by Deborah Spooner –
“Small groups aren’t even in the Bible.”
The unenthused teenager makes the claim and rolls her eyes as you finish explaining that group sign-ups are this Sunday and you’ve found one for her.
Having led your own group for years, you pause.
Wait, are small groups in the Bible?
Be at ease.
We need to follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24). He’s our example (1 Corinthians 11:1). And His main followers? They were a group. You could even call them a small group. Yes, small groups are biblical.
What can we learn from the way Jesus led his small group so that we can better lead ours? At least three things.
First, we can lead by shaping. In John 21, we see Jesus shape culture. He shaped individuals to shape others. In a post-resurrection breakfast with Peter and others, Jesus asked Peter directly, “Do you love me?” When Peter replied positively,, Jesus kept asking. Each time Peter responded in the affirmative, Jesus told him to feed or take care of Jesus’ sheep or lambs (John 21:7-17).
Even though the group was together eating breakfast, Jesus cared about them individually. He remembered their individual history. Peter had denied Jesus three times (Luke 22:54-62), but Jesus didn’t get offended and write off Peter. He engaged with him. He cut to Peter’s core by asking about Peter’s devotion and love—a love that, if real, shapes and transforms.
Leading small groups like Jesus means we shape our members to invest in and shape others. When we care for each individual in the group, call our members to a higher way of life, and challenge them to engage with others out of love, we lead well.
Second, we can lead by withdrawing. In Luke 5, we see Jesus making disciples through modeling what a disciple should do. Jesus did a lot, but one of the more interesting things he did was withdraw to be with His father. By doing so, He prioritized prayer and solitude for his disciples.
If we want to make disciples, we need to be a disciple. We need to be people who lead our small groups into prayer by being people of prayer ourselves. If we do not take time to seek the Father’s face, to saturate ourselves in the Word, and to learn to make our anthem the prayer that His will be done, we face consequences. Burnout. Hypocrisy. Pride. But, if we learn from Jesus, we learn that a good group leader withdraws. And not just every now and then, but habitually..
Finally, we can lead through pain. In John 11, we see Jesus building community by leading through pain. When Jesus learned of Lazarus’ illness and death, He knew He would walk with people through pain. Therefore, He kept hi purpose in front of him: the glory of God in pain and death (John 11:1-4).
Sometimes as a leader, you may recognize when bad news is around the corner. You might see that a season of pain or transition for specific people or the entire group is coming. First, remember to keep your purpose in front of you as Jesus did: ultimately, God is at work and can be glorified even in pain. Second, prepare to handle misunderstandings and opposition with patience as people walk through the pain. Third, use your words to address root issues that surface even as you help others work through the struggle together.
Leading through pain, you build a deeper community of belief in Christ. We lead groups well when we choose to keep the unified focus on Christ through the pain.
Jesus led, and he led well. Following His example, we, too, can learn how to lead groups like Christ led so that we all keep going farther and farther into knowing and obeying Him.
Small groups? Yes, they’re biblical (and so worth it).