Signs are Like Symptoms…
Have you ever traveled a route with lots of stop signs or signals? As a result, the journey felt slower because these signals led you to pause, pay attention to your surroundings, and then take a course of action based on what you noticed. This is because signs and signals give us the time and space to be attentive to where we need to go, and protect us from feeling confused, directionless, or blindsided by reactions we didn’t see coming. Do you see where I’m going with this?
In the same way, leading a small group can be fun and rewarding, but it’s not too challenging for it to lose its spark. Some small group leaders have found ways to sustain their drive to serve. Still, many of us have had that morning where we wake up with faded or jaded enthusiasm — feeling drained, without the energy to pour into our people.
What happened? How did we get here? And how can we get that motivation back?
It’s Easier to Know the Signs When You Know Your Style
There are eight leadership styles, specifically for small group leaders. The benefits of understanding your unique leadership style are endless. Your style helps you see where you’re naturally strongest, and where you’re prone to the enemy’s strategies. This is where you learn to look for the signs and signals.
In Ephesians 5:15-17 (MSG), it says:
“So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.”Ephesians 5:15-17
In context, this verse is a call to all those who follow Jesus Christ and are surrendered to living in the power of His Spirit. It emphasizes our personal responsibility to be attentive to our actions.
He created each of us uniquely. So, we’re all going to have our own unique encounters with different signs and signals throughout our lives God uses to point us back to Him. By using free resources like our Small Group Leadership Style Quiz, you can couple this with His Word to better understand how God made you. In summary, as you learn more about how you’ve uniquely been made, the more quickly you will be able to identify the signals you’re most likely to see on your route.
Even though God in His Sovereignty can use a variety of events to hedge us in and keep our hearts close to His (Hosea 2:6-7), here are the top three healthy and unhealthy signs you can look for as a small group leader. Within each major sign, you’ll find smaller emotional or social signals to look for as you go. We also touch on the leadership styles you can learn from, in both the good and lessons learned.
3 Signs of Unhealthy Small Group Leadership
1. Answering every question you ask.
Everyone wants to be known as smart and competent. As a small group leader, it’s okay to not know every answer. Your people value (and trust) your honesty and humility more than your knowledge. Silence is also okay in a small group; it usually means people are thinking.
Coaches, Professors and Detailers are gifted with the desire to teach step-by-step how people can draw closer to God. This normally comes from a place of deep empathy — you want to pass on lessons you’ve learned so they don’t have to learn ‘the hard way.’ But, the best thing you can gift them is the opportunity to see God at work in their lives for themselves. Above all, you can plant the seed, let others nurture it, and trust God to do the growing (1 Corinthians 3:6). Transformers and Presences can help remind you to balance out your teaching with your listening. Here are some signals they might point out:
- Feeling uncomfortable in silence — learning when to clarify and when they need to process their thoughts takes time. Keep practicing.
- The itch to make sure each question is answered correctly — wait and see if there’s a question coming later that will answer all of the above.
2. Poor use of humor.
To clarify, our God is the Creator of all things good. He invented laughter! However, too often humor is destructive and a small group can be a hotbed for offending people; trust me! For example, my freshman year I had some disastrous moments as I would let my sarcasm run rampant at other people’s expense. As a result, my small group leader pulled me aside one night after we finished. He kindly told me how quickly I can tear someone down. As a leader, we cannot avoid these hard conversations or your small group will not feel like the safe, inviting space you’re working to craft.
Above all, we all want to create an inviting atmosphere, where your people walk away feeling like as a leader you’re not so serious, intimidating or unrelatable. But underneath this desire to be accepted, insecurity could lead you to poor use of humor.
God’s Word says,
“Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!””
Ouch; who knew words could hurt so badly, even if they came from good intentions? Whatever God created, the enemy has a counterfeit for. Likewise, leadership styles God gifted with the ability to make people feel welcome and inviting can be prone in fear to use poor humor instead of trusting in the strength God gave them. This includes styles like Challengers, Coaches, and Advocates. No matter your style, here are some signals you can look out for:
- Guarded reactions from your group — the conversation rarely seems to go deep, potentially for fear of being made fun of or not taken seriously.
- A lack of courage — you respond in sarcasm or a joke to keep things lighthearted. Don’t be afraid to handle the hurting, hopeless or heavy questions.
3. Not being transparent and humble.
It is common to believe a leader always has to have it together. Not true.
Those I respect most are the ones who are honest and real with how they are doing. Transparency can be very disarming and create a group full of trust.
If you’re a Presence, your quiet leadership demonstrates great listening skills, but if you refrain from sharing personal experience, your group might struggle to feel like you empathize with them. On the other hand, Coaches, Professors and Advocates are quick to share personal experiences, being good personalities to learn from. Here are some signals to show you how you can grow in this area:
- You ask for others’ prayer requests and never share your own — put the needs of your group first, but don’t be afraid to share how they can be praying for you as well
- Share all or nothing — wisdom is using the right words, for the right time, with the right people, in the right way. You can share without giving every detail and still be authentic.
3 Signs of Healthy Small Group Leadership
Let’s end on a high note, shall we?
1. Prioritized preparation.
It is easy to skip this important ingredient of leading. But the truth is, we tend to operate out of one of three areas: persuasions, opinions and convictions. Without preparation, we will always surrender to our persuasions and opinions. You might have read the passage you’re going to teach on, but did you prepare to help guide the conversation, and in turn guide people’s understanding of Christ and His character (James 3)?
For instance, if you’re a Challenger or Mobilizer, you might have found success in the past from winging it. But if you continue down this path, watch out for a scattered mind, a lack of vision for your group, or feelings of shallow interaction with your members.
To better understand preparation, look to a Professor or Detailer. They can show you quick and easy ways to prepare for conversation in advance. The healthy signals of preparation will feel like:
- Curiosity — for God’s Word and His people.
- Empathy — a deepening compassion to serve people’s specific needs.
- Motivated — with a goal to work towards and the focus to build the path step by step.
2. Connecting with your group personally during the week.
Having a Coke together or sending a text or two throughout the week is a great way to communicate your care. You are more than just a small group who studies together. You’re a representation of God’s Church, an extension of His greater body. Together, you each fulfill a significant role to serve others and fulfill His greater story.
Advocates, Coaches, Mobilizers and Transformers are great people to learn from when it comes to prioritizing one-to-one connections. These styles of leadership thrive on building up people individually while building up the group. When you’re headed toward a healthy connection, no matter your leadership style, you will see:
- Openness — increased courage to know and be known by others.
- Authenticity — it won’t feel as awkward in the opening moments of meeting together.
- Increased prayer — you’ll find yourself, and your small group, desiring to pray more for one another.
3. Natural reaction to pray.
This overflows around the second healthy sign small group leaders should look for. It sounds obvious, but this is so important as the Lord honors our faithfulness in wanting to see each person grow. Ask your people what you can pray for, and empower different group members to pray over each other. Not only will it inspire deeper trust within your group, but it will also deepen their faith as they look back and remind each other how God answered their prayers!
Transformers and Presences thrive here. One of their most motivating desires is to see people grow in dependence on Jesus. It’s not that the other styles don’t desire to see their people depend on God. Instead, the difference is in the method. Transformers and Presences use self-discovery to help people arrive at convictions for themselves. This method by nature is highly dependent on prayer. Healthy signs when your natural reaction is prayer feels like:
- Patience — struggling less to be reactive in surprising scenarios.
- Peace — a deepened trust in the Lord’s ability to provide.
- Gentleness — you’re more sensitive to the needs of the group in conversation.
Other styles like Professors and Advocates use teaching or coaching models to lead people toward dependence on God. They could learn from the Transformers and Advocates to also pray for people and trust God for the change. As much as these styles want to teach or solve the problem themselves, it’s better to practice patience, perseverance and faith to trust the Holy Spirit to do what only He can.
As leaders, it’s easier to give more attention to your people than your personal relationship with Jesus. But think about this: who are they watching to learn about how to grow their walk with God, practically every day? It’s you.
The best thing you can do for your group is pour into your personal relationship with Christ, heeding the signs and signals He sends your way to keep your heart on the healthy route.
And don’t worry. As we submit to where we need to grow and get healthy, we’ll see the Holy Spirit handling the consequences and using our testimony to lead others to grow healthier in their relationship with Jesus and each other as well.