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?

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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.