Three things are critical to ensuring group leaders are truly discipling individuals and leading them into a closer walk with Christ.
By Lynn Pryor
Church leaders are glad when, after talking to someone about leading a Bible study group, that individual says yes. There may even be an audible sigh of relief. And church leaders are elated when individuals volunteer themselves. We love it when someone says, “I’d like to lead a Bible study,” without first being asked! After all, developing leaders and volunteers was identified as a ministry need by more pastors (77%) than any other in The Greatest Needs of Pastors study.
But after those group leaders have a time to meet, a place to meet, and a group to meet with, do you know what’s happening in their groups? It’s a Bible study, so they’re studying the Bible, right? But do you know specifically what they are teaching? Are they being true to Scripture?
Unfortunately, I’ve seen cases of group leaders who, when left to their own devices, “teach” the Bible out of their own ignorance—teaching questionable doctrine or leading a group in a way that is far from fruitful and effective. We would be wise to know what’s going on and what leaders are teaching in the Bible study groups within the church.“We would be wise to know what’s going on and what leaders are teaching in the Bible study groups within the church.” — @lynnpryor Click To Tweet
There are three things that are critical to ensuring the discipleship ministry of your church is truly discipling individuals and leading them into a closer walk with Christ.
1. A discipleship plan
Too many churches let group leaders do their own thing. The rationale is these group leaders know their groups best and know what they need. Church leaders don’t want to inhibit the freedom of group leaders or be heavy-handed dictators. But the pastor and those who lead the church are responsible for all teaching in the church. And they need to ensure God’s Word is being taught and applied correctly. Paul warned Timothy to watch for anyone who “teaches false doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord” (1 Timothy 6:3, CSB).
To help ensure soundness, give group leaders a sound and trusted curriculum. In addition to providing a foundation of sound doctrine, a shared discipleship plan benefits the group in four key ways.
As church leadership lays out the mission and direction the church needs to be moving, a single study plan tied to that mission and emphasis ensures group members are involved and behind that emphasis.
When all groups are engaged in the same study, it brings the church family together. Even outside the group setting, church members can engage one another in conversation around what they are learning and discovering in God’s Word.
A good study plan gives balance to what church members are studying. Left on their own, many group leaders may focus on one area of study. They have a keen interest in eschatology and the end times or they have a heart for missions, so every study is tied to that topic. But a good study plan has a scope and sequence of studies that take in the whole of Scripture and touch on all areas of discipleship.
While some groups hear “curriculum” as a bad word, a curriculum provides a plan for how you will carry out a balanced approach to discipleship. The word “curriculum” comes from the Latin for a racecourse. To compete in a race, runners are expected to run a specific course. Parents want to know their kids are being taught a specific curriculum and not just showing up to school for whatever the teacher feels like doing that day. Colleges and universities offer a set curriculum, a collection of courses a student must master in order to receive a degree.“Discipleship is not haphazard; it calls for a set course of action to help believers mature in their faith.” — @lynnpryor Click To Tweet
Discipleship is not haphazard; it calls for a set course of action to help believers mature in their faith. A good curriculum offers that. For example, Bible Studies for Life is built on the eight markers of a growing disciple. Every year, Bible Studies for Life addresses each of these eight areas in six-week studies devoted to each area.
2. Regular training
Many church leaders handed new group leaders a list of names and nothing more. They assumed small group leaders knew how to lead a Bible study group. Others handed group leaders the curriculum and assumed that, by simply reading the material, they’d figure out how to lead a group. Let’s not make that assumption. Without training, we default to teaching the way we’ve seen others teach—and that’s often nothing more than a monotonous lecture. Training can help group leaders discover the best ways to use the material to engage people in effective Bible study.“Training can help group leaders discover the best ways to use the material to engage people in effective Bible study.” — @lynnpryor Click To Tweet
This training should be periodic and regular. A periodic refresher course is good for all of us, regardless of what field we’re in. And a quarterly or annual training event can help teachers stay fresh and even motivated. Many group leaders think they don’t need training. But experience has taught me that those who need training the most are often the ones who don’t think they need it.
Online training such as Ministry Grid may be the fastest and most convenient way to train your leaders. But there are benefits to in-person training. States and local church associations offer training events. But if you can, invite a trainer or consultant to come to your church. The training can be tailored to the needs of your church. Finally, let me suggest a hybrid model: Gather your group leaders and watch online training sessions. Afterward, the leaders can discuss and debrief the training received.
Check regularly with the group leaders and ask how the group is going. You’ll want to know if they’re using the resources and curriculum you’ve provided. This calls for accountability, but you can soften the sound of that by asking if they have any questions about using what you’ve provided. This will tell you two things: (1) how effectively they are using the resources you’ve provided; and (2) any areas that might need to be addressed in your periodic training with all the leaders.
These three things are vital to an effective discipleship ministry within the church. Churches would do well to invest in someone to provide leadership and oversight to the church’s discipleship ministry. It’s an investment that can take discipleship to a deeper level as groups focus on teaching sound doctrine, growing members in their walk with Christ, and developing disciples who come to you saying, “I’d like to lead a Bible study.”
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Lynn H. Pryor is the Publishing Team Leader for Bible Studies for Life at Lifeway. He regularly blogs at lynnhpryor.com.