One of the most significant factors contributing to a successful, fruitful Redemption Group is the readiness of its leaders. So it’s important that you have a comprehensive training plan. Leaders need to be equipped on two levels: general biblical counseling knowledge and skills, and Redemption Group experience and leadership skills.
Redemption Group Immersion
In the beginning, your training will likely cater to getting a core group of leaders equipped for launching Redemption Groups. Call this launch phase training. Because it’s essential that every Redemption Group leader has Redemption Group experience before leading, everyone who is part of the initial leadership team should plan on attending a Redemption Group Immersion as part of the launch phase training.
Typically, it takes a leader candidate two or three cycles through a Redemption Group to feel oriented to the environment and ready to lead a group skillfully (see Hands training below). In an organization that already has Redemption Groups running, this is a straightforward process: a candidate goes through a group as a participant, and then if he’s recommended for leadership, he goes through again as an apprentice leader, and if he’s approved, he goes through again as a leader. But when you’re in launch phase, you don’t have existing groups to work from. It’s the classic chicken-and-egg problem.
The idea during launch phase is to try to get your initial leaders through multiple cycles of the Redemption Group process before launching the ministry for regular participation, two to three cycles if at all possible. These pre-launch cycles are also a good time for other leaders and stakeholders in the organization to go through a group to catch the vision and build unity around the launch of the ministry.
Some churches who’ve launched well have combined sending some of their leaders to Immersions hosted in other cities, followed by two or three smaller local Immersions hosted in and for their own churches. For these smaller, local Immersions the objective was to get more of their local leader candidates to go through groups as participants in hopes of eventually leading.
These training experiences in groups will primarily contribute to the leader candidates’ training in the areas that we’ll call the Heart and the Hands. But they’ll need more training in those areas than they’ll get just by going through the Redemption Group cycle. Furthermore, they’ll need Head-oriented training as well. A comprehensive training plan for leaders should cover at least three aspects: the Heart, the Head and the Hands. Let’s have a look at each of these.
This is the most important—yet most often wrongly assumed—aspect of training leaders.
For example, the following items are considered, among others, when giving feedback to a leader candidate after a group experience, using our Character Observation Form
- Demonstrates a need for God’s mercy.
- Confesses and grieves sin honestly.
- Faces suffering honestly and knows God’s comfort.
- Receives rebuke humbly.
- Walks in God’s forgiveness.
Note that these are based on the leader candidate’s demonstration of character.
You need to have some process for assessing the Heart-readiness of leader candidates. In other words, on the basis of what observation of the candidate could you respond to the assessment questions above? The process need not be highly formal, but it needs to be diligent. It must enable you to positively confirm these character qualities in your leader candidates.
Again, the process should be based on demonstration rather than self-reporting. For example: interviewing, being a form of self-reporting, may be a helpful component of the process, but it is inadequate by itself. Adequate processes for assessing a leader candidate’s heart involve observing the candidate in heart-exposing relational environments, such as in robust community or ministry environments.
A Redemption Group is a good environment for observing a leader candidate’s heart; in fact, once you have Redemption Groups running, this is probably the best environment for equipping future leaders. In the initial stages of launching the ministry, though, you’ll need some other way to observe and develop the hearts of leader candidates.
A Redemption Group Immersion is a rich environment for observing and developing candidates at a heart level. Leader candidate’s completing an Immersion receive a written recommendation as to the readiness of that candidate for leadership.
Before sending any candidates to an Immersion, we recommend that you make your own consideration of whether you think they might be ready to move forward in leadership, based on your review of that same Character Observation Form. While an Immersion often contributes significantly to a leader candidate’s heart-readiness, if the candidate’s growth process needs more time, then Immersion participation will not suffice to complete his preparation.
This aspect of leader training involves biblical and practical knowledge, the sort of training that you get from reading books and going to class. A comprehensive course would include the following components:
- A model for change. Trainees need to get a big picture map of the biblical change process. An example of such a model can be found in How People Change by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp; their model includes four aspects: Heat, Thorns, Cross, Fruit.
- A method for change. Trainees need some basic tools for putting the model into practice in counseling. An example of such a method can be found in Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.
- Application of the model to various issues, like abuse, addiction, or anger. Trainees need to get familiar with how to view various common issues through biblical lenses. Most comprehensive biblical counseling training courses include such modules. There are also many issue-specific resources available in CCEF’s past conference audio, as well as past issues of the Journal of Biblical Counseling.
- Practical Theology. Biblical counselors should have a solid grasp on many practical theologies such as suffering, sin, repentance, faith, forgiveness, walking by the Spirit, union with Christ, and the atonement. In fact, all of the above training components are practical-theological, but this component addresses the need for an ever-deepening grasp of many key theological concepts. A good resource here is The Christian Life, by Sinclair Ferguson.
While any biblical counselor should be a lifelong learner—we’re never done learning—getting started leading a Redemption Group does not require knowing all of this first. What is important at the start, however, is that a trainee develops a biblical understanding of people, their problems and the solutions, that is, a biblical worldview. Certainly, all of the above trainings would suffice for instilling a biblical worldview. But it’s also possible to come by such a worldview more organically, especially when trainees’ church environments reinforce the same worldview; after all, worldview is more often caught than taught. We have seen many leaders with a biblical view of people lead very effectively, even without much formal or technical training.
As with the Heart training above, what is essential is that you observe leader candidates demonstrate that they operate from a biblical worldview. If they demonstrate this before working through the above training, then consider the above trainings co-requisites for them to work through after they start leading.
Hands-oriented training refers to skills in listening, communication, counseling and group dynamics. Think of learning counseling skills like learning to play a musical instrument. Some people just pick up an instrument and start playing it by ear, naturally. But even the most talented natural musicians will be far better with some disciplined training. They’ll need to learn their scales and how time signatures work. On the other hand, you could read books about playing an instrument without ever picking one up, and while you might know a lot about the instrument, you wouldn’t be able to make music.
If all you have is conceptual knowledge of a biblical worldview and a model for change, yet you’ve never put it into practice and connected the truth of God’s Word to someone’s life in the midst of their trouble, then you haven’t counseled yet, and you haven’t started developing your counseling skills yet. It takes practice, lots of practice.
There are two areas of skill that Redemption Group leaders need:
- General biblical counseling skills. This results from practicing the method for change mentioned above. For example, Redemption Group leaders should be skillful at entering a person’s world through “entry gates” and asking a progressive line of questions, skills described in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.
- Group leadership skills. This includes abilities for managing the group and facilitating the group process through the curriculum.
Participating in a Redemption Group, such as at an Immersion, will contribute to learning in both of these areas, but it will be more caught than taught. Participants will experience receiving counsel and practicing counseling others. They will become familiar with group leadership skills by participating in a group, but there will be very little explanation of the process.
Some methods for training the Hands include:
- Group Participation. Trainees will catch a lot implicitly by participating in Redemption Groups or other counseling environments. This method is not sufficient for fully training one’s skills, but it adds much that could never be grasped from reading or classroom discussion alone. The old adage is true: a picture paints a thousand words.
- Counseling in Community is a course that we offer either in-person at our training events or remotely via videoconference.