With our focus on healthy leaders, it’s important to consider three healthy leadership postures for connect group facilitators
By Elizabeth Mullins, Love Avenue Champion
A healthy church has healthy leaders, multiple connect groups (planned or in place), and healthy group facilitators. A healthy connect group will primarily be rooted in the one square mile around our church location and will include friends and coworkers from the neighborhood. We hope to be gathering a diverse group of people, and that can feel daunting! When differences arise among members of our connect groups, what is a healthy posture in the facilitator? Let’s consider three postures healthy facilitators can model and cultivate: belonging, curiosity, and courage.
How do we practice belonging when we don’t share everything in common? By orienting to Jesus and acknowledging he is the center of the center. We belong to God and therefore, to one another, having been reconciled in Christ. We may differ in opinions, but we are not enemies. We have unity by what we do share in common: we are children of God, chosen and adopted, united in and to Christ. In other words, we are one because ontologically we are the same!
In our connect groups, we take these concepts out of the abstract and practice them on a relational, concrete level. We model and express belonging: you are loved and chosen always; disagreement does not place your belonging in jeopardy. We engage with different points of view from a place of worth, knowing our identity is rooted in Christ. We have a profound need for connection and acceptance and each one longs for the love that will never leave us. We bear witness to the love of God by demonstrating that each person in the group belongs and that belonging is not conditioned on “correct” thinking. Being held in a community that isn’t afraid of the fragmented, incongruent parts of our life has the power to transform us.
Curiosity allows the freedom to investigate if we’re wrong and to lay down our need for certitudes.
We want to believe that we’re objective and use reason to develop our convictions, but we often resist information that disturbs what we already believe and it’s often unconscious. Curiosity towards the other allows us to reject overly simplistic categories. And the good news is contact with a likable person outside our select group is a wonderful way for our false certitudes to be punctured. We laugh, share a meal, confess our hopes and dreams, and come to see that there are no one-dimensional heroes and villains.
Curiosity allows us to hold people with wonder over problem solving. Curiosity helps cultivate an openness that allows us to consider multiple perspectives and allow others their autonomy of thinking. Is it even our place to “correct” another person’s thinking? How you answer that question probably relates to your perspective of Christian leadership. Is it the role of a leader to fix or rescue others? (I’ll just ask you to consider the fruit of hierarchical, authoritarian leadership in the church.) I believe hope and patience produce curiosity as we hope that the Spirit who is at work in us is also at work in the other and so we practice patience as Christ is growing them up. As we intentionally practice belonging and curiosity, we are able to be formed in a way that allows us to differentiate between a person’s held beliefs and their worth and position as a child of God.
Courage is fostered when fear is properly positioned. I’ll illustrate what I mean by describing an encounter I had with a woman. As she expressed her opinions, I noticed my palms were sweating and my heart was beating faster. I found it very difficult to listen to her express her views that were fundamentally different than my own. I began rehearsing facts in my head to defend my position and to expose how wrong she was. Fear is a legitimate, neurological response to threat, but I needed to remind myself I was not under threat. She was not my enemy. And my belonging and union with Christ were not threatened by her opinions. If anything was being threatened, it was my own opinions. I could describe my opinions as ideas which I have attached to my ego, and that ego needs to die!
Courage is not the absence of fear; it is responding maturely from love and belonging when we are triggered by fear. Fear is an emotion that invites us to turn toward God; it’s an opportunity to experience the Spirit’s healing presence. Again, I ask you to consider the fruit in our society of denying and repressing fear.
Fear, not positioned under our identity in Christ, leads to defensiveness, which leads to isolation and a posture of self-protection. When we allow that fear to block relationships and a sense of community, our defensiveness takes resources we could be using for healing.
Let’s get practical:
- Take responsibility for the energy you bring and manage your internal experience without becoming protective. Admit if you don’t feel equipped to respond and ask for some time.
- Say, “Others here may think differently about that.” When one is voicing a strong opinion, this simple statement holds space and provides safety to others. It communicates that your belonging isn’t predicated on alignment of thought.
- Be attuned to reactions of the listeners. Are others becoming uncomfortable or triggered? Has there been consent given to discuss sensitive topics? Discern if a given topic should be discussed one-on-one. Say, “Let’s pause and save this for another time.”
- Engage with questions when one is being reactive. Ask: What do you hope for? What do you care about? (Very often there is fear underneath the anger.) What do you love that you’re afraid of losing?
- Assess power dynamics. There may be power differences between younger and older people, quieter and louder voices, longtime and newer members. Likewise, there exists power differences because we don’t all inhabit the same flourishing. Be cautious: members of marginalized communities are often asked to cooperate for the common good, sidelining their needs of safety and flourishing for the sake of unity.
- Take peace seriously! In our connect groups, as in our Sunday gatherings, we can say, “All are welcome. Come in peace!” As we cultivate peace, our witness must reflect the love we find described in 1 Corinthians 13, as well as the fruit of the Spirit. Our connect groups can be formational spaces of mutual respect, authentic dialogue, and unselfishly seeking the flourishing and shalom of the other. This supersedes any differences!