Friday, April 27, 2012

SMALL GROUP LEADERSHIP

TITLE: SMALL GROUP LEADERSHIP
SCRIPTURE: Acts 2:13-14
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 27 Apr 2012

"Some however, made fun of them and said, 'They have too much wine.' Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd." (Acts 2:14)

This is Part 2 of a series of 4 articles dedicated to small groups ministry. For the next three weeks, I will write about small groups with regards to leadership, to meeting inner membership needs, and to reaching out and outreach as a group.

A) Leaders are So Hard to Find

I have been involved with small groups ministry for a long time. Since my Inter-Varsity days, where I first came to the faith, I have been active as a participant, as an organizer, as a leader, and increasingly as a trainer and equipper. Everywhere I go, there is a recurring need: Leaders.

Leaders are so hard to find. Good leaders are even more difficult to get. This is why one of the most important activities in the Church is training and development. Back in my undergraduate days when I first became a Christian, I was filled with enthusiasm to be with fellow believers, to learn from my seniors, and to grow in Christ. I read. I pray. I memorize Scripture. When it comes to the Annual Leadership Conference organized by my fellowship, I would just say to myself that those are for the more experienced, the more capable, and the more mature people. I had no sense of calling. I had no idea what leadership actually means or requires. I preferred to simply grow my own faith, and be content with my small circle of brothers and sisters in Christ. Living together in the hostel can be fun. People would come by my room each day, thanks to my proximity to my neighbours who were extremely active in the Christian Fellowship. They had many more years of experience as a Christian than me. I was barely two years old in Christ. One evening, the chairman of the Fellowship came by. I was visiting my neighbours. He was confirming the attendance list for the annual leadership training event with my esteemed neighbours. I happened to be visiting and chatting away with them. The chairman said that he had one last spot on the Christian leadership training course. Whether it is by coincidence or by divine calling, he saw me and offered me the opportunity to take that last spot.

I was bowled over. Me? I'm such a young believer.

My neighbours egged me on. The chairman looked at me with an inviting eye. I was floored. Resistance then is futile. Thus began my introduction to leadership. Simply put, I was there at the right time, at the right place, and at the right moment. I did not know why I accepted the opportunity then. What I do know is that I am glad I accepted the invitation. It opened my eyes to the new world of being a leader for Christ. It encouraged me to grow in ways that I would never have dreamed possible.

B) Sweet Spot of Leadership

Leadership Discernment: G.O.A.L
One of the ways in which discernment needs to do is to locate what Max Lucado calls the "sweet spot." I like to call it the G.O.A.L. Comprising three concentric circles, spiritual discernment is to find the spot where three things intersect: Gloryfying God; Opportunity to Serve, and Availability of our Strengths, toward Leading for God. I call it the way to discern our calling.

Three questions are to be asked in discerning God's call for leadership.

  1. G: How does it glorify God?
  2. O: What are the opportunities and needs in my community?
  3. A: What are my available strengths?

The central point of intersection is a great spot for us to discern our calling to leadership.

B) G = Glorifying God

When the early Church experienced ridicule from people who said that they were drunk from wine, Peter stood up to lead the disciples. Instead of cowing away in fear like what he did to Jesus when he denied Christ thrice, Peter became a fearless witness for God. He seeks to glorify God with his leadership.

In small group environments, sometimes it is easy to get caught up in trying to make small groups an end in themselves. Call it a "Holy Huddle" or an exclusive "Holy Club." These groups exist only for themselves. I have known of groups which continue to remain in the similar size for decades. They are mainly content in serving one another. Leaders need to learn to see beyond the obvious membership needs. As a Shepherd, he/she needs to keep in mind how the group glorifies God. One of the things I regularly do in my group is to worship as a group. Playing musical instruments is not a requirement for leadership though it can surely enrich the worship experience. One reason why I like to encourage singing as a group is because it unites all of us to sing as one body. In singing, we remind one another the reason we gather. Songs like "As we gather" or "Bind us Together" remind us of our common bond in Christ and the reason we gather. The key is to let the worship guide our thoughts and to allow the Spirit of God to set the mood for the meeting. If there is no one who can play the music, use an MP3 player, or a Youtube video. Sing Acapella. Read Scripture. Leaders must be worshipers themselves. Worshipers will worship regardless of music, instruments or available facilities. The moment the prospective leader shuns away from worship, he has disqualified himself from leadership.

C) O=Opportunities

The Early Church waited for the Holy Spirit to come, and when the Spirit fills their hearts, they are empowered to serve and the share the gospel. Acts 2 shows us that the people were gathered together as one body when the Spirit arrives. Being Church is essentially coming together as a people of God in the Name of Christ. When people come together, they open themselves to learn to recognize needs within the group as well as outside the group.

The next question to ask is about the opportunities and needs around us. It is tragic to see groups disperse when the leader fails to turn up for the meeting. When I lead groups, I make attendance a priority. The one person expected to be present at ALL meetings is the leader. As I look back at my years in leading small groups, I notice one thing: No one else beats my attendance record. Another thing is, I find coming to small group gatherings a joy rather than a chore.

The needs of any group are many. Probe deeper and one will easily find all kinds of challenges. They can range from issues with spouses to discipline matters with children. While people can sometimes choose to come on the basis of how interesting the topic of study is, when the relationships are there, people will come. In other words, for those without good relationships with the other group members, often come to the meetings on the basis of how interesting the study is or how convenient the meeting times and locations are. Those with good relationships will come regardless of the logistics or the study.

Leaders are to maintain a conscious balance for both content of the meetings as well as the relationships among the group. The most important opportunity available for leaders is prayer. Leaders must be prayerful people for their group members. If a prospective leader shuns from prayer, he has disqualified himself from leading small groups.

D) A=Availability

Peter has a gift of leadership. As the spokesman of the group, he stood up with the Eleven to address the  crowd. He made himself available to be used by God, on behalf of the group, to share with the hearers outside the group. Peter could have said that he is busy trying to unite his small group of new believers. He could have spent time to analyze what had happened when the Spirit fell on them. He could have avoided the ridicule of the people by just closing the door in the upper room. Instead, he made himself available to speak for the group, and for God.

In our modern world, "busy" is our common name. It is a cultural symbol of importance. It becomes a convenient excuse for anything we try to avoid. "Busy" is a catch-all reason not to go for any small group meetings. When one is unwilling, any reason is good enough, including busyness. If a prospective leader is not willing to make sacrifices, to make him or herself available for the greater cause, he/she has disqualified him/herself from leadership.

E) Leaders are Called

Leading small groups is not necessarily difficult. Taking up the mantle of leadership can be quite an easy feat. The challenge is to grow in leadership. Entering is easy. Sustaining is hard. Good leaders are growing leaders themselves. They need to. I take encouragement from the life of Peter. Having been a disciple of Jesus for three years, his number of years as a believer is perhaps about 4 years by Acts 2. Some Churches tend to choose only from people who have more than 10 years as a believer. No. I know of some who have been Christians for many years but remain spiritual babies. On the other hand, there are young Christians who are giants in faith.

My former professor at Regent College has this to say about leadership and calling.

"Inherent in God's call is something fierce and unmanageable. He summons, but he will not be summoned. He does the calling; we do the answering. . . . . . At times we try to tame the call by equating a staff position in a church or religious organization with the call itself. But the call always transcends the things we do to earn money, even if those things are done in the church. Our vocation in Christ is one thing; our occupations, quite another." (Darrell W. Johnson, "The Call to Ministry," in Leadership Handbook of Management and Administration, Baker Books, 2007, 43)
I thought about my early years as a Christian. In my heart, I asked about how best to glorify God (G). The opportunity to be trained as a leader was offered to me: (O). Inside my heart I was nervous but keen to take the step of faith. I made myself available (A). That began my growth as a leader.

What about you? Is God calling you to avail yourselves to be a leader? Are you willing to step up to serve? Are you willing to carve out time to pray for your group members? Are you prepared to give up personal comfort for the sake of community benefit? If the answer to any of these is yes, follow the Spirit's prompting.


THOUGHT: "We often say we have no priest, but that is not so. The fact is that we are all priests, or potential priests. In the same way, we may think we have no leaders, but that is not so either. We are all leaders, or potential leaders. Just as we are all required to be prepared to minister through the spoken word, we are all required to be prepared to receive a leading, or a prompting which may call us and others in directions we had not dreamt of." (Margaret Heathfield, a Quaker)

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