Summary: In order to be spiritually healthy, a small group must have unity in participation. There are 4 basic roles each person can take on that makes sure this happens. The more people get trained in these roles, the healthier small group discussions can become.
When our church gathers, there’s almost always good food involved. In order for this to happen, we coordinate beforehand by communicating who will be responsible for bringing what and the types of food involved.
Usually, the person who has been assigned the main dish for the week will communicate what they’re bringing so that everyone else can consider what they should bring. If the main dish is Mexican, you probably don’t want someone deciding to bring spaghetti sauce! And if it’s Italian, don’t bring salsa! 🙂
This coordination around the theme of the meal helps everyone to prepare and bring things that will result in one big feast that fits together and brings nourishment to our bodies.
But this is just a symbol of what really should be happening when we gather. The same thing should be going on with our souls.
Eating together spiritually
This concept of Jesus Christ as our spiritual food and drink through each other is splattered throughout the New Testament; and churches that were planted and gathering were having trouble eating together; physically and spiritually. So, much about this concept had to be addressed in letters to them.
Here’s what the apostle Paul says to one church…
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. (I Corinthians 10:16)
He had received reports that their meetings were characterized by division because some people were choosing to eat before others arrived, get drunk, and do all sorts of crazy things that were upsetting other members of the church.
His point: our eating together is a symbol of our participation and oneness in Christ through His death and resurrection. When you come together and eat, you should do it in a way that reflects that.
Taking this a step further, when we eat together spiritually through our small group discussions, we should also do it in a way that reflects our participation and oneness in Christ and “partake of the same meal” together.
When we don’t have our eyes fixed on participating in unity; it’s like one person bringing fajitas, the next person bringing spaghetti sauce, the next person bringing baked potatoes and the next person bringing nothing at all. You end up with people picking and choosing, but an overall meal no one wants to eat…and you just may end up in a food fight!
Just like a church would coordinate a meal together, it also needs to have coordination to its discussions that reflect unified participation. This coordination helps provide the outcome of a healthy, desirable “meal” for the group.
Here, I’m going to outline 4 basic roles given in the book The Circle Way: A Leader In Every Chair that each person can “bring” to a small group discussion to make sure the goal of unified participation is met, resulting in a small group that’s as healthy as it can be.
There’s no unity in Christ if there’s no unity in participation.
Host is a role that initiates and does these things…
- Issues a clear invitation. This covers who should be included, what the discussion will be about, and what will be expected of each participant.
- Makes sure everyone has what they need to participate. If people aren’t prepared, they can’t share the responsibility of participating and fulfilling the group’s purpose.
- Provides structure that allows the group to operate at its highest level. There are 3 main components that can provide structure that a host should be executing. See this post for a full treatment of each of them.
- Prepares the space. The environment a discussion takes place in matters. At a dinner party, the host prepares the menu, sets the table, creates the ambience, puts thought into people’s comfort – and joins in when the party begins.
- Participates in the conversation as a peer. Regarding being a peer…
Unlike what we traditionally know as a small group leader, a host doesn’t come to a discussion looking to herd small group participants into pre-determined answers, conclusions or decisions that have already been dealt with.
Instead, a host simply makes sure people have what they need to participate (a clear invitation for what’s expected), prepares to contribute, and holds a group to shared accountability for its process and how it will reach its goal for the discussion.
Unlike a facilitator who usually stays outside of the process while directing it, a host sits within it. The host is a part of the group as well. But just like everyone else, they sit on the rim of the circle. Once everyone sits down for the meal, they’re just another eater. They’re not force-feeding people. They’re not guiding the group to its conclusion. They’re another member being guided collectively as a group.
Listen to how the authors of The Circle Way describe the shift from being a leader or facilitator to being a host…
This is the shift: the host is not like the driver of a car, steering all alone and responsible for whether or not the vehicle stays on the road or crashes into a tree. The whole group is steering. Everyone is connected to the hub of the wheel.
The host provides the destination and the vehicle (the structure) for the group to get there.
See this post for a full treatment of what it means to be a host in a small group discussion.
Guardian is a role that observes and does these things…
- Intervenes in the discussion to get it back on track. A guardian has to be one that pays attention to how the group is functioning and when it gets off track. They then give suggestions for what the group needs to do to honor the practices and principles they’ve agreed to.
- A good guardian is able to call the group back to the infrastructure in place: the agreements, principles and practices, intention, and use of center for grounding (read the entire series to learn about these elements).
- Names challenging situations with neutral language. Neutral language requires the ability to talk about what’s happening without instigating blame or shame. They are simply calling the group back to the agreed-upon practices and principles of healthy small group discussions.
- Calls for breaks when necessary. There are different reasons a group may need a break from a discussion to refocus – they’ve lost their focus on hearing Christ, they’ve become competitive, etc.
- Helps the group stick to its time frame. A good discussion has a reasonable time frame to resolve its purpose. People only have so much stamina to continue to hold a circle and participate.
Scribe is a role that practices awareness of what the group is creating and does these things…
- Records and summarizes the essence of the discussion. They observe and record essence statements, new insights and decisions. They are harvesting what the group has created. This is not minute-taking where every detail is written down. This is recording what the group has created in relation to the purpose for the discussion. To use the fire analogy that’s been used throughout this series, it’s recording what is burning so the group can clearly see it.
- Preserves the essence of the discussion. Not only does a group need to clearly see what they’re harvesting together, they need to be reminded of it and act upon it. Discussions can build on each other from one to the next. This helps to stay focused on the highlights, insights and decision points that have been reached previously to be able to move forward in ways that align.
- Anchors the process of collaboration. Since they’re looking for the essence of what the group is creating together, they can play a role in making sure individuals don’t stray away from what the group has uncovered. They should remind the group of these things as an accountability partner.
Each of these 3 roles hold the progress of the small group toward fulfilling the stated purpose of the discussion. The Circle Way describes it this way…
The essence of host, guardian, and scribe in circle: they are holding space so that all present in the circle can reach inside ourselves and call out more than we dreamed was possible. They provide a compass of leadership that tends to activate others around the rim to step into their own leadership.
Each of these roles are permission-based; meaning they are given to people by the group and submitted to voluntarily. The group agrees to allow people to perform these roles because they are trained and gifted to do them, and the group knows they are needed for discussions to be as healthy and productive as they can be. Without them, collaboration (the goal of healthy discussion) becomes pretty difficult.
Participant is a role that offers themselves and does these things…
- Behaves co-equally as a peer. God designed churches to have a leader in every chair. For this to be a reality in discussions, people have to step into what they already are and own it.
- Prepares what to offer. Each should make sure they understand what’s expected of them and come ready to contribute what they have to offer to the purpose of the discussion.
- Sticks to the agreements. Before a group gets together, they should all understand together what constitutes respectful interaction.
- Stays aware of what’s happening inside of them. Good participants are constantly monitoring their thoughts and feelings and asking themselves “Is this helpful to the group’s purpose?”
In each of their ways, all 4 roles contribute to the small group’s progress toward fulfilling the goal, which should be the stated purpose of the discussion.
Each person can develop skill in each role
Note that these roles don’t need to be confined to one person each. Each person in a circle can take on one or multiple roles depending on the skills they’ve developed and the talents they bring to the table.
Each of them should also be rotating and overlapping. While some people will be more prone to certain roles than others because of talent and skill, everyone can develop into them and take them on in some form or another.
Someone may be taking the role of host, but a participant may step in because they notice a question that needs to be asked. Someone may be taking on the role of guardian, but a participant may step in because they notice the group is getting off track.
There needs to be continuous training
Part of the church’s nature is spontaneous expansion. Churches can’t do this in an established, healthy manner if they don’t have people in small groups continuously getting trained in being able to step into these roles.
If these roles become static (meaning the same people are always doing them), growth in maturity is stunted. A church may grow in numbers, but the responsibilities simply increase on a few people instead of being dispersed throughout the group like the New Testament teaches they should be.
Either way, people may “get fed,” but they won’t get equipped (the real goal) with what they need to reach their potential as serving members of a church.
Again, a church or small group’s unity in Christ goes as far as their unity in participation.
If you can train the members of a small group to take on each of these 4 roles, you will have set it up for becoming the potential that lies within it – which is Jesus Christ as the Head leading His Body, which is every member participating in their unique ways.
And when they come together, they will eat well.
The rest of the posts in the Made For Circle series are here.