This article was originally written for and published by Small Group Exchange. I have republished the article here with permission.
It was our first night with our Bible Study, and I was nervous. I had facilitated discussion a couple of times at other groups I’d been a part of over the previous year, but this was different. This was the group that I started. This was my “really big show,” as they say (can you sense the pride?). I presented the vision that I had in mind for the group – I was excited, the group was excited (or at least polite enough to not say otherwise), and we were off to the races.
Over the next several weeks, we limped along, with so-so discussion and content, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves (so, that was a win, right?). We struggled to figure out how we were going to run our study… while running our study. At the same time, my gifts were just beginning to emerge, which center around teaching. And as I grew in this area, and began to figure out a style of teaching that encouraged discussion, our group really took off. People were learning, new people were joining, people were repenting of sin; it was awesome.
Then I began to wonder: Should I go to seminary? If I’m teaching the Bible, shouldn’t I have a degree of some sort?
This led to months of wrestling and more questions: What practical benefit would seminary serve? How would it affect my family? Am I called into a form of vocational ministry that would require me to be ordained? For months, I prayed, I talked with my wife, with my closest friends, with my mentors… and eventually an answer came:
I didn’t need to go to seminary. My ability to teach was not contingent on a degree, but solely on the grace of God and the enablement of the Holy Spirit. In fact, seminary might actually limit my ability to minister effectively because it would create an artificial division between me and the people I serve. It sounds weird, but imagine you are in a small group; you’re a new Christian, you’re just learning how to read your Bible, and everything that goes along with that. Your leader is smart, knows his Bible well thanks to good teachers and dedicated study, and is actively pursuing humility by God’s grace. Most importantly, he’s a regular guy. This is a man who isn’t really any different than me, you think. And if he can do it, so can I.
That’s connection – that’s where discipleship can really happen. And a degree, as great and useful as they can be, can sometimes get in the way.
So, if we don’t need a degree, what do we need?
First, know if small group ministry is where God wants you to serve. Do you have a passion for small groups? Do you desire to see people grow in holiness and knowledge of Jesus? If so, ask your pastoral leadership for their blessing in moving forward.
Secondly, know your Bible well. This is absolutely vital to all of life, but especially any leadership position within the church. No amount of passion makes up for a lack of biblical instruction. As a leader, your role is not to let your people go down every rabbit trail; your role is to help them grow and mature in their faith. This means you need to be somewhat mature in your own. It also means that you will need to end certain lines of discussion within your group. This particularly relates to those that center around questioning critical doctrines of the Christian faith (such as the resurrection, the atoning work of Jesus, and original sin, among others). This will take great discernment and wisdom; and while it is not an easy thing to do, it is the loving thing.
Third, learn to develop and ask appropriate questions. Don’t write questions that begin “Is it not true that…” or have a paragraph of preamble that leaves everyone confused. I made these errors a lot early on and it really hurt our discussion. Be direct in your language and be sure to use “why” and “cite Scripture in your answer” a lot.
Fourth, study ahead of your group. Whether you are using a prepared curriculum or developing your own, studying ahead helps you anticipate questions that might come up.
Fifth, be honest about your own failings. No one likes to be around a “Super-Christian” who has no problems in life whatsoever. Your honesty will help create an atmosphere of trust within your group.
Finally, pursue humility. All the passion in the world, a strong grasp of the Scriptures, and study won’t make a lick of difference if you’re proud. Humility teaches us to know when to speak and not need to get the last word in. Humility gives us the grace to learn from our fellow group members as much as they learn from us. This is a great weakness of mine. I am a very smart man, but not nearly as wise. In other words, I tend to be very proud. But, by the grace of God, I’m pursuing humility, and while I know I will never perfectly attain it in this life, I know that God will finish the good work he has begun.
Do we need a seminary degree to lead a small group? No, a degree doesn’t make us more or less qualified to lead a small group. So what does? A passion for people and God’s Word, spiritual maturity, honesty and humility. These are the makings of qualified leadership.