The Art of Preparation
Updated: Aug 29, 2019
Preparing to Lead Community Care Groups
To effectively and successfully lead in care group ministry we must make preparation a priority When something becomes a priority it will likely become a passion and love. From passion and love comes art. It seems odd to relate preparation to an art – but that is what we are doing. Art has many forms and when it is expressed passionately or from a place of genuine love then it comes to life. In ministry there should be life – ministry should give and reproduce life. True biblical ministry is preparation for giving and reproducing life. And that is what we call the art of preparation.
preparation; the action or process of making ready or being made ready for use or consideration.
preparing; something of significance done to get ready for an event, cause, or undertaking.
Once the commitment to preparation is in place then creating a pattern, template, or routine of preparing becomes an exciting process. The first act of preparation for a Care Group Leader should be personal – if the leader is not prepared he or she cannot prepare others. That should create a sense of urgency. The urgency can be met by asking and answering honest questions like the following.
Am I diligently seeking relationship with God in my own life?
Am I faithfully studying God’s truth for my life?
Am I praying daily for God’s will to be done in not only my life, but in the life of those I have influence with?
Am I living my life in a way that is pleasing to God, and an encouragement to others?
By frequently asking and answering these questions affirmatively there will be constant forward movement and spiritual growth. This movement and growth will continually fulfill and satisfy the need for personal preparation.
The practical and structural items needed for care group ministry will come very easily after the process of personal preparation is established and practiced. Things such as times, icebreakers, curriculum, activities and group need.
Here is what we are preparing for. There are four (big-picture) essential areas of connection and engagement for a Community Care Group Leader to continually use as a focus in preparation. These become the essentials in the art of preparation for small group ministry, and will lead to the right environment and desired outcome for every Community Care Group Leader.
One - Build Real Relationships
Two - Listen Deeply
Three - Be an Encourager
Four - Provide Care
Build Real Relationships
In his ministry, Jesus placed a high priority on relationships. He built strong relationships during the time he spent with the Twelve. That was Jesus’s plan from the beginning. Consider the relational component in these passages:
Mark 3:14: Jesus calls the Twelve for two purposes: to be with him and to do ministry. The first priority is relationships—the “be with” factor. J. B. Phillips’ translation says Jesus calls them to be his regular “companions.”
John 14:3: To calm their fears, Jesus assures the Twelve that he will return for them one day. Why? So they can be with him.”
John 15:15: At the Last Supper, Jesus says, “I no longer call you servants … Instead, I have called you friends.”
John 17:24: Just hours before his death, Jesus prays in the garden. One of his deepest longings is for the Twelve to be with him again in heaven.
Forming an authentic relationship is the first step to intentionally leading your care group. People want to be built into, cared for, and loved. Most want to establish trust, open communication, and form genuine relationships. They first want to have a leader who feeds them rather than a supervisor who leads them. They want a leader who seeks to understand them—their walk with God, their family life, and their relationship to the church. They long for someone who helps them discern next steps of personal spiritual growth.
It will take time and being intentional to develop a relationship with each of your group members. A leader needs to consistently seek to understand the whole picture of who each member is, both as a person and as a part of the group. As you build trust with each one, ask deeper questions that uncover their thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.
Ask questions that will help you:
Understand their spiritual journey. (How did they come to Christ? To your church? Who has been influential in their journey?)
Understand their life history. (What was and is their family like? How did they celebrate? How did they grieve? How did they handle conflict? What were the major turning points in their life?)
Understand their heart. (What brings them joy? What makes them sad? What do they dream about?)
While a primary tool to building relationships will be some one-on-one time, that may not be possible or appropriate with every group member. You can also plan relational activities to help foster relationships with your group during weekly meeting times.
Whether the conversation is a planned one-on-one time, chance meeting, or group dialogue, leaders need to practice good listening skills. As you care for your group members, here are some guidelines.
Listen more than you speak. Don’t interrupt or look for openings in the conversation to get your point across. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
Actively engage in their story. As leaders share their story, do not become preoccupied with pondering your next question or response.
Ask for clarification. When what they are communicating is not clear to you, don’t presume to know what they are trying to say.
Keep the focus on them. Resist the urge to use their story as a springboard to tell your experiences. Use your stories and experiences sparingly and only when doing so will be helpful to the person’s growth.
Fight the temptation to move too quickly to solutions. Seek to listen and fully understand. “Answering before listening is both stupid and rude” (Prov. 18:13 MSG).
Listen beyond their words. Pay attention to their body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and choice of words. These nonverbal cues can help you discern unexpressed thoughts, feelings, and struggles.
Ask permission to move deeper. Ask questions that get beyond surface conversation and offer the opportunity to share feelings, opinions, and values. Try to move from self-description to self-disclosure.
When your mind wanders, confess it. Everyone has those moments when their mind drifts. Generally, people can tell if you aren’t really listening. When it happens to you, honestly tell the person or group, ask them to forgive you, and encourage them to repeat what they shared.
Be an Encourager
Leading a community group should be a rewarding experience. Leaders help people form new friendships, and they watch while those relationships grow. They see people come to Christ and grow in their devotion to him. They develop and launch new leaders.
Group leadership can also have its challenges. Sometimes fantastic plans for a group meeting may flop. Members will miss meetings. People work late, they take vacations, or their kids get sick. At times, relational harmony will give way to chaos. Conflict will happen. Group members will move away or quit. Groups give birth to create new ones. Groups end. Some group members grow spiritually, while some seem to grow stagnant.
In the tough times, a word of encouragement can mean the difference between a group member staying in the game or quitting. The truth is, we all need encouragement.
Throughout Scripture, good leaders have modeled encouragement for us.
At God’s command, Moses encouraged his apprentice, Joshua (Deut. 1:38; 3:28).
King Hezekiah encouraged people who were giving their lives in service to the Lord (2 Chron. 30:22).
Josiah encouraged the spiritual leaders of Israel (2 Chron. 35:2).
A major portion of Paul’s writing and ministry to churches was encouragement (Acts 14:22; 16:40; 20:1–2; 27:36).
One leader, Joseph, did this so well that the apostles gave him a new name: Barnabas (Acts 4:36). Literally translated, it means “son of encouragement.” Later we find him living up to the new name as he encouraged the churches (Acts 11:23).
Group members need their leader to be a Barnabas for them. They need encouragement to continue to grow spiritually, and they need you to offer words of encouragement on a regular basis. Leaders have expressed that what they desire most from their coach is spiritual development skills. Gain their permission and their trust to serve as a guide — not an expert — for the next leg of their spiritual journey, and check in with them regularly regarding their personal spiritual growth.
In what spiritual habits and practices are your members regularly engaging?
Have they drifted away from God? At times, we all stray and need a guiding hand and loving encouragement to return to God.
Where do they sense God is leading them to grow next? Help them discern what their growth path could be.
What could a next step of spiritual growth look like? Rather than tell them what to do, brainstorm a list of possibilities. Explore together what new spiritual disciplines or practices could help their growth.
Beyond guidance in spiritual growth, group members need encouragement in their day to day skills. They need a leader who will often do the following:
Offer encouragement for things they have done well, even little things.
Praise them when they tackle difficult issues and challenges. Even though they may not complete every detail perfectly, find the things leaders do well and offer genuine praise.
Encourage them to persevere in the tough times and not get tired of doing the right things. They’ll see the benefits in time if they don’t get discouraged and give up (Gal. 6:9).
Use a variety of encouragement styles. Hand written letters, cards, and even email notes or texts are a great source of encouragement to people. Recognition in front of their peers can also be important.
Discover their unique leadership gifts and potential.
When appropriate, offer public praise or even awards. A great time for this is in your group gatherings. Sharing the struggles and successes your group members experience can deepen community and cast vision for the kind of group you hope to develop.
Most change happens slowly, over time. So, as you encourage growth in your group, remember Paul’s words: “Be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).
Your group will eventually encounter pain, loss, and disappointment in their own lives or in the life of a group member. In those seasons, they may need guidance from you. They may need help determining how best to care for group members who are in crisis. This is especially true for…
people who have never walked through a crisis in community with a group;
newly formed groups, where the relationships are still developing;
extreme crises, such as the death of a group member or a catastrophic loss.
(If the crisis is in the member’s personal life or family, they may need you to be a spiritual comfort to him or her—a caring shepherd. Important to include and Elder or Pastor in certain situations.)
Hurting people value your presence over your words or skills. A call or visit can be very encouraging.
Pray for and with people, asking God to restore their physical and spiritual health.
Look for any ways you and the group might serve them. Do they need help with household chores, family responsibilities, or food? Do they need help with transportation? Engage the Reunion community as well.
Remember that shared pain is often the gateway to growth and healing. This is often true not only for the individual but also for the group.
Know when to ask for help. Sometimes a particular need will be so large that the group won’t be able to meet it. Again, know where you or the group can turn for assistance at Reunion.
The natural tendency for most people is to withdraw from, not move toward, people who are in pain. By your example as Leader, encourage the group members to come alongside people who are hurting. Guide the Care Group as they develop their heart of compassion.
Key Targets in Care Group Ministry
One - Personal Life: Husband – Wife – Friend – Neighbor - Employee
Two - Spiritual Life: Active – Faith - Relationship with God
Three - Ministry Life: Serving – Loving - Gifting
The Care Group Leader cares about the members heart, mind, and soul. This is not an investigation and not an interrogation; it’s a conversation. In Care Group Ministry conversations are one of the single most important tools available and help the Leader navigate life with the group’s members. For now, let’s focus on the kinds of questions to ask a group member as you build a genuine relationship with each of them. The more you get to know them, the more they will respect, trust, and become open to you.
The personal life of each member lies at the heart of their ministry and spiritual life. By showing interest about this area, you are saying, “I want to know your world and your story—at any level you want to discuss it—because you are a unique creation of God and deeply valued and loved.”
Granted, this may be awkward for you. This is not a probe. It’s an invitation to a group member to open up their heart to you, to view you as a friend and confidant, a prayer partner and support advocate.
Here are some general guidelines for discussing personal life issues.
1. Seek first to understand rather than to be understood. We tend to be eager to share wisdom, solve problems, and suggest advice before we fully understand the leader and what’s going on inside them. Don’t assume — ask.
2. Ask permission before asking a personal question. “May I ask you about your work environment? It sounds like a challenging place.” “May I spend a few moments unpacking what you just told me about growing up on the East Coast? It must have been hard to lose your father at a young age in a tough city.” By asking permission, we allow the member an out or at least show that we want to honor their desire to keep parts of their story to themselves.
3. Invite conversation; don’t force it. “I’d like to know more about that.” “I wonder how that must have felt?” These kinds of statements show you are listening but aren’t as direct as “Explain that to me” or “What exactly was that conversation about?”
4. Use open or hypothetical questions that allow for a range of responses. “How do you think your experience as the only woman in a management role at your company will help you relate to other women in the marketplace?” By giving lots of room for an answer, you allow each member to gauge their own level of comfort and safety in the conversation.
5. Always acknowledge and affirm the risk a member has taken in opening their life. Make sure the group and each member know that you understand how scary it was to share a part of himself or herself with you. Especially in a new environment and relationship. Trust takes time and requires constant nurturing. “Thanks for telling me about that struggle with your girlfriend. Rest assured, I will keep that in confidence and also in my prayers for you. I am honored you would tell me about that.”
We know that all of life is spiritual, but use the term spiritual to focus on the group’s relationship with God. This relationship is where the group will draw strength, find hope, and experience growth or frustration. It is also a delicate area for some to discuss, so there are five guidelines we would like to apply here. Here are some key areas in which to engage in conversation about spiritual life with the group.
1 - Image of God. How does the group member see God and relate to him (as Judge, Friend, Lover, Leader, Helper)?
2 - Prayer life. Is the group member stuck, engaged, feeling connected?
Bible reading. How does the member use devotional reading, Bible study, meditation on Scripture, Bible memory, and so on?
3 - Worship. Does the leader participate in regular gatherings for worship? Does he or she view all of life as worship and devotion to God?
4 - Spiritual practices. What other practices does the group member know or use (fasting, silence, solitude, service, giving, and so on)?
Now that you have been getting to know the personal stories and spiritual needs of the group, let’s turn toward some conversations about the groups calling to biblical ministry. How is the day to day ministry really going? What resources, help, or support can you bring to each member?
The group often has a variety of needs but seldom express those freely to a Group Leader. Usually this is because the relationship is not deep enough yet, and perhaps there is a fear of judgment if things are not going well. Most people will usually have some fears or concerns about sharing his or her ministry with a leader. Here are some common ones.
1 – “My Care Group Leader doesn’t know my environment or circumstances, so how can he/she understand my ministry needs?”
This is true, and that’s why Care Group leaders are encouraged to visit or to interact with the group members in other settings at church or in the community. The more a Group Leader understands the context of the group members work context and lifestyle circumstances, the better help he or she can give. Remember Leading a group is a relational ministry. The more you know each member and the group, the more group insights you can provide. But what is also important and true is that Care Group leaders work with all group members. Problems, principles, and lessons learned from interaction with other group members will become a rich pool of resources from which you can draw to help each member in your care.
2 - “I don’t need another boss; I already have one at work.”
The group member is right. And that’s the last thing most Leaders want to be — a boss or a spy or a judge. You must work hard to communicate that you are a friend, a partner, an encourager, a resource person, a fellow follower of Jesus. You are not in a person’s life to critique and evaluate. You are there to build them up and connect them with people and resources for their growth and success. As a Leader it’s important to clarify your role and relationship with the members of the group. You will have to explain why you are there and why you are doing this ministry. And tell them what you are not there to do, just to be clear.
3 - “I have some tough issues in my group; will my Elder or Pastor will understand how to handle those issues?”
Maybe a Group Leader will have a great insight into a member’s worst problems, and maybe he or she won’t. But a good Leader will find someone who can help — another leader, elder or pastor. A Group leader is not a know-it-all but should be competent to seek out answers and rally support and care to each member when needed most.
4 - “I’m doing just fine, things are all good. Why do I need a Care Group and Leader right now?”
This is probably the most common remark from general church-goers. When there appears to be no immediate crises and people seem generally happy, there is consensus that there is no need for Care Group Ministry and leadership. But even people who are at the top of their game — athletes, CEOs, musicians, educators, actors—use the help of other Leaders input on a regular basis for feedback, for insight, for problem solving, and for finding the best resources to help them pursue success. We have to gently remind each Care Group member that “fine” may not always be enough in life. God wants our best, and every group member deserves the support and love a Care Group Leader who is growing personally and spiritually, not one who is just cruising along, leading average meetings and offering spiritual leftovers to members.