Right after YouthCon 2019, the USMB national youth conference, we facilitated a two-week online cohort designed to help youth leaders make the most of small groups. Here is a review of the main topics we discussed in the online sessions.
Jesus is in the circle. As leaders, we want to be listening to the Spirit at the same time we’re listening to the student. In the end, we’re trying to point a student to Jesus, not to ourselves. Sara Jo says, “We are one Holy Spirit breath away from a God encounter that can heal our souls every time we pick up that holy Word of God.”
Depth of relationship influences depth of discussion. People will share if there is safety and trust. Spend enough time with students that the relationships can grow over time. This will necessarily mean spending time with them outside of formal ministry times.
Silence is okay. As the leader, if you’re doing all the talking, you’re missing it. Sometimes we talk because the silence feels awkward to us. It’s not about us. At some point in silence, it’s okay to ask what’s in their mind or heart that hasn’t come out yet. To ask: “What’s working its way out?”
Listen. Really listen. Ask open questions. Start with “what” and “how” questions. Questions that begin with “why” tend to feel accusatory or judging. Questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” tend to shut down discussion. When people feel listened to and understood, we can more easily move onto deeper questions like, “What are you hearing Jesus say to you about that?” If we assume we understand and go right to “fixing” people by prescribing verses, we may be well-meaning and technically correct, but the person’s heart will be closed and in the end no growth will happen.
Get to application. Questions that move people to consider application are helpful: “If you were to apply what you have learned tonight, what’s something specific that you could do or practice this week to live that out?” These also become excellent follow-up questions next time you meet. “So, how did it go with (the application) that you felt prompted about last week?” This can become a healthy accountability method—helping students be accountable to the things that they said they felt prompted by the Spirit to do or do differently.
Discovery versus download. This is a big one in our current methods of discipleship. Roy Moran in Spent Matches says, “People have a high degree of commitment to their own conclusions and a low degree of commitment to conclusions given to them by others.” So that means that a small group leader sharing knowledge isn’t effective in affecting change in people’s lives.
As we’re talking about the Bible and people ask questions, we need to learn to ask questions that point them back to the text to determine their own conclusions. Moran also says, “If the teacher is doing all the work, very little life change is happening. But when the student is doing most of the work, something significant is in process.” So, we start where the learner is and let them drive the direction and pace of the discovery.
Smaller groups are the best setting for spiritual transformation. We owe it to Jesus and the people he gives us to grow in our leadership of smaller groups. If you’d like to discuss any of these in greater details, we would be happy to chat. You can contact us at SaraJoWaldron@gmail.com and StephenHumber@gmail.com.
Stephen and Mary K. Humber live in Denver, Colorado, where he serves as regional mobilizer for Multiply. When he’s not joyfully serving with his team, he’s probably standing in the stream somewhere trying to catch trout.
Sara Jo and Lee Waldron are the program directors for Southern District Conference (SDC) Senior High Camp. Sara Jo has been serving on the SDC Youth Commission since 2014 and was a youth pastor in the SDC for seven years. She will begin an online master of divinity program through Fuller Theological Seminary in the fall.