Every teacher has them — participants that talk too much, whine too much, can’t stay focused, or are too self-focused. These people are EGRs: Extra Grace Required. What do we do with them? The answer is in the name: Extra grace is required. The reason we lose patience with people in our groups who have problems is that we are missing God’s grace. As a teacher, you must come to the realization that in these situations the person who requires extra grace is YOU! Perhaps the purpose of EGRs in your group — and who knows? You may be the EGR! — is to help you grow in grace as a teacher and servant of God. To grow in grace means to become more Christlike in the way we see people. To grow in grace means that we don’t avoid EGRs, rather, we invite them to participate, and with the grace of God we begin to transform them, and ourselves.
What to do with children. A toddler adds energy to a group but not the kind of energy that promotes good discussion. There is no perfect answer to the kid question, although there are bad options. The worst is to expect the same person to care for children all the time; eventually, that person will resent being “stuck” with the kids, no matter how much they love Jesus. Some groups take turns, with two adults watching kids while the others meet. Other groups pay a sitter or develop lessons that encourage kids and adults to learn together through intergenerational activities. Groups can thrive with almost any solution, as long as children are safe and everyone feels like it works.
Meet privately with God. You cannot share a deep faith with the group if you fail to nurture it in your own life. Plus, spending time in meditation and prayer gives you confidence that God will work through your teaching. Time spent this way will work wonders for the graciousness and wisdom with which you teach. You will also be more tuned to how the Spirit might be leading you and your group members.
The word “mentor” comes to us from Homer’s tale of Odysseus. Mentor was Odysseus’s trusted counselor. He was the guardian and teacher of Telemachus. In faith and character development, the power of mentoring is vital. Intentionally start noting specific people who respect you and seek your advice and in whom you see a teachable spirit, and who might want you in their lives. Watch for the right way and time to pull up beside them and begin pouring the contents of your soul into them.
A great way to begin and extend any discussion is by asking lots of questions. Prepare your questions in advance, and have them dovetail with the lesson so that your group can begin with direction and intent. Following are some tips regarding what kinds of questions to ask: 1) The questions need to be open-ended enough to invite a variety of responses. Avoid yes/no questions or difficult biblical questions that could have a wrong answer; nothing shuts down a group discussion faster! 2) Ask reflection questions that invite participants to consider the claims of a passage of Scripture. An example of this kind of question is: Why are we tempted to treat rich people better than the poor? 3) Application questions help the group connect a biblical principle with their lives. An example of this kind of question is: How could we do a better job of helping people with financial needs in our congregation?
Anything is possible. Believe that your group is a place where God dwells and where He is actively working to transform all of you. Think about the transformation that happened in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. Think about the transformation that happened in first-century churches like Corinth and Thessalonica. Then believe that it can happen within your group. We are all clay in the hands of the Potter, and He can use your group in a powerful way to transform the hearts and minds of your group, starting with you!
Nobody is perfect. John said, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” As a teacher, you set the atmosphere for your group. Be determined that the worldly social practices of pretense, hiding, reputation building, and judging do not take root in your group. Create an atmosphere of safety where there is acceptance and openness. It might sound like this kind of atmosphere is tolerant of sin. Practically, the opposite is true. In this atmosphere, we are able to confess our struggles and bring them into the light where we can receive prayer and support to help us overcome them. You can lead the way by being honest and open in your group about your struggles. When someone is brave enough to be real, the walls of pretense and superficiality come down as you demonstrate what everybody in your group already knows — nobody is perfect.
Talk positively about the church. The small group is not the time to plot against the worship leader or to complain about the pastor. It is also not a time to pass judgment on those who think differently than you do on an issue, be it political, religious, or social. Keep the same principles of worship, prayer, and teaching that are found in the congregation as designated by your congregational leaders. Your time together should be a time to rejoice over the church, to pray for the church, and to increase your love for the Lord’s church.
Build community by serving together. The small group is a wonderful way for the church to invade a world of need and opportunity. Volunteering together will add vibrancy and excitement to your group, along with deepening your relationships. Within your group, you might collect supplies or money for a local food pantry. You might go down to the pantry and work together. If one of your group members has a service project at a workplace, go join in together.
Newly formed groups or groups coming out of hibernation can be fairly dry ground when it comes to conversing and discussing the Scriptures. Silly games or trivial tidbits of information can serve to open up excellent group discussions. By priming the pump with some small question or short game, a teacher can kindle relationships, break down social barriers, and loosen tight lips so that when it comes time to study God’s Word, the group is open and ready to discuss. There are lots of resources online if you need ideas for icebreakers.