No, not those kind of environmentalists. Not the ones who talk about caring for the earth. I’m all for that. But, I’m referring to leaders who create environments that give room for people to change as Joe Myers talks about in his book The Search to Belong,

“Environmentalists” practice restraint when it comes to controlling the results. They are primarily concerned with creating a “healthy” climate for spontaneity to occur. They develop simple environmental parameters and then sit back and see what happens. “Programmers” on the other hand, take control.

If we are to allow people full opportunities to belong, we must switch from being group programmers to becoming group environmentalists. It starts with giving up control.

Too often we press our good intentions to excess. We don’t help people, we control people. We enjoy the power of knowing the best road to someone else’s well-being….

Yes, we can be of some help to others as they grow and lead their own lives forward. But we do not grow and lead people; only they can do that [by the working of the Holy Spirit]. We like to believe that we hold the answers people need in order to grow, because if we hold these truths, we hold the power and control.

It is time to give up the intoxicating need to control other people’s lives. It is time to start leading our own lives in healthy ways. People need us to help in healthy ways, not controlling ways. This is the “holy grail” for which people are searching in the promise of belonging. They want help in healthy ways, they want to connect in healthy ways, and they want to experience family in healthy ways….

There is a wealth of stuff in this whole chapter, it’s worth a read. From a pastoral standpoint, I have realized that having people’s spiritual formation all figured out for them showing them exactly where they need to go is often both not helpful and counterproductive.

My focus from a large community standpoint is to create environments that give people spaces to pursue community and spiritual formation in ways that relate to their personality, needs and place in life. I would argue that a large part of this then is not just stepping back and letting things happen and have some what of a free-for-all, smorgasbord thing…but then requires the leadership to get to know to individuals and see how we can help them connect, grow and belong as unique individuals. This will no doubt involve encouraging people to go places they have not been before both in relation to God and others. But, this will be from a very gentle and “listening first” kind of approach.

I also very much appreciate Joe’s comments about control. Taking this approach requires that I now trust that the Holy Spirit is truly working in people’s lives and I as a leader an there to join that work already in progress.