The Facilitator

The leader who wishes to help a church leadership team become highly effective and productive needs to steer between two common leadership errors: (1) taking over the work of another person or team, and (2) abandoning a person or team which has had a specific task assigned to it. In between these two extreme positions is the helpful leader who makes a point of helping team members with their church-related work.

Helping team members with their work, or “work facilitation,” may be described as behavior by the leader of a team that helps team members do a good job by removing the barriers that are blocking the team from high quality productivity. Work facilitation includes helping the team set plans and priorities and providing team members with useful ideas and information necessary for doing their work.

1. How A Leader Can Help Members With Their Work

a. Clarify Task Expectations. Many times a group will conceive a task to be done only in very general terms, then delegate it to an individual or sub-group to carry through. A facilitative leader will be sensitive to the need for a clear statement of the specific expectations of the task and what the desired outcome is to be. 

b. Designate “Linking Persons.” A church is a network of interdependent groups, not a collection of individuals. For the network to operate in harmony with itself, it is important that each part be in touch with where the others are. For communications and pacing among related groups, the leader can see to it that someone is designated to participate in both groups who can interpret each to the other and carry information back and forth as needed.

c. Identify Resources. In the church persons are often asked to assume roles and tasks that are not in their area of expertise. The sense of being “beyond one’s depth” can stymie a person or group and stall progress on the task. Not only does the church’s work suffer, but feelings of guilt and defensiveness are generated. A helpful leader will check with sub-groups and their leaders to see if they have the resources they need to carry out their work. The leader need not be a “fount of all wisdom,” but at least can help identify where information and ideas can be found. Denominational program officers, other leaders in the church or community, are some potential sources.

2. Benefits to Team Members

a. Focuses work. When a leader helps persons clarify task expectations, members or sub-groups will feel more secure about what is expected of them. Anxiety will be reduced over whether the task may outgrow its original bounds and go beyond what those accepting it expected. There will be an objective statement, arrived at in advance, of how to tell when the task is satisfactorily completed.

b. Distinguishes between “Got-to-Do” and “Nice-to-Do.” When plans and priorities are clear, it is much easier for work groups to know what to do first, then next, in a logical sequence congruent with the overall plans. It is still important that each sub-group do its own prioritizing but when the overall picture is clear, the group’s task is easier. In new or inexperienced groups, the leader may want to offer his/her own skill to the group or to “broker” another person to aid the group in the priority-setting phase of their startup.

c. Helps communication. Linking persons can keep internal communications clear, so that groups do not find themselves at cross purposes. Linking persons do not “represent” one group to another (as an advocate), but rather they assist both groups to keep the overall ministry and mission of the church in perspective and to see how their separate tasks interrelate and complement each other in the total work of the church. Sub-groups therefore become less competitive and more collaborative.

d. Provides options. Most people are happy to fulfill accepted tasks if they know how to do them. Making available useful information and ideas about what the task is and how to perform it is a very enabling function the leader can perform. Persons feel empowered and their motivation for the work is enhanced. The self-esteem of workers is elevated by the experience of success in the accomplishment of theirs and the church’s tasks. Often, learnings in one role are later transferable into other roles. Thus leadership development for the whole church organization is being advanced.

e. Remove roadblocks. Sometimes in the conduct of its business, a sub-group will find itself at odds with another group or with ingrown customs or habits. A leader can play an important role in diminishing these kinds of snags. S/he can help reconcile competition for dates, facilities, or resources. When the problem is ingrained in customs, s/he may be able to get a reconsideration of old assumptions in a problem-solving style which allows persons to change and still “save face.” In any event, the leader serves as “troubleshooter” to alleviate blockages to the accomplishment of tasks.

f. Establish a reward system. Some of the work done for the church carries its own intrinsic reward — the reward is just in the doing of it. But there remains much to do that persons do out of love and loyalty and not for the doing of it alone. To be recognized and appreciated can be a very fulfilling experience and can make even difficult or unappealing tasks feel worth the doing. A helpful leader will pay attention to this human need and see that appropriate rewards are built into the regular functioning of the church.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. In what ways do I provide members and work groups with the kinds of help they need to carry out their accepted tasks? How might such helpfulness be strengthened?
  2. In what ways does our church appropriately recognize and reward members and work groups for their efforts in behalf of the church? How could our reward systems be improved?
  3. Has our church developed a clear statement of its purposes, plans, and priorities? If so, are they regularly examined and updated? How might this be improved
  4. In what ways are work groups encouraged to see how their separate tasks fit into the overall ministry and mission of the church? Are there “linking persons” to assist the harmonious integration of the various efforts going on in the congregation? How could linkages and communications be improved?
  5. When persons or groups accept tasks, are the tasks clearly enough defined that persons know how and where to begin, and how to tell when the task is finished satisfactorily? How could we better clarify these “contracts?”
  6. How is “work facilitation” an expression of Christian faith?