Theological Support for Small Group Leadership

Being a leader in the Kingdom of God is different than any other leadership position you will ever encounter.  It is often said that the Kingdom of God is an “upside-down” reality.  Everything is different in the Kingdom of God. This is true of leadership as well.  Our natural tendency is to think of leaders as powerful, forceful, and impressive.  Yet, Christian leaders are called to be weak, meek, and humble.  

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-11).

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2).

The most important aspect of leadership is your own personal relationship with God. Your intimacy with God will fuel your leadership. This intimacy is centered around prayer and personal study of the Word.  Never allow your leadership responsibilities to negatively affect your own personal walk with the Lord. It is only by our constant dependence on Him that we will be able to serve those God has called us to cheerfully and lovingly. 

Prayer

Prayer must be the foundation of your service to the Kingdom of God. Your union in Christ and your communion with him are vital in your ability to serve without burn-out.  

Spend time meditating on being hidden in him and on your union with him. Savor the sweet communion he gives when you go to him in prayer. Never sacrifice your personal time with Jesus for any leadership duty. Prayer is the fuel that runs the machine of your life with Christ, your service to him, and to his church.  In the same way, our study of the Bible is essential to our ability to serve. 

To have the love of Jesus manifested in your life, you must love God by knowing and obeying his commands. How can you know what his commands are? By studying his word. Communion with God in the Scriptures is the anchor of our souls. It will keep us standing on the Rock. Trust God with the time you spend in his Word. Your time spent is communion with him and not a duty to fulfill. 

HumilitySee Philippians 2:4-8

Effective leaders in the Kingdom of God are called to have the same humility and attitude of a servant just as Jesus Christ.  

Jesus has called each of us to deny ourselves and take up our cross. When you follow Jesus, your life is no longer yours. You have given your life to Christ. Just as Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a servant, we are to do the same for the church. As you pray for and minister to your small group, you are looking to their interest instead of your own. We are each to have this mind as we serve in leadership. This humility will be conspicuous in all the relationships in our life. Our relationship with our spouse, children, and family should reflect this principle. Love for God and for others is our motivation. We are called to continually look to the interests of those we are serving in both our families as well as the church. Ask Jesus for the grace to serve others with humility. Trust him to change and sanctify you as you depend on him for the ability to humble yourself in your service and seek the good of others.

Spiritual Giftings

John Calvin wrote, “Scripture urges and warns us that whatever favors we may have obtained from the Lord, we have received them as a trust on condition that they should be applied to the common benefit of the church.” And “Whatever ability a faithful Christian may possess, he ought to possess it for his fellow believers, and he ought to make his own interest subservient to the well-being of the church in all sincerity.”[1]

God has given you specific spiritual gifts that he wants to use for the furtherance of his Kingdom.  This ministry is the perfect opportunity to practice and develop those gifts. Your love of and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ will flow through your gifts. You may be surprised when discipleship and mentoring of your group continues outside of your weekly time together. Many times, this is where genuine ministry happens. The real-life circumstances that we find ourselves in each day are opportunities to apply the principles and promises being learned from Scripture. Be open to every opportunity the Holy Spirit gives you to teach and encourage those around you. 

We must continually be thinking of ourselves “with sober judgement” (Romans 12:1-9), so that we will not be proud, but instead will experience the faith God has given us to use our spiritual gifts. 

Faith

We are justified by faith. When we step out in ministry to others, our service must come from a place of faith as well. Faith is different from self-confidence. Instead of trusting in yourself, it is looking to God to fulfill his promises.  You are moving in obedience to God, believing he will be the power behind you. As referred to above, Paul says using our gifts effectively requires humility and faith. The two must go hand in hand.  We see in the body of Christ that we are all different, we have distinct gifts and callings, and we each serve according to the grace and faith God has given us.

There is a moment in each of our callings where we must step out, not knowing what is coming.  Much like Peter stepping out of the boat (Matthew 14:28-33), there will be a time you must actually get out of the boat of your own comfort, and trust God to help you walk on the water of ministry.  You must take the risk of using your spiritual gifts and trust God to do the work. You know that he has called you to something that is impossible for you in your own strength to accomplish.  But we step out of the boat, believing in faith that it is God who will do the real work in these women’s lives.  

It is God who gives us the mustard seed of faith (Luke 17:6, Matthew 13:31-32) and that seed is crucial to serve in ministry.  Guard the mustard seed he has given you. Meditate on the fact that it is Christ in you who has the strength and ability to minister to the women. Nurture your seed of faith with the water and sunlight of the word and prayer. The God who has called you will continue to give you the faith to carry out his will. Rely on Him as you prepare, teach, and serve. 

Trusting God when Faced with Challenges

He who called you is faithful to equip you

Sometimes when we are serving the church as well as our families, we can begin to feel overwhelmed.  Do not allow your leadership in Bible study to detract from the calling you have at home.  God will provide for you in all that he has called you. Be conscientious to not over-prepare for Bible study, as this may strain and overload you unnecessarily.  We each have multiple responsibilities in life. Your family/personal relationships will interrupt you as you serve the women, and your shepherding of the women may interrupt time usually spent with family and friends. Trust God with these challenges, remembering that he who called you is faithful to equip you to serve him.

He has called you to something impossible to accomplish in your own strength

Ask Jesus for the grace to serve with his strength instead of your own.  He wants to grow your dependence on him through these trials. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). As believers in this fallen world, we should expect suffering.  It is through suffering that we experience the grace and mercy of God. It is through suffering that we experience our fragility and his unending strength. And it is through suffering that our eyes are lifted above this fallen, sinful world and we remember that “we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13: 14). 

Jesus himself “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb.5:8), and he is able to understand and sympathize with our weaknesses. Let’s not be anxious about what is happening in our lives because when we “draw near to the throne of grace” we will receive all we could ever need from him who loves us (Heb. 4:15-16). 

Moral Integrity

Moral integrity, or holiness, is also a key component in leadership. Our “chief end” is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”[2] This means every activity we participate in is meant to glorify God. Whether we are studying the Bible or washing dishes, we are meant to do it for the glory of God (Colossians 3:17). In every situation we find ourselves, we must ask this question: What can I do in this situation to bring the most glory to God?[3] Bringing glory to God is our moral compass. Our morality is growing in holiness before God and man.  This holiness is not only external but is an outgrowth of the inner work the Holy Spirit is doing in us. Holiness is a gift from Christ. “Because the Father has reconciled us to himself in Christ, therefore he commands us to be conformed to Christ as to our pattern.”[4] 

Cultivate inner growth by reflecting daily on your union with Christ, the equipping by the Holy Spirit, and the sovereign grace and love of the Father. As you continue growing in your sanctification, share your victories and your struggles with your leadership team. Encourage others as you are encouraged by the Word, and by your own growth (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  Don’t forget, as leaders our moral choices not only affect us but also those whom we serve in leadership, our family, our church family, and our community. 

RepentanceSee 1 John 1:5-10

One crucial safeguard of your moral integrity is to, as attributed to the Puritans, “Keep your accounts short with God and men.” This means don’t allow days and weeks go by without repenting for known sin. We should repent often and repent “particularly.”[5] In other words, we should repent with details to God. We should pointedly consider ourselves and repent as the Holy Spirit convicts.  And as we sin against one another, we also must repent specifically and offering forgiveness impartially and endlessly.[6] Repentance is always the marker of revival, both an individual’s personal revival and documented societal revivals. If we want our community, church, and ministry to experience revival, it must begin with repentance.  

Repentance is a kindness shown to us by God (Rom. 2:4). Jesus commands us to repent (Luke 5:32), and he points out that it is sinners whom he has called to repent. We can be assured of our salvation as we experience conviction from the Holy Spirit (I Thess. 1:5). True, rich, growing relationships with other people will always give us much practice in both repentance and forgiveness. 

Each one of us should have another person to whom we can confess and truly share our lives, struggles, and victories. This aspect of fellowship is vital and can be a means of grace for the ongoing desire for holiness in our lives.  As we repent and forgive, remember that “love bears all things” (I Cor. 13:7).  We each will take turns bearing all things in one another. 

Accountability to the Local Church

The local church is often immensely undervalued in the broadly evangelical world today.  The New Testament was written to particularized local churches, and Paul assumed a local church organization when he taught on elders and deacons in the epistles.  It is almost shocking how much emphasis is placed on the local church in the New Testament.

God wants to spread his fame through the local church. The local church is God’s plan for evangelism and mission.  

The local church matters to God. In Scripture the church is called the body of Christ, and his bride (Colossians 1:18, Revelation 21:2, 21:9).  If the local church is that precious and valuable to God, it should be to us as well. This is where one should find the discipleship and accountability needed to grow and mature. Parachurch organizations are helpful, but the local church is the place we can truly live all of life together with other believers and hold one another accountable.  

The local church is our spiritual authority.  If we are not in a local church, or if our ministry is not founded in the local church, we risk being “lone rangers” with no accountability or discipline. Rather than being restrictive and controlling, spiritual authority grounded in the word of God gives safety and blessing. 

An elder is charged with overseeing the local church. So, first of all, an elder cannot oversee things he cannot see.  In other words, nothing we do should be “out of sight” of the elders. We should always endeavor to operate with their full knowledge and enthusiastic blessing.  

Second, an elder has been given authority over the doctrine which is taught in the church (Acts 20:28-31). Therefore, we must not teach things that disagree with the doctrine of the church. My church is reformed in doctrine, we subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith as our standards, and we are Presbyterian in our ecclesiology.  If there is something you disagree with, you must let your leaders know in sincerity and not teach or promote your viewpoint. 

Third, the elders are the shepherds of the church (1 Peter 5:1-4). Our elders are not figure-heads or simply board members with opinions. They carry real authority and have the ability to bless our ministry. They are a tremendous resource to us. We must have the kind of relationships with our elders that enable them to actively shepherd us – as individuals and as a small group. It is our goal that they know what we are doing and want to bless us.  Our intention is to be helpers to them in shepherding the flock of Christ. 


[1]John Calvin, The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Faith, trans. Henry J. Van Andel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 35.  

[2] Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1.

[3] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2008).

[4] Calvin, 18.

[5] “Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man’s duty to endeavor to repent of his particular sins particularly,” Westminster Confession of Faith, 15.5.

[6] Nick Batzig, “Keeping Short Accounts,” A Place for Truth, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, last modified January 25, 2017, accessed February 2, 2020, https://www.placefortruth.org/blog/keeping-short-accounts.

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