to grow as a leader.
- Do I know what my group members are hoping to get out of our time together?
- Have I communicated to my group members what I want for them (as opposed to what I want from them)?
- Does my entire group understand the role of the Three Vital Relationships in their personal growth?
What other approaches do you take to ensure that you are casting a clear vision to your group members?
Drew Dudley is the founder of Nuance Leadership Development Services, an organization that creates leadership resources for communities, organizations, and individuals.
In this funny yet profound TED talk, he warns us about the dangers of thinking about leadership in terms of grand, world-changing gestures. He urges us to recognize that most leadership plays out as simple but life-changing interactions between people. Most important, he calls on us to appreciate and celebrate those interactions.
You never know how the small, seemingly inconsequential things you do and say may change the lives of the people you lead.
Jeff Henderson, pastor at Gwinnett Church, just finished a great message series called Climate Change. Its premise was that we all have an emotional climate and that climate dictates the forecast of our relationships.