I love the idea that part of my ministry is to “render easier” – to adopt the role of a servant and to make a way for others to accomplish what they need to through a facilitative style of leading and ministering. Others have done this for me and I value it so much. I have been thinking a lot about facilitation since my colleague Jo Whitehead asked me to contribute a couple of chapters to her book Facilitation Skills for Ministry. She summarizes the philosophy of the book like this:
Embracing facilitative approaches therefore invites us to rediscover a childlike attitude to learning, living and leading. It invites us to take risks and learn afresh, and requires us to develop a dependency on God for wisdom, discernment and courage as we step out into the unknown.
I have been in enough settings which didn’t have such an approach to realise how much of a difference it can have when the leader takes on an equipping, empowering, liberative, participative role. One of my chapters was on the values and attitudes of a facilitator which I describe as mutuality, hospitality, equality, affirming of the uniqueness and worth of each individual, respect, inclusivity, accepting, encouraging, supportive, loving, caring, compassionate, empathetic.
Now one of the dangers when you write about such a topic is that everything you ever do after it is scrutinized to see if you live up to your own ideals! I often find that as I write I learn to and writing shapes my own practice as I gain new insights. One of the tasks we were given in writing chapters was finding apt quotations for the heads of the chapters. My first one was this: Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of being (Goethe). This requires me to be the courageous, wise, discerning person that Jo talks about and I have to monitor my own reactions carefully to ensure that I minister in relation to my values not my tiredness or frustration. It can be quite hard not to be pushed in to ways of leading that are less empowering and participative because that can be easier for those in the group and sometimes it takes a while for people to understand bottom up, not top down, ways of doing things. However, it is worth persevering as you get a more rounded and whole outcome than a tell us what you think and we’ll do it your way approach!
This post is not supposed to be a book plug but then I wonder why I feel reticent about plugging a book which I think is great and which has the capacity to render easier the experiences of people as leaders reflect on how and why they do things as they do. It is very hard for me to say “Read this – it’s a really useful book” but as Paul would say to me “Get over it!”. So I have and I am!
Jo Whitehead, Sally Nash, Simon Sutcliffe. Facilitation Skills for Ministry. London: SPCK, 2013.