Practical Training for Small Group Leaders

Time Management 

Using time wisely is crucial in facilitating a small group discussion. Valuing every minute communicates the importance of the discussion itself.  It shows respect for the women’s hard work throughout the week in completing the passage. All women are busy. Each one has made sacrifices to be at Bible study each week. Beginning and ending study on time are crucial to communicate respect and consideration. To not be intentional with your time is to communicate that the study is trivial.  

You will have a set amount of time for each week’s meeting. It is helpful to look over and think through your own preparation and make note of what was the most fruitful for you.  Observe the parts that take more time and plan ahead accordingly. Practical application is very important for helping people see where they need to repent or change, so it is imperative to not run out of time. Always be aware of the time and how long your group has left.  It is your responsibility to lead your group in discussing the whole passage each week and to ensure that one person does not “rabbit trail” the discussion. Skipping sections will discourage the women who have spent precious time that week completing the entire lesson. Occasionally there may be an exception to getting through the entire passage – if a serious issue arises that must be dealt with – but this should definitely be an anomaly. 

It will take experience and wisdom to judge the difference between someone wasting time and someone sharing a personal and meaningful application to her life. Trust the Holy Spirit to help you as you grow in this ability. 

Small Group Dynamics

Your goal in the discussion is to help each woman in your group feel comfortable and safe to share what God has shown her that week.  The objective of the group is a deep, vibrant, and authentic discussion of God’s Word. Some women will be naturally confident to speak and share, and other women will be more reluctant. As you gain experience and get to know your group, you will develop winsome methods for drawing out the hesitant women and helping the talkative women become better listeners. When you have an eager-sharer, sometimes it works to gently interrupt and say, “I want to hear the rest of that Jane, but I’m afraid we are running out of time. Let’s plan a group fellowship where we can each have time to share the wonderful stories of God’s grace in our life!” 

Sometimes it helps to note on your paper the women who have not shared that day. When appropriate, gently encourage the quiet women to answer by calling on them directly. 

Many times, a group takes a while to “warm-up” to one another. It may seem like a long stretch of awkward silence but resist the temptation to jump in and answer yourself. Some groups need more time before someone has the courage to speak out. “Rescuing” the group too quickly short-cuts that process and inadvertently teaches them that you have all the answers. 

Be an attentive and interested listener. It is much harder to listen than it is to speak. You are modeling for the group how to create a thoughtful discussion. Use your body language to communicate your genuine interest. Seek to keep eye contact with the woman speaking the entire time she is sharing. If appropriate, verbally respond to her answer to show that you were listening and you value what she said. 

Aiming for every woman to share every week teaches that everyone’s answers are important. It also conveys that each woman is not only a necessary part of the group, but that God will speak to each person through his Word.  This helps each woman feel more responsibility during the week to complete the lesson.  Just as one would not show up to a covered dish dinner empty-handed, this approach ensures each woman feels a responsibility to seek God for the group. 

Do not allow women to criticize one another’s answers, or to criticize their own answers.  Do not allow the group to depend on one or two members to do all the work, or to look to older/more mature members to always answer. Do your best to create an atmosphere of freedom to make mistakes and give each woman respect and the opportunity to receive grace and mercy. 


         Communicating with your small group each week is essential to help the women in your group trust you and bond with each other. Contact each of your women every week, checking in with them, encouraging them in their lesson, answering any questions they have, and taking their prayer requests.  It is a good idea to send an email every week with any announcements and with the group prayer requests. 

An example of a contact phone call:  You: “Hi, Carrie! This is Janet. Is this a good time to talk? Great! I just wanted to check in with you and see how you are doing and how I can be praying for you this week. You can give a prayer request that you want me to share with the group or one that you want me to keep confidential. I will be praying for you every day, so I would love to be able to pray specifically!” 

Of course, texting is fine as well.  Some (especially younger) women will only communicate through text and others love a phone call. Take good notes as they share with you so that you can communicate those requests accurately to the group as well as pray effectively. 

When a group member misses a week, be sure and contact her as soon as possible to establish that the group missed her and isn’t the same without her. 

Prayer Requests

         Prayer requests are a wonderful way to get to know and to support other women in our church and community.  Yet, we all know what it is like when the prayer requests themselves take all the time in a group.  This is why contacting the women for their requests each week before the group meets is imperative. Do not allow prayer requests to be expressed during your discussion time. Communicate to your women that the prayer requests should be for them personallyThis means it must be a prayer request for them as an individual – not for their neighbor or even for their child. If they have a situation, encourage them to ask for prayer that helps their response to the situation. For example, if group member Betty has a neighbor with cancer, the prayer request would be: Please pray for Beth as she seeks to minister the love of Christ to her neighbor Sarah who was recently diagnosed with cancer.

Emphasize the confidentiality you will keep if asked and advise your group members of their responsibility to keep all prayer requests confidential. Distribute the prayer requests for the women by passing them out or sending over email each week. This will help your group bond quickly. The thoughtful members of your group will begin to ask one another about ongoing requests. This quickly deepens friendships and creates connection. The group bonding over answered prayers as well as a mutual desire to grow in Christ will encourage them to dig in the Scripture more carefully and to share more readily and genuinely with the group.  

Your personal daily prayers will grow your love for your group and will enable you to lead them with joy. Daily prayers for your group members are not only a commitment you have made, but a privilege!  When you pray, you are acknowledging to God and others that He is sovereign. He is the one who supplies every need, and he is the one “who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philip. 2: 13). Pray for the Holy Spirit to draw near to them as they study his word, for them to feel his presence, for their commitment to the group, for intimate sharing, and for equal participation among members. 


         One of your most cherished roles as a leader will be in shepherding. This is just another word for encouraging and discipling. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God, who gave himself up for his sheep. Ultimately, he is the women’s shepherd.  His promise is to search for his sheep, bring back the strays, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak (Ezekiel 34:15-16). And of course, the elders are the women’s authority as shepherds. God will use the elders of the local church to fulfill these promises to his people.  

As the women study the Bible and share their lives, you are called to come alongside and support the elders in their shepherding. As female leaders, we have a unique perspective on the struggles women go through and so part of our support of the elders is to guide the women as they seek to grow in the Lord. As you pray daily for the women in your group, God will give you love and compassion for them.  When they realize you are faithfully praying for them and you are genuinely interested in helping them grow in God, they will bring you into their heartaches and victories. 

Colossians 1:28-29 gives us insight into what God is calling us to as leaders. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”  Paul is telling us that he works very hard, he toils and struggles for the people he leads. Shepherding is not easy and will require energy on your part.  But the beautiful promise also in this verse is that it is with Christ’s energy we are given! We aren’t left on our own to muster up strength for the work God has called us to – he will powerfully work in us. Knowing and ministering out of this will combat sinful ways that we will be tempted to feel. We will be tempted by both fear and pride.[1] We fear that what we are doing is futile, or that it will actually be detrimental rather than encouraging.  We are tempted by pride when our ministry bears fruit.  Remembering that it is only through Christ’s powerful energy that we minister will demolish our pride. It is an amazing privilege to be a part of someone’s walk with God! 

[1] Mark Dever, Discipling (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 30-31.

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 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. 


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,