We often think that helping people involves doing things for them or thinking for them. Realistically, where has that got us? The best way of helping people is helping them think and do things for themselves. This has 2 advantages; people develop and we have more time to do the things we want to do.
The paper, "Management Time:Who's got the monkey?" by Oncken & Wass is a classic from the business world but its principles apply just as surely in ministry. The paper is about helping managers control their time, basically by minimising the amount of time spent with subordinates. In our context this would normally be congregation members’ problems.
Typically, what happens is that a congregation member talks to you about an issue where you know enough to get involved but not enough to make a decision. As you are busy you say something like: “thank you, I will need to think about this. I’ll get back to you.” If we analyse what just took place we see that before the 2 of you met “the monkey” was on the member’s back. After you parted whose back is it on?
You have now placed yourself in a position of being a subordinate to the member who can continue to remind you, “How’s it going? When are we going to hear from you?” The monkey is on your back and will continue on your back until you return it to its owner for care and feeding.
Issue 1. Recognise a monkey when you meet one. They come in various forms and sizes.
Issue 2. Sit with the monkey’s owner. Take their monkey and put it between you and figure out together how the next move might conceivably be the member’s. Their move may be so elusive that you have to let the monkey sleep on the member’s back overnight until you can work out the next step but monkeys sleep just as well on member’s backs as they do on yours.
Issue 3. Develop a mindset of: “At no time while I am helping you with this or any other problem will your problem become my problem. The instant your problem becomes mine, you no longer have a problem. I cannot help a person who hasn’t got a problem.”
This approach ties in well with coaching where good questioning can help people find their own solutions and courses of action, which you can then follow them up on. Stop the dependency on you as expert advice giver and expert. Get your people to grow up into maturity. Talk to your Regional Mission Leader for training in coaching.