I'm working with a pastor who is developing his own small group leader training. I think it's a great idea for each church to develop their own process for raising up and releasing members of groups to lead members of new groups. Taking responsibility in this area will keep the pastoral staff's minds and hearts involved in the small group ministry, create relationship connections between staff pastors and group leaders, and promote missional group direction.
I do have a couple of thoughts on what makes for a good training program. The features of an excellent training process for new small group leaders should have a firm foundation in:
1. Relational development with the trainer and other participants
2. Experiential learning through trial and error (psychomotor activity)
Let me briefly expand on these foundational components...
Relational Development with the trainer and other participants
I'm often asked if our ministry has small group leader training on DVD. While I'm caving into pressure and producing some this year, I'm not a big fan of DVD-based training in the church. It further removes a relational way of developing leaders found in both the Old and New Testaments.
Jesus' example of developing leaders is excellent. He chose unlikely young men who didn't make the cut to go to the synagogue and become a priest (every Jewish parent's dream for their sons) and were fishing to make ends meet to help their families survive. He then spent a lot of time getting to know them in a place they were very comfortable, which was the shores of Lake Galilee and in a boat. As he served them and helped them catch fish, he proved he was the true Messiah, and not like any of the other false Messiahs that had come before him or were concurrently proclaiming to be God on earth.
After a season of sowing into their lives, he asked them to sow into his life and assist him in ministry. For quite some time, they protected him, helped out with big events, did administrative tasks, and acted like village idiots some of the time. It's no wonder they weren't chosen for priesthood through the traditional rabbinical school!
However, God transforms people through Christ and he transformed stinky fisherman through a relationship with Jesus, the son of God and the Christ who lives among us and inside us today as Christians.
This kind of leadership development is something that was done with me and I in turn do it with others. I was mentored for three years in ministry by a man named Greg. Greg took me under his wing, telling me I had great potential but said I was lazy and had a lot of issues I had to work through. Those three years were both exciting and tough on me. His dedication to discipling me into a much stronger, motivated man of God taught me a lot about developing others, which I am currently doing.
Last weekend, I went to a race track to watch a couple of my unsaved buddies drive their sports cars. That same morning, I was to have breakfast with a member of one of the groups I coach, so I invited him to go along with me for the day. What this fellow does not yet know is that I will be inviting him to do a lot of things with me that will develop him into a disciplemaking man of God, not just one who loves God personally.
Developing future leaders through relationship takes a lot of time. Time most staff pastors just don't have because of the many things they are responsible to do. However, training future leaders in a weekend event or giving them a Saturday morning "knowledge dump" about leading a small group rarely produces competent leaders. So, something must change with the pastor's job description or his or her priorities to forge more relationships with current and future leaders during the training process.
Of course, existing group leaders and coaches can be a great help and support in the leadership training process and they should be employed as well.
Experiential learning through trial and error
Most small group leader training is done in the realm of cognitive training. Pastors lecture a group on the do's and don'ts of leading a small group and fill the heads of the participants with as much knowledge as possible. As mentioned above, this knowledge usually comes in one shotgun blast of a weekend event, where the mind is saturated in a matter of minutes (or a couple of hours for the really sharp participants) and the rest goes in one ear and out the other.
I personally do not learn much from lectures. I am a kinesthetic learner, or one who must practice doing what I am learning for the principles to sink in and be truly learned. In fact, this kind of "psychomotor" activity is how most people gain competence and confidence doing most everything in life.
So, future small group leaders need longer term "on the job" training to see themselves as a leader when they look in a mirror. A cognitive dump of information on a weekend training event isn't gonna cut it, and will only produce partially knowledgeable people who feel ill-equipped to lead... and the groups suffer.
The best training looks like this...
1. Stretch the leader training out over six months. This gives the participants time to grow into the role by doing something new in leading the group in which they are a member. It also allows them to create a friendship with the trainer, who has four weeks between training events to connect with them to see how they're doing.
2. Meet in the trainer's home. This bonds the trainer to the participant in a special way.
3. Eat a meal together at the monthly meeting, and use the meal time to talk about the homework assignment and what God is saying to the participants as they learn to serve in a leadership capacity.
4. Work with the existing leader and coach over the group in which the participant is currently involved to insure they are given opportunities to do their practical assignments and take responsibility from the existing group leader.
5. Applaud failure as the best teacher. Success teaches very little if not proceeded by at least some failure.
Now let me ask you, what have you found to be the best foundational training for raising up new leaders in your small group ministry?