Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course 4, Lesson 1
Leading the Group as a Whole
The Most Essential Skill
Copyright 2001 Dick Wulf
Note: Whenever "group" or "team" is used, it can mean "group", "team", or "family".
Probably the biggest mistake made in small group leadership is not leading the group as a group. What passes for small group leadership these days is not really leading the group. It is leading individuals in a group setting. That actually decreases spiritual growth and the value of the group experience for the individual group members.
THE FIRST EXAMPLE
Consider this difference. There are two groups, Group A and Group Z. The same two problems exist in both groups. The first problem is that one member is very irregular in attendance. The second problem is that each group has a person who dominates the discussion. The leader of Group A believes he is leading the group, but he is not. The leader of Group Z is truly leading the group.
In Group A, the leader calls the member whose attendance is irregular, asks if there is a problem, gives advice, and encourages the person to become more regular in attendance. The person becomes perfect in attendance. The Group A leader also meets individually with the too-talkative person and explains that others are not getting enough time to talk and he needs the individual to talk less and maybe help out in asking others questions. The person stops talking some, but is still too dominant in the group discussion and process because the other members have not become more assertive.
In Group Z, the leader asks the group what it wants to do about the irregular attendance of the problem member. Group members discuss their reaction to the problem, decide that it is annoying and come to the conclusion that they need the person at most group meetings to get his input. Then the leader of Group Z asks the group what it is going to do about it. They decide to talk it over with the person the next time he comes to a meeting. And they do. And his attendance becomes perfect. By the time the group process is completed concerning this problem, the group has learned how to work as a unit to solve a problem, how to confront lovingly as a team, and that problems are the group's to solve. Members learn they are very capable as a group, as well as individually. Everyone becomes appropriately assertive.
In Group Z, the leader sees the dominance of the one group member during a meeting. He eventually asks the group if it is satisfied with how the group is going. The leader explains that it is their group and their success is in their own hands. Many group members are unhappy, a few are angry, and the domineering person is totally confused by the question. A silence follows that seems to last forever, even though it is only two minutes, while the group members get up the nerve to talk and figure out how to say in a loving way what is on each of their minds.
Then, finally, one of the group members speaks and says that she wishes she had more time to talk. Another mentions his frustration at not getting to speak very often. A few other comments are made. Then the over-talkative individual asks why they don't feel they can talk. There is another silence.
The group leader stays quiet, since there is no sign yet that the group will not be able to solve this group problem. Eventually an angry member blurts out that Jim (what we'll call him) talks too much. It is tense for a moment.
The group seems stuck, so after a minute of silence the group leader asks the group if others agree that Jim is talking too much. Another person adds that she does think that Jim is talking too much, but that he is not doing it out of malice. Jim explains he is talking out of discomfort at the silences between comments.
Tom brings up that he needs a silence of about 30 seconds to know that he is not interrupting. Linda says that she needs to formulate what she wants to say in her mind before she will start speaking; she is not good at spontaneous talking, and she feels foolish if she doesn't say things correctly. Jim, the over talkative member, says that he will try to not talk so much but that he just gets so restless when there is a silence. The others reassure him that they understand. Then a few members suggest ways he might deal with the situation, like doodling, taking notes, or acting as a scribe for the group by taking down prayer requests and getting them printed and distributed at each meeting.
The group process continues until the group is confident that enough understanding has taken place. They decide to go ahead and give the group another try to see if some people will talk more and the one person will talk less. If the over-talkative person's feelings were hurt or he felt threatened, the group reassured him of their love and acceptance and need for his contributions -- just not so many of them.
In Group Z, some of the benefits of this kind of group leadership are easy to see; others are more subtle. Clearly, after the group is through with this process (which was engineered by the leader) the group will have a great deal of confidence in its ability to solve problems. It will know that whenever any member brings a problem to the group, the group working together can make a good try at solving the problem. The group also greatly values the leader who is vital to seeing that the group does all that it can do to be successful. The group members are grateful that the leader let them take leadership and did not do anything that they could do for themselves. The group leader is quite impressed with the good job the group did and feels privileged to have had a part in helping the group discover its abilities and go on to victory.
There are also less obvious benefits. For example, the group learned that one of its members is quite critical of herself and is probably intimidated by any situation in her life that requires spontaneous communication. The group may want to help her over this inhibition so that she can be more successful in all areas of her life. The group also helped the over-talkative person realize that criticism is not necessarily rejection. And so on. These are significant things - powerful opportunities for ministry to one another - deeper love for one another. As such, many Scriptural commands and instructions have been obeyed. God is much pleased with the group, actually acting as a small church that lived the way He has requested.
Do you see the tremendous benefit of the group process that comes when the group leader leads the group as a whole?
But, unfortunately, I have to say that there is harm done in Group A where the leader did not lead the group, but the individuals in the group. The group might be thankful that he met with the over-talkative guy and brought the other member into regular attendance, but it will also unconsciously know that the leader did not think the group and its members capable of dealing with the situations. Here is the tragedy that occurs in our churches due to the present style of "group" leadership: confidence is undermined and dependency upon leaders and leadership is bred and proliferated. As a result the church is made weak by such a leadership style.
It is absolutely critical, therefore, that groups be led as groups. The most basic, first essential skill in leading small groups is leading the group as a group. Leading individuals in a group setting does not accomplish things - it destroys the power of the church.
THE SECOND EXAMPLE
Let me provide another example. Two groups are doing a Bible study and both are struggling with the same thing: "What does it mean to hope in the Lord together as in the promise of Isaiah 40:31?
"But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they hall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." (Emphasis mine to point out the plurality of this promise.)
The leader of Group A (the one leading individuals in a group setting) asks the question, "What does it mean to hope in the Lord together as in the promise of Isaiah 40:31?" A few people offer answers. The leader then asks a few of the silent members their views. Eventually the group leader asks them how they will keep their hope high. Because of our individualized western culture, and because the leader is talking to the individuals in the group rather than to the group as a whole, individual group members state how they will keep their hope high. Only a few get the picture and say that they will contact other group members in times of trial. The Bible study ends as scheduled.
In Group Z, the leader sees the group as a whole capable of really digging into the question of how to keep hope high together. He asks the group, "How will you keep each other's hope and the hope of the whole group high?" The group thinks, and only because the group just started a couple of months ago, the group is stumped.
The leader, still talking to the group and moving his head and eyes to every member, asks, "Think together what keeps hope high and how you each can have a part in hoping in the Lord. Ask each other questions, build on each other's observations, and be sure to get everyone's contributions." The discussion becomes deep and sharing becomes honest.
Josh states the time when his hope seems to disappear. The group, with this very concrete thing to deal with, begins to learn how it can help keep Josh's hope high. Various members tell how they have been delivered in similar situations. Others share applicable Bible passages. The clock says it's time to go, but the group has only just begun to implement, not just study, Isaiah 40:31.
The leader asks "Would you like to continue this next meeting and make sure that you know how to hope in the Lord together?" Everyone enthusiastically answers that they do, knowing that one of the powers of the faith is going to be available to them when the group is finished with Isaiah 40:31, no matter how long it takes. Everyone goes home thinking intensely about the issue of hoping together in the Lord because the process was not brought to a close before the meeting ended. The Word becomes living and vital, something to be grappled with as a group. Lives are radically changed through this group process.
Again, the contrast is striking. Group A studied the Bible while Group B was led as a group to learn and obey the Bible right during the group experience itself. I could go on for pages listing the advantages of Group Z's leader focusing on the group and its process rather than on individual members. I hope you can see that in Group Z the members did more than struggle with the Bible verse. They also struggled with things like bringing others into the task, understanding each other, depending upon each other to come up with something superior to individual thinking, and helping one another to be victorious. All of these extra things fulfill commands in Scripture for Christian relationships.
In Group A everyone was responsible for his or her own spiritual growth and spiritual survival without using the power of Christian community. The church was not built. Individuals might have been strengthened in their ability to hope in the Lord, but the church as represented by the group was not strengthened.
THE THIRD EXAMPLE
Here is a third example. Both Group A and Group Z have a very discouraged member who needs to be encouraged for the task of living with and reaching out to a troubled, unbelieving grown child. In each case the group member is fearful of alienating the son he loves dearly. ("Encouragement" is defined as simply placing courage into one another for the assignments of God. Click on "Biblical Relationships in the header and then on ChristiansTogether.org for such definitions.) In both groups the discouragement of the group member is noticed and dealt with right away.
In Group A, after the person tells of his discouragement and paralysis in dealing with his son, the group leader lets the process develop and a few group members share some advice. Then the group leader asks if anyone has anything else to add. Finally, the group prays for the person. Throughout, because of the individualized focus, the problem is dealt with as if the man's discouragement and his need to be encouraged are primarily his problem.
The leader of Group Z sees the problem differently. He sees the problem as belonging to the group primarily and only secondarily to the discouraged individual, at least at this moment. So the leader says, "Okay, group. Encourage our brother Joe. It is your job to pick him up and prepare him for this assignment God has laid on his heart." Then the leader backs off and lets the group spread its wings and fly. The leader watches carefully, analyzing the group's efforts and process, not just individual contributions. The leader helps out sparingly.
Mary gives a simplistic spiritual answer; she quotes a Scripture and leaves Joe, it seems, feeling guilty rather than empowered. Still the leader says nothing, waiting to see if the group will realize Mary's lack of empathy and go on to encourage and validate Joe. After a while it seems that the group did not pick up on what occurred. So the leader, talking to the group as a whole, gives work to the group by asking, "Does Joe appear encouraged by what you have been saying? If your group is going to be successful, you need to stay tuned in to the effect of what you are saying. You can look at Joe's body language and ask him if he is feeling encouraged or not."
When the group checks with Joe they find out that he is feeling guiltier than ever. The group does some reflection and concludes that not all problems can be dealt with merely by quoting Scripture. The group leader adds, "There is power in Christian community. The Bible says everywhere that God gives power through the Word, the Holy Spirit and the community of believers. But it seems that the group might want to back off for a while and discuss what really encourages people. Quoting a Scripture is surely part of the process of encouraging, but what else is necessary?" Again the leader removes himself from the process for the more difficult assignment of watching and analyzing the group's effectiveness and planning his next strategic comment.
The group members begin stating what encourages each of them. The leader notices that there is no synergism, no asking one another further questions to reach a deeper understanding of each member's way of thinking. The group leader knows that the group is still immature and that he or she needs to help. So the leader does a lot of silent thinking and then waits until the point would be obvious and says, "You are merely acting as a collection of individuals. Help one another ask questions and truly understand what goes on inside each of you when you are encouraged."
The group looks confused. So the leader makes a clearer statement, one he knew he should not make until he knew that the group did not yet understand the concept of working together to define what is effective in encouraging. "What I am referring to" continues the leader, "is that a healthy group uses its resources wisely. Whenever someone has made a comment on what encourages him or her, the group should see that each of its members uses his or her skill to analyze and get the most out of what was said. For example, Jill said that she is most encouraged by knowing others will stand by her as she goes out on a limb to do something for the Lord. You really don't know why that helps her or what she means by 'standing beside her'. So those of you good at asking questions should ask. Those of you good at clarifying what was said so everyone understands should clarify. Those of you good at bringing out the best in others should ask people their opinions, observations and how they understand what Jill is saying. Work together. Build on one another's talents and gifts. Be the church in action. By building on one another's contributions rather than just making your own individual contributions and thinking what you should say next, watch the group's process and think about what else needs to happen, who should do it, and who should ask that person to enter into the discussion."
This example could go on for a long time, since the group would be in the process of becoming experts on encouragement. Once they become skilled, think how much more will be done by the courageous people going out from their midst. The group will become obedient to the commands in Hebrews 10:24,25: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
Let me repeat: Do you see the tremendous benefit of the group process that comes when the group leader leads the group? It is absolutely critical, therefore, that groups are led as groups. The most basic, most essential skill in leading small groups is leading the group. Leading individuals in a group setting does not accomplish things - it destroys the power of the church.
WHAT RESULTS DO WE WANT?
What do we want in our churches - capable people? They are already capable by God's design and power. Do we want confident people? We can help them grow in confidence when they can see their own contributions in their small groups being used by God. When leaders help them struggle and shine by staying out of the action whenever possible, we will have a church full of confident people, each doing his or her own part. (Eph 4:16)
Do you want teams of people going out to accomplish more than individual believers can do on their own? Then relate to people as a group, not as individuals or a collection of individuals. Recognize the synergism possible as people work together, building upon one another's contributions. When two or more gather and you are present, point out the value of interdependence and synergy if someone does not understand. Ask another person to rephrase what was said. Bring people into the action. Help them see right in front of their eyes the power of God through His church in community.
THE CHURCH AND SMALL GROUP AS A LIVING ENTITY TO BE LED
The truth is that a group is a living and vital organism. If this were not true, the church could not be living and vital. "...you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Pet 2:5)
If the church is to be living and vital, that church must be led as a group. For example, sermon illustrations must give example after example of interaction among the believers in the pews that would flesh out the timeless truths of the Word of God preached that day. In no other way can church leadership overcome the individualism and isolation of our society. (Have you read out Recommendations to Pastors?)
If the church is two or more people meeting in Christ's name, then a small group also is the church, as well as the larger congregation. As such, it needs to be led as a group.
THE GROUP SEEKING THE KINGDOM TOGETHER
For example, consider the familiar Bible verse from Matthew 6:33: "But (instead of worrying about life) seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you." Here is what we are to do to be rewarded by God with the necessities of life and happiness. Modern day English hides the fact that this passage is addressed to a group - believers in Christ. In this instance, the English of a few centuries ago was clearer. The King James Version accurately represents the Greek plural pronoun when it reads, "But seek ye first...." (*** More about biblical plurality at the end of this lesson.)
Actually, it is quite silly to think that an isolated individual can seek a kingdom. Just the concept of kingdom brings to mind a society of people living together and doing things. Add a king, in our case, The King, and we think of subjects living the way the king has ordered and enjoying the benefits of citizenship. Seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness must be done together and a whole lot of joint activity is required.
In seeking the Kingdom of God in a small group setting, the individual has work to do when alone, the individual has responsibilities in the small group, and the group has its own work to do. If we stop, as we usually do, with the individual merely seeking the Kingdom in his or her private life, the individual misses the boat and God does not get what He asked for.
Privately the individual asks God in prayer to help him or her seek the Kingdom in his or her private life. This can only focus on asking for God's help to become ready for Kingdom living, such as having the right attitudes, knowing the Scriptures for another's benefit at a later time, etc. The individual seeks the Kingdom through his or her own Bible study and prayer. Spiritual growth occurs as the individual acquires the values and attitudes of the Kingdom, and in the things the individual adopts in his or her private prayer life, in thoughts, and in feelings. In this way, one individual citizen of Heaven seeks righteousness when isolated from other believers and honors the King of the Kingdom with his or her internal holiness, especially as expressed in prayer for the Kingdom and its citizens.
As a group member, the individual Christian asks God to help him or her seek the Kingdom and Christ's righteousness when with other believers. The individual seeks to behave like a citizen of Heaven within the actual Kingdom, especially in the small group expression of God's society. The individual occasionally helps other group members seek Kingdom behaviors, in and outside of the group. A group member does his or her part to bring the Kingdom into being by acting like a good citizen when with other believers.
But the group prays for help to obey as a group, that together they will embody the essence of the Kingdom as a small society of the citizens of Heaven right then and there, as well as when physically apart from one another. The small group goes about the actual business of the Kingdom. The group implements John 13:34,35 and sees that all of its members grow more and more into God-honoring citizens of Heaven. The group eliminates unrighteousness within its ranks, marches against the gates of Hell, praises God, and does all of the other Togethers of Scripture.
Members learn to work together, as does an orchestra, with each member doing his or her special part in the Kingdom. Individuals (spurred on by the group), as well as the group as a whole, seek the Kingdom of God together. They suggest courses of action, allow others to have significant parts in the life of the group, teach what they know about the Kingdom, and so forth.
The group gives to God the actual society of the Kingdom, the real thing to which the two kinds of individual obedience must lead. The small group is very beautiful to God. The small group gives to the Bridegroom His church.
LEADING A GROUP IS MUCH EASIER
This leadership of a group is actually simpler and easier than leading individuals. It is less burdensome on the leader. The group has greater abilities because of its expanded resources in many different personalities, its greater number of life experiences, and its corporate gifts of its members. If the leader does a good job of leading the group, the group members will be excellently and thoroughly led by the group itself.
Is there a place for the leader to contribute as an individual member? Yes, but only after all has been extracted from the group and its members. It is far better for the leader to be a member of another group, at least until the group has reached a certain high level of maturity. At that point, almost all leadership functions are done by the group itself. Only then will the group leader not need so much objectivity and be able to be a full member of the group.
THE GROUP LEADER DOES NOT THINK LIKE A GROUP MEMBER
Let's take a closer look at the different perspectives of a group leader and a group member.
The group members should have their primary focus on the group members and secondary focus on their own needs. The usual style of leadership focuses an individual's attention to himself or herself. In a way, this type of leadership is counter to the humility taught throughout the Scriptures, particularly in Phil 2:3. It is important for the group leader to help the group combat this type of seemingly harmless self-centeredness.
The group leader should have primary focus on the group and its functioning, noticing dysfunction that needs attention. The secondary focus is on the group members and whether or not they need the help of the group.
With respect to a need in the group for encouragement, the group member is thinking, "Which group members do I think can help to instill courage?" But the group leader should be thinking, "Which group members have experienced something that would be of encouragement in this instance. Is the group going to seek their contributions?" The group leader would also be thinking, "How can I help the group get those people involved in the process of encouragement?"
DID JESUS USE THIS METHODOLOGY?
Jesus discipled a group. You might think that he discipled individuals, and he certainly did. But he normally discipled the group of twelve. Count in Scripture how many times he talked to the whole group as opposed to how often he spoke to one individual disciple. If he equally discipled individuals, you would expect to find twelve times as many comments directed to individual disciples. However, I am quite sure that you will find that he spoke overwhelmingly to the whole group of his twelve disciples and individual conversations are almost absent. Today's concept of "my walk with God" is not as important as "our walk with God".
If it was the model Jesus used, then it is good enough for us. But is it what Jesus actually did?
A fundamental skill or technique in leading a group as a whole is to talk to the group. A second fundamental skill is to refrain from doing anything the group can do for itself. A third skill is to give the work to the whole group rather than to individual group members.
Look at the times when the multitudes were fed. You will find that Jesus only talked to the whole group of the disciples. ("The people are hungry. Get them something to eat.") Secondly, Jesus did nothing they could do. They could search for food, report inadequate supplies, pass out newly created food, and pick up the leftovers. Jesus only did what they could not do: create food. In fact, if he had wanted to, Jesus could have had red and white KFC boxes appear in front of each person from the 21st century. But that would have taken work away from the group he was trying to teach about compassion and being a servant.
I might add that a well-discipled group can do so many more things than individuals in a group acting as individuals. The skillful group with its members acting synergistically can help someone feel loved, accepted and wanted for the first time in his or her life. The skillful group can give the best gospel presentation. The skillful group can most clearly impress nonbelievers (John 13:35). In fact, the skillful group can probably do most everything better than one believer acting alone.
WHAT GIFT DO YOU WANT TO GIVE JESUS AS A GROUP LEADER?
As a small group leader, if you help a Christian individual seek the kingdom, you give God a small yet valuable gift. If you help the whole group seek the kingdom, you give the Lord of Heaven the much larger precious gift of a society that reflects His design and nature.
Must you choose? Can't the group leader help both the group and the individual seek the Kingdom? Not really. For it is the Kingdom society's responsibility to help its own individual citizens seek the Kingdom and its righteous ways. If the leader does it, the group will not, at least not at the start of a group's life. God wants the whole society to glorify Him. The society does it by doing the work of loving, serving and helping. The group leader does not want to rob the group of this joyful obedience nor of its heavenly rewards now and in eternity.
IF YOU ARE LEADING OR IN A GROUP AS A MEMBER, CONSIDER THESE QUESTIONSS
 Think together about things that your group or you as an individual have faced in the past that could have been aided by the group's involvement rather than merely individual advice. Tell times when you did not understand one another and when it would have been useful to have others paraphrase or explain. Identify any other times when the combined contributions of many different group members would have been more helpful.
 Imagine that your group is managing a booth at the county fair and giving out cold water to thirsty folks. Along comes a bored, tired and irritable fellow who takes a drink thankfully and then challenges you that all faiths lead to the same place, that there are many roads to heaven. (a) Identify the various things your group might want to accomplish with this lost soul. (b) Then identify what each group member has to contribute toward getting each goal accomplished. For example, identify who gives the clearest explanations, who is the most loving in service to keep his cup of water filled, who can best deal with his anger at religion, and so forth.
(3) Identify how the group and its members could bring out the best service from each group member. Try to put your finger on practical synergy where one group member's action brings out another group member's contribution that then leads to another member's involvement, and so on.
*** A NOTE ABOUT BIBLICAL PLURALITY
In the King James Version, the second person plural pronouns (and variants) in the Greek and Hebrew take on the form "you," "ye," "your," "yourselves," etc. Second person singular words in the Greek and Hebrew take on the form "thee," "thou," "thy,", "thyself," etc. If you are familiar with Greek or Hebrew you can check this out directly.
Contemporary English does have the word "yourself." That's because the language no longer makes a distinction between plural and singular second person pronouns. Whatever translation you favor, we recommend that you periodically consult with the KJV to see if a passage is addressed to the individual or to a group of individuals such as the church.
As one example, the book of Philippians has only ONE singular instance of the word "you." A modern English speaking reader of Philippians would typically read the book as if it is addressed to an individual. In fact, it is not; it is addressed to all the saints, just as it says in 1:1: "Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons. . ." This distinction between biblical passages addressed to individuals and passages addressed to groups of individuals is a distinction modern English readers routinely ignore. This can lead to a misunderstanding of the text in question.
Next, learn more about helping the group establish a significant purpose.
Copyright 2013 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA