A friend who was in charge of our men’s ministry once said, “Some of these guys really don’t want me coaching them; they don’t want my help!”
“That’s all right,” I said, “If all these guys are living spiritually healthy lives, you can take it easy.”
“But some aren’t thriving spiritually,” he said. “They need encouragement.”
A coach’s primary goal is to help leaders become fully mature in Christ. Colossians 1:28 says, “We are to proclaim him, admonishing every man and woman, and teaching every man with all wisdom that we may present every man or woman complete in Christ.” Jesus desires that we grow deeper in our walk with him so we’re prepared for the mission to which God has called us.
By mentoring small group leaders Shaping Shepherds and Sheeps and their groups, we participate in the process of presenting every man and woman complete in Christ. This happens by helping them cultivate their spiritual health—even when it’s an uphill battle.
The acronym MENTOR provides steps to help you guide your small group leaders to spiritual maturity.
Motivate them to find a spiritual partner. You might think you already are their spiritual partner, but realistically, you can’t be every leader’s partner. One of the greatest gifts you can give your leaders is another person who will help them move to the next step in their spiritual journey, including listening, encouraging, fellowshipping, and exhorting.
Gently remind your leaders that if they’re going to lead in the church, they must grow in their faith. Then simply ask them who they would like to help them grow–this shifts the burden from you to them. You might periodically connect with the partners, but the bottom line is once they’re connected, transformation follows.
Since it’s often difficult to ask someone to be a partner, encourage them through the process and celebrate with them when they finally pair up. As soon as one leader is paired up, other leaders will be encouraged to pair up as well.
Encourage them to review the health assessment regularly. To help them identify the next step in their spiritual journey, guide them through a health assessment. These tools ask pointed questions about your spiritual journey and give guidelines for setting and achieving goals. Using a health assessment is a way of taking stock—understanding the areas in which you are strong, as well as the areas in which you need to grow. Don’t be afraid to refer to the health assessment when meeting with your leaders. Ask them, “Remember when we walked through that health assessment? How are you doing in your weak areas?” or “How can I pray for your spiritual growth?”
You also might consider visiting your leaders’ small groups and administering the health assessment to the entire group. This gives you the chance to see how the group is doing and ask the group where they want to grow. Groups usually thrive in fellowship and discipleship, but struggle when it comes to evangelism and serving. A health assessment builds group ownership as well as continuity and growth. Later, you can discuss the group’s goals with your leader and help determine the next steps to achieve these goals.
Follow-up visits—at least every other month—help groups stay focused on spiritual maturity. When you visit, come early and pray with the leader, affirm the group, check in on their goals, and ask how you can pray for the group. Afterwards, debrief with the leader and express your gratitude for their service.
Never forsake gathering together. If the disciples never gathered in the upper room or pulled away from the crowds with Christ, where would the church be? In the same way, you need to get away with your leaders and study God’s Word, because faith comes by hearing the Word of God.
Setting a time in which all leaders can meet together is often difficult, but try gathering in a home once a month. When you meet, make sure you have fun together. They’ll look forward to regular gatherings if you laugh together, pray together, and “fill their cup” so they can leave recharged and energized. They will take that energy back to their groups.
Don’t cancel a gathering if only three or five can come. Those that make it will talk about its positive effect and inspire others to join in next time. You can also send an e-mail to those who weren’t there to tell them you missed them and invite them to the next meeting.
Consider meeting around key events on the small group calendar: before new small group curriculum is launched and after a small group session has ended. At these meetings, celebrate with them, show your gratitude, and talk about the strong and weak aspects of their group. Always end the evening by praying for each other.
Tell them what you sense God wants them to hear. When you’re talking on the phone, typing a simple e-mail, or gathered in a huddle, make sure you speak the truth to them—both challenges and blessings. It’s important that you love them as you lead them.
Express your gratitude and tell them what you sense God wants them to hear–perhaps by reading or writing a passage of Scripture. You may sense a special call for their life that they haven’t sensed. Maybe they need to be reminded of their unique gifts that equip them to lead their groups. You may recognize a gift they haven’t yet recognized–pointing it out boosts their confidence and gives them vision. Help them redirect their eyes from the day-to-day tasks to what God might have planned for them.
One-on-ones are vital. Most leaders receive little affirmation, though they’re a vital part of your church’s small group ministry. You need to spend time loving, honoring, and listening to them—this gives them a sense of purpose. When they hear you believe in them, they’re reenergized to do their job well.
One-on-ones don’t have to happen weekly, or even monthly; however, you should strive to meet every four to six weeks. Don’t worry about meeting formally. There was a time in my life when I didn’t have time to play basketball, so I put a basketball hoop up and invited leaders over to play. One time I took a road trip and brought a leader along with me. Recently, I received an e-mail from him that shared how touched he was by my friendship; he similarly touched my life. Making a connection with your leaders is second to a big event.
Release them to multiply their lives. Part of coming together is also going back out. We don’t come together for the sake of coming together. We come together so that we can go back out and multiply our lives. This means that I’m not just building into the lives of these leaders and they’re not just building into the lives of their members. We are sending them out to multiply.
A woman named Mary exemplifies this. She discipled many women: both new and mature believers. Her greatest joy was sending them out after years of mentoring. One evening a group of 1,500 believers gathered to honor Mary. I asked, “Who in this room has been mentored by Mary?” About 40 women stood up. Then I said, “Now look around the room. How many of you have been impacted by the spiritual lives of the women who are standing?” About another 150 people stood up. I said, “Look again. If you see a woman or man who has radically changed your life, I’d like you to stand.” About another 200 people stood up.
Don’t you want to have that kind of impact?
Mentoring is essential to multiplication. It’s not just about studying the Bible and spiritual formation–it requires that you dream a future for your leaders. While releasing them is difficult, it’s important to challenge them to be courageous enough to break apart—perhaps in pairs—for six weeks. Have them invite neighbors and friends to study. Once the season is over, a new leader will have been created from this group and members can go back to their old groups.