Have you ever felt stagnant as a group leader? Have you ever felt like you’re not getting anywhere? Have you ever begun to wonder why you’re leading groups at all?
The ability to ask good questions is key for any leader. Unfortunately, it doesn't come naturally for most of us. It's a skill we have to develop over time.
I thought you might be interested to know that Andy Stanley recently spoke at Leadercast Live in Atlanta. Rejuvenate Meetings published "4 Lessons on Leadership From Andy Stanley," a blog post with a rundown of their takeaways from his talk. Here's the intro:
Because the theme of the event was “The Brave Ones,” Stanley explained to the 5,000 people in the room and the 100,000 people tuning in what brave leadership looks like.
Take these four lessons from his presentation to heart as you boldly lead your team on a day-to-day basis.
- Brave leadership doesn't require a certain personality.
- Don't be put off by the how.
- Dismiss what's assumed to be impossible.
- Act on what breaks your heart.
Intentionality is a key ingredient of great leadership. That means leading your group toward a destination, and making sure your conversations have a purpose.
In my previous post, I wrote about how to be intentional as you begin a new group. But the middle months of your group—the longest part of the life-cycle for most groups—are when it's easiest to slip into auto-pilot. It's natural to drift into a place where the group has little purpose beyond your weekly meetings and whatever you're currently studying.
Here are three things you can do to keep your group on track:
1. Keep Vision Central Vision leaks if you don't take action to keep it out in front of your group.
- Remind your group why we do what we do.
- Model vision by being committed and authentic, and by prioritizing relationships.
2. Avoid Routine While a group should have a measure of predictability, it shouldn't be boring.
- Share responsibilities with group members and leadership with an apprentice.
- Plan interruptions to the normal rhythm of your group meetings by organizing socials, retreats, and service projects.
3. Plan to End Strategically All groups will end, but no group will end strategically without a plan.
- As you assess who may make a great future leader, pay attention to your members' character, competence, and chemistry.
- Be intentional in the way you invite group members into leadership. Gauge their willingness. Encourage them.
If you do those three things, your group will be energized with a sense of purpose. Individual meetings and studies will take on great meaning and depth because your group members will know that the group is working to create community for others in the future.
Next week, I’ll look at some how to approach leadership during the final months of a group.
Have you ever felt burned out or bored as a leader? Have you ever thought seriously about stepping out of leadership for a season . . . or maybe even permanently? There are three things you can do to cure burnout and boredom.
1. Remember your purpose. Burnout or boredom are often byproducts of misunderstanding your role as a group leader. It's your job to create a safe environment where people can grow spiritually and connect with one another. You provide opportunities, but it's up to group members show up, join in, and be real.
2. Be proactive. When you're faced with a challenging group situation or difficult interpersonal dynamics, it's easy to become reactive. You may feel whipsawed and helpless. This can lead to a desire for a break from leadership. Instead of running, re-engaged with a clear purpose. Remember why your group exists (to provide accountability, belonging, and care for every member of the group), and do something to engage in that purpose. Maybe you need to take on a service project. Maybe you need to shake up the way you pray for one another. Maybe you need to have a conversation about tensions within the group and make an effort to reset everyone's expectations of what being in group is all about. Being proactive can reinvigorated and refocus your group.
3. Ask helpful questions. Your job as a leader isn't to make people take the next step on their spiritual journeys. It's to offer encouragement and guidance. Taking the next step is up to them. One of the best ways you can encourage and guide your group members is by asking questions—questions that encourage them to move in God's direction and help them to own their spiritual growth.
Here are some examples of helpful questions:
- If this group is the best group you are ever a part of, how will you be different at its conclusion?
- What is holding you back from moving to a more intimate relationship with God?
- When you consider the five things God uses to grow your faith — Private Disciplines, Providential Relationships, Personal Ministry, Pivotal Circumstances, and Practical Teaching — where do you see God moving? How will you respond?
- What can you do to step out of your comfort zone?
Don't give up on leadership. Remember that God grows you through the ups and downs. Even when you face challenges and difficult, God will use that to grow you (perhaps he especially uses those times). Keep encouraging those you lead. Keep asking the questions that no one else is asking. Don’t let leadership get boring.
Thanks for all you do each week to help lead others into a growing relationship with Jesus.
Have you ever felt "burned out" and considered taking a season off from leading a group? Do you feel that way now? I understand. You aren't alone in feeling that way. One question can be helpful in thinking through the decision of whether to take time off from leadership: Am I burned out or bored?
The two feelings are similar. Both are accompanied by thoughts of quitting or a desire to escape.
The question of whether to continue in leadership tends to come up after ending a group in which you had to manage challenging situations or difficult interpersonal dynamics. There's a temptation to think it was a "bad" group experience and that you failed as a leader. But people are messy, so ministry is messy. Challenging situations and difficult interpersonal dynamics aren't a sign of failure. They're an opportunity for growth . . . for everyone in the group (including you).
Stepping out of leadership doesn't clean up messes. At best, it reduces your influence. At worst it ignores a stewardship opportunity. So, whether you're feeling burned out or bored, don't be quick to bail out of leadership. There are practical steps you can take to manage the mess in a way that makes you feel like you're making progress, that you're making a difference.
I'll dig into those practical steps in my next post. Check in later this week.
How do you, as the leader, think through or circle back to what happened or how things went during your group night? If we're the shepherds of our groups then we should be giving some thought to this each week.
The definition of debrief is to question someone about a completed mission or undertaking. So how do you do this as it relates to your group experience?
As a married group leader, I usually begin by making an observation or two to my husband as I'm loading the dishwasher and he's fluffing the pillows (he doesn’t care one bit about fluffed pillows, but knows it's my love language). He might ask a question like whether I noticed a particular person was quieter than normal.
Once we bring up the things we both noticed, we take it one step further and ask each other this question:
Is this something we should act on or gather more information about?
If you are a single group leader you might come up with a series of questions to ask yourself. These days you can even talk to yourself out loud without people thinking you're crazy; they’ll just think you’re on the phone. Your questions to yourself might be:
- How did everyone seem tonight?
- Did I sense a need to check in with anyone in particular?
- Is there a need that should be addressed by me or the group?
Others in your group may be having conversations about what happened at group, but it's up to you to take action.
In this TED video, author Malcolm Gladwell puts a new and fascinating spin on a story we're all familiar with . . . or at least think we're all familiar with.
I got to see Gladwell give a longer version of this talk at last year's Catalyst Conference. It may have been the highlight of the conference for me.
To dig deeper, check out Malcolm Gladwell's book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.
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?
In 1995, psychologist, educator, and author Daniel Goleman published Emotional Intelligence. He followed that with an influential Havard Business Review article titled "What Makes a Leader?" Goleman's work made the case that great leadership depends more on EQ than it does on IQ or technical skills.
Check out this brief video. It features Daniel Goleman explaining a little bit about what emotional intelligence is and why it matters.
We place a lot of value on emotional intelligence in our leaders. That's because leaders that are self-aware, self-controlled, and have empathy and social skills are able to connect with others authentically, serve them well, and motivate them effectively. They see the value of personal growth through community and are able to meet the people they lead wherever they are.
The good news is we can pursue greater emotional intelligence—and the pursuit looks an awful lot like the New Testament's description of life among a community of believers. It looks like the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that the apostle Paul describes as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.
If you want to up your EQ, one of the best ways to do it is to better understand how you're wired. Here are some tools to help you do just that:
- Myers-Briggs This is a free, simplified version of the assessment, but it will give you a sense of your personality type. That, in turn, may give you insight into your strengths and weaknesses as a leader (we all have both).
- RightPath This is another personality test. It digs deep. It has offered me a lot of great insight into my own wiring. It's not free, though, and is most valuable when you have someone who really knows how to read it help you interpret and contextualize what it says.
- "Cast of Characters" breakout from re:group 2011 This talk was delivered by Justin Elam at North Point, Sue Bates and Mark Shull at Buckhead, and Bob Hempen at Browns Bridge. Audio for all three talks, as well as notes and handouts, is available at the linked site, so pick whichever version you prefer.
- Emotional Intelligenceand The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights by Daniel Goleman.
What tools have you used to help you better understand yourself and your style of leadership?
In a post earlier this year, Mike Davis busted the myth that only extroverts make good leaders. He even provided you with some tools to help you assess whether you're an extrovert or an introvert.
In the same vein, I want to point you to a great post on another blog. Graphic designer Eli Bishop has written 10 Myths about Introverts. It provides a lot of great information about what introversion is . . . and what it isn't. If anything, it may help you to identify whether you're an introvert. Here's an excerpt:
Introverts are people whose energy tends to expand through reflection and dwindle during interaction. They often take pleasure in solitary activities such as reading, writing, music, drawing, tinkering, playing video games, watching movies and plays, and using computers. The archetypal artist, writer, sculptor, engineer, composer, and inventor are all highly introverted. An introvert is likely to enjoy time spent alone and find less reward in time spent with large groups of people. They prefer to concentrate on a single activity at a time and like to observe situations before they participate. Introverts are easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation from social gatherings and engagement. They are more analytical before speaking.
Introversion is not the same as being shy or being a social outcast. Introverts prefer solitary activities over social ones, whereas shy people (who may be extraverts at heart) avoid social encounters out of fear, and the social outcast has little choice in the matter of his or her solitude.
Last week, I wrote about why it's important for leaders to apprentice others and the qualities to look for in an apprentice, but let's back up a bit and answer a more fundamental question.
What is an apprentice?
An apprentice is someone who works with a leader in order to learn how to lead. In the context of Community Groups, apprenticing involves people in ministry for the purpose of training them to take your place. It's a way of developing new leaders so that we can create more space for others to join life-changing community.
Because an apprentice is a leader-in-training, to understand what an apprentice is you need to understand what a leader is . . . and is not.
A group leader is not a scholar or expert. Some group leaders have strong backgrounds in biblical knowledge or ministry experience. Some don't. Strong biblical knowledge and ministry experience is not a requirement for group leadership. Knowledge and experience are great as long as they're coupled with humility and grace. Leaders who have the most knowledge or experience have to be careful not to play the role of scholar or expert because know-it-all leaders can actually hamper the group's growth.
A group leader is not a teacher or a counselor. Some people pursue group leadership because they enjoy teaching others. They think Community Group will provide an outlet for using that gift. But groups aren't teacher-driven environments. They're a place where a facilitator encourages all members to participate in discussion. Gifted teachers often find that, for the good of the group, they have to put aside their God-given desire to teach others.
A group leader is a shepherd. The best group leaders understand where the group is supposed to go. They guide and care for the group members. They monitor and protect the health of the group.
A group leader is an investor in people. Groups are about doing life together. A good group leader is intentional about building relationships and creating environments where group members experience healthy relationships and spiritual growth.
Given what a group leader is and isn't . . .
- An apprentice is not someone who has it all together.
- An apprentice is not merely an assistant to the group leader.
- An apprentice is someone who has caught the vision of what groups are all about.
- An apprentice is a shepherd-in-training.
In Wednesday's post, I wrote about why identifying an apprentice matters. But how do you know which of your group members might make a good apprentice? It's important to remember that you're not looking for someone who can lead a group tomorrow. You're looking for a teachable group member who has the potential to be a great group leader in the future. Here are four qualities that will help you identify that kind of person.
1. Character Character is what makes a leader worth following. The foundation of character is a growing relationship with Jesus. Can your potential apprentice point to a time when he or she established a relationship with Jesus? Has he or she been growing in a relationship with Jesus for over two years?
2. Competence Is your potential apprentice teachable? Is he or she able to learn the skills necessary to create a predictable environment where healthy relationships and spiritual growth can happen? Does he or she have the relational skills to lead a group at some point in the future? Have you seen your potential apprentice display leadership skills in your group, such as facilitating group discussions, planning socials, or providing care to other group members?
3. Culture Is your potential apprentice a member of the church or is he or she willing to pursue membership? Is he or she committed to the mission and strategy of the church?
4. Chemistry Chemistry matters. You'll eventually be sharing leadership responsibilities with your apprentice. Have you been able to connect relationally with your potential apprentice? Have you seen your potential apprentice connect with the other members of your group? Are you comfortable with your potential apprentice's ability to relate to others?
If you can answer "yes" to all of the those questions, you've probably found a strong candidate for apprenticeship. If you can't, you may want to consider other group members or discuss your concerns with your Groups Director.
Replace Yourself is one of our 8 Leader Essentials. But you may find yourself wondering, "Why am I supposed to identify and develop an apprentice? Why is it such a big deal?" Here are three reasons.
1. It's biblical. Throughout the Bible, leaders apprentice others so they can follow in the leaders' footsteps. Moses apprenticed Joshua. Elijah apprenticed Elisha. Paul apprenticed Timothy. One of the most cited verses on the subject of apprenticing is in Paul's second letter to Timothy:
"And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." (2 Timothy 2:2)
The clearest example of apprenticing is Jesus' interactions with the twelve disciples. If anyone could have done ministry all by himself, it was Jesus. But he didn't. His disciples were always with him—watching, learning, and listening. He involved them in almost everything he did. That's because he saw beyond his three years of public ministry. He knew success was handing off the ministry to those coming behind him. That's one measure of your success as a group leader too.
2. It's practical. Apprenticing doesn't just develop the apprentice. It also grows the leader who apprentices. Nothing makes you take stock of what you know like being asked to teach someone else. The process gives you incentive to organize your knowledge and put it down on paper. It helps you to solidify it in your mind. As you hand over responsibility to your apprentices, they bring their knowledge, talent, and experience to bear upon what you've shared with them. They find new and better ways to lead. This gives you the opportunity to learn from them. It expands your knowledge and skills.
3. It's strategic. Our mission is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Our strategy to carry out that mission is to get people into groups because we believe that life change happens best in the context of small groups. So, creating space for more people to experience healthy relationships and spiritual growth is essential. We can only do that if we have qualified group leaders. Those who have been apprenticed make the best leaders because they've had first-hand experience of Community Group.
So, those are three reasons you should identify and develop an apprentice. On Friday, I'll give you four things to look for in order to identify an apprentice.
On Monday, I wrote about why Invest and Invite can be a great approach to group multiplication. In this post, I want to give you six practical ways to weave Invest and Invite into the life of your group.
The key to the success of this approach is to continually cast vision about the importance of Influence with Outsiders. Introduce the concept early in the life of the group. Be intentional about revisiting it regularly.
- Plant the seeds (first 6-8 weeks). While the group is still brand new, cast a vision for what it means to have Influence with Outsiders, including what it means to Invest and Invite. Session 7 of Community: Starting Well In Your Small Group is all about Influence with Outsiders. It'll help you establish that vital relationship as a shared value in your group. Once you're finished with the 8-week starter period, resources like Go Fish, Start: Becoming a Good Samaritan, and Like Your Neighbor? are a great way to revisit the topic periodically throughout the life of the group.
- Memorialize the plan (8 weeks). As the group moves out of the 8-week starter period, the Group Agreement is a great tool for emphasizing the importance of a commitment to investing and inviting. The agreement addresses multiplication in two places—once in the values section, and again in the first guideline (where group members agree on the lifespan of the group). As you walk the group through the agreement, cast vision for why multiplication is such an important part of the Community Group experience.
- Commit to pray (2–3 months in). Once you've introduced Influence with Outsiders and Invest and Invite, raise the stakes a little. During prayer time one evening, ask everyone in the group to think about and share the names of those they want to invest in. Commit to pray for these people. Have someone in the group write all of their names down and distribute them to the group so they can pray for them on an ongoing basis.
- Schedule regular checkups (every 6–8 weeks). Every six to eight weeks, revisit the Invest and Invite prayer requests. Ask everyone how it's going and if there are more specific ways the group can be praying. At the midway point of the group's life span, dedicate one meeting to a group health checkup. Use the agreement to lead an informal discussion about how the group is doing in each of the values and guidelines. This provides an excellent opportunity to talk about Invest and Invite, and whether people need additional support.
- Beat the drum (6 months before multiplying). When the group begins to enter the home stretch—the six months before to multiplying—it's time to emphasize what the group needs to do to get ready for multiplying. Now is the time for group members to mention to the people they've been investing in that the group will be multiplying soon. From this point on, talk about multiplication at least once a month.
- Finalize the group effort (2–3 months before multiplying). As multiplication time draws near, group members can help one another with their invest and invite activities. As the existing group wraps up, host social events. Invite current group members and the people they've been investing in. This gives outsiders a taste of what Community Group is like. Take a few minutes to explain how Community Groups work. Have group members share a few stories about their Community Group experiences.
Let me wrap up with a reminder. Lists like this one are great because they're easy to read, help you absorb information quickly, and give you actionable steps. But they can also make things like Invest and Invite come across as a project made up of a series of simple tasks. But Invest and Invite is about relationships. It's about people . . . and people aren't projects. This list of six tasks isn't an end itself. It's a means to producing a heart for outsiders in you and your group members. Invest and Invite only works when the people you invest in know that you really do care about them.
One of the best and easiest ways to bring those outside the faith in is to invest in their lives and, when the time is right, invite them to an environment where they can begin to experience and explore the gospel.