Presence: Perhaps the Most Important Role of the Facilitator

A Reflection on the Role of the Facilitator

Greg Robinson, PHD.

Perhaps the most important role of the facilitator is just to be present.  If we think of experiential education as a journey in learning, growth and change, the effective facilitator chooses to join the journey and live among the people as they try to discern their way forward. This is no small role though it is perhaps an unexpected role. The effective facilitator realizes that he or she is not the keeper of the map, but rather an expert in traveling. The facilitator is not a GPS system telling people which way to go, but rather someone who has some experience with destinations. Facilitators may not always know the way, but they do try to keep in mind the characteristics of progress and some idea of the quality of the final destination. In times of great uncertainty, facilitators can lend courage, patience, and persistence to pilgrims who, along the journey, lose their grip on such things.

Let me tell a story my time working in youth ministry that illustrates this point: Many years ago a group of high school and junior high students arrived at their local Methodist church only to be presented with a dilemma. I told them that inside their classroom were the secrets to God and life. The only problem was that all the doors were locked, so they would have to find a way in. The only parameters that I gave them were that they could not destroy anything nor could they ask anyone for the key. As I sat observing their progress, I noticed many traits that people on an adventure have in common. Some quit and chose for others to lead them. Some experimented with unlocking the door, excitedly using trial and error in hopes of discovering the passage. Others sought to understand the entire situation, thinking broad and wide about the possibilities, which, in the end, paid off. They discovered that the windows in the old building not only lifted up, but the tops pulled down, and in that way, they entered the room. It was a curious and revealing lesson for all of us. As the facilitator, what did I do to help them? I gave no answers, hints, or suggestions. I did, however, remain among them. If I had gone for coffee, I fear they would have lost heart or gotten distracted because of the difficulty of the test. But by being among them, communicating my confidence that there was a solution and they were capable of finding it, the focus and motivation that was needed by those who were truly searching was provided. I think also, a second lesson that I learned is that I cannot force my way on them. I had left them a way into the room, which was only fair. Yet, it was not this entrance that they discovered but another one wholly unknown to me. If I had tried to tell them the one way, we would never have learned of other options. The presence of the facilitator is of highest importance. It is often the difference between the person or group quitting or continuing forward. It is difficult work, waiting until people find their way to a crossroads—decision points where they are ready to consider new questions. The challenge for the facilitator is to avoid becoming distracted or discouraged by the pace of the search. It is not the spiritual facilitator’s role to determine if people are journeying fast enough, only to accompany them in their way, offering support and companionship.

This is an excerpt from Greg’s books: Adventure in the Way of Jesus:An Experiential Approach to Spiritual Formation. Look for his newest publication co-authored with Mark Rose entitled: Lessons of the Way: Using Adventure to Explore the Way of Jesus to be released soon.

One Response to “Presence: Perhaps the Most Important Role of the Facilitator”

  1. Recently I wrote about this while exploring leadership training with corporate groups. The discussion was what is work?
    What you explain in the facilitation piece is the same definition of what work is. Work is making decisions, using judgment, within given parameters choosing one path over the other – while ensuring that the person doing to work has the requisite skills, and abilities to make the choices necessary for accomplishing the task.

    Experiential learning is supplying individuals, individually with skills in making decisions and using their judgment, within parameters, to do work…

    Just telling people what to do and they follow a route pattern then there is no work being done, a computer that makes no choices can do that work.

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