Thursday, November 15, 2007


Question: How do I cultivate [a] conversation of imagination and hope rooted in the biblical narratives, without manipulating people into a pre-arranged plan? How do I invite people in when I have been thinking about this for several years and they may only be at the beginning?

Response: This is a recurring challenge for all leaders (whether missional or emerging). Our models of leadership are often take change, I know best. We’ve seen the way that experts take power away from communities. We don’t want that.

Yet equally, we are gifted. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” It is dishonest to us and to a process to deny our gifts and insights.

I wonder if a way forward is then to ask ourself: what were the key stories, insights and questions that shaped my journey? In other words, not what are my answers, but what were my questions.

And then use the questions with others. In other words, think about what shaped you, and then invite others to be shaped by those processes. Out of that shared learning comes leadership-in-community. This is a different type of leadership, that lies in contrast to the “what you need to do is ….” style of leadership.

As part of this type of leadership, it can be also helpful to reflect on how we all learn differently. You might be a book learner, while others might be more hands on. So this type of leadership-in-community involves thinking about the different ways people can gain insights. (For more on this, see my post about building onramps here). So in my missional leadership coaching clusters, I am exploring using doing, hearing, watching, thinking. Offering a whole different range of access points.

Posted by steve at 10:13 AM


  1. Steve this is EXACTLY what I have been doing with people who come to me asking for info about home education. While I am prepared to share *what we do* (and I am always very careful to explain that my way is not THE way, that it is merely the journey God has taken us on for our family for this time), I am equally big on getting them to find their own answers to the questions that shaped my journey…and to look for more questions too.
    This model encourages people to THINK and lead themselves, rather than to be passive consumers of ideas.
    Go for it!

    Comment by Rachael — November 15, 2007 @ 10:33 am

  2. Does “what you need to do is …” become re-enacted if you tell people the same questions you wrestled with? Does this not presume the person is too similar to us?

    Don’t we need sometimes to start with “What are your questions?” and then help them through the reasoning. More a Socratic approach, a sounding board type style?

    At the same time there is a presumption of some initial knowledge for a questioning process to work? How do we give people the initial knowledge unless they ask us what we know about something?

    I know this is answering an observational post with questions but that is my point. The questions raised by one person are not the questions answered by another.

    Thoughts Steve?

    Comment by David — November 15, 2007 @ 1:39 pm

  3. David,

    for a while i tried the “i’m steve, what are your questions.” my reflections were that it very rarely get good questions going. the extroverts tend to own the night. the thoughtful one’s go “questions about what” …. and then i was exposed. to say “oh nothing, whatever,” is a lie cos i do have an agenda.

    we all bring agendas to a conversation. i have decided i am no longer going to hide mine. i want to form people in the way of Christ. so i like to do something with a group in the first instance that names my agenda. from there, i move to a more socratic learning.


    Comment by steve — November 15, 2007 @ 2:34 pm

  4. let me give a practical example. i often talk about mission with groups. rather than say, what are your questions,instead i now read luke 10:1-12 and ask them – who is God; where is God; what is God up to.

    that gives me an aweful lot of information about the group and shapes what i then move to. but i have chosen a text, named an agenda, primed a pump, given something to chew on.

    at espresso, our cafe service we use questions.but someone offers to start the conversation. again, we priming a pump.

    also there is a lot of work required for a group to become a safe place to really ask questions. they need to know that I, and each other, are safe. so part of what i do in “priming the pump” is about helping a group settle. a settled, safe group is likely to work better and generate better questions.


    Comment by steve — November 15, 2007 @ 2:42 pm

  5. Hi Steve

    I’m currently wrestling with this in a slightly different form. I’m shooting a documentary of the do team trip I am participating in.

    My intuition has been to have each person tell their story – their way.

    I’m finding it INCREDIBLY hard to frame questions that ask the participants “what questions are you asking yourself?” Which suggests that my default is to want to railroad over people “oh yes – you’re a teacher so you’re probably going for these reasons… and you’re a nurse so you want this…”

    To be honest I’m finding too that perhaps some participants (for whatever reason) have not been asking themselves too many questions at this stage either.

    My goal to date has been a little cloudy but you’re thinking here is helping to flesh out what I am feeling I want to do

    The Nelson Mandela quote is wonmderful. i think as Kiwi’s one of the hardest things for us to do is to say “I’m Randall – and I’m a musician, filmaker, apologist, husband and father (almost)” – we always want to make excuses for ourselves and hide away but he is so right – it’s not helping anyone – it’s a false humility

    I’m not sure I’ve contributed much but I just wanted to say I think it’s a great idea and it’s really ringing true in my heart

    Go for it. I know I’d respond really well to it.

    Comment by Randall — November 16, 2007 @ 8:07 am

  6. Steve,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I agree we need to prime first. It does start with information before questions.

    Thanks again

    Comment by David — November 16, 2007 @ 3:27 pm

  7. Hi Steve-
    I keep wondering how you and your team think up all this creative stuff. It’s inspiring.

    Speaking of inspiration, the quote given is not by Mandela. Not sure why it got attributed to him, but it is actually by Marianne Williamson, author of “A Course in Miracles”. Not a characteristically Christian book, but the truth of the quote remains and has helped many people, including me.

    Dana Ames
    Ukiah California

    Comment by Dana Ames — November 17, 2007 @ 9:52 am

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