Leading Effective Discussions – Pt 2

In our last blog, we began to look at what is necessary to lead effective discussions within church ministries, small groups, etc. Our role as facilitators of discussion is to make sure that the discussion remains Cross-centered and grace-filled helping the whole group move toward hope in the character of God and the promises of God. There are essentially two main steps in leading effective discussions: review and apply. Last time we engaged the review section, and today we want to move on to step two, application.

Application is really the critical part and purpose of small group discussion. This is the place where we begin to put into practice Jesus’ words. I have asked my own small group leaders to memorize John 13:17 as a reminder of their purpose. Jesus said, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” We are looking for those in our small group to apply God’s truth so that they can grow. Application questions should encourage the group to grapple with how the ideas being discussed make a claim on their lives.

Application is the goal of your discussion. Make sure you get to application early enough in your time together to allow significant discussion of the material in a way that applies it to the lives of those in the group. One important element of applying is a similar element to which we talked about in review. Before you can get to application, you must listen to what the people in your group are saying and how they are processing the important ideas and material. Do they really understand the main points and its application? I will just give you one clear pointer: if the group gets the sense that as you are asking questions that you are looking for the right answer, an answer that you want, its not an effective question. You don’t want to use questions that require a yes or a no answer because they don’t lead anywhere, but rather questions more like, ‘What is the speaker/author saying?’

To move a discussion forward you want to build on the comments they are giving and be an effective listener. As your group is making good points and applying the Word to their lives, you use three different techniques.

1)    Ask for clarification. If you think someone said something excellent or illuminating, you could say, “Please restate what you said. Did everyone hear that?” As they do that, you are actually using their points to illuminate what you heard.

2)    Redirection. If someone is taking a discussion in a tangent, obviously do this with grace and skill, but lead the discussion back to the points that are more important. How does one do that? Use this: “Thank you so much for your thoughts on that subject; that is helpful and probably in another context, but let us get back to our original question. I wonder if anyone else has considered what the speaker means in this point?” Now in those statements, you take the group’s focus off of the person trying to take the discussion in a tangent and place their attention on the next person speaking.

3)    If a person gives an effective answer, ask them to expound on it. Then you can apply in this way. “What do you think about what Heather has said? Have you ever thought that way?” In this, you are building on the responses of people within your group.

Your goal is not just to use questions as you lead effective discussions, but to apply that material to their lives and the way you do that is by getting into answers that the people are giving because their answers are reflecting how they are processing the material. That is where the group is. This, of course, requires humble listening.

Here are some sample questions to consider using:

1)    What did the truths mean to you today?

2)    As you listened, how were you convicted of sin in your life? What areas did the Holy Spirit bring conviction in?

3)    How does knowing this truth about God make a difference in your life?

4)    How can you change now that you understand and have learned about God and yourself?

5)    Can you see a command here we are to obey?

6)    Is there an example we can follow?

From my experience, I have seen that people make a mistake thinking the ability to discover sin means they have repented of that sin. We, as leaders, must not believe that. “What does repentance look like as lived out in your life in light of these truths?” “Where have you seen yourself fall short in these areas?” Give time to these types of questions and techniques.

Again, the goal is not to have an effective discussion but to apply these truths to the lives of the group and help them grow in their knowledge of God. Leading an effective discussion requires sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and that is a spiritual activity. We must practice and cultivate humility and put to death the fear of man that motivates us to want to look good. Leading effective discussions humbly sometimes means looking bad. And probably my biggest pet-peeve of all: if you are not listening to someone when they are talking (maybe you were distracted or daydreaming), please don’t respond to them. Just admit it, and simply ask them to repeat what they have said.

It is my prayer that some of this has helped to equip you for effective small group leadership.