STUDY THE BIBLE
It sounds obvious to say, “Study the Bible,” but since there are so many great resources for groups to use, we must remind one another that we are gathering to study the Bible. Prioritize study of the Bible. OCF groups should be known as those whose sole authority for life and daily integration of faith is the Bible. It is God’s very words and wisdom given to His church for our growth and obedience (2 Timothy 3:16). Please open the Bible for weekly gatherings, even if you are using a book or video series to guide the study. It takes discipline to keep the weekly conversations centered on the Scriptures. Try asking open-ended questions (not yes/ no questions) to strengthen the discussion. Prepare several questions ahead of time.
You can seldom go wrong asking, “What does this text reveal about the Lord Jesus Christ?”, or “How do we see God’s holiness and faithfulness in what we are studying?”, or “What am I to do in response to what we’ve studied?” The whole of Scripture reveals the mystery of God’s plan to gather men and women from every nation into His one flock.
OCF’s booklet “Leading Effective Small Groups” is an outstanding resource for leaders. This and other items can be accessed through our website. Take time to peruse our Integrated Faith Project (ocfusa.org/ifproject), Bible studies written by military members, and the Toolkit for Leaders (ocfusa.org/toolkit). OCF members also have access to a RightNow Media library (large collection of videos).
Call the Home Office at (800) 424-1984 if you need help accessing these resources.
If you have you ever felt trapped in a social setting, then you know why it is important for leaders to start and end on time. Starting on time makes it is easier to end on time. Honor your guests and participants by guarding their time and not presuming that they have nothing else to do. Assume that they have busy lives (tests to take, babysitters to rescue, and sleep to catch up on). If you are known for starting late, people will show up late.
Consistently starting on time encourages people to show up on time. If you prove yourself unreliable for ending on time, then some might not come back. Loving your military community means you keep an eye on the clock.
Share names (and maybe a fun personal fact) every time you get together. You, or someone else, probably needs to hear the names of everyone there, even if you think the group knows one another. This habit will make your environment comfortable for new attendees and for those who have just returned from deployment or TDY/TAD, plus the “fun fact” will help you get to know one another better.
If you make this your habit, it will prevent awkward moments when everyone looks only at the new person or when a name is forgotten. Keep introductions consistent, short, and concise lest they consume a large amount of time.
FITTING IT ALL IN
Look at the personalities in your group and decide how to fit the various elements (music, introductions, prayer, Bible study, fellowship, etc.) into the time available. If you have verbal processors and storytellers, then introductions or prayer can take a larger amount of time and you will need to adjust. One way to ensure time for both prayer and Bible study is to begin with prayer so that once you start the Bible study you can simply pick a stopping point.
It is easier to end at a particular verse than to cut someone off in the middle of their prayer. On the other hand, if you find that your group has a hard time giving enough attention to the Scriptures each week, then start with the study of the Bible and simply ask one person to pray as you wrap things up.
Another option is to have folks pray with sufficient detail that others can agree with them as they are speaking to the Lord (no sharing is done prior to this kind of prayer time). That saves the minutes required to share prayer requests before praying for those same requests.
PRAYER IN A SMALL GROUP
Prayer time is easier if you will explain to the group how you will lead them through it. When a prayer concern seems to have a sensitive side to it, ask if what is shared should be held in confidence. If you forget to ask and they forget to say, assume that you should not share names and concerns without permission. Try to write enough notes that you can recall details later. Clarify that praying out loud is not mandatory and that there is no expectation for prayer to move around the circle with each person praying as the person beside them finishes.
Every group is different, and time spent in prayer can cause stress when there is uncertainty. You can either ask people to share prayer requests and then pray for everything at once, or you can pray immediately after the prayer request is shared. If you wait to pray for everything at once, consider asking specific people to start or end the time in prayer. You might also encourage people to pray for things they remember once the heads are all bowed but that they forgot to mention during the request-taking time.
Finally, some groups find encouragement in tracking prayer requests to see how God answers them, and if you have group consent, you can share the requests via email or a messaging app.
HUMILITY IN SMALL GROUP LEADERSHIP
It is a challenge to be wise regarding what we understand to be solid Christian beliefs while still allowing the group to wrestle with the text of Scripture by going down rabbit trails. Since all of us still have much to learn, don’t try to correct every statement that you think fails to measure up to your level of orthodoxy. Staying humble is the only way to gently handle what may feel like problem areas in a Bible study.
Guided by our heavenly Shepherd, we ourselves are always maturing, so we must respond with patience to the various challenges that come up during group study. If someone in your Bible study becomes contentious, the leader has the responsibility to be kind, patient, and gentle, confident that it is God who does the work of changing hearts and revealing truth (2 Timothy 2:22-26).
Our understanding of the Scriptures comes from the Holy Spirit giving us insight, not from our own cleverness. This truth helps inform the grace we extend to others who are walking with us in this process of sanctification (growing to be more like Christ). You should guide the conversations enough to keep the Bible study on track while simultaneously praying in your mind for the Holy Spirit to be at work in all that is said and shared by those present.
Consider it a blessing if the discussion goes to a place that you never intended it to go, confident that God is sovereign over the study and the rabbit trails that might be helpful to others. Guard your heart from anger when things seem to get derailed.
Keep your confidence in our God who has brought the group together. These people are His sheep, not yours. It helps to take a mental step back and trust that He is at work in the hearts of His flock. For additional resources and further thoughts on leading groups with difficult people (those who dominate, avoid, disrupt, or in some way create friction), check out our Leaders Toolkit at ocfusa.org/toolkit.
TELL ABOUT “BIG OCF”
Take time to talk about what is happening in the larger OCF body, about retreats at the conference centers, things you have heard about in the local social net, etc. Of course, this assumes that you are receiving the big picture OCF materials—they come in paper and digital forms. Please do not unsubscribe or opt out of OCF updates, because you need the updates to keep your local OCF group informed.
If there is no time for announcements when the group meets, consider using group-wide communication (group app, social media, email, etc.) on a regular basis to keep members abreast of whatever might be helpful information for them. It often takes multiple invitations before an OCF member attends their first OCF retreat at a conference center, but most guests return repeatedly after their first conference or retreat. You never know what God might do with the information you share; your regular encouragement and communication might help someone take a purposeful rest.
If you are not leading the Bible study or small group that you are part of, then help whoever is hosting or leading. Ask what needs to be done and look for ways you can serve. If the leader is hosting the Bible study group at their own place, offer to bring food, extra chairs, cups/bowls/plates/silverware. Set up and clean up takes time and energy, so offer to show up early or stick around afterwards to clean up and take out the garbage.
A quick text when you are on the way might allow you to pick up a needed item en route. Pray for wisdom to help, because many hosts/leaders typically do most prep and cleanup on their own.