Why Do We Pass Over Potential Group Leaders?

Let’s take a walk down memory lane for a moment.

Think back to your middle school days. Do you remember the pain of recess when captains were designated by a coach or teacher, and they proceeded to select one student at a time? I wasn’t the last kid picked, but close! Talk about a terrible feeling – being passed over while other kids were chosen first. Some of you are having flashbacks to similar scenarios!

Sometimes kids that are chosen last actually excel beyond the kids chosen earlier in the selection process. Maybe that’s because the team captain chooses his or her friends first. Perhaps it’s because the team captain misjudges the abilities of the kids available to him.

Now it’s present-day and we’re still passing over potential team members, but this time it’s for positions as group leaders, not for positions on a recess kickball, soccer, football, or four-square team. The stakes are much higher in the church than on the middle school athletic field.

Why do we often pass over potential group leaders in the church today? Here are three reasons we may overlook some real talent:

  1. We’ve raised the bar too high. That sounds a bit improbable, I know. After all, we’re talking about leaders of Bible study groups, and surely the bar must be set very high, right? I’m all for standards in personal conduct. People should have a good reputation inside and outside the church. But what I’m suggesting here is something that came out in a Lifeway research project recently. It was determined that only 3% of people leave a group because of the group leader. To say it in reverse, 97% of group members are not dissatisfied with the person leading their group. Here is what the research findings led Scott McConnell, director of Lifeway Research, to conclude in his book Together: The Power of Groups. “Given how hard we work within our churches to find the perfect leaders for groups, one has to wonder if we are actually being too selective. Are there more leaders ready to lead or start groups that we have been unwilling to encourage? With only three percent having a bad experience with a leader, there is likely room for highly selective churches to release more people into group leadership” – Together: The power of groups, p.20.
  2. We’ve over-value “teachers” and give less consideration to “shepherd teachers.” I made this mistake in my earlier ministry days. I always looked for a potential group leader who had a great command of the Bible and could “wow” the crowds with his or her Bible knowledge. The problem was that many of these kinds of teachers loved the sound of their own voices more than they loved the people in their groups. When I began looking around and decided to choose some people I’d passed over, those that had a shepherding gift, heart, and mindset, I was able to turn them into better group leaders over time through training. It’s easier to do that than to teach a “teacher” to love people. At least it’s been that way in my experience. Give me a “B” or “B+” shepherd/teacher any day, and in time I’ll turn them into a group leader whose teaching and guiding abilities progress. At the same time they will continue to love their group members and they will see numerical growth.
  3. We’ve forgotten that God uses ordinary people to do extra-ordinary things. Finally, we may have forgotten many of the stories from the Bible in which God took an ordinary person and did extra-ordinary things through them. Can you name a few “improbable” people?
    • Noah got drunk
    • David was an adulterer
    • Paul was the arch-enemy of the first-century church
    • Moses had a speech impediment (and he was also a murderer)
    • Rahab was a prostitute
    • Peter was a coward
    • Thomas had doubts
    • And the list could go on…but God used these people in spite of their shortcomings.

As you look around your group (if you are a group leader), or as you look around your church if you are a pastor or staff leader, maybe it’s time to consider some people you’ve passed over for leadership in the past. Maybe we have more people who God could use in some incredible ways if we just gave them a chance – and if we gave God a chance to show His strength in their weaknesses.

Someone took a chance on me long ago, and I’m glad they did. By human standards I don’t believe I had a lot going for me. God took what I had to offer, though, and I am grateful for the things He’s allowed me to do in Kingdom work since then. Thankfully, I was not one of the passed-over-ones. But I almost was.

I wonder if there is someone you know who should be invited to join your team? Someone who you discounted too quickly? Who is someone you’ve passed over?

And for anyone reading this post today and you do feel passed over, don’t wait for someone to see your potential. Take the initiative. Make that first step. Reach out to your pastor or other leader and let them know there’s more to you than meets the eye.

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