Summary: Small groups should not be led by people who carry more importance and power. Instead, small groups should allow The Leader (Christ) to lead through the group as a whole. In order to do this, small groups need hosts instead of leaders.
How we understand and use language is important because it shapes the way we behave and believe. How? Words are metaphors. If someone says the word tree, the word itself is not what is being communicated. What is being communicated is the idea of a tree.
And although our complete ideas of a tree when we hear the word may be in many ways different than another person’s, they are similar enough that we know what each other means by the word tree.
Language is living in the sense that it is constantly evolving. As language evolves, the ideas set forth by words change. For example, “bad” used to just mean something undesirable. Now it can mean “really good.”
Not only that, but the way we form words around other words in sentences shapes the ideas we’re communicating.
The idea of the word “leader”
Traditionally, the person who initiates a small group discussion is called a “leader.” But, because we actually want there to be a leader in every chair as God designed it to be, I’d propose that we find a different term to use. Why? Because of the idea of what that word means in people’s heads and hearts.
For the vast majority of people, “leader” is a word that carries with it the connotation of importance and power. In most contexts, those labeled “leaders” are more important, carry more power and get paid more. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a group of people where that’s not the case.
Now, I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with that word. It’s possible there are places and times in this world where that word meant something very different than what it means in the time and place in which I live.
But for right now where I am (and likely where you are), I’m confident that it’s very likely an obstacle to people thinking the way they need to about themselves for small group discussions to be as healthy as they could be and involve every member participating and doing their job.
In a church small group, we want everyone to relate to each other as leaders as The Leader lives His life in and through them. If that’s the case, we can’t call one or a few people by that word and leave the rest out. That ends up in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Non-leaders typically stay that way (see the psychological principle of labeling).
But, that’s not our goal. Our goal is that everyone would come to full maturity (Colossians 1:28-29). It’s so there would be a leader in every chair.
What may be a better option
With that said, we still need people to be initiators, guiders, and protectors.
In the book The Circle Way: A Leader In Every chair, the authors prefer the term “host” as an appropriate word for the role this person takes on in a group.
The reason they chose this word is because it aptly describes what someone who initiates a small group discussion should do if they want that group to be as successful as it could be. Hosting is done in the spirit of being a peer, not as what we’ve come to know as a leader.
While leadership is happening, it’s happening from the rim of the circle, it’s temporary and it can and should be open to anybody.
The authors go on to point out more specifically what this is like…
The redefinition of where leadership sits and how it offers guidance instead of asserting authority is the paradigm shift to which circle calls us. Leadership is understood to be a temporary authority, a stewardship of group process, a donation of one’s skills, focus, and energy so that the collective well-being is tended and the inherent wisdom in the group may emerge. It assumes that everyone in the circle may hold this position at some time in the process.
They relate this role of host to the concept of throwing a dinner party…
At a dinner party, the host prepares the menu, sets the table, creates the ambiance, puts thought into people’s comfort – and joins in when the party begins.
A host prepares and cultivates the environment and then participates in the process.
What we traditionally know and call a “leader” in a small group should really be a host. When groups have hosts instead of leaders, it unlocks the group’s potential to operate as a healthy body and family as God designed it to.
The role of the host
Many of the things hosts do in their role to prepare and cultivate the environment of a small group discussion will be outlined more in depth in other posts.
Here I’m going to give a high-level overview of some of those things…
Issues an invitation.
See this post for a more thorough explanation of what an effective invitation should include.
Transitions the group from social interaction to structured discussion.
This can typically be done with an introduction of the content and expectations for the gathering.
Activates conversation with a thought or question that’s designed for everyone to speak.
This acts as a cue for everyone to start exploring together to accomplish the group’s purpose for the meeting.
Holds the group accountable to agreed-upon behaviors.
It’s not a host’s job to control the group. It is the job of the group to learn how to function as a collaborative circle. A taking on the role of a host involves gently directing the group back to their principles and purpose (which were agreed upon together) if they should start to test the boundaries.
Ensures everyone has a voice.
This is one of the main principles the group has to learn to operate with together. A host may step in to remind people of this goal.
Guides and protects the conversation from losing focus.
If the group goes too far off the path of accomplishing it’s purpose together, a host brings the conversation back to a point that gets back on course.
Moves the conversation along in a timely manner.
People can and will only be engaged for a certain amount of time. Healthy interaction takes a good deal of energy. In my experience, the goal should be to fully explore the purpose of the meeting by the 1.5 hour mark. That’s typically when a group starts to fade. But, every conversation takes on energy of its own.
Transitions the group from structured discussion to social interaction with a summary and where to go from here.
It’s important that there’s a conclusion to what was talked about or decided so that everyone is clear and agrees about what the group accomplished together.
Trusts the group with the conversation within the boundaries of the agree-upon core purpose.
It’s important that hosts sit within a certain amount of digression, confusion, excitement, and surprise to pour through the conversation so that the group’s creativity is enlivened by being together.
Again, these will be explored more in the rest of this series.
Hosting allows for true leadership to emerge
One thing to remember about all of these functions a host may take on – anyone and everyone in the group should be trained and prepared to do them. A small group starts to get unhealthy the more it’s one person that does all of these all the time. You never want a group looking to one person to drive indefinitely.
A small group can’t be wondering “who’s in charge?” Instead, it has to be thinking “how is Jesus Christ in charge through us?” Remember that in the Church, the Leader literally lives inside of each member.
When a groups’ minds are trained to shift to this new paradigm, it can now explore the answers to that question and act upon them. It can now pay attention not to where a person is leading, but to the expression of the true Leader of the group and where HE leads.
The rest of the posts in the Made For Circle series are here.