There’s an air of excitement and anticipation as the new coach turns up to the first training session. The team are pumped. This guy is so talented – surely he’ll teach them everything they need for the game. They cheer in admiration as he handles the ball expertly. They sit on the sidelines and watch him go through his moves. One week rolls into the next, and the coach puts 100% effort into his performance for the team every time. He gives them everything he’s got. By the time the season arrives, the team are unfit, unskilled and unprepared. The coach doesn’t know where he went wrong.
There are only two roles in a performance – you’re either the performer, or an audience member. Sermon-centered church services position God’s people to be passive spectators, not active participants – no matter how entertaining and theologically sound the message may be. The model we are using is unintentionally disempowering God’s people, and sending them the message that they have nothing worth contributing. Church leaders aren’t having the impact they hope for, but can’t work out where they’re going wrong.
A successful coach doesn’t keep the ball to himself. He makes sure the players get their hands on the ball. He provides a combination of observation, hands-on experience and real-time feedback to give the players skills and confidence. He knows it’s not about him – it’s about the players. He’s just there to facilitate their development.
Bible Colleges continue to train pastors to be performers, when they should be training up facilitators. Facilitation is more powerful than performance. It’s a counter-intuitive approach to teaching, where the speaker allows others to speak, where the leader steps off the stage and into the circle. It’s a physical image of servant leadership.
My husband, Kevin-Neil Ward, used to be the lead pastor and main speaker in a church. Week after week, he prepared sermons designed to deliver Godly lessons to the people sitting silently in rows. He tried not to be discouraged by the lack of impact, the limited effectiveness of this model. When he moved from didactic monologues to facilitated dialogue, he was blown away by how active and involved people were in the learning process. He was amazed to see the most unlikely people learning, and growing, and passing on what they had learned to others. He has been excited and encouraged to see God’s people empowered to realise they can participate, they can contribute, and they can facilitate others to do the same. Leadership shared is leadership multiplied.
You’re more likely to learn good facilitation skills through counselling and life-coaching courses than in seminary. Facilitation is all about passing the ball to others – making sure you’re not holding it to yourself. We’ve found it useful to use an actual ball to practise and illustrate this to yourself and to others in a group. Make sure it never stays in your hands for long – push the ball out to engage the disengaged, to empower the powerless, to place value on the undervalued. We are not only helping the weak and broken to be heard and accepted into community but in fact they are the voice of Christ to the community. Pushing the ball to the “least of these” often seems like we are doing them a favour, but the truth is we are doing ourselves a great favour. Honor the weak and messy among you for they can speak to you about the wonder of the Kingdom of God.
It’s time for church leaders to stop being performers and start being facilitators. Take the stage lights off yourself and start shining them on God’s people. You’ll be amazed at what God can do through them.
The following posts in the series are now up;
- Introduction: Changing the way we meet, the way we learn and the way we lead.
- Part 1: Welcome to a new era.
- Part 2: Participation changes everything.
- Part 3: Rethinking the seating arrangement.
- Part 4: Connecting through story.
- Part 5: Food and fellowship.
- Part 6: From spoon-feeding to hands-on learning.
- Part 7: Learning through shared experiences.
- Part 8: Discovery learning in church.
- Part 9: Digging deeper into God’s story.
- Part 10: Hand them the ball.
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