Shaping Shepherds and Sheep: How to Coach Your Small Group Leaders

A friend who was in charge of our men’s ministry once said, “Some of these guys really don’t want me coaching them; they don’t want my help!”

“That’s all right,” I said, “If all these guys are living spiritually healthy lives, you can take it easy.”

“But some aren’t thriving spiritually,” he said. “They need encouragement.”

A coach’s primary goal is to help leaders become fully mature in Christ. Colossians 1:28 says, “We are to proclaim him, admonishing every man and woman, and teaching every man with all wisdom that we may present every man or woman complete in Christ.” Jesus desires that we grow deeper in our walk with him so we’re prepared for the mission to which God has called us.

By mentoring small group leaders and their groups, we participate in the process of presenting every man and woman complete in Christ. This happens by helping them cultivate their spiritual health—even when it’s an uphill battle.

The acronym MENTOR provides steps to help you guide your small group leaders to spiritual maturity.

Motivate them to find a spiritual partner. You might think you already are their spiritual partner, but realistically, you can’t be every leader’s partner. One of the greatest gifts you can give your leaders is another person who will help them move to the next step in their spiritual journey, including listening, encouraging, fellowshipping, and exhorting.

Gently remind your leaders that if they’re going to lead in the church, they must grow in their faith. Then simply ask them who they would like to help them grow-this shifts the burden from you to them. You might periodically connect with the partners, but the bottom line is once they’re connected, transformation follows.

Since it’s often difficult to ask someone to be a partner, encourage them through the process and celebrate with them when they finally pair up. As soon as one leader is paired up, other leaders will be encouraged to pair up as well.

Encourage them to review the health assessment regularly. To help them identify the next step in their spiritual journey, guide them through a health assessment. These tools ask pointed questions about your spiritual journey and give guidelines for setting and achieving goals. Using a health assessment is a way of taking stock—understanding the areas in which you are strong, as well as the areas in which you need to grow. Don’t be afraid to refer to the health assessment when meeting with your leaders. Ask them, “Remember when we walked through that health assessment? How are you doing in your weak areas?” or “How can I pray for your spiritual growth?”

You also might consider visiting your leaders’ small groups and administering the health assessment to the entire group. This gives you the chance to see how the group is doing and ask the group where they want to grow. Groups usually thrive in fellowship and discipleship, but struggle when it comes to evangelism and serving. A health assessment builds group ownership as well as continuity and growth. Later, you can discuss the group’s goals with your leader and help determine the next steps to achieve these goals.

Follow-up visits—at least every other month—help groups stay focused on spiritual maturity. When you visit, come early and pray with the leader, affirm the group, check in on their goals, and ask how you can pray for the group. Afterwards, debrief with the leader and express your gratitude for their service.

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Bret Eastman
Brett Eastman served as the Small Group Champion at Saddleback Church and Willow Creek Community Church for over a decade. Brett has produced and either authored or co-authored over 200 small group curriculum series including the bestselling Purpose Driven Small Group curriculum, Doing Lifetogether published by Zondervan, which has sold over 3,000,000 copies. He also was the primary designer behind the 40 Days of Purpose Campaigns that fueled over 25,000 churches around the world. He also wrote and produced the first Purpose Driven small group series for Rick Warren that influenced the development of over 50 small group series to date.