Relationship vs role
by Trevor Withers
One of the keys to supporting small group leaders is developing a coaching and supportive relationship, this comes out of having the role of being a coach for them but that is not the overriding driver. You need to be in this as a friend and confidant not just because you have signed up to take on the role. With this in mind here are a few areas to look at as you meet up, I can work with three things in my head so I tend to work around just three areas to keep it simple.
The first is, how are they doing in the whole of life? So asking about work and family time commitments etc and their general well-being as you would with any good friendship. This starts you off on the right foot as far as putting relationship above role is concerned. Working in this way values the person you are meeting with as a whole person rather than just as a volunteer in a role. For me this sits comfortably with the New Testament’s emphasis on us being in relationships that are described in terms of family, using the language of Brother and Sister.
Secondly, it is good to talk about spiritual life and ask how they are connecting with God. It is vital that those who are leading our small groups have a dynamic and living relationship with Jesus. This is not to say that everything has to be sorted in this respect as we all have seasons in our lives where our relationship with God is not as buoyant as we would like it to be. A pattern of personal prayer and Bible study should be part of a small group leader’s diet to enable them to lead out of a place of connection with God. This will vary in style and frequency with each person but is an area that is often not talked about and kept private, so to initiate conversations around it in a supportive way is essential. Using open questions is helpful in this area, so “how would you describe your relationship with God at the moment” may be a good starter. As with any relationship it is imperative that we listen actively and give time to allow them to answer as fully as possible.
Thirdly, we need to focus on the group they are leading. We can do this in a number of ways. Firstly, in general about how the group is working in terms of personalities and any issues that may arise from group dynamics. Also, how individuals are developing in themselves and anything of concern to the leader about specific situations that have arisen (we will talk more about this in a later section). Another area we will want to explore is areas where their leadership might be developed. This can be ascertained through gentle questioning around areas that are working well and those that are perhaps a bit of a struggle. For instance, some small group leaders find it challenging to give parts of the meeting away to group members and need to be encouraged to take risks in this area and not hold on to their leadership too tightly. This may come to light as they describe that they are overwhelmed with making everything happen and preparing the meeting takes so much of their time. Some leaders struggle with the organisational side of the group and getting to grips with the details of who is going to do what when. Many groups have one of the members act as an organiser which is their strength and enables them to make a contribution to the group out of their gifting.
This highlights another area that it is worth mentioning at this point, which is that having a core group within each small group is often helpful. This is simply two or three of the group who are on page with you and can be relied on to help make it work. Identifying these individuals and helping the leaders to work with them in an informal way really helps to share the leadership.
A vital part of the role of a coach is to provide support for the leaders of the group. This can come in different ways at different times across the lifespan of the group.
At the beginning, as the group leadership is finding its way and the group is settling in and getting to know one another it is important to help those leading to feel confident in what they have undertaken and to assure them that you are available to chat and pray if necessary.
As the group moves on things settle in a bit and a rhythm and pattern is established for the group, people start to get to know each other. There is a need to start asking slightly more in depth questions and learning to trust each other. This takes the group forward and the group leadership needs to sense that this need to happen and step out and indeed take a lead with this. This can make them feel quite vulnerable and can be a bit unsettling for the group. In this space it is good to spend time alongside the leaders encouraging them to stay in the reality of this and not settle for surface relationships but continue to build the community of the group by going deeper in the relationships.
Another dimension of this shift to more reality in the group is sometimes a testing of the leadership, challenges are brought by some of the members to see if the leadership is really up to the job! This quite naturally unsettles the leaders and they need support and encouragement through this. This is particularly true where a new way of running the group is being tried, or there is an expectancy that this group will have different outcomes or be run out of different values to previous groups. Explanation here is really helpful as understanding that this sort of thing is part of the development of group life depersonalises it to a degree. All this means spending time with the leaders through the process.
Our booklet Walking together has more detailed discussions around how we can support each other and brings some practical tools to help us.