SGL: Coaching Lessons Learned February, 2014

Leaders are life-long learners. They are always pursuing the high ground of truth and seeking to apply wisdom, which is why I post the monthly summaries of our update meetings. This month, I asked the questions:

  • What are you thinking as you approach home group?
  • What are you doing when you are in home group?

Continue reading


SGL: What is the purpose of a small group?

What is the purpose of a small group?

Many people may have many different reasons for participating in a small group, but for the small groups or home groups at Grace, there is one purpose. There are many reasons to join and many effects, but there is one purpose.  That purpose is to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission in the most effective way.

            The Great Commandment is:

  • 37 Jesus said to him, “`You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
  • 38 “This is the first and great commandment.
  • 39 “And the second is like it:`You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matt. 22:37-39)

The Great Commission is:

  • 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
  • 20 “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matt 28:19-20)

When you make life about God, instead of self, all things move into harmony with His will.

People often join small groups for their own reasons, just like people do everything.  They want what they want when they want it.  We don’t know any better when we are born and we have to be disciple to God’s will. Some people join small groups because they want to identify with a group of people, or they want to learn in a Bible study, or they want the fellowship of others in a good and safe environment.  Some people join small groups because they get dragged into one by their spouse, or they join because they think they might be able to develop business relationships, or they think the leader may have something they want.

What is at the core of each of the above reasons?  It’s all about self.  I’m not condemning those reasons, because in themselves they are not bad, but they reveal motivations that are coming from a spiritual infant or spiritual child. Again, I’m not condemning those reasons, but the person has not grown spiritually to understand the purpose of a small group.  They have not grasped the purpose of a small group, because they have not been taught the purpose, or they have not been discipled to understand the purpose, or they have heard it, but have not sealed it in their thinking.

The purpose of a small group is to help 80% of the congregation become spiritual parents, who are purposing to disciple spiritual parents.

If you have the vision of discipling spiritual parents on the part of the leadership, then all the reasons people join small groups will lead to the right goal.  Spiritual infants and spiritual children always have self as the focus and that’s normal.  No one condemns a spiritual infant or spiritual child for their personal actions.  However, the leadership has to keep in mind the purpose, so the small group does not get off track and merely become a Bible study or social gathering as an end in itself. The enemy would gladly be content with that, if it doesn’t lead to multiplication.

When the purpose becomes a Bible study or social gathering (many try to call fellowship), it really is about self and the true purpose is hindered and the godly influence intended by the Lord into the community is hindered.  Bible study should always be a main focus.  Fellowship should always be a reason for small groups.  But you can study the Bible over 50 lifetimes and never fully understand all there is in Scripture.  God said through Hosea, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge.”  (Hosea 6:4)  Yes!  Israel didn’t have knowledge of God.  That was the issue.  It wasn’t that they didn’t understand the divine decree or the 8 different forms of baptism  inn Scripture.  They did not know the Lord. 

Teachers who say you have to go to Bible study after Bible study often do it to control people and remain superior to them.  They like people dependent on them or the glory of having people flock to their audiences.

When the purpose of the small group is fellowship, then the fleshly result will result in remaining in the comfort zone of those in the small group.  God does not want one group of people always fit together without expanding and connecting to new people.  When people say the purpose is solely fellowship, they have the attitude, “Us four and no more.”

If you keep the purpose of small groups as raising up spiritual parents, you will keep the right balance on Bible study and fellowship.  Spiritual parents multiply and create more spiritual parents who grow by doing Bible study and fellowship.  Let’s keep growing!



SGL: Leadership: Casting Vision

Small Group Leadership: Casting Vision


Leading a small group is the next best thing after leading someone to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior.  It is the adventure of watching the Lord work through you leading others on their spiritual journey to knowing Jesus.  There are victories and setbacks.  There are amazing testimonies of God’s grace and there are the disappointments of people choosing to become distracted in the American Disneyland.

            Leading a small group is definitely about leading a discussion with a group of people, but there are also many other responsibilities of the Small Group Leader.  One of those responsibilities is “Casting Vision.” Casting Vision helps people understand many things about themselves, about spiritual growth and about building in the lives of others.  Too many times people come only for what they are going to get out of the small group.  Thankfully, God can use that motivation to get people to join a small group, but God desires that leaders cast a vision to think outside of themselves.  What are some of the purposes of a small group leader “casting vision” to people in the small group?

First, life is not about them (John 5:19, 30).  A small group leader must lead in such a way that the people enjoy going, enjoy the discussion and the challenges and enjoy taking steps of responsibility in the group. In the process, the leader must help people see there is a bigger picture of why there are small groups and the intentional discipleship involved.

Secondly, there is an urgency of the future (Phil. 3:12-13).  Small groups gather to connect1 relationships, so that people can be equipped in discipleship to Jesus Christ.  The process should lead to multiplication to reach other disciples and influence the entire world.   If people come week after week without any sense of urgency, they will continue to come and miss out on the most important part of our vision.  The most important part of our vision is “multiply together with the gospel to reach the world.”2 Until people get the vision and motivation of multiplication, they will be content with the present, rather than pursuing for the future.

Thirdly, connect the vision to Scripture (Phil. 3:14).  Scripture is the one standard that measures all that we do, highlights what we are supposed to do and keeps us on track with making sure God’s will on earth will be as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10).  Scripture is God-inspired (2 Tim. 3:16).  Scripture is one of the spiritual growth ingredients (Rom. 15:13-14). Scripture is living and powerful (Heb. 4:12). Vision is not about a personal agenda.  It must be tied to Scripture to ensure it is God’s agenda.

Fourthly, in addition to vision casting, do problem casting (Neh. 2:15-18).  Let the people know what the problem is so they can see their part in what God wants to do.  Nehemiah went about the city at night and came back to the people to let them know that the problem – the wall – was in ruins and needed to be rebuilt so they would not be a reproach. Today, the reproach is a lack of disciples following Christ, a lack of vitality in Christian relationships, a lack of enthusiasm in witnessing and a lack of leaders developing other key leaders. There are many other problems like strained marriages, rebellious children, young people leaving the church, etc. etc.  Take care of the first set of problems (raising up leadership) and the second set will be overcome.

Fifthly, help them understand why they need to act (Neh. 4:12-14).  Many people can see the picture and the problem, but not understand “why” they need to act.  Too many people think someone else will act.  Too many people think there are better equipped people to act.  Too many people don’t think their contribution will matter.  Small group leaders need to help people see their contribution is essential for the urgency and the problem.

Sixthly, show how the vision affects each person (Matt. 9:36).  A small group leader casts vision, so people (sheep) know where the leader (shepherd) is guiding them.  People need to know how the vision affects them going forward and how it affects them if it doesn’t go.  What are the ramifications if the people don’t grasp the vision?  A good illustration could be taken from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  George was discouraged about life, until he saw what life was like without him in it.

Seventhly, call them to commitment (Luke 14:26, 27).  A disciple of Jesus Christ must make the commitment that nothing in life matters, but pursuing Jesus Christ.  He must decide that there are many good things to do in life and only a strong pursuit of Jesus will keep all relationships in balance.  He must commit to bearing His cross to keep all the distractions of the world in perspective and press to the ultimate objective of glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ.  A small group leader must be clear in his vision.  He must help people see the “baby steps” of spiritual growth.  He must be accessible to the people so when they have problems or questions, he is willing to talk. And he must give them measurable steps so they can see the process and progress of spiritual growth in the multiplication strategy.

            The small group leader must cast vision for the people to see where they need to go.  It’s like a shepherd leading the way to green pastures and still waters.  Cast the vision and disciple more closely those who want to follow your lead.



1Connect, Equip and Multiply are the three key words for the Grace Vision statement.

2This is the third sentence of the Grace Vision Statement.

SGL: Coaching Small Group Leaders (2)

SGL: Coaching Small Group Leaders (2)

I love it when men bring together their leadership and serving others. As I watched a guy lead, I thought, “He’s got it.”  “He understands what he needs to do.  He’s there, not for himself, but for others.” 

Prior to arriving at the home group meeting, I told him I’d open the home group and then I asked him to facilitate the “Message Based Discussion Questions.”  It was like clock-work. The initial orientation went just a little long, but our group is beginning to enjoy each other and I normally like to begin the “Digging Deeper” questions before I passed the leadership to him.

During the small group, I wrote down several key points of what he did well.  Maybe it is because he leads a group of young boys in our Wednesday evening ministry.  Maybe it is because he has been in several different kinds of small groups. But whatever the past, he’s doing it now. Here’s the summary.

First, he affirmed people’s responses, even in their reading.  Just a light ‘thanks,’ or thank you, or even verbal “uh huh.”  The affirmation keeps the people encouraged and willing to respond with greater thoughts. 

Secondly, he was positive and light-hearted. He wasn’t blasé or like Eeyore.  He was positive and encouraging to what people said. It’s difficult to “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep,” but the leader needs to be up and responsive to the participants 98% of the time, because it’s not about him, it’s about raising the people up.  Should a leader or facilitator let others know if he has a struggle? Sure.  But not so much that he can’t lead others.

Thirdly, he made good tie-ins back to the main message content from the questions. That keeps the consistency and unity from the message and creates a building aspect in the “Digging Deeper” portion of the Message Based Discussion Questions. 

Fourthly, he spoke well with his eye contact with each person talking.  He looked at the person talking and gave good non-verbal and tone of voice affirmation that he was tracking with each person.

Fifthly, he asked if there was anything else after a few comments were made.  He didn’t feel like he needed to do all the talking.  He didn’t respond to each comment, but he was definitely leading and carrying the conversation of learning on his shoulders. Before he went to the next question, he asked, “Any other comments?” Or, “Anything else?”

Sixthly, when there was a disagreement about an answer, he handled it extremely well by looking at how both answers could be considered and assigned us to re-look at the answer for the next week.  He didn’t waffle on the answer and didn’t come across as a know-it-all.  He recognized that the way the question was stated and the information in the text was presented, that both answers had merit, and what really mattered was the heart of the question.  He handled it very maturely.

Seventhly, he did a great job of summarizing the questions. He summarized the “Digging Deeper” questions and the “Application” questions so that people felt like there was a good ending to the discussion.  And what was the response?  As one person said, “That was a good discussion.”

I wish I could take credit for how well the group went.  Instead I thank God for how He continues to work in each of our lives to sharpen us to the truth and to present that truth in a winsome, biblical way.  Consider how some of these highlights might be incorporated into your small group leadership.  I know that night people were greatly challenged by the application questions about their personal responsibility with the message.

SGL: A Coach’s commitment to Small Group Leaders (2)

SGL: A Coach’s commitment to Small Group Leaders

            Coaching leaders is a fulfilling mission.  It’s fulfilling, because they already have proven themselves and they want to lead others.  Now it’s a matter of how to sharpen each other so that ministry can be more effective.  Both the coach and the small group leaders will learn from each other.  They both learn, because of the experience of the coach, but also the new experiences that small group leaders obtain, which  may bring new ideas to coaches.

            A coach must be committed to the small group leaders.  He is not there as a know-it-all or I’m-the-coach-so-listen-to-me type person.  He’s there to hold leaders to 1) the standard of God’s Word, 2) the vision set forth by the Elders and 3) the passion to intentional discipling of Christ-followers.  There are five contrasts that should be kept in mind when coaching small group leaders.

            First, maintain encouragement over teaching.  Small group leaders have already proven themselves steady in spiritual disciplines and grasping hold of the vision, so now they need encouragement to keep pressing forward.  Now that they are leaders, they are leading others who may be complacent (Is. 32:9-11), may bite and devour (Gal. 5:15) and may get distracted by the things of the world (1 Jn. 2:15-17).  That can be very discouraging when you prepare to lead a group and people don’t respond.  The leader may face “controlling talkers,” or “rebellious nit-pickers,” or those who just don’t want to get out of their comfort zones.

            Small group leaders may need to be taught some principles of leading, but they need encouragement far more.  They need to be nurtured along the way far more than understanding every list of what small group leaders should do.  Yes, seasoned Christians need to be encouraged, because the battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the unseen spiritual forces (Eph. 6:12) and discouragement is likely Satan’s greatest tool.

            Secondly, lead by shepherding rather than directing.  A shepherd takes the sheep (in this case, the small group leader) to lush green grass of nourishment, the still waters of refreshment and the calming fields of resting in the Lord.  They are in a battle every day from spiritual forces trying to convince them their effort is not worth it.  The demonic realm deceives and manipulates to get leaders to think that they will never be able to influence people well enough to make a difference. 

Small group leaders don’t need to be told what to do as much as they need someone to care for them and listen to them.  They already care themselves to lead others.  They already have been in the trenches.  They may need some focus, or at times a jolt, but normally they need someone to bandage up their wounds of leading people.  They need someone to lead them.

Thirdly, emphasize connecting over influence.  There is no question that we are all about influencing people and making an impact, but when coaching small group leaders, you want to make sure they feel connected and not feel like a long ranger serving all by themselves, wondering when the next resupply will come in.  Small group leaders are  already working on connecting people, but in the process of leading, he becomes a target from the front and from behind and he wonders if he is alone.  Make sure you connect with him rather than driving him all the time just to make sure he’s on the top of his influence.  Let him rest in your presence and shepherd him by your encouragement.

Fourthly, listen for understanding rather than talking by managing.  He spends most of his time listening to other people; listening to understand.  He listens to understand, so that when he speaks, others will listen and he will have pithy comments full of Scripture and wisdom.  That takes an incredible amount of energy and he needs someone to listen to understand him, rather than someone telling him how he can be a better manager of resources (people).

And fifthly, ensure you are leading rather than pressing him forward.  He should feel like he is in the presence of Jesus.  He should feel like you are leading him, rather than driving him.  The small group leader should feel like you are a shepherd, rather than a butcher.  You make sure he knows you enjoyed the time with him, because the ones he is leading may not realize all the mental and emotional energy he is expending for them.  So you lead him to the still waters and green pastures of rest in God’s Word.  What has God been doing for you to calm your soul?  Affirm him in all that he is doing.  Make sure he knows you are there for him, not the other way around.

Coaching is a blessed privilege.  You’re not teaching volumes of material; you’re tweaking what he knows so he can be more effective.  God used Priscilla and Aquila to come alongside Apollos to be a better spokesman for Christ (Acts 18: 24-28).  Your coaching will enable him to rest more on the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit to lead others in grace.



SGL: Coaching Small Group Leaders (1)

SGL: Coaching Small Group Leaders (1)

            There was a “thrill of victory and agony of defeat” when I used to watch the Wide World of Sports as a kid.  The same could be said of discipleship.  There is a thrill to see men pick up the ball in discipleship and carry it in discipling others.  There is also the agony of watching promising and potential great leaders turn to distractions of the world.  Between these two extremes is where most of the process of discipleship is.  Here are some clues on coaching Small Group Leaders or helping men become equipped to lead home groups on their own.

            First, give clear instructions on what you want them to do.  The old saying is, “If there is a fog in the pulpit, there will be mist in the pew.”  Discipling requires clarity so both parties understand.  The reality is, full clarity is a process, but the attempt must be made.

            Secondly, encourage everything he does well. Having gone through boot camp in the Army, they taught us, it takes 1000 “attaboys” to overcome one “awedarnit” (or what they really called it).  Affirmation is extremely important to encourage leaders to keep pressing forward.  The enemy is going to be feeding him lie after lie after lie.  Like, “You really blew that leadership opportunity.” Or, “You don’t know enough to lead a group of people.”  Or, “Why don’t you just stay home, you’re not good enough to lead others.”  And a hundred other lies the enemy will bombard upon the one stepping up to the plate.

            Thirdly, encourage how he gives affirmation and feedback to others.  Just as you are modeling it to him, make sure you highlight it whenever he gives encouragement to others.  Affirm what he is doing well, because he’s likely waiting for the shoe to drop and hear criticism. Make sure you grace him out whenever you can.

            Fourthly, make sure he is looking at the other people when he’s leading and answering questions.  Whether you are the coach, or pastor, or elder, make sure his eye contact is not on you, but on the other people.  He is there to encourage others and one great way is to have good eye contact with those that are there, not the authority figure.  It seems that most people look at the authority figure when giving answers and the new facilitator needs to learn right away that HE does not talk or give answers looking at the authority figure.  He IS the authority figure or leader for the group at that time.

            Fifthly, remind him to watch the timing of the session.  That is very hard to do, because the ice breaker could go long, or the sharing is great, or he’s trying to deal with a controlling talker.  When you bring up something like timing of the session, approach it like you see he is trying to watch the time and get his thoughts on how he is trying to manage the overall timing of the gathering.  Help him see that he may have to respond to a longer answer with, “Let’s meet afterwards and talk further,” or “let’s talk about that more after we pray as a group.”  That way, you keep more people involved in the conversation than just a few that like to talk.

            Sixthly, encourage him to say, “Anything else?” at the end of discussion to allow someone else to make a comment.  Some people are hesitant to respond, but a nudge like that can help them come out of their comfort zone and risk giving a response. 

            Coaches need to be encouraging to Small Group Leaders who are trying to learn how to lead.  Sometimes there are small group leaders who want to do their own thing and they need to be confronted.  That will be for a separate article.

SGL: The Small Group Leader (1) – Leading

Leading a Home Group: The Small Group Leader (1) – Leading

What will be true of a small group leader?

            God desires that every Christian become a Disciple-maker.  God gave every Christian the Great Commission where He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matt. 28:19-20)  It is through the words of the disciples to all people that Jesus said people will believe and be discipled, I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word (John 17:20)

            Yet there must be “quality control” or some standards by which leaders should be chosen, put into the leadership position and tasked to lead others in a small group.  This is the first of several parts describing that leader.  There are three truths in this article that must be true of every small group leader.  He will be ready to lead, appointed by others and leading like a parent.

First, he will be trained to lead. He will have participated in a small group setting and he understands and can explain the vision and mission of the church. He will have had experience in leading an established small group as an assistant. Through the mentoring/ discipleship of a small group leader, he will become grounded in the basics of leading. He’ll also be willing to continue this mentoring relationship with a small group coach. He will understand how small groups and accountability work.  He understands expectations of himself and others.  He is winsome in a relational environment, because leadership is not about him, but about helping others learn and grow.  And he has proven himself able to oversee and to coordinate the functioning of a group.  He lives out Paul’s admonition to Timothy,

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16 But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. 17 And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, 18 who have strayed concerning the truth…22 Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23 But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. 24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. (2Tim. 2:15-26)

Secondly, he will be appointed by others to lead.  There have been a couple times in ministry, when a person said, “Please get me some people to teach.”  I encouraged them to invite others to a study they were going to lead, but I wasn’t going to subject people to one who had not participated in a small group environment.  When the time is right the mentoring Small Group Leader will let leadership know when the assistant leader is ready to be launched.  Humility is a key.  The potential leader will have been observed and proven available and teachable regarding leadership.

Leaders on the church team look for leaders who have proven themselves faithful in attending a small group, who are faithful in spiritual disciplines and who serve in spiritual growth opportunities. Paul writes, “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure. (1Tim. 5:22)  Just because people can give academic answers to Bible questions or they are Bible Trivia champions, they are not qualified as leaders.  

Leaders don’t appoint leaders who are brains on a stick.  Just because people know biblical truth, theology or trivia, they are not necessarily qualified to be small group leaders. We do want a person to aspire to the position of leadership, but he will be humble enough to wait upon the appointment of others.

Thirdly, he will lead like a parent.  He knows he is there for the sake of others.  He doesn’t use his position of authority for himself, but for responsibility to assist others in their spiritual growth.  He gives others the opportunity to serve in group leadership opportunities and he disciples others to take those steps of opportunity to grow and lead.  He will be patient with comments others make and consider how to turn inappropriate comments into good use for the Lord’s work.  Paul encourages the young church of Thessalonica,

But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.  8 So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. 9 For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. 10You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; 11 as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, 12that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. (1 Thess. 2:7-12)

As the small group leader matures in small group skills, he will identify those who are ready to take opportunities of leadership in the small group and begin the training process with them.

The Small Group Leader is an essential element for connecting, equipping and multiplying in small group growth.  He will be ready, because he has been involved in small group ministry.  He will be humble enough to wait for the appointment from others on the church team, rather than demanding that he should have the right to lead.  And he will be leading like a parent, not a child.  The Small Group Leader is there for others and the glory of Jesus Christ, not himself.

Book Review: Leading Life-Changing Small Groups by Bill Donahue

Book Review: Leading Life-Changing Small Groups by Bill Donahue

“Leading Life-Changing Small Groups” by Bill Donahue addresses the leader’s role in establishing and developing a Biblical Community.  He begins with how to establish a small groups purpose and vision. This might seem too independent from the associated Church and I would recommend that any Small Group assume the associated Church’s purpose and vision.  However, the specific purpose and vision of the Small Group might differ regarding how it will reach out to new members, serve within and outside the Church, and identify specific mission service projects.

His succeeding chapters highlight excellent insights into the leader’s role for himself and then an apprentice.  Every leader can improve his listening skills, accountability and leadership style.  Donahue provides a series of suggestions on how to grow.  Then, in the next chapter, he moves directly into developing an apprentice, which is essential if the vision is to grow individuals and grow the influence of small groups.  Every leader is a spiritual parent, who must consider how to raise up those who will participate in and multiply small groups.

He has an excellent discussion on creating a covenant or agreement for the small group gathering.  Additionally, he addresses the strategy for growth and what ingredients help that process.   Following that, he delineates what the meetings should look like and what the outcomes should be.   He has a great, lengthy and helpful list of ice-breaker questions.   His section on dealing with conflict was helpful, but could have drawn more from Scripture on some of the mechanics.

Leaders should read through this in order to identify small group dynamics.  It will be much easier to learn the easy way from Donahue’s suggestions than the hard experience of small group hard knocks.  People get their feelings hurt too easily, misunderstandings develop too quickly and people often jump to wrong conclusions.  A leader must be a spiritual parent who can discern the heart of people and that doesn’t come immediately.  Donahue’s resource and experience will develop discernment for successful small group leading.