Facilitation Is – or is Not – the Same as Leadership. Please Discuss.

TMC Digging A Deeper Well

Digging a Deeper Well will go on hiatus starting next week for what we think is a terrific reason.  Your co-authors are going to be married in nine days and then take a couple weeks to travel afterwards.

When we met almost five years ago, initially introduced over email by a mutual friend, we had that awkward first phone conversation as we attempted to further introduce ourselves to each other.  We mapped multiple connections in our experiences, interests, education, people we knew, work we did … and that took up most of the call.  And then, as Mark remembers it, Elizabeth said something like: “I teach facilitation, which is virtually the same as leadership.” Mark began to assert that facilitation and leadership are not the same, but rather that facilitation is one vital tool among the many important tools of leadership.  And then, just as a really good, creative, and energetic disagreement was brewing, Elizabeth said tactfully: “Well, we’ve talked for an hour. I think we should leave it here and plan to meet in person.”  That wise intervention perhaps cleared the path toward the wedding we are looking forward to celebrating a week from Saturday.

What is facilitation and what is leadership?  How are they the same and how do they differ?  As a church board, when is facilitation the tool you need to pull out of your barrel and deploy in congregational life?  How do you do that facilitation well, and what do you hope will come from it?  And, when is there a better tool to use?  In Christian community, excellent facilitation is important. It allows many voices to be raised and heard, honors different viewpoints, and gently guides congregational conversation.  But there are times when something more direct (if still hopefully gentle, inclusive, and honoring) is needed to help a congregation face a challenge, get unstuck, or, even more urgently, work through a deep conflict.  In your congregational setting, when are those moments? What skills do they call for? How are those skills different from facilitation, and how does a church board decide that more direct leadership is called for?

In the Sermon on the Mount, feeding the 5,000, teaching along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus offered a presence that certainly facilitated growth among those who were following him.  And then there were other times. Presumably, Jesus was thinking beyond facilitation when he entered the Temple and overturned the merchants’ tables.  Calling the disciples to leave everything and come “fish for people” required more than facilitating a life change.  Often, that call was profoundly dislocating.

At this point, Elizabeth tactfully suggests: “Maybe it is time to end this post and go get married.”

See you in a few weeks, and meanwhile: Please Discuss!

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