Pose like a cover shot? I tried to imagine what that might be and how to screw my face into such a position. Before the photo shoot was over I had dissolved into laughter. Meanwhile, the Student Life trio from Christchurch had disappeared into the Hub and were now bouncing over with wrapped gifts. “Just wanted to say a huge thank you for the last three days!!! This is like a light at the end of the tunnel. We so appreciate the training…thanks for supplying us with the tools that we can use in ministry and life,” the card read.
We hugged good-bye to our young peers as they headed back to Christchurch, and heaved a contented sigh. Our second Facilitator School was over and had been a success. Although the Facilitator School was created to help people in ministry develop skills in facilitating groups, we have discovered a common concern—many of us in ministry are operating in performance, rather than living in grace and truth. In the Facilitator School we teach staff members, like the Christchurch team, how to create an environment of grace and truth, and give them the chance to experience it for themselves which leads to tremendous personal growth.
This fresh team is operating without a director this year, which has thrown them into upheaval as the school year has made its racing start. Walking in the Light, living by healthy team norms, communicating and working through conflict, and creating an environment of grace and truth were not just concepts we modeled and taught, but were avenues by which the team began to do the real work of connecting, growing together, and trusting each other.
“Oh, you mean we all have to go?” Regan gasped, eyes round. Jacinda and Josh laughed at Regan’s flustered question as she crept to the center of the circle for her seven minutes of sharing. Although it was a simple lesson in listening, the staff members had chosen to talk about a very real issue that was effecting their whole team, and now it was Regan’s turn to weigh in. It was obvious that God had carved out this training school as the space they needed to reconcile and grow personally.
The Christian life is not about doing it right. It is about depending on Christ because we can’t do it right. As missionaries we want to teach and model to students how to do life right, but the only way to do that is to expose our weaknesses and demonstrate repentance, reconciliation, and dependence on God alone. Yet none of us really want to do that. In fact, we live most of our lives in an effort to prove our goodness, and end up being hypocritical at best, and hiding from each other and God at worst.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9). The Facilitator School offers a place and permission to practice walking in the light—to expose and confess what is truly in our hearts so that we might be reconciled to each other and to God—then God will cleanse us and make us righteous, which is what we have been trying to achieve in our own effort all along.
Although they had straggled in the first day one at a time, and quietly slipped into a seat, after days of interactive programs—some of which they led—and lots of practice in building Christ-centered community, they left chatting affectionately, arm in arm down the street. Like many of us in ministry, they did not need to learn how to share the gospel. They needed instead to learn how to apply the grace and truth of the gospel to their lives.
“We have all kinds of tools for sharing the gospel but when it comes to character building we don’t have a common language and tools,” Dre, the Student Life Director here at the University of Otago, explained to the Christchurch team. “These guys really challenged the heart behind what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.” I silently thanked God for Dre’s endorsement and for the eagerness and open hearts of the Christchurch team. Through these two teams God has given us the opportunity to build into all the staff on the South Island.
“How do you envision your life and ministry changing as a result of this training?” we asked on our end of training survey. This answer was written in bold: “Freedom. Freedom to move from performance to grace and truth; freedom in evangelism to look at the whole person; freedom to make choices; freedom to communicate well.”
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).