Have you or your team ever wondered, ‘what are we going to do?’ If so, read on.
In my work as a facilitator, I’m often brought in to teams, groups or organisations working in pastoral ministry to help them plan for what they are going to do in the present and into the future- in other words to help them uncover where they are going to.
However, the bulk of my work (certainly at the beginning stages) with these teams of people is to invite them to slow down and spend time on more foundational issues. I invite them not to begin by asking what they should DO, rather to begin by asking who they ARE. Interestingly, I often find a resistance to this approach. ‘Just let us get our teeth into the planning, the doing’ is a common response. There is something deep within many of us that draws us to want to get on with things. And that can be a very useful energy for individuals and for groups.
However, I have confidence in the saying, ‘It is more important to know where you are coming from than where you are going to’. And I’ll tell you why; it is because when you slow down and get to know where you are coming from, where you are going becomes clearer, quicker.
Knowing who you are helps you to discover a sense of purpose and mission. It helps you understand your giftedness and your learning needs. It helps you slow down and create space for prayer and reflection- acknowledging the guiding hand of God in all things. This provides an excellent base from which to dive into planning and doing.
I have developed 5 key questions to help groups develop their mission:
1 Who are we? We think here about getting to know each other, our motivations and passions. We spend time in prayer and conversation together, listening intently and intentionally to what unites us and what makes us richer in our diversity of interests and opinions.
2 Why are we called together? We think here about our collective sense of our over all purpose. Rather than asking what we should so, this stage is much more about understanding the rationale for the groups very existence. The answer to this question is on the macro level (we exist in order to…) rather than the micro level (what we are going to do is…).
3 How are we called to be? We think here of how the group intends to work together. For us, we think in terms of how we are called to be a people in discernment of God’s will together. We spend time agreeing methods of working together. We explore different group styles. And we agree ways to pray together- practicing what we preach by spending time in prayer together, praying for the freedom to discern God’s will for the group.
4 Where are our eyes to look? We think here of connecting to an agreed and inspiring vision for the work. What is the task at hand, we ask. How might we declare a vision for the future in relation to our overall purpose. We ask ourselves if the vision is clear, purposeful and if it gives us heart.
5 What are we called to do? We think here of planning for meaningful action that concretises our vision and allows God to work through , with and in the group and those we serve. Note that this is the last question we ask rather the first. Ask yourself, do you usually ask this first? And if so, what might you be missing out on?
These questions can for the basis of a day/weekend of retreat and planning or they can form the basis of regular working meetings over the course of a longer period of time. I have facilitated groups in both of these time frames.
And these questions don’t only apply to groups of people or to those engaged in ministry. These questions can form the basis for personal discernment as well. Here’s how they might read for an individual:
1 Who am I? We think here about getting to know our own motivations and passions. We spend time in prayer, listening intently and intentionally to what drives us in life, always looking for the consolation of knowing when our own passions are in unity with what God would have us be motivated by.
2 Why am I discerning? We think here about a sense of our over all purpose for the discernment we are entering into. Rather than asking what we should so, this stage is much more about understanding the rationale for the decisions we want to make. The answer to this question will lead us to have a sense of the dilemma or alternatives we are facing in to.
3 How am I called to be? We think here of how we intend to work through our discernment. Will we speak to others? If so, who might they be? Will we write down our thoughts and our possible decisions? Will we show this to others? We commit to prayer- practicing what we preach by spending time every day in prayer, praying for the freedom to discern God’s will.
4 Where are my eyes to look? We think here of connecting to an agreed and inspiring vision we hold for our lives and for the world. What is the task at hand, we ask. How might we declare a vision for the future in relation to our overall purpose. We ask ourselves if the vision is clear, purposeful and if it gives us heart.
5 What am I called to do? We think here of planning for meaningful action that concretises our vision and allows God to work through, with and in us and those we serve in life. Note again that this is the last question we ask rather the first.
The key to answering these questions and working through making decisions about direction or actions in an individual or group context is the important part that prayer plays the whole way through. We always connect with God through prayer, asking for the freedom to know at each stage if we have key God’s will as dear to us as our own. We will know this to be the case through the peace that consolation brings us when we are in tune with God’s plan. This,in turn, can only happen if we give the process time at all stages. This includes not rushing into action once the action seems clear. There is real benefit from slowing down here as well, allowing time to consider if the decisions made are indeed right before implementing them.
How might you or your team develop this style of making decisions, planning for action and keeping in tune with God’s great plan for us all?