Jim Lehrer on Facilitating Small Group Discussion

One day as I was listening to The Dennis Miller Radio Show, the aforementioned Mr. Miller was interviewing Jim Lehrer about what it takes to moderate a political debate. Here are two simple techniques that we as small group leaders can learn from Lehrer.

  1. The focus is on the participants, not the moderator. Some moderators are better than others at this. It’s a learned skill, Lehrer said, not an innate ability. Small group leaders must learn to keep the focus on the participants, not themselves. The leader’s job is not to teach a lesson, where everyone’s attention is on him or her, but to facilitate (or moderate) a discussion in which participants hear from God as they share with one another. How does a good leader facilitate this? Lehrer’s second comment is helpful.
  2. A moderator must prepare in such a way that he is relaxed enough to listen. Anyone can write and ask great questions, Lehrer said, but you prepare so that you can be relaxed enough to really listen. Lehrer shared a story from the 1960s about interviewing a Senator. The interview went like this:

Lehrer: “Should we sell more grain to Cuba?”

Senator: “Yes, Jim, I think we should sell more grain to Cuba. But first, we should bomb Havana.”

Lehrer: “What kind of grain, Senator?”

This happens in small groups as well. I’ve watched leaders ask a question from their study guide, followed by a great discussion by the group. Meanwhile, the leader is looking down at his book. As the discussion slows down, the leader looks up and asks the next question, which was already answered during the previous discussion. The leader wasn’t listening. He was thinking about his next question.

Listening is one of the most important skills a small group leader must learn. As a shepherd-leader, focus on the people in the group and prepare in such a way that you can relax enough to listen and join in the discussion.

QUESTION: What have you learned from non-small-group sources about how to facilitate great discussions?



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Michael Mack has been involved in small group ministry as a pastor, writer, trainer, and speaker for more than 25 years. He founded SmallGroups.com in 1995 and started Small Group Leadership in 2012. He became the 12th editor of Christian Standard magazine in 2017 and continues to speak in churches about small groups, discipleship, and leadership. He lives in Pewee Valley, Kentucky (just outside Louisville), with his wife Heidi. They have four young adult children. Michael enjoys mountain and road biking with a group of friends. See the "About Michael Mack" page under About Us for more about him.

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One Comment

  1. Eric

    September 6, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Great stuff. Very helpful.


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