Turning Mazes into Labyrinths

by New Church Starts

by Christie Latona, Path1  Coach and Consultant; founder of Greatness Unlimited

Twelve hours before Hurricane Isabel made her way up the coast to the DC area, I was walking the labyrinth at the Bon Secours Spiritual Center along with some of leaders who were on day two of the retreat I was facilitating.  As I walked and prayed and opened myself to receive instructions from God for the second day of the retreat I was facilitating, other images and insights were stored for later use.

As a facilitator, you have to know what process to use in order to move a group further on their journey of discovery, destination, and transformation. As a member of a group seeking to create something new without a facilitator, I have experienced the discussions as a maze riddled with dead-ends and rabbit holes. As spiritual leaders seeking to birth something new in order to bring God’s preferred future to life, we need to embrace approaches that transform mazes into labyrinths.  A good facilitator helps groups stay moving forward on the path and helps manage expectations and interpretations of the process. Here's the first step in the exercise of walking a labyrinth according to the Bon Secours Spiritual Center:

“First, as you enter the labyrinth: Purgation. Release and let go of the details of your life, the cares and concerns that keep you distracted and stressed.”

When working with groups to accomplish something together, there needs to be a time of exhaling so that focus can be made on the topic at hand. Obviously the length and nature of the purgation varies on the total length of time available and the purpose of the meeting. In a group setting this often involves a time of centering prayer where personal concerns are lifted up and the process is given to God to use as God sees fit. That might be followed by a time of collecting questions, concerns, and issues people want to be sure are addressed. Letting go of distracting thoughts, focusing on God and, naming “what is” are each pieces of the first part of the journey.

A second dimension of purging is re-adjusting expectations. Starting a new church is not a linear path with a direct line to the objective. Just like in the labyrinth, sometimes it feels like we are heading toward the vision and sometimes it feels like we are heading away from it. When facilitating any change process it is important that we clarify the non-linear nature of the journey. Additionally, some stakeholders might have to purge some thoughts about what makes a church a church and how to “do” church growth so that they can embrace the wide diversity of pathways toward creating thriving new faith communities.

Second, as you reach the center: Illumination. Stay there as long as you like. This is a place for clarity and insight. Receive what is there for you.”

Sometimes people stop short of clarity because they reach a point of certainty first. This can happen in groups faster, especially groups who haven’t embraced fully that the Source of our illumination is God speaking to us directly and through others. It is critical that facilitators listen for opportunities to move people beyond human certainty into divine clarity. To allow leaders to receive all that is there for them. Sometimes in the midst of a planting project, we need to remind stakeholders of the vision and of insights gained at previous meetings and points along the journey. We also always have to be on the lookout for truth and insights being brought forth along the journey.

Third, as you begin the path outward: Union. Bring back to the world a renewed vision and refreshed spirit.

As we journey to plant a new faith community each person needs to bring back to the world and the stakeholders around the table the renewed vision, signs, and wonders we witness along the way. Facilitators need to be sure that at each stakeholder meeting time is given for this type of sharing—especially creating a clear platform for the planter to share the latest news and insights that inform the overall project.

More than that, we need to encourage stories to be told and vision shared widely so that a unified commitment to reach new people through new churches is created at local, regional and even national levels. Stakeholders come from various places in our connectional system. It is useful if facilitators summarize the stakeholder gathering in a way that makes it easy for each stakeholder to go back and share what they have witnessed and experienced with their networks.

I had walked labyrinths before and experienced the power of simply staying on the path, focusing on the next step and letting go of the noise in my head or my drive to get to the center. The process works. It was a whole new experience for me.  When walking a labyrinth with a group, you can’t assume where they are on that journey based on their relationship to you.  You can’t tell who is on their way into the center or who is on the path outward. The only thing that is clear is when someone is in the center. As facilitators we need to encourage people on the path of purging and movement to God’s preferred future, to help the group hear and articulate places of clarity and revelation and to bring a renewed vision forth into the world—one church plant at a time.

If you think learning group facilitation skills might be important in your context or if you are considering becoming a Path 1 Recommended Coach, join me for the Facilitation Intensive on October 18 and discover strategies you can use to guide stakeholder expectations and decisions everywhere you go.

The steps to labyrinth walking and mediatation were taken from the Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville, Maryland.