Raising Up a New Bible Study Leader
by Lynn H. Pryor
For years, I felt like I spent half my time driving my two sons to where they wanted to go. I’m a good dad, which means I really didn’t mind, but it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they were able to take themselves places at times.
One of my favorite memories was driving with my 15-year-old son, pulling into a large empty parking lot, and tossing him the car keys. “Here. You drive.”
You lead a small group Bible study because you enjoy it. God’s gifted you. You enjoy opening God’s Word with others. You enjoy the interaction and discussion. You enjoy seeing life change.
But you’re not the only one. There are likely others in your groups whom God has gifted and would enjoy the experience of leading others in discussion and spiritual transformation. They just don’t know it yet.
Be on the lookout for new leaders—right there in your group. One of our responsibilities as small group leaders is to keep an eye out for those potential leaders, mentor them, sense when the time is right, and finally toss them the keys. “Here. You lead the group.”
Who should you look for? Look for the FAT people.
- Faithful. Look for potential leaders in your group who are faithful in their walk with Christ, faithful in their involvement with the group, and faithful in their concern for others in the group. You should see a consistency in their character that makes for positive group leaders.
- Available. Look for someone who has more than just the time available; look for the one who is willing. None of us thinks we have time to add anything else to our schedules, but we have time for what’s important to us. It’s natural for a person who has never led to be hesitant, but a good leader sees the value and makes himself available.
- Teachable. Good leaders are willing to learn and be coached—and this should be a life-ling trait for all of us! Frankly, I shy away from potential leaders who are convinced they already know what to do.
For almost a year, part of my regular routine was coaching my son around the empty parking lot. At first, he was overly cautious. He soon received a learner’s permit, and together we ventured out on back roads, then the city streets, and finally the interstate. As the weeks progressed, I did less and less coaching and just enjoyed the ride.
The best way to train a new group leader is to let him watch you in action. After my son started driving, he became more acutely aware of how I did things when I was driving. Books and conferences are essential tools, but they should be backed up by seeing good examples in your own leading.
You don’t need to turn over the keys of leadership all at once. Do it in phases.
- Lead a portion of the group time. Ask a potential leader to help you as you lead. Ask him to lead the discussion around one section of Scripture or lead the prayer time. You can plan beforehand, and give him sufficient time to prepare.
- Lead the group while you are present. He’s seen you lead; now you can see him lead. Meet and prepare together, but during the group time, let him drive. This allows for some great coaching afterwards as you evaluate and discuss together what transpired during the group time.
- Lead in your absence. When I must go out of town, I’ve got a potential leader ready to step in. This doesn’t require a full-blown week-to-week commitment yet, but it expresses a confidence in his ability to lead.
Give your group away—and start a new group.
Your potential leader has walked with you for a while and he’s ready. What’s next? My preference is to turn over the reins of the group and I’ll go start another group. This approach eases his transition into group leadership because he is already part of a small group that has jelled. On the other hand, he may see a need in another area—an affinity group he relates to that could benefit from a Sunday School class. In that case, I say, “Go for it.”
It was a bittersweet moment when, on my son’s 16th birthday, he took his brand-new driver’s license and the keys to my ’66 Mustang and drove off. Without me.
He went in one direction and I went in another. But I’m OK with that. I prepared him for this moment, and I was free to pursue other matters—like teaching his younger brother to drive.
As you coach a new leader and hand him the keys to a Bible study group, you advance the kingdom of God. Where there was one, there are now two people leading others in Bible study. And that’s a good thing.
Lynn H. Pryor is a team leader with LifeWay’s ongoing curriculum, leading the team that produces Bible Studies for Life. He also serves as an interim pastor in Shelbyville, TN.