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