...And We Act
by Bret Wells
Contextual awareness is one of the fundamental aspects of everything we do in the Missional Wisdom Foundation. It is why our training programs – especially Launch & Lead – focus heavily on processes for discernment, maintaining curiosity, asking good questions…and actually listening to people. It is a cornerstone for processes like asset-based community development and universal design. It is why we place a heavy emphasis on coaching, both as a resource we provide and as an essential leadership skill we help cultivate.
However, developing contextual awareness is not enough. As my oldest son once said about our household rule of life, The Four Things,1 “We don’t just pay attention. We pay attention, and we act.” When we discover something new from our context, we must choose what, if anything, we will do with that new insight. Early on, this may help us formulate a plan, or take concrete steps forward. But new insights aren’t limited to the early stages of new projects, experiments, or communities…at least, not if we continue to listen. (And we need to continue listening.) This means we might gain new understanding that calls us to adjust or even completely change directions.
This can be daunting, frustrating, and frightening. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, there is an amazing sense of playfulness, freedom, and possibility to be found in a willingness to hold our own plans loosely. This isn’t just something we teach, it is something we seek to model and, through that, to experience for ourselves.
Last week one of our Launch & Lead cohorts met at Haw Creek Commons in Asheville, NC for their third training retreat. In our current version of L&L this retreat introduces the principles of asset-based community development (ABCD). However, on our first night together I realized that all the participants were already well-versed in the practice. After spending a little time talking with the group, I decided to shift gears. Rather than rehashing introductory material, I proposed that we spend our time the following day in a group coaching session considering ways that ABCD principles could more effectively be applied to their L&L practicum (which takes place between the third and fourth retreats.)
One of our intrepid participants suggested that floating the French Broad River might provide the perfect setting for such a discussion.
So…that’s what we did.
We gathered up some gear and the next morning we lashed several tubes together and set off on a slow-moving adventure. And it was fantastic.
It was a total experiment. I had no idea how well it would work. But this was what we decided as a group, and I was certainly willing to give it a shot. As it turns out, floating the river is actually a great way to do a group coaching session. We spent several hours at the mercy of the current. We couldn’t go anywhere, except together. We didn’t even have to paddle. We spent time discussing each of the participants’ practicums in turn…and since the river was moving slow, we still had plenty of time to talk about nothing at all.
I will confess that, even though I am probably more comfortable changing plans and trying crazy stuff than most people, I was a little nervous. I feel a deep sense of commitment to our Launch & Lead participants; I always want to honor the time and money they invest in this process, and I absolutely want to make sure that what we do together is beneficial and effective in equipping them to launch and lead alternative forms of Christian community. It would have been easy, even for me, to take the “safe road” and laugh off the suggestion of tubing the river. And if I had, we would have missed a tremendous opportunity.
Granted, this option wouldn’t have worked well in every context or with every group. But that’s the point. No context is every context; no group is every group. So, the question is always, what will be the most beneficial thing for this moment with this group? If the answer is “tie some tubes together and float the river” then it isn’t enough to just pay attention. We pay attention and we act. On the river.
1 The Four Things (Today, I will pay attention; Today, I will be Jesus; Today, I will see Jesus; Today, I will mess up) have played an important role in our house for the past 8 years. You can read more about it here. https://missionalmonks.com/2012/12/20/what-are-you-going-to-do-today/
...And We Act