Shepherding Ministry Venue: Small Groups
The purpose of the group will determine the focus and primary agenda of the group.
Establishment of a group's purpose is critical to its success. Without a clear purpose, the group may engage in much activity but never seem to accomplish anything of real impact. Because they are trying to do too much, they do not tend to do anything well.
Communication of the group's purpose is critical to its success. When people go into a group unsure of the purpose for the group, their expectations are often unmet and commitment wanes.
Regardless of its purpose, a small group provides one of the best opportunities to shepherd people.
Some types of groups will lend themselves more easily to shepherding but certain factors make almost any small group a potential vehicle for shepherding those within it.
- The potential for two-way communication increases, the smaller the group.
- The potential for involvement in one another's lives increases, the smaller the group.
- The potential for body life principles to be practiced increases, the smaller the group.
- The potential for the practical effects of what it means to be a priesthood of believers increases, the smaller the group.
Discerning the condition of the sheep tends to be easier, the smaller the group.
The smaller sphere of influence enables the shepherd to become more meaningfully involved in the life of everyone in the group thus increasing knowledge of the people being shepherded.
Through the course of the group's agenda, the shepherd will be able to observe as people participate and listen as they interact with others. The larger the group, the less opportunity for total participation becomes and thus the shepherd learns less about each individual.
Meaningful one-on-one conversations can often take place before and after the group meeting with many of the people increasing natural opportunities to learn about the needs, interests, and condition of people's lives.
Small groups are a small network that fits within a bigger network increasing the potential for effective shepherding.
Small groups fall short of their potential when they become islands to themselves. Small groups must remember that they are part of a whole. Their development should fit within the overall purpose of the church. Their growth should add to the overall progress of the church. Their ministry should be mutually beneficial. The small group may sometimes need the resources of the larger network or other small groups. The total church ministry may sometimes need the contribution of the smaller network.
Even if the small group has a shepherd leader, it will need to pull on the resources within the group to come along side of the leader where the leader is not gifted or does not have the time. While having others within the group with the gift of pastor would be helpful, those with other spiritual gifts may assist in the process in specific ways.
Exposure to a variety of gifting and perspectives increases the potential for needs to be met. While one-on-one mentoring or discipleship relationships can be very effective, the person being shepherded receives only one perspective and ministry is tempered by the gifting of the mentor or discipler. In a small group people receive input from a variety of perspectives and have the potential of benefiting from a variety of gifts.
Deficiencies in small groups may pull people away from the Chief Shepherd rather than drawing them toward Him.
If a shepherding ministry does not point people to the Chief Shepherd and His power and provision, it is unhealthy and will tend to produce dependent or crippled sheep rather than whole and productive sheep.
Small group dynamics can be unhealthy:
Small group leadership can be detrimental:
- Groups that are cliquish pull people away from the heart of the Chief Shepherd. Everybody matters to Him. His is a servant heart full of love and compassion for all. Visitors usually do not feel welcome in these groups.
- Groups that are in-grown tend to pull people away from the mission of the Chief Shepherd. Reaching out is what He does. These groups tend to look after their own needs and do not want to invest into others outside of their group.
- Groups that are co-dependent pull people away from the power of God. Changing people is His responsibility. These groups tend to enable people to stay where they are by showering attention on people only when they are hurting or struggling. These groups spend more time trying to fix each other than they do in praying to the One who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-wise.
- Biblically unknowledgeable leaders or lack of leadership may pull people from the character and ways of the Chief Shepherd through faulty teaching. If groups are left to pull their ignorance together, they may not arrive at truth.
- Untrained leaders may pull people from Chief Shepherd's design and intent for the body. They may not intentionally include elements of His design (i.e., community building activities, everybody doing their part). They may instead add elements not fitting for the proper working of the body (i.e., controlling the group rather than guiding the group, responding to people in ways that make them feel unsafe, etc.)
The leader of the small group will be largely responsible for what happens in that group and the degree of shepherding that takes place.
Small group leaders should receive training prior to being given the responsibility. They should receive on-going leadership development, support, and encouragement.
Small group leaders should be held accountable.
- Leaders should be taught how to equip, encourage, and spur on the group to minister to one another through the use of their spiritual gifts and the fulfillment of the one another commands. They must know how to build community within the group.
- Leaders should be taught about group dynamics and how to promote a safe environment where people feel they can open up and be authentic and thus receive the help they need.
- Leaders should be taught how to be intentional in shepherding the members of their group.
- Leaders should be accountable for the health of their groups.
- Leaders should be accountable for how their group is contributing to the overall purpose of the church.
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