This post is part of our Five Focuses of a Transformational Group Leader series

As a college student, I decided to help out in the student ministry by serving as a Sunday school teacher. I was assigned to a group of 11thgraders as a co-leader with Bob (not his real name). I was the young twenty-something former Marine who liked to play video games and watch football. Bob was older, worked in the tech industry, and didn’t care much about sports. I felt bad for Bob because I felt like he was out of touch with students. He brought a box of donuts to the group every week but other than that, his teaching was a bit boring and I wasn’t sure he related to these high schoolers. I spent time hanging with them at football games. I spent time playing N64 games with them. I felt like they looked up to me as an older brother rather than another adult in their life.

When the parents of one the students in our group split up, I thought he would come to me for help. But he went to Bob instead. Over time, others would consult Bob when they were dealing with real life issues and needed biblical insight. My feelings were hurt. Why hadn’t they come to me, wasn’t I more of a friend? Didn’t I understand their stage of life better? Wasn’t I the cool older brother versus Bob, who was out of touch? Sure, when they wanted to hang out and have fun, I was the guy. But when they wanted serious impact in their life or to understand how to walk with God, Bob was the go-to.

I learned a valuable lesson: there is more to being a great group leader than building strong relationships. Sure, relational capital is a key component, but in order to be a transformational group leader, one needs to be more than simply relational. That is just one focus leaders need. Over time, I began to discover there are even more components to transformational leadership. Looking back, I see that Bob had each of these qualities. In the next several weeks, we will take a look at the five focuses of a transformational group leader. This week, we will examine the first focus:

Focus: Observing and Listening.

Transformational group leaders aren’t just hanging out with those they lead. They are constantly observing and listening. To listen, we must be quiet. To observe, we must see beyond the surface level. Why are these so critical? Remember these words from Peter:

1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.” (CSB)

We know those we lead are in a battle every day whether it seems that way or not. We know the enemy is on the prowl and, as leaders, we must be on alert. Consider the following situation from the book Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life by Patrick Van Horne and Jason Riley:

In February 2013, Police Officer John Passaro responded to a robbery call from a local convenience store in New Orleans. The officer was unaware of the situation and proceeded into the store. Noticing the office door closed, he announced his presence. The robber opened the door and fired on Passaro critically injuring him. The robber fled and backup arrived saving the life of the officer.

An analysis of the situation determined that he could have potentially altered the outcome of the situation by elevating his understanding. There are four color-coded awareness responses when officers are in these situations: Code white – relaxed and unaware, no threats. Code Yellow – relaxed but aware of the situation around you. Code Orange – something of interest stands out but it may not be a threat, and finally, Code Red – the situation changes as a threat is revealed.

How does this apply to the transformational group leader? We must always be observing and listening to our people as we assess their spiritual condition. When our groups meet we should never be in “code white”. Think about it. Most leaders live in code white: relaxed and unaware. But leaders, and those they lead, are always under potential attack from the enemy. Our response to the lives of those we invest in must be in correlation to their current situation.

For example, a member of our group announced she would find out the results of a biopsy in the middle of our meeting. We could have responded by telling her we would pray for her and that we were all concerned, and then move on into the lesson. Transformational group leaders understand that moments like these must be addressed and that the meeting as normal must end. We must press into these instances and get beyond surface level relationships. Our group stopped the lesson, and we asked her to explain the situation fully. We gathered around her and we prayed for her. We sought scripture that we could share to help comfort her and provide peace in the midst of this major health challenge. By truly listening and observing, we went beyond a typical response. This is the key to being a transformational group leader.

Let’s look at the 1 Peter 5 passage again. This time let’s examine the whole context in verses 6-11: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you.Resist him, firm in the faith, knowing that the same kind of sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world.10 The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ,[e]will himself restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little while.[f]11 To him be dominion[g]forever.[h]Amen.” (CSB)

Watch how each of these verses helps us grow in the area of focusing as a group leader:

  • Verse 6: Humility: we don’t have all the answers.
  • Verse 7: Rest and find comfort in Christ.
  • Verse 9: Resist the enemy through faith. God is in control.
  • Verse 10: God will restore, establish, strengthen, and support you.

We must be observant of the lives of those in our groups and we see how the Scripture clarifies the results of this kind of Biblical alertness.

But we also must be listeners as leaders. Listening more than speaking. One tip I give every leader I train is this: Let there be silence. Sometimes an awkward amount of time is required. But without it, some may never speak up. Silence is the training wheels of a good deep discussion. Think about it, we can’t know God more unless we are willing to listen to Him (His Word). We can’t know our people more unless we listen to them.

One tip I give every leader I train is this: Let there be silence. Sometimes an awkward amount of time is required. But without it, some may never speak up. Silence is the training wheels of a good deep discussion. Click To Tweet

As group leaders, what we do may not seem like life and death, but it’s certainly critical to our people’s spiritual lives. What happens in the lives of those in our groups weekly could determine how they grow, how they handle their marriage, how they deal with loss, and how they pursue Christ with their life. Let’s take it seriously and learn to observe and listen like their spiritual life depends on it. Focus is the first component of being a transformational group leader

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