by Dave Enns
One of the great privileges of leading small groups is having the opportunity to help someone work through a tough issue. Yet, the fear of dealing with these issues can actually cause a leader to never step up to lead, or to quit or do all they can to remain on the surface to avoid an issue. It’s also what can cause a well-intentioned leader to become a “Bible answer assault person,” quoting Bible verses at someone hoping to fix the problem, unaware of how to come alongside the person and help.
We ask our leaders to not focus on advice or problem solving, but rather to come alongside others to help them walk through their issues and point them to the right resources. To help our leaders embrace the tough stuff and create an environment for growth, we recommend they ask these four simple questions.
- How long have you been dealing with this? (Duration of the issue)
Determining when the event happened and if it’s reoccurring is important in understanding the complexity of the issue. This will help determine how quickly and to what level you need to respond. An issue that has just come up will most likely require a different response time than one that has been around for five years.
- Who else knows? (Involvement of others)
Finding out if you’re the only person they have ever told reveals their level of vulnerability, if they are operating in isolation on the issue, and it helps determine the kind of support and influence they have. Finding out who gathers around them for support can make all the difference.
- Have you received any advice or counsel on how to deal with this? (Level and quality of input)
Just because someone has told others about their issue doesn’t mean they have sought counsel on how to overcome it or are motivated to start dealing with it. They may only want others to sympathize with their difficulty. Who they have received advice from can make the difference. Finding out if there is input they received that they disagree with tells a lot about how they are processing the issue.
- What have you done so far, and do you have any plans for your next steps? (Game plan)
The response to this question tells you whether or not they know what to do next, and how involved you need to be to lend support and resources. It also helps communicate that action on their part will be necessary to deal with their struggle.
We have found that these four questions make it easy for any leader to gather context as they help their group members. These questions usually make finding the next steps and needed resources relatively straightforward. We also let our leaders know they never have to deal with an issue they don’t think they can handle. As pastors, we’re available if they need additional assistance, direction, or resources. And finally, we don’t ask our leaders to be experts in dealing with issues; we only ask that they care for those whom God has brought to them to help navigate their challenges.
Dave Enns has been on staff at North Coast Church (the Sticky Church) since 1990 and is the lead pastor of their Small Groups Ministry. He oversees a team of 25 staff, 1,400 lay leaders and over 6,000 who attend their home groups.