By Rev. Dr. Philip Huan

Photo by Martin Schmidli on Unsplash


05 May 2023

One of the key pastoral leader in many churches is the Small Group / Cell Group leader. This diligent & pastoral leader takes on the burden of caring for 6-15 members. They reach out to guide spiritually, help apply biblical-lessons and form the primary level of pastoral care through encouragement, prayer and visits in many churches.

However, who is the pastoral shepherd of the Small Group leader (SGL)?

“However, if the pastoral function of a layer of Overseers is not mobilized within your church over the long term, there will be missing gaps in your church growth.”

This diligent and faithful pastoral leader is deserving of encouragement, care and guidance themselves. When CLR works with Small Group leaders, we often hear them share that,

  • they stepped up because there was a need,
  • they felt “pushed into” leadership because the need continued on indefinitely,
  • they often wish to step down the moment they are able to.

These feelings inevitably “redline” into giving up or “going into maintenance mode” unless intentional care & mentoring is provided for the SG leaders.

So, who is the pastoral shepherd of the SG leader?  – The Overseer / Zone Leader!

Many churches do not have an official level of developed Overseers for a variety of reasons:

  • there are not many SGs that require official Overseers,
  • the need for SG leaders has demanded much resources that little attention for Overseers has been given,
  • the pastor seems to be the primary shepherd for the Small Group leaders.

All these are valid reasons in the season of the church’s growth. However, if the pastoral function of a layer of Overseers is not mobilized within your church over the long term, there will be missing gaps in your church growth.

Let me share with you 3 missing gaps when churches do not have a mobilized layer of Overseers.

1. Leaders may lack holistic care over their lives.

The role of an Overseer, amongst other things, is to coach the leader in ministry challenges as well as to mentor the leader holistically in facing challenges at work, in family and personal emotions. Such a care enables the SG leader to be spiritually healthy in leading the SG well. The time and energy involved in such discipleship & caring is not little, usually a ratio of 1 Overseer to 3 SG leaders for an average lay-person. Beyond which the relationship will devolve to teaching, pastoral touches and updates. It is arguable that one pastor could not mentor/care for more than 5-8 such SG leaders well if the Small Group ministry is merely part of the pastor’s scope amidst other responsibilities.

2. A key level of mobilization of gifts may be lost.

The bible tells us that, [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… (Ephesians 4:11-13, ESV)

“The gift of the Overseer Shepherd (ie. Zone Leaders, Pastoral Overseers, Lay-Pastors) is a precious gift—a higher-level pastoral gift—that many people aspire to and can function in when guided and trained!”

The gift of the Overseer Shepherd (ie. Zone Leaders, Pastoral Overseers, Lay-Pastors) is a precious gift—a higher-level pastoral gift—that many people aspire to and can function in when guided and trained! While the pastor may be primary in exercising that gift, it is in equipping number of people in the community and empowering them in it that this overseer-shepherding gift is activated in your church. Don’t short-change your church by being the only or one of a few overseer shepherds.

Rather, empower people to rise to overseer shepherding in the elderly, adult, young-adult and youth people-groups. This mobilization will activate a precious gift in your church!

3. A level of leadership-development towards pastors/senior leaders may be missing.

I once consulted for a large-sized church. Over the years, they had many Small Groups, but few Overseers. Left to a few full-time pastors to manage the Small Groups. A crisis came where they wanted to raise more full-time pastors and senior pastoral staff, but they simply could not find enough despite it being a church in the membership-thousands. What had happened was that a mid-tier leadership level—the Overseer Shepherds—had been left to a few to manage and not fully mobilized amongst the lay-people. Hence, there were many SG leaders who simply found the gap of rising to become a pastor too huge a leap.

I worked with another church half the size of church I previously cited. In this church there was an official layer of Zone Leaders that primarily consisted of lay-leaders. The full-time Zone Pastors worked hard to raise lay people to the role handling all the challenges that come with mobilizing volunteers vs. relying on paid pastoral staff. In the later years, a good number of zone leaders rose to become Lay-Pastors and Elders in the church!

The broader the base of equipping and empowerment, the more will rise to the next level of leadership! In this case, that mid-tier of the “leadership tree” or “pipeline” in the church was well developed and functioning, allowing the rising of people into higher levels later.

Is this a gap in your church’s leadership development today?

What could you do to begin developing Overseers?

If the number of SGs justify the need for care of leaders, begin to develop the level of Overseers.

If the numbers of SGs are moderate, being to challenge a few leaders to function at a higher level of shepherding—that of caring for other leaders.

If the numbers of SGs are still small but growing, encourage the most promising 1-2 leaders to assist you in having a heart and looking out for other leaders.

While not all churches are at the level of building an official Overseer level yet, it is never too early to start activating gifts and hearts to provide the function of an Overseer’s caring within the church.

If you have small numbers of SGs but have 1-2 willing leaders to assist you in the Overseer function, encourage and empower them to pray for, connect and care for the leaders first, and not worry about other functions of the Overseer. All things being equal I believe the mentoring and care for a leader is the most needful need to meet first.

It is all about resources…we have the heard and desire but sometimes we simply don’t have the time or energy to do all the needful things. I hope you will organize your resources toward having a dual-lens as you look at each of your leaders.

You view them through the left lens of ministry commitment as well as the right lens of holistic care upon them; not one, not some but for all your leaders. The way to organize resources to have this dual-lens of commitment and care for your leaders is to raise and mobilize that level of Overseers—the ones who shepherd your leaders in the church!

In Churchlife Resources, we specialise in consulting with churches to develop their leadership tree organically within the church, and coaching leaders to multiply themselves by raising others to serve in ministry. 

Branches (Overseers / Zone Leaders / Ministry OIC) are the layer that give shepherding oversight, mentor and coach leaders of small group and ministries, as well as acting as bridging step towards growing board members and pastors.

Contact to find out more about the following tracks that helps in developing this layer for your church!

Rev. Dr. Philip Huan is the Principal Consultant at ChurchLife Resources, and is passionate about helping churches and leaders become strong and healthy!

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