Training Leaders of Home Groups
Home group leaders must develop a variety of skills. Foremost is an ability to handle accurately the Word of Truth. Leaders with shallow knowledge of God's word struggle and often fail. At best, such leaders would have little to offer their groups.
People learn how to lead home groups from two sources. First is the training available in home groups. Each group is active in leadership development through cell groups and individual mentoring.
The other source is the Equipping Division, which provides a variety of courses. Besides Bible study, leaders receive training in issues of pastoral counseling, discussion leading, and how to teach. Challenge Groups provide a monthly meeting for Bible Study and fellowship for leaders who have completed the core equipping course work. We strive to have every leader understand God's part in ministry.
Leaders must also learn to deal with a variety of personal issues. Course work is helpful, but "on-the-job" training is indispensable. That's why a mainstay in our leadership training is personal discipleship. Our leaders are committed to discipleship and are regularly helping interested individuals grow toward leadership.
Requirements for Home Group Leaders
The following are requirements for home group leaders in Xenos:
- Even though our home church leaders are not considered deacons, they need to meet the character qualifications for deacons. You can read how we understand the requirements for deacons in the Qualifications for Deacons Paper.
- We expect all of our leaders to eventually belong to the Xenos Servant Team. All leaders need to commit to completing the coursework required for Servant Team membership within 2-3 years of becoming a leader.
- All leaders need to be a good standing member of the Xenos Fiscal Support Team.
- All leaders must be actively discipling at least one person.
- All leaders need to sign and commit to cooperating with the Servant Covenant.
In the New Testament, eldership is always plural. The accountability of collective leadership is an important control that we believe was intended by God because of the fundamental untrustworthiness of human nature. By entrusting the local church to a group of leaders, the likelihood that one person will go bad or be misled and destroy the church is reduced. Satan's task is made more difficult—he must not only mislead and tempt an individual, but must win over a whole group of leaders to his ends. We believe the church would have done much better if it had stayed with plurality of leadership throughout its history.
We know churches in the New Testament were organized with group elderships in each city. But we also know that there were often multiple home churches within a given city. How were the eldership teams related to the house churches in that city? Of this, we know little or nothing. Therefore, we conclude we are free to improvise in this area, as long as our structures result in the outworking of key principles of church life.
In addition to eldership, New Testament churches had deacons, which means ministers, or servants. Nobody knows exactly what these ministers did, but judging from their qualifications, they were trusted servants of the church at a high level. While churches debate whether elders could include females, we think it is very clear that deacons could be male or female.
In Xenos, we have a board of elders overseeing the network of house churches, but our home churches are led by deacons. We don't believe the Bible calls for plurality of deacons when they lead groups, but we often prefer plurality, not only for elders but for deacons, especially if they are going to lead a sizable group. Here are a number of practical and theological considerations regarding plural leadership:
A plurality of untrained, ignorant, and immature leaders is no more reliable than a single leader. Only if the leaders on a team are all trained and mature Christian workers can we assume that a group will be more reliable than an individual.
- We used to view our leaders as coequal within a team. Now we prefer to have a senior leader. Having a senior leader allows some insignificant decision to be made without a meeting, which is easier for everyone. Also, recognizing a senior leader authorizes that person to take initiative in leading the group, and in leading the leadership team. This counters the paralysis that may result from "leadership by committee." However, a majority of the team can overrule a senior leader, so accountability is preserved.
Group size is the most important factor to consider when deciding whether to require plurality of leadership. To require plurality with even very small groups would unreasonably retard their ability to multiply. Also, the ratio of leaders to members would be unnecessarily low if small groups had to have plural leadership. Since most of our groups are house churches, with attendance between 15 and 60, we require true plurality in each one. Our smaller groups, on the other hand, may be led by an individual or a couple.
Medium sized groups, like home churches, are large enough to have an identity as a group or a community, and may develop loyalty to their own home church, more than to the larger church. On the positive side, this makes home churches very hardy—nearly indestructible. On the other hand, many churches are reluctant to establish medium sized groups because of their history of divisiveness. We think plurality of leadership is the answer to this negative tendency found in some medium-sized groups. While plural leadership may decide to divide from the rest of the church, it seems much less likely that an entire well-trained team would decide to take this unrighteous direction. During over 30 years of ministry, Xenos has experienced very little divisiveness from home churches. On the other hand, sometimes churches' efforts to prevent division cause more harm than division itself. We would rather have one or two home churches leave if they want to than have all our groups suffer based on the fear of division.
The size of the group suggests that teaching is more appropriate than mere sharing. Many churches worry this could lead to doctrinal aberrations. Again, plural leadership and good training is the best safeguard against doctrinal error. We find very suspicious the thought (sometimes openly expressed by pastors) that to prevent doctrinal error we should keep leaders ignorant and teach groups not to study the Bible together.
- Another potential negative for leadership teams is disagreement within the leadership team. Corporate leadership requires a willingness to accept limitations on autonomy and decision making that the immature find irksome if not unacceptable. Leaders must develop skills of negotiation and patient communication in order to form a successful team. Certain self-willed and dominating individuals are weeded out by their inability to function as team players, and this is all to the good. Any individual who is too self-willed to work with colleagues on a team is not welcome to lead in our church.
In Xenos, home church leaders are not empowered to remove other home church leaders from leadership. Only the elders can remove a home church leader. This prevents a majority from overrunning a minority in a team without outside confirmation. Sometimes, the lone dissenting leader is in the right!
Whether to require plurality is determined not only by the size of a group, but by the scope of ministry delegated to home group leaders. We believe having couples lead together is healthy for marriages, and we prefer people leading with their spouses.
Not only the elders' minds are eased by plurality, but home church leaders find their own minds eased by the opportunity to bounce ministry questions off other leaders who are actually involved in their ministry with them. A lot of potential leaders are more willing to consider being part of a leadership team who would not feel comfortable taking on leadership by themselves.