The Importance of Relational Leadership
The role of a small group leader is one of a shepherd who cares for those he or she leads. It is a role characterized by nurturing relationships.
In 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2, Paul gives us a great insight into what it looks like to lead relationally as a shepherd. In it, he writes to those Christians whom he influenced and discipled and tells them in verse 7, “Remember that we were like a mother among you, gentle and nurturing, just like a mom takes care of her own children.”
This is what having a shepherd’s heart is all about – nurturing and paying attention to where people are at and what they’re going through. Therefore, as a shepherd of your own small group, it’s good to keep in mind that your goal is not so much to get through a Bible study as it is to really get into your group member’s lives and to discern what’s happening in their world and what God is up to in their lives so that you can discern your role in facilitating that process.
Paul goes on to say that not only did he share the message of the gospel with them but he also shared his life. In other words, Paul’s life was an open book, and he wasn’t perfect. Similar to Paul, as a small group leader, your life needs to be open and transparent. You’re not supposed to be perfect and it’s okay that people know that. Your group members will probably see some of the areas your struggle with in your life and how you struggle emotionally at times but that just makes you human and very approachable.
In verse 11 of that same chapter, Paul says, “We were like the spiritual father among you.” And then he uses these three words to describe the actions of a good father. He says that they encouraged them, comforted them, and urged them. Likewise, there will be times when people in your group are going to be discouraged and they will need you as their leader to come alongside them and comfort them. But unless you’re in relationship with them, you might not know how and when to offer your support.
Sometimes you won’t have the right words to say and there will be no Bible verse that is going to fix their problem. But that’s when you offer the ministry of your loving presence. This could mean taking them to lunch, dropping them a quick email or maybe just physically sitting with them as they go through a time of struggle.
And then there are times when people need to be challenged, when they need to be more disciplined, and when they need to work harder, be more focused, or even make some changes in their life. If you have taken the effort to really build a relationship with them, then God will give you favor to speak into their lives at these deeper levels at the right time.
Leading at this level could never happen without the intentional effort to cultivate deep and authentic relationships. When you, as the leader, invest some of your own life into your group member’s lives by really caring about who they are and what they’re going through, then God’s love can be demonstrated in a tangible and practical way.