During the epidemic, grassroots churches across the country have turned to small group meetings in accordance with the government’s prevention and control measures, allowing many believers to get close to God on online platforms. However, when Christians can’t worship and communicate with other believers in face-to-face services, smaller group gatherings have become normalized as part of the Christian lifestyle.
Small group meetings are supposed to be the moments for believers to share joy and the Lord’s love. However, for a nearly eighty-year-old believer L, the group gatherings become a blockage to her heart.
Under the influence of her father, a pastor, she became a Christian when she was a child, serving the Lord throughout her life, without her spiritual practice being ceased. Passing on the belief to her children, and aged 79 she led all her family members to the Lord.
During the long-term suspension of in-person services due to COVID-19, L hoped to attend a group meeting nearby, as she can’t travel far with her legs not being as agile as before. Not long after, introduced by an old female Christian, she began to participate in the group's Bible study meeting at another believer's home in the community.
"Led by a female believer in her thirties or forties, our Bible study group was established spontaneously by believers in the community. We start with the Old Testament, learning week after week." L said, "It happened to be Easter Sunday some time ago, so I suggested that we learn about some scriptures regarding the 'Seven Last Sayings on the Cross'. But the female leader was downcast, saying angrily, 'If you think it’s better, you lead the meeting instead of me.'"
L was so embarrassed by her sudden and abrupt reply that she sat down silently without saying more.
In addition to the obsessive control over the group's study schedule, the group mates also noticed that the leader also had the problem of a lack of humility.
"Most of believers in our group are elderly, and this female leader is relatively young. In the meetings, she often says that she has listened to many sermons from different places on the Internet, claiming to 'know a lot'". L said, "During the studies of 1 or 2 Chronicles two weeks ago, when an old male member shared his views on the scriptures based on his own daily study, she said impatiently, 'It’s enough that you just read the scriptures, and there is no need for you to preach!’”
It turned out that this female leader always felt that the aged were "out of touch with the times" in terms of thinking and spiritual growth. So she didn’t like listening to others, as she felt "superior" to the aged after equipping herself on the Internet.
"Although we old people are really not able to keep up with the young people in faith and thoughts, I think at least she should respect the old ones. We who have believed for a lifetime are hurt when hearing the younger one scolding us like this." The next few times when she received invitations to gather, she excused herself by saying she was not feeling well. As the resumption of onsite services seemed to be at a far distant date, Grandma L was full of sorrow and confusion...
There is also a similar case. Introduced by a Christian neighbor, a seeker joined a Bible study group near his home. However, the group leader was also quite strong, requiring group members to reach a certain standard of Bible reading every day. The person who didn’t finish would be snubbed or even criticized publicly. In the end, the seeker chose to leave the church the day before his baptism, as he could not overcome the inner obstacle, although he had studied in a catechism class.
As group gatherings have become normal under the epidemic in recent years, the qualities of group leaders become a concern of many believers. A group leader who has studied theology and is more spiritually mature can help the lay believers break through the bottleneck in faith; otherwise, he may cause them to stumble.
In view of this situation, I consulted two pastors about the qualities of small group leaders and how to nurture them.
Pastor H commented, "I think we should strictly select group leaders insisting on certain standards. A layperson leader can’t gain prestige in the group if he is zealous but lacks theological education without a healthy spiritual life. Others won’t obey him who can’t set an example in faith, in love or in purity. In this way, the team leader can’t work easily, or even may fail to lead, causing losses to himself and other team members."
Elder Z said, "In my opinion, the person in charge of pastoral care should be a spiritual person with theological attainments. In the group meeting, following Jesus’ example, the leaders of the group should care about the believers’ lives, thoughts, and hopes besides their spiritual needs."
"Secondly, with a tolerant heart, they should accept the weaknesses of each believer, exhorting and encouraging them to grow step by step. They need to influence others with good behaviors. In addition, group leaders also need to inspire lay believers to live for the Lord, letting them learn and grow in service," he added.
Under the normalization of pandemic prevention and control, group meetings with about ten people are an ideal way to shepherd believers to avoid them being lured by heresy, making up for the absence of in-person gatherings.
In the specific implementation of pastoral ministry, after making study plans in advance, group leaders can put forward questions to be discussed with a summarization. At the same time, leaders are encouraged to innovate the form of worship, like guiding believers to speak actively to know the will of God. After Bible studies and praying, believers can practice the truth in their daily lives.
- Translated by Abigail Wu