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What A Small Group Leader Is Not

At the Small Group Dynamics web site, Sam O'Neil wrote this brief article that he was concerned he might take some heat for. What do you think?

As part of a download I'm working on called "Leading a Life-Changing Bible Study," I'm writing up an article on the topic of what it means to be a small-group leader. And for part of that article I try to define what a small-group leader is not.

Here's the list I came up with. A small-group leader is not:

* A teacher. We all understand that small-group leaders should not be lecturers who monopolize the group's time by spewing out facts and opinions. But I use the word teacher here intentionally in order to highlight an important misconception: many group leaders believe that the focus of their group's study time should be the transfer of information. They feel that a study is successful if their group members have learned something. But that is not the case, as we will see later in the article.

* Just another group member. This is the opposite of the "group leader as professor" approach, but it's just as harmful. Many churches like to teach that their group leaders are no different than group members because they want to communicate that group members are just as important and valuable as group leaders—which is true. But being equal in terms of worth and value does not mean that people have to adopt the same roles and functions. The reality is that a small group with no leader will rarely move forward.

* A host. This has become a popular re-definition of what it means to be a small-group leader in recent years, primarily due to the influence of video curriculum. The idea is that a person or couple can host a small group in their home, pop in a DVD, and let a "professional" handle the task of leading the group into meaningful experiences with truth. But there is one major flaw inherent in this method of "leading" a small group: a DVD cannot respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit. What happens when a group members is convicted of sin during the discussion and begins weeping? Who calls the group to prayer when group members confess to being in danger of losing their house or their marriage? These situations require a leader who can take control and help the group follow the Spirit.

* A facilitator. Many churches want their group leaders to think of themselves as facilitators, rather than leaders. This is done to combat the "small-group leader as professor" problem referred to earlier, but it creates several problems of its own. Just as viewing group leaders primarily as teachers elevates learning over transformation, viewing them as facilitators elevates discussion over transformation. A study session is deemed successful if the group had a good conversation and a high level of participation, rather than basing the criteria for success on interaction with the Holy Spirit and seeing lives changed.

Obviously, I'm not saying that small-group leaders should not demonstrate these qualities. Quite the opposite—group leaders should be able to facilitate discussion, host a gathering, and teach when necessary. But I think that churches go wrong when they make any of these skills the primary focus of a group leader's role.

What do you think? Am I wrong about any of these? Can you think of other misconceptions when it comes to the primary role and focus of small-group leaders?


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