Raising new leaders

For some years now, I’ve seen the benefit of starting and handing over small groups to new leaders, and I want to share something that has really helped me.

When Jesus called His disciples, His goal was not that they would all stay together for the long term. In His three years of ministry, one of Jesus’ goals was that He would leave His disciples so that they could do what He was doing, which included making more disciples and raising leaders.

Jesus’ intention was that the number of disciples would increase from the Twelve to fill the whole world. This is one of the radical things about Christian community: it doesn’t stay the same, it keeps growing and multiplying.

A primary role of a small group leader is to make more small group leaders. To do this, the original leader becomes less prominent in order to make room for new leaders. With this and any form of leadership development, we can use four stages to facilitate this process of change. I first heard this teaching from Mike Breen who believes that these stages can be discerned from Jesus’ ministry.

Stage 1: Leader does, potential new leader watches

The leader takes charge, but all the while realizes that they are modelling good practice that others will want to copy. This is what Jesus did. This is the ‘Come, follow me’ stage. It’s good to have the end goal in mind when you start out.

Stage 2: Leader does, potential new leader helps

The leader isn’t supposed to do everything. It is good practice to get others helping. In a similar way, Jesus didn’t just preach the gospel and heal people; He had the disciples doing it too!

Stage 3: Potential new leader does, leader helps

At this stage, the new leader is doing more, and the original leader, although present and active, is starting to take a back seat. Nearing the end of His ministry, Jesus spoke of His leaving, much to the confusion of His disciples. The end is in sight.

Stage 4: New leader does, original leader watches

Jesus completed His mission and left His disciples, but He sent the Holy Spirit to be with them. In order for new leaders to be raised up, the original leader needs to make room. This either means staying in the group but resisting the urge to take over (not recommended), or it means leaving to start a new group (recommended). Both ways can be difficult, but if the call of a leader is to raise new leaders then we need to be willing to unsettle ourselves and the group. This process doesn’t mean severing all ties; ‘watching’ means staying in touch to offer advice and encouragement if needed. In this way, new leaders and new groups are formed.

Stage 1: I do, you watch

Stage 2: I do, you help

Stage 3: you do, I help

Stage 4: you do, I watch

About Dan Greenfield

Dan is a senior lay pastor at Christ Church, Winchester. He and his wife, Jude, worked with St. Thomas’ Church, Sheffield, before moving to Winchester. They have been leading and multiplying small and mid-sized groups for about ten years.

6 thoughts on “Raising new leaders

  1. Peter says:

    This appears to be based on a perfect situation, good leader and some potential leaders, but how can this be applied when the small group is elderly or those potential leaders are already involved in other ministries and see the group as a place to recover? Surely the reality is far more complex that this simple formula.


  2. admin says:

    Dan replies:

    Hi Peter, Thank you for your comments. I think you raise some really valid points.

    The four stages, as I’ve outlined them, do paint a picture of an ideal and, as you’ve rightly pointed out, life is less straight-forward! I like to see these stages as simply a guiding principle and not as a hard and fast rule that limits the life of a group or demands unrealistic expectations.

    I believe this principle can work with all kinds of groups, but it is dependent on the leaders and their intention for the group. (In order for this to work the group needs to have leaders.) If the purpose of the group is primarily pastoral care or friendship or something similar then that’s great. (Of course, pastoral care and friendship should be key elements of any small group!) For some groups, raising leaders and starting new groups will also be a high priority, and so I hope these four stages can offer a road map of how a group can get there.

    One final note: the timing of raising leaders and handing over a group can vary considerably. I think the shortest I’ve experienced the transition is less than a year, the longest two years.

    As long as the intention is there under God’s guidance, then I believe the group can get there – if that’s the intention of the leaders.

    I hope this helps. My reply to June might also be helpful for you.


  3. June says:

    How do you spot potential leaders ? Half our group take sessions from time to time, but one is not solidly behind the church, another has weird ideas about same sex marriage and the;place of Israel in Christian thinking, one is busy out of her mind and so on….standard question:ask God, but I am drawing a blank here.

  4. admin says:

    Dan replies:

    Hi June, Thank you for your comment. In answer to your question, how to recognise potential leaders, I would say try out the four stages in the article.

    Firstly, pray that God would highlight someone in the group to you. If He doesn’t, then perhaps it’s not the right time, but I would always be on the lookout for a potential leader. I think that if people keep joining your group then that will increase the likelihood of finding new leaders.

    Secondly, if you do feel there’s someone and they’ve observed how you lead (ie, they haven’t just joined the group) then ask them to lead alongside you from time to time. After a while, if they are filling you with increasing confidence, you can afford to hand over more responsibility.

    Only do what you’re comfortable doing. If you’re unhappy with giving responsibility to someone whose views could be unhelpful for the group, then don’t.

    In short, raising leaders is about raising people like us: people who can lead like us, love like us, and who follow Jesus like us.

    I wish you all the best with your group!


  5. Aleksandr says:

    / Thanks for the information. It is very heulpfl!I live in Jacksonville, Florida & have been in ministry over 40 yrs. God willing, I will be startinga new Church here in the near future. Please pray for the leading of the Holy Spirit.Any advice would be greatly appreciated!In His Service,David N. Carwile

  6. Jo Pamphilon says:

    We are looking to disciple new Small Group Leaders in our church which has a membershi of 400:

    The current SGL of the person/people to be discipled oversees this within the SG.
    The disciple would make a commitment for six months leading the SG once a month (out of two meetings).
    The new SGL would step out to lead a new SG, and not to take over the current SG as leader. I had not thought of your idea where the new SGL takes over the current SG, with the current Leader stepping out.
    We are looking to have guidelines to hand to current SGL for discipling potential people.
    Can you give me any pointers on the content of a course, eg one you know of which is already set up and we can adapt, please?

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