Characteristics of Good Facilitators

Last month, I wrote a post about being comfortable in the middle, commenting on John Maxwell’s book The 360-Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization. It bears repeating (since we currently prefer the term ‘facilitator’), that we are all leaders even just in simple ways in our homes, neighborhoods, in class, etc. Being a 360-Degree leader is about showing healthy support and positive influence to everyone below, around, and above us. It’s not about being the boss.

Today I want to make an additional comment on a second chapter of Maxwell’s book which states that “Good leaders in the middle make better leaders at the top”. In other words, good middle-leaders improve the effectiveness of their top leaders. And, that is what we as facilitators want to do.

Maxwell goes on to say that in industrialized nations we have a whole culture around leadership training and expectations. But in developing countries, leadership is more ‘positional’, keeping distance between the leader and followers. The challenge, particularly for those of us who live in “highly positional” cultures, is how to model and/or encourage various levels of leadership. We don’t want to just train people how to be a ‘western’ leader.

In my opinion, the suggestions in the book apply to all cultures, though living them out may be different. So, how do leaders who excel in the middle (facilitators), add to the leaders over them?

GOOD FACILITATORS…

1. Make a better team by helping carry some of the weight and/or the vision of the local leader above them.

Example: Our National Supt. Graça Nhatelo sometimes asks Jim and I to be main speakers at District Conferences. He always gives us his theme to promote for the year. One time he asked Jim to promote the idea of every member giving 10 mt monthly ($0.15) for National Church leaders’ transportation budget. Even though Jim doesn’t like to be the one talking about money, in promoting this, Jim carried Rev. Nhatelo’s vision and gave it extra weight, as it came from both the National leader and the M. 

2. Allow top leaders to be free to focus on other priorities.

Example: When a donation was sent for Bibles, Rev. Nhatelo asked me to be in charge of purchasing and distributing them. When I tried to get out of it by saying someone local might be better, he said no, because I was the one who had had the passion to organize it and would see the money was spent correctly. I accepted, but I had a local pastor work with me so that he could also gain the vision and experience. In the past I have tried to decline certain things, saying I am no longer “the leader”, but I have been reminded I am also part of the team. So this is a dynamic that facilitators have to wrestle with. 

3. Bring out the best in others by modeling the ‘A’ game ourselves.

Examples: Sometimes we do this without even realizing. (1) Years ago. we were in a local church and the pastor said that our young son set a good example. Our ears perked up. He said that Ben brought his Bible to church every week. We didn’t even realize we were setting an example; it was simply the way we were raised. (2) A young pastor said he takes good care of the car he has purchased and that he learned to do that by observing how the Ms took care of theirs.

4. Add value to top leaders by being a positive influence on other team members.

Example: Projects have been challenging in Mozambique as the culture values being with people more than tasks and many are not a fan of paperwork. I have tried to stress that if money is received from Western donors, they need to understand the Western importance of time and of reports in order to have good communication. In multiple meetings, I would ask the status of a project. There were times I would make multiple calls to see if something was done. There were times I would offer to take a picture and send it to the person responsible so they could give a progress report. Sometimes, I was concerned that, as a facilitator, I was being too pushy or annoying. However, I spoke to the National Supt. and he told me that I was doing the right things and I needed to continue patiently teaching and modeling. (Your country may have different dynamics. But it is always helpful when you are able to have open communication with the top leader.) This week, a leader said, “I think we must make a commitment to begin a project as soon as the funds are received.” -- Music to my ears.

5. Motivate other leaders to learn and grow. As others see us reading, taking webinars, going to conferences, accepting advice, we model the value of learning.

6. Advance the future by training others in leadership and innovation skills. – Pastoral training and leadership training, such as Leadership Matters, are areas in which GP has been strong in the past. GP has also recognized that overseas long-term training can have unintended negative effects. While we continue promoting different types of training, I believe we need to be careful that we don’t simply copy Western methods/skills.

Some of these points may seem obvious, but is there is an area in which we need to be more intentional?

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Reflections on the Facilitator Role

I don’t think about “Facilitator M” on a daily basis, and to be honest I was only thinking about it yesterday because I knew I had this blog to write.  I was sitting in our “greatly simplified due to Covid-19” worship service yesterday  and my heart was moved like it had not been moved in a long time.  Our final hymn had the familiar words, “This is my story.  This is my song.  Praising my Savior all the day long.”  My eyes filled with tears as I realized that my story could be very different if I had been born in another country…or if I had been born to different parents who did not take me to church every time the doors were open…or if I had not made the decision to follow Christ from an early age…or if my parents had not started taking me on family mission experiences as a young teen.  But this is my story.  The story of how the cross of Christ has made all the difference in the destiny of my life and my family.  My thoughts then went to the billions around the world who have a different story because they have never heard THE story of a God who loves them and gave His only Son to die in their place.  Their story doesn’t have a happy ending unless someone shares this story with them.

As the song was ending I took my seat and began listening to the pastor.  My eyes were quickly drawn to a banner with familiar verses from Romans 10.  The banner read, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

The question came to mind…where do we as facilitator M’s fit into these verses?  We’ve been the ones who called on the Name for salvation.  We’ve been the ones who have been sent.  We’ve been the ones who brought the good news, but now we are mobilizing, training, and equipping others to bring that same good news to others.  Our role is now in the background smiling from ear to ear as our spiritual sons and daughters take their first big steps and do what we’ve been doing. 

I am not a marathon runner and I have never enjoyed long hikes or running long distances.  Sports that involve sprinting and high activity are my preference.  I am new to this “facilitator M” task, but I’m thinking it is more like a marathon than a sprint.  I don’t have suggestions or ideas about how to BE a “facilitator M”, but I am trying to learn.  My questions at this point are…

Are we still supposed to facilitate M’s from the US? 

Are M’s from the US still relevant and can they be effective? 

If so, how do we expose people from the US to missions? 

How have we done it in the past?

What played a significant role in your call to missions?

Short-term mission experiences played a major role in my call to missions.  What role do short-term mission experiences still have?

 

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Unreal Expectations for E2E

Unreal Expectations for E2E

I am excited about the emergence of E2E within our circles. I think it is the secret to how the fulfillment of Matthew 24:14 will be accelerated as we come to the end of the age. (And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.)

One of the things that excites me about E2E is that it seems to promise a decline in the need for E3 outreach (across major cultural/linguistic barriers) because even people groups without a viable witness do have close neighbors who can take the gospel to them. This is what I’ve witnessed in the rapid expansion of the church in Africa – it’s been on the back of E1/E2 efforts, which demand much less time and effort.

Tom Steffen in The Facilitator Era seems to anticipate the same dynamic, and thus he envisions us as assuming a role facilitating E1/E2 church multiplication initiatives by others, rather than launching E3 initiatives ourselves.

Part of a recent blog post by Matt Whitacre (How Racism Hinders Global Missions) calls that assumption into question. He writes:

“No way. That’s crazy!”

I was shocked. I’ve studied missiology. I have an advanced degree in cross-cultural ministry. All the research I could think of said the same thing: Near cultures can reach the unreached with the gospel more effectively and efficiently than far cultures. For someone from a far culture it just makes sense. Near cultures have language, similar cultural values, and a relatively short distance to travel.

But my friends of Southeast Asian heritage were challenging one of the core tenets in my philosophy of missions.

When I asked if it would be easier for them to reach a certain people group in Southeast Asia, they said “No way. That’s crazy. It would be much easier for you to reach them than us.”

I’m a white male from Midwestern USA. I don’t speak any Asian languages and I know next to nothing about the culture. Both of their families came from a minority people group nearby the majority people group I was praying would be reached.

Here’s what I missed: Racism. Tribalism. Ethnocentrism. Classism. History of oppression. History of power struggles. History of cultural clashes. Generations of stories that passed on prejudice like hand-me-down clothes.

I thought racism was primarily an American problem. Turns out it’s a human problem. And these ingrained prejudices can be bigger barriers to the gospel than language or culture or distance.

I think Whitacre is correct. And for that reason, GP will always be a mix of pioneer multipliers and facilitators. There will always be a role for E3 pioneer work for GP M’s to shoulder, even though we are increasingly becoming facilitators of the ministries of others. If, as an organization we fail to have work going on at all five phases, then somehow we’ve lost sight of the mission.

What do you think?

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Comfortable in the Middle

Comfortable in the Middle

While the word “leadership” could make people hesitate in the 4/5 M reality of coaching or facilitating, John Maxwell in The 360-Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization says that leadership is not about being at the top. Leadership is about making an impact wherever we are in an organization, by changing people’s lives and adding value. We may “lead down” (teacher, study leader, area facilitator), “lead across” (peers, teamwork, groups) or “lead up” (supporting those above us). If we don’t use leadership skills, the book says we “create weight for the top leader to move.”

Section II in this book is a key part that relates to being a facilitator. It discusses the seven challenges we might feel “leading” or making an impact from the middle. With each challenge, Maxwell brings clarity by discussing factors that impact us and how to thrive in the midst of it. In the space here, let me just discuss the first challenge:

The Tension Challenge: The Pressure of Being Caught in the Middle. “If you are not the top leader, you are not running the show, but you may be responsible for it”.

Five key factors may affect tension that you may feel: empowerment, initiative, organizational environment, job parameters, and appreciation. The first two are the ones I have found affect me more in a stage 4/5 environment.

  1. Empowerment refers to understanding the responsibility and authority you have been given. In a particular situation I understand a different level of authority given me by Global Partners as opposed to the National Church Board (which are both over me). When the lines are vague or perceived differently between the two groups, it can cause stress.
  2. Initiative is the tension that sometimes we need to initiate, but how can we do that without overstepping boundaries or undermining leadership? If you promoted a project and money arrived two months ago, but the project has not been started, to whom do you speak? What if nothing still gets done and then a donor is displeased? Or what if you feel there is a moral issue that doesn’t seem like it is being addressed?

Five suggestions are given to help us thrive since Maxwell says, that while we need to process the five factors above, we will probably never be completely free of the tension of being in the middle.

  • Become comfortable with the middle. -- What is expected of you? Where and how can you act? Accept you will not always have the answers and some things are out of your control.
  • Know what to ‘own’ and what to let go. -- When you go on PD and someone local takes over a responsibility, should you or how do you take it back when you return?
  • Find quick access to answers when caught in the middle. -- Who else can get information for you? How can you connect people? Do you have good rapport with people?
  • Never violate your position or the trust of the leader. When you don’t agree with a vision or policy, be careful about “if I were in charge” conversations. Is there something in the vision or policy that you can support? Do you have someone you can talk to in confidence?
  • Find a way to relieve stress. – Prayer, reading, exercise, crafts, write a letter/list and then burn it, etc.

How about you?

Do you ever feel any tension from being in the middle?

Are there any other ways you have found helpful to navigate it?

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Rethinking Dependency

Rethinking Dependency

“Africans want and expect to depend upon others and they want others to depend upon them.” – David Maranz, African Friends and Money Matters

 

 “To ask is a good thing.” – Lingala proverb (Congo)

 

 “Scriptures teach the interdependence of believers within the Body of Christ, not crippling dependency nor extreme individualism.” – Donald Smith in Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions

 

All of my missionary life I thought “dependency” was a dirty word. I have been very conscious of trying to avoid creating dependency. I’ve dedicated much of my missionary career trying to help churches break free from the cycle of dependency. But lately I’ve been wondering if all these years I’ve been making a huge cultural blunder.

In his book Clues to Africa, Islam, & the Gospel, Colin Bearup devotes a chapter to the system of patronage which governs relationships in most collectivistic cultures. He explains that patron-client relationships are the way in which collectivistic cultures manage the inevitable inequalities within society. Because it provides societal stability, interdependent relationships are valued and maintained. In those societies dependency is a good thing and so is embraced and encouraged.

In individualistic cultures independence and equality are valued. We do everything we can to avoid having to depend on others and often are resentful when others depend on us. We struggle to develop deeper level interpersonal relationships because for us those relationships are built on a foundation of equality free from expectations, while in collectivistic cultures meaningful relationships can only exist by acknowledging the inequalities and the obligations that flow out of them. We are constantly plagued by wondering whether friendships are “genuine” or whether people just want to get something out of us. “Why can’t we just be friends?” and “Why are there always strings attached?” are burning questions.

Jeff Fussner, former Asia Area Director, noted in a recent email conversation, “We don't realize as Westerners how individualistic values are so deeply ingrained in our goals and missiology.” Could it be that our drive to avoid creating and/or to breaking dependency are driven more by our individualistic values than by biblical values? Is insisting that churches and ministries become self-supporting more reflective of American cultural values than the values of the interdependent body of Christ as portrayed in Scripture?

We value the development of independent autonomous Wesleyan churches around the world, but maybe those churches don’t value independence like we do. Maybe they value an interdependent global church body much more. Is the ICWC structure a reflection of American cultural values? Could it be that the perceived resistance to becoming self-sustaining has much less to do with money than it does with the fear of the loss of relationships and the sense of security that flows out of those relationships?

Phase 4 of GP’s 5 phase strategy is “Advancing Sustainability”. What would sustainability look like within a framework of interdependency instead of a framework of self-support and self-sustainability and how would we go about advancing it? How would that change how we assess church maturity? How would it influence what we do at all the other phases? What would the implications be for E2E? How could we recognize and foster healthy interdependence and avoid unhealthy codependency?

Churches around the world see GP as a patron. Rather than chafe and kick back against that role, can we lean into it and learn to relate to the international church in new ways? Can we embrace dependency as a value? Should we?

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What is a Facilitator / Facilitator Missionary?

What is a Facilitator/Facilitator Missionary?

I don’t know about you, but when I first heard the term facilitator missionary and facilitator missionary training, I drew a blank.  I was familiar with the idea of a facilitator and facilitation as a form of project management.  I had read a bit about the facilitator as a leader and working as a facilitator in a group.  But the idea of a facilitator missionary was a mystery to me. 

What Does a Facilitator Do?

To facilitate an event well, you must first understand the group's desired outcome, and the background and context of the meeting or event. The bulk of your responsibility is then to:

  • Design and plan the group process, and select the tools that best help the group progress towards that outcome.
  • Guide and control the group process to ensure that:
    • There is effective participation.
    • Participants achieve a mutual understanding.
    • Their contributions are considered and included in the ideas, solutions or decisions that emerge.
    • Participants take shared responsibility for the outcome.
  • Ensure that outcomes, actions and questions are properly recorded and actioned, and appropriately dealt with afterwards.
  • Train/Mentor other facilitators.

I began to do a very limited amount of research on the idea of a facilitator missionary.  It was limited due to our current circumstances.  We were recently given counsel to temporarily return to the USA from our field and our home in Guayaquil, Ecuador.  We’ve been staying in an Airbnb out side the small town of Marion, IN.  We’ve been trying to gain some clarity of vision as to what the next 3, 6, and 12 months and beyond may hold??  I punctuated that with question marks because that is our present status.  Most of that planning is unclear.  So, between all that goes on when you relocate temporarily or long term and  continuing to work via Zoom and internet, as well as being near our grandkids who don’t yet completely grasp the concept that when we say goodbye at night, we’ll still be here tomorrow, my time to do research has been rare and short.

Here is some of what I’ve discovered so far.  The ideas in this training were spurred forward by the writing of Tom Steffen a former missionary and now a professor at Biola University. He has written several books and articles including Passing the Baton and The Facilitator Era: Beyond Pioneer Church Multiplication as well as numerous articles.  Much of what he writes springs, not only from academia, but from his time as a missionary in the field. 

I also read a good article by Kayla Stevens at http://www.globalmissiology.org.  In this article she states the following: “For centuries evangelicals have taken part in a beautifully difficult symphony of multiplying disciples who in turn multiply churches …..The role of the facilitator in a cross cultural context seeks to empower local believers to equip nationals to multiply indigenous churches as part of a church planting movement.  While some view this role as conflicting with pioneer church planting, it seems more fitting to view the incorporation of this role as an additional movement in the symphony of the missions strategy within church planting.”  In her writing she talks about a number of things that Lori and I tried to communicate and practice from the time we came to the field.  We often failed in this and we were doing it out of a sense of what seemed to be the right thing without an overall way to communicate what it was, categorize it or envision a final outcome.

She says the role will look differently in different contexts, but that there are 4 key fundamental values. Those are 1)facilitators begin their work with local believers in the area. 2) Like pioneer missionaries, a facilitator missionary will seek to equip and empower local believers so that they can disciple/equip and empower other believers who are faithful. 3) A facilitators work is primarily done behind the scenes through equipping nationals.  Not leading ourselves to discipling, equipping, facilitating, and possibility overseeing nationals that lead and train others.  4) Facilitators seek to equip nationals in such a way that the facilitator missionary leaves the field sooner instead of later or never.   Facilitators take part in this role of raising up leaders, discipling disciples with a clear vision of moving forward in partnership, but not dependence.

Her article emphasizes discipling and equipping local leaders while already having an exit strategy in mind before you start.  As much as possible staying away from actually leading yourself, but putting great emphasis on mentoring/discipling the ones who lead and making sure they are reproducing themselves or even better, Christ in others the whole time they lead.  

Why Use the Word Facilitator?

Could the term facilitator indicate or pass on the message of a sense of objectivity and neutrality?

How could adopting the attitude/role of a Facilitator Missionary change your/our current role? 

What are your thoughts on looking at our fields with a broader vision, not just phase 4 or 5, but as national churches that are involved in all phases?

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How Many Mission Phases Are There, Really?

How many mission phases are there, really?

A few weeks ago, I was sorting through the mission files in South African and I came across a document from Global Partners describing the 10 phases of mission.  It wasn’t dated, but I believe it was written in the mid-90’s. Complete with a diagram, it outlined the ten stages a mission field went through in the process to become a mature fully-established church. Missionaries were encouraged to identify the phase of their field and the steps required to move the work on to the next phase. The “Ten Phases of Mission” never became an important strategy document for GP and in short order was relegated to gather dust in a filing cabinet. 

But around a decade later the Africa Area Director, Lindsey Cameron, came out with the “Five Phases of Mission” (complete with a diagram) and it rapidly gained momentum and has been the most significant strategy document in Global Partners over the past 15 years. In the past few years as Global Partners has redefined its mission, the “Five Phases” has gained new energy shaping strategy internally and our message to partners externally.

The “Five Phases” initially was intended to be descriptive – a study of the typical pattern a field followed in becoming a mature church. It was driven to a great extent by the question, “How do we know when our work is done on a field and missionaries should be withdrawn and deployed elsewhere?” Quickly the document was being applied way beyond “end game” questions and was being applied to GP’s mission at whatever stage of development. From being descriptive of how fields have developed in the past, it has morphed into being prescriptive – becoming the primary strategic plan for GP’s global ministry.

Using the “Five Phases” as the strategic plan for GP’s ministries around the world has had its problems. Invariably, when missionaries try to identify the phase of their work they end up identifying a range of phases, such as phases 2-3 or 4-5 (except those fresh off the boat to pioneer fresh work and so obviously in phase 1). The kind of things missionaries do aligned with certain phases has never fit well, because under the right circumstances any of the activities turn out to be appropriate in any phase.  E2E has further muddied the waters – if a field is pioneering work somewhere (phase 5 activity) and we work alongside them (phases 4-5) in ministries of evangelism and discipleship (phases 1-2) what phase is the work?

Tom Steffen’s book, The Facilitator Era, seems to boil down the phases to a continuum of approaches to mission. As new work is being established, the missionary assumes the position of a “pioneer church multiplier” much in line with what GP envisions in phases 1-3. Later, the missionary assumes the role of a “facilitator” – empowering, enabling, encouraging the national church as it increasingly assumes its role as a full partner in the global church seeking to fulfill the Great commission (more or less, phases 3-5). The difference between the two is not so much “what” we do, but “how” we do it and how we measure our effectiveness/success in mission. Instead of identifying our phase, the question becomes more one of movement – “Are we progressing towards becoming facilitators of mission, regardless of how far or near to that ideal we are currently?”

So what do you think? Is moving from being pioneer church multipliers to becoming mission facilitators a better paradigm for us? Would such a continuum provide the kind of strategic focus that is needed to give direction to our ministries on the ground? Are you ready to move to the “Two Phases of GP’s Mission”?

 

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