Modeling: Leadership in Start-up

This post is the fourth post in a ten part series ... Small Group Leader Training. For more posts in this series check out the series frontpage.

The unwritten / oft-written rule around my ministry is "Never ask your people to do something you are unwilling to do yourself."  This applies to evangelism, discipling, going to conferences, taking notes during a sermon ... just about anything.

I value this principle because I believe that Leaders set the tone.  Over time, Small Groups begin to look like their Leaders.  Just as trees produce fruit after their kind and animals produce offspring after their kind, Leaders produce people that look like them.

This is one of the reasons Modeling is so important.

When we model, we show the folks in our Small Groups what participation in the Small Group is supposed to look like.  "How deep should I share?  How long should I pray?  What kind of humour is appropriate (if any)?"  That kind of stuff.

And in the Start-up stage of the life of a Small Group, your people are looking to you to set the tone, to create the culture.  They don't know each other.  They don't know what the Group's supposed to look like.  They may barely even know you.  But you're the Leader.  Three weeks from now, they will do what they've seen you do.

Modeling sounds simple, but in practice it is so counter-intuitive.

We struggle with this.  We want people to share and be vulnerable, so we hold back, trying to give them room to talk.  We want people to engage with the discussion and Bible Study, so we hold back, trying to give them room to talk.  And these behaviors are great.  Just not in the Start-up stage.

In the Start-up stage, the Leader creates room for people to talk by talking.  Isn't that strange?  Just as the bride and groom set the wedding guests to cake eating by smashing cake into each other's faces, the Small Group Leader has to take the first step.  Share the first story.  Make the first observation.  Pray the first prayer.

This is what it really means to break the ice.  The Leader walks out on the frozen pond and jumps.  Often alone.  Jumps until the ice breaks.  A week.  A month.  Five minutes.  Different Small Groups take different amounts of time to join the leader in the water beneath the ice.  But the Leader has to go first.

Going first is frightening.  "What if I do something wrong?" 
Going first is confusing.  "What am I supposed to do?" 
Going first is risky.  "What if I'm rejected by the Group?" 

By going first, the Leader takes responsibility for that fear, confusion and risk ... and overcomes it.  And, let's face it ... of all the people in the circle, the Leader has the least to fear, the smallest amount of confusion and is really taking the fewest risks by going first.

This is why, when new Group Leaders tell me their Small Group isn't sharing, isn't digging deep, isn't being vulnerable, I always ask about modeling.  It doesn't solve every problem, but it is the single best leadership practice for a Group in the Start-up stage.

Where have you seen a Leader really embrace Modeling in the Start-up stage?

The next post in this series will explore Pursuing, the leadership stance I find most helpful when leading a Group through the Shake-up stage in the life of a Small Group.  I'll post a link here as soon as it is published.

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