This short e-book introduces the distinguishing characteristics of teachers, shepherds, and leaders. While most pastors are forced to carry all three mantles, it’s also clear that most pastors aren’t naturally gifted or properly trained to do each. Some pastors (or more specifically for this book, small group leaders) are gifted teachers yet lack the compassion and outward focus required to truly shepherd and care for a group of believers. Others are strong leaders and motivating “people-persons,” yet they don’t have a clue about how to delegate or raise up people to step into that same role. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and this tiny primer can help kick-start a necessary discussion in our leadership groups that perhaps we’ve been avoiding for too long.
The book is split up into the three roles of teacher, shepherd, and leader—discussing such things as relationships, ruts, and results—and it follows up each set with discussion questions as well. Beginning with the role of Teacher, the one who guides the group study, the authors suggest that anyone who views himself as a teacher of a Bible study group either behaves as a lecturer or a guide, and the differences make for vastly differing small-group dynamics. They write: “Talking does not equal teaching any more than listening equals learning.” They emphasize the importance of guiding a group toward discovery, for the students then have a hand in the process and learn by active investigation and not merely by rote.
Moving on to the role of Shepherd, the authors continue to encourage small-group leaders to know and truly care for their attendees. Acknowledging how these roles are so intertwined, they write: “You can be a teacher without being a shepherd, but you can’t be a shepherd without being a teacher!” Another important quip that helps clarify the point is this: “We don’t teach the Bible. We teach people the Bible.”
Finally moving on to the role of Leader, they reiterate often the importance of delegation and vision-casting. I’m just a little skeptical at their judgment of the current state of affairs for churches when they first acknowledge that “Leaders are readers, and readers are leaders,” but then recommend that leaders “grow into this: read one book every six months and gradually move up to reading one a quarter.” Goodness gracious! Is that to be an improvement on the status quo? Perhaps Americans are dumber than I thought!
The authors then summarize their concepts about three roles by quoting this helpful line from Jesus in John 10:27 , “My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me.” They write: “What a great verse for the 3 roles! Through the role of teacher, the guide’s voice is heard. Out of the role of shepherd, the guide knows the people. As a result, they follow. That sounds like the role of leader.” It therefore ought to be every small-group leader’s intention to mature himself in each of these areas so he can become a stronger, more Christ-like leader to his class or church.
The authors also note a startling statistic early on about the importance of small groups in a church. They state that “83% of new believers who joined a group apart from worship” remained faithful to church attendance through the fifth year, “compared to just 16% who attended only worship.” That’s shocking, especially when considering the emphasis most traditional churches place on the Big Three: Sunday Morning, Sunday Evening, and Wednesday Night Prayer services. Could this be the main factor in why many of those churches are either stagnant or dying? While I agree that there’s an unhealthy emphasis on “programs” in many “fresh” churches these days (especially those that have cut their full-church gatherings down to just one service a week), perhaps their emphasis on small groups is one key to their consistent growth (not simply the “draw-a-crowd maneuvers” of which they’re often accused).
This was a fine little book that got my brain working to discover my own deficiencies and ideas for improvement. I’d recommend it at least to current or hopeful small-group leaders so that they can do the same.