6 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Started Leading Small Groups

I started leading small groups when I was 16. There I was, barely old enough to drive a car, and I was supposed to lead my group of thirteen-year-old boys on some kind of spiritual journey. Right. I felt good if we got through the meeting without someone making a fart joke.

Since that time, I’ve led small groups for people aged 10 to 40. (High school small groups are my favorite. It’s not even close.) Along the way, I’ve learned a few things. Not as many as I’d like. There’s still a lot about leading small groups well that remains a complete mystery to me. But I have learned. And, reflecting back across the years, here are some things that I really wish I had known when I first started.

1. Ground it in the gospel

For a long time, my small groups were like 12-step programs for believers. Want to grow mature Christians? It’s simple: meet regularly, read the Bible, pray, laugh, eat lots of food, and make sure that you hold each other “accountable” so that you all keep working at it. Do that long enough and something is bound to happen.

What I was missing was any meaningful understanding of how the gospel relates to discipleship. None of these are bad things in themselves. But, if they’re not grounded in grace and empowered by the spirit, then it isn’t discipleship. I’d love to go back and help my younger self catch a vision for a small group of Christians as God’s image bearers in the world, redeemed through Jesus Christ, indwelt by the Spirit, and commissioned as ambassadors of the Kingdom. I’d love to see me helping others understand God’s grace and the transforming power of the gospel. In short, I’d love to convince myself that a small group should be so much more than a support group.

Read the rest here…


About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on December 8, 2011, in Ministry, Spiritual Formation. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I got involved with Navigators as a freshman in college. The Navigators’ purpose for small groups was discipleship and reproduction…we went through the complete Design for Discipleship series. Our small group leader was Nav staff and we met one-on-one with her regularly. Eventually we also met weekly with a rotating “partner” from the study-partially to get to know one another better, but also as a way to practice accountability outside the study environment. The larger Nav organization provided monthly meetings for worship which included solid theology teaching. Church attendance was expected-it is part of the Christian life and after college we were going to need to know how to be a part of a church. By my 2nd year, at least one from our group was leading a new small group of freshmen.

    It didn’t take long before I was rather ticked that I hadn’t experienced anything like this growing up in church (EVFree & Cons. Baptist). There’s a lot of talk about discipleship but not much practice. Since then, I’ve spent 20 yrs in couples/co-ed home groups, women’s Bible studies, etc., with varied approaches and I am happy to see someone talking about this. I still think many people do want more than a support group and can rise to the challenge of a more rigorous discipleship in a church community.

    Some things I would add:

    You need people to buy in to the mission for it to work. When I was 17 and our study leader said “we’re going to memorize scripture” we did it because we didn’t know we could blow her off. Most adults aren’t so compliant.

    Safety is crucial for authenticity. What is shared in small group stays in small group. It’s too easy to misrepresent the struggles or comments of another person. I think it’s important for participants decide to grant permission to others in the group to hold them accountable. If I mention struggling with a bad attitude, hopefully I will allow others to say to me “you’ve got a bad attitude, how can I help” when it is so. Forgiveness should also be a core value-be prepared to give it and to need it.

    Co-ed discipleship isn’t going to look the same as single gender. Women are not going to talk about some things in front of men & vice versa (and probably shouldn’t!) There should be a place for people to address issues they can’t share with the whole group.

    Church leaders have to set the tone for the ministry. Help the small group leader learn pastoral skills and theology. Be available to offer moral support and coach through difficult situations. Don’t allow certain kinds of situations/sins to go unaddressed by the pastoral staff….small group leaders shouldn’t have to carry the full burden of people’s baggage.

    Those people who do want “just” a support group?…provide it, their need is no less valid. Meeting people where they are at doesn’t fit into a template.

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