Mentoring growth group leaders

Everyone needs encouragement. It’s pretty tough doing a job on your own without the support of others spurring you along. Growth group leaders are no different. They require training and resources, but they also depend on encouragement. In a church with many leaders, no one person can be relied upon to provide all the encouragement.

We trust it will come from a number of sources. God’s word is our primary source of inspiration. We look to the members of each group to not only support one another, but also their leaders. Co-leaders can meet and pray and share together about their group. Fellow leaders can catch up and support each other in their roles as leaders. A pastor can catch up with leaders here and there to enquire about how they’re travelling and suggest ways ahead. All this can happen quite naturally without any planning or specific structures being put into place. However, the truth is it usually doesn’t!

Our plan is for every growth group leader to be able to meet up with a mentor (or coach) to encourage them in their ministry. We will arrange a meeting once a term where all the leaders get together, but we are also depending on purposeful mentoring relationships being established. Mentors should aim to connect with the other leaders at least once a term, ideally face-to-face, to share together in different areas.

Sometimes we can get stuck when wondering what to talk about when we meet with others. How’re you doing? Good. How’s the group? Oh, it’s okay. What’ve you been studying? The same as everyone else! Need any help? Nah, I’ll be all right. Well, I’ll see you next time. Okay!

We can do a lot better! Let me suggest five areas that will help you focus your time when you meet together.

1. Passage

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

At the heart of all ministry is the word of God. God speaks and gives life. He cuts deeply within us to transform us into the likeness of his son Jesus. Our growth groups are focused upon the scriptures because we desire to see change in people’s lives. For the same reason, we want to shape our mentoring times by opening God’s word together. This isn’t the place for a detailed Bible study together, but we do want to hear from God each time we meet.

There are many different approaches we could take when looking at the Bible in our mentoring meetings. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Choose some verses that have stood out in your recent Bible studies and share what they have meant to you.
  • Choose one of the pastoral letters (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus), take a few verses at a time, and reflect together on what you learn about Christian leadership.
  • Read through one stanza of Psalm 119 each time you meet and share any new insights into God’s word.
  • Take a short New Testament book, such as Philippians or James, and read a few verses each time to encourage each other.

2. Personal

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity… Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim 4:12, 15-16)

“Mentors should take an interest in the lives and teaching of their leaders, but we can’t expect people to do what we’re not prepared to do. This means that mentors also need to be open about themselves.”

Leadership involves teaching in word and example. We’re called to walk the talk, or stumble the mumble, as I heard recently! Mentors should take an interest in the lives and teaching of their leaders, but we can’t expect people to do what we’re not prepared to do. This means that mentors also need to be open about themselves. Each mentor meeting should allow time to share together about ourselves. This might be a little awkward at first, but will become easier as our relationships grow.

It’s helpful not to be prescriptive about what you discuss together. Some weeks there might be a big issue that takes most of the time. Other weeks there may be very little to discuss. Here are a few topics and questions to get you going:

  • Get to know a little about each other’s lives—family, work, interests, etc.
  • Share together about how you became Christians.
  • Is there something you’ve been really encouraged with recently?
  • Is there something you’re finding hard?
  • How are you finding being a leader in the group?

3. Pastoral

Growth groups are about more than Bible study. They’re about the lives of the members of the group. It’s important that we recognize that everyone is different and that God is in the business of working in each person differently. This means we need to think specifically about individuals. Mentors can encourage their leaders to show an active interest in each member of the group. One way to do this is simply asking what they have observed.

Our greatest desire is for every member of our groups to know and love God, to place their trust firmly in Jesus, and to look forward to the hope of heaven. We want to spur the members of our groups on to the love and good works that God has prepared for them to do. This means a leader is rather like a Christian ‘coach’, urging the members of the team forward.

Mentors can help this to happen. We can discuss and pray about the people in our groups. As we do this, it’s important to be motivated by love. There is absolutely no excuse for gossip. We need to respect confidentiality. Many times we can talk productively without even needing to mention specific names or details.

Sometimes there will be people in our groups with very great needs. They could be very ill, going through a marriage break-up, besieged by depression, out of work, having a crisis of faith, or struggling with other serious matters. This may be beyond the capacity of the group or its leaders to deal with on their own. The mentor may be able to assist by linking the leaders with the wider support of the church, or other resources.

Two books that will assist you to think pastorally about the members of the group are Mission Minded by Peter Bolt, and The Trellis and the Vine by Tony Payne and Colin Marshall.

4. Practical

It takes skill and practice to lead a group well. While we don’t expect mentors to necessarily be trainers, we do want them to encourage their leaders to keep getting better at their ministry. There could even be times when a mentor and leader will undertake a training course or refresher together.

A browse through the contents pages of Leading Better Bible Studies by Rod and Karen Morris, or Growth Groups by Colin Marshall, will highlight a number of aspects of group life worth exploring together. And actually reading the chapters will give you plenty to discuss! I recommend that you do discuss the chapters of this book together with other leaders.

We’re looking to mentors to take the initiative in encouraging leaders to develop as leaders. Ask questions, be specific. For example:

  • What aspects of preparing or leading a Bible study do you find most difficult?
  • Why do some studies work better than others?
  • What do you think is stopping the group from opening up in prayer times?
  • How do you think social activities could help the group to click together?
  • What plans do you have for the term ahead?
  • Have you considered any ways that the group could serve the church together? What?

One area of practical consideration and long-term importance is equipping new leaders. We are keen to be apprenticing leaders within our groups by giving them opportunities to lead and work through issues of leadership. If we don’t do this, then we won’t grow. Mentors can take a role in encouraging the leaders in their task of developing new leaders:

  • Have they identified people who could be potential leaders? Who?
  • What are the leaders doing with their apprentices (e.g. preparing studies together, praying for members of the group, reflecting and planning together, following up members of the group one-to-one)?
  • Have they encouraged their apprentice to participate in a training course, read some helpful books, or come to a leaders meeting?

5. Prayer

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labour. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Cor 3:5-9)

Without God we can do nothing. We can’t make a person trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus for their salvation. We can’t fill a person with love for others. We can’t save a person from the judgement of God. We can’t guarantee their future for all eternity. But God can… and more! So we are to rely on him, call out to him, ask him to be actively working in our lives and in the members of our groups.

As mentors meet with their leaders, so we want them to pray. Together, humbly, asking God to be graciously at work. Allow the time to speak together with God, not as an afterthought, but as the most practical use of your time together. God loves to hear our prayers and he is more willing to bless us with answers than we are to ask him our questions.

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