All Posts /

Working with Teachable Moments

The Field Guide for Small Group Leaders: Equipping Everyday Believers for Life-Changing Community

Excerpt from The Field Guide for Small Group Leaders

Every group that gathers for more than a few months eventually establishes some kind of routine—a rhythm of “doing life together.” This is true on a macrolevel as group members see each other during meetings, see each other at church, meet together socially, interact online, or run into one another in stores or at sporting events.

This is also true on a microlevel as the group establishes a regular pattern for its group meetings. Telling stories from the past week, discussing the Bible, eating food, sharing prayer requests—all these are shapes within that pattern.

This is natural. Your group members learn about one another as a by-product of these routines, and relationships become more solid. Your group members regularly encounter God’s Word in the midst of these routines, and they grow both intellectually and spiritually.

The frustrating thing for us as group leaders is that these advances come slowly. They happen gradually, for the most part, and they happen below the surface. That means we don’t always see a lot of fruit in the lives of our group members—we don’t get many tangible signs that we’re doing a good job leading them into life-changing encounters with each other and the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes, however, something happens in the group that breaks everyone free from these regular patterns—moments that pull the group away from its routine and into something different.

This is when group members often experience a jump of some kind. Relationships solidify quickly into a deeper bond. Something clicks in a person’s mind that enables them to truly understand and apply a doctrinal truth. Someone experiences conviction about an area of sin and confesses it openly.

I refer to these times as “teachable moments.”


It’s hard to write authoritatively about teachable moments because they’re so difficult to pin down. They’re spontaneous, unplanned bursts of insight or a sudden movement of the Holy Spirit.

Still, teachable moments do tend to fall into these broader categories:


People are sinful, and when they gather enough times, a clash will eventually occur. This will happen in your group, but don’t be afraid of it. When managed correctly, conflict motivates people to open up about their feelings and experiences and speak truthfully. Indeed, a brief burst of conflict is often the spark that ignites a deep friendship.

Moments of extraordinary fun

Conflict isn’t the only thing that solidifies relationships. When group members have a chance to really enjoy each other’s company—on a camping trip, while sharing a hobby, or during an extended conversation—surprisingly powerful bonds can form.

Conviction of sin

Another area directed by the Holy Spirit is conviction of sin. Sometimes people feel convicted while discussing a Scripture passage, other times that happens while they verbalize a prayer request, and still other times it happens in a completely unexpected situation. But the end result is usually the same for the person experiencing conviction: an impulse to confess their sin and commit to repentance.

Of course, people don’t always respond to this kind of conviction. Many fight it or hold off on taking action until they can speak with someone privately. Others don’t respond verbally but show other signs of a deeper moment, like weeping, becoming unusually withdrawn, or looking confused.

Bursts of insight. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes group members are struck with a new understanding of a doctrine or biblical truth. All the pieces come together and they “get it.” They not only understand what God is saying in His Word but how that truth applies to their lives—and how their lives will need to change because of it. Again, this is usually initiated by the Holy Spirit, and group members often respond by sharing what they’ve learned with the rest of the group.

Moments of crisis. Sometimes group members open up about a crisis they’re experiencing. Maybe they lost a job, a loved one is seriously ill, or they’re in financial peril. Sharing a personal experience of this magnitude takes extreme courage and vulnerability, which carries the potential for a powerful moment within the group.

As a group leader, one of your more important jobs is to keep an eye out for these kinds of teachable moments.


Maybe you’re wondering, What am I supposed to do when our group experiences something like that?

Good question. I generally have two guidelines when it comes to responding to teachable moments as a group leader:

Call a halt to the routine

When something powerful happens in your group, you as the leader must call attention to it. You cannot allow a potentially life-changing moment to be ground under the heels of routine.

Say something like, “Susan, I’m so grateful you were willing to share that with us. Let’s take a pause right now and pray.” Or “I know we have a lot of discussion questions to get through, but that was an amazing insight, Jim. Can we talk about that a little more?” Or even “Okay, I think some of us are feeling a little attacked right now. Let’s all take a deep breath and start again.”

Be ready to get out of the way

Once you’ve called the group’s attention to a potential teachable moment, it’s important that you don’t try to maintain control over it. Teachable moments are not facilitated. They occur and grow organically, driven by either the Holy Spirit or the emotions and needs of your group members.

If some of this seems a little vague to you, I understand. Teachable moments are mysterious and profound events, and they defy a lot of step-by- step analysis. But they will happen, and they have the potential to make a significant impact in the growth of your group—if you’re watching for and willing to embrace the mystery.

The Field Guide for Small Group Leaders provides basic training and support to help small group leaders succeed in the critical mission of leading others toward spiritual growth and transformation.

Author Sam ONeal

Sam O’Neal is the founder of Write Great Stories, where he serves authors and publishers as they produce great stories that help advance God’s kingdom. Previously, he served as senior editor at HarperCollins Christian Publishing and editor for Christianity Today International’s He also managed Bible Studies for Life at LifeWay Christian Resources.