As you train a new Bible study leader, how do you know when the person is ready to lead a separate group? When should you move an apprentice from the “You do, I help” to the “You do, I watch” stage of training? If we advance people too quickly, they may burn out and give up. If we move them too slowly, the training could become stagnant and lifeless. What are the signs of a good balance?
1. When they don’t need your direction to prepare
Of course, no leader matures beyond the need for continuing education. But over time, apprentices should become increasingly self-sufficient. They should be able to figure out the main point of a passage. They should be able to develop good questions. They should be able to launch a study well. They should find greater comfort in studying the word and greater ease in teaching it to others. Your 1-1 meetings should focus more on shepherding the people in the group and less on the mechanics of leading the group.
2. When they don’t need your help to succeed
Of course, no leader matures beyond the need for assistance and feedback. But over time, apprentices should become increasingly effective. They should be able to observe group dynamics and shift their plan according to the needs of the moment. They should be able to hear what people say and ask good follow-up questions. They should have built strong trust with regulars, and they should know how to welcome newcomers. They should model good Bible study skills and teach them to others. Your presence at small group meetings becomes less about helping the apprentice see the obvious and master the basics; it becomes more about observing—so you can later reflect to the apprentice—the extreme or unusual situations.
3. When they don’t need your charisma to inspire
Of course, no leader matures beyond the need for refreshment and reminder. But over time, apprentices should become increasingly self-motivated. And their motivation should increasingly inspire others. They should be able to articulate a clear vision for the group. They should be able to instruct, remind, encourage, and inspire others to Christlikeness. They should rely more on the Lord than on the trainer to relieve their stress, strengthen them with grace, and to move others to action. You can continue coaching, even from afar, but the life of this leader and this group must not depend on your ability to cast a compelling vision.
4. When they don’t need your encouragement to persevere
Of course, no leader mature beyond the need for comfort and encouragement. But over time, apprentices should become tougher and more committed to the cause. They should be able to face some opposition or setbacks without crumbling. They should know to get enough rest and nourishment to enliven them through tiredness. They should know why they believe the Scriptures to be worth studying, so they can press on when it feels tedious. They should find some creativity to freshen up routine, boredom, or persistent unresponsiveness with group members.
5. When they ask for more
I gave this as a sign for when they’re ready to help, and for when they’re ready to lead. I keep it on this list, because it’s so crucial for any training. If your apprentice has no ambition to reach people, grow people, serve people, improve things, influence outcomes, honor God, or move forward—you should ask some hard questions, of both the apprentice and yourself. But when a godly drive for more compels the apprentice to launch a new group, God be praised. His kingdom is not dependent on you, and the Lord of the harvest is sending more laborers to work his fields.
I hope your training has this end in sight: Preparing apprentices to fly on their own. Too few parents have this vision for their kids. Too few supervisors encourage this ambition with their employees. And too many Christian leaders, busy keeping themselves at the center of their ministries, fail to launch more warriors into the foray.
When the time comes, may we find the courage and influence to launch the next generation of leaders.