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Better ministry with groups

12 December 2014

Donald Reeves looks at a guide by authors with experience

Facilitation Skills for Ministry
Jo Whitehead, Sally Nash, and Simon Sutcliffe
SPCK £12.99
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THE book Facilitation Skills for Ministry is an indispensable handbook for all those who call groups together, lead them, or coordinate their activities.

The authors are busy and experienced practitioners. Jo Whitehead is Assistant Director of the Midlands Centre for Youth Ministry, based at St John's College, Nottingham. Sally Nash is Director of the Midlands Centre for Youth Ministry, also at Nottingham, and works at Hodge Hill Church, Birmingham. Simon Sutcliffe is part-time tutor in evangelism and church growth at Queen's Foundation, as well as a pioneer minister establishing new forms of Christian community.

The book is a fine example of what is described as "reflexion - the art of deliberately slowing down our habitual processes of interpreting our lives to take a closer look at the experience and at our frameworks for interpretation".

There are 12 chapters; the first six describe different styles of leadership, noting that a more participatory style of leadership requires understandings of different dimensions of facilitation. Whitehead describes these as Purpose - what the facilitator hopes to achieve; the Product - what it is hoped the result of the group experience will be; the Process - how the group will accomplish its task; the People, who take part; and lastly the Place - that is, the venue where the group functions.

These dimensions are spelt out in other chapters, and there is much valuable and distilled experience on facilitating worship, meetings of one sort or another, learning and reflection, and facilitating change. As a practitioner working in the Balkans for 13 years in peace-building, I was particularly helped by the clarity and wisdom of Whitehead's essay "Facilitating Learning and Reflexion". Nash balances the emphasis on skills to be learnt by emphasising the necessity for facilitators to be aware of their own motivation and behaviour.

Much of what those who organ-ise meetings forget is described in detail: creating hospitable spaces, and ensuring that the layout of the room reflects the style and manner of work of the group, as well as the use of visual aids, from the flip chart to PowerPoint. There are useful tips on planning and preparation, starting and finishing. What might become rather laboured is lightened by the many stories and experiences of the authors.

The authors draw on their experience of working with community, churches, and young people. Therefore, there is little about the status of group work in organisations, and what authority a group has in implementing its decisions. This is certainly an important factor in the conversations to be held across the Church of England on same-sex marriage, since decisions have to be made at the General Synod - not the best structure for groups to be effec- tive.

Neither does the book touch on spoilers - those who unconsciously or deliberately attempt to undermine the group in its task.

There is a substantial bibliography, and each chapter ends with questions inviting the reader to reflect on the theme of the chapter in the light of his or her own experience, and a section on further reading.

One of the most engaging aspects are the quotations at the start of each chapter. I liked particularly Abraham Lincoln's words "People support what they help create" and the words of Henry Ford "Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, and working together is success."

The Revd Donald Reeves is a former Rector of St James's, Piccadilly, and is Director of the Soul of Europe. www.soulofeurope.org.uk

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