Practical theological facilitation, a brief introduction

Practical theological facilitation, a brief introduction

Dear fellow traveler, this is an informal brief introduction to practical theological facilitation. It can barely be an outline.

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The idea that I’m working with is one that sees practical theologians as professional collaborators and facilitators (mostly the same thing) in the public space. Keywords here are the public space and the means of some kind of intentional engagement (aka as a professional collaborative practitioner, properly, a facilitator).

The discipline of practical theology takes me to matters of spirituality, meaning, purpose, significance, the God-question, to name a few. Two of the subdisciplines that classical practical theology has always been about are joined in practical theological facilitation: pastoral counseling and congregational studies. But (and this is a big ‘but’), I turn the focus inside out and consequently the primary areas are not pastoral counseling or congregations, in isolation.

This is where the ‘public’ aspect comes in. Naturally faith and faith communities are still relevant to practical theological facilitation but they become part of the bigger picture of the purpose and significance of organisations and spirituality in relation to our lives, the economy, communities, to society.

The question has to be asked: What influences our productive adult life most 1) going to church, or 2) going to work. Strange as it might seem authentic spirituality might be lacking in each of them. Furthermore one has to ask about the quality of relationships fostered in each of these domains. I don’t quite like my answer but the fact is that for a great many people work relationships are perhaps more instrumental to significance in their lives than the communities of faith to which they belong. This is in my understanding in accordance with sociological shifts and research on a movement towards spirituality in the workplace.

Practical theology keeps me close to the way in which people interpret their experience of the divine in their lives (to me ‘their lives’ include the organisational context since this is where people spend perhaps the biggest chunk of their lives). Yet let me say promptly that when I refer to spirituality it does not only refer to spirituality of individuals but along with others I’m entertaining the idea of what the spiritual organisation looks like. Ironically non-faith based organisations could be more spiritual than faith-based ones. So as a profession and rigorous field of inquiry practical theological facilitation is far from singing ‘kumbaya, my lord.’ Okay, maybe some singing is in order, but that’s up to you.

I also do not treat spirituality and religion as the same, although I see them inextricably linked (however we might want to unlink them in the business context). Furthermore spirituality relates in my book to a host of ideas, organisational health, new economic thinking, the learning organisation, coaching for meaning and purpose, to name but a few.

The importance of the helping relationship of pastoral counseling makes way for other means of engagement that are also needed in organisations, e.g., facilitation and coaching. In this regard the metaphor (but also practice of facilitation) becomes a significant operational epistemology. I regard some forms of research also as such an engagement style. Consequently research stands alongside these ways of interacting with people and organisations. As such practical theological facilitation holds theory and practice accountable to each other.

Why is this not part of the discipline of management sciences, in other words, why is it part of theology? The kind of complex challenges that we face cannot be solved by disciplinary silo’s. There are so many interdisciplinary practices that  to me its become a strange question to even consider. Why not position it in theology? What would the consequences be of doing this? The practical theologian working in the organisational context takes its place among many other strange interdisciplinary animals, to name a few: Organisational Psychology, Behavioral Economics, Theological Anthropology, Socio-Linguistics, Philosophy of Law, Industrial Engineering, Drama Therapy, and so on.

Whether you want to end up working with leadership and organisations as a consultant, facilitator, coach or whether you merely want to better serve your faith community I invite you to explore this on a professional level with a MA or PhD degree in Practical Theology with a focus on organisational studies and practice. We start early in 2014!

If you want to read up more on these ideas please have a look at my publications page. Follow the two articles I have written in this regard.

I would love to hear your thoughts relating to the development of practical theological facilitation.You’re welcome to comment.

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