Who Holds the Microphone?

 In General

by John Engle

Several months ago someone broke into the church near where I live when I’m in Haiti and stole the sound system—a speaker and a microphone. Of course, my immediate reaction was disappointment. (Who would rob a poor church?) Yet I couldn’t help thinking it might also be a disguised blessing for the congregation.

The pastor, Andre, is among my closest friends in the neighborhood. He is kind, generous, and thoughtful. But there is a strong inclination toward a certain seductive kind of power and authority in Haiti, one that is neither inclusive nor participatory. This temptation trips up many leaders, including pastors. One Sunday evening before the sound system was stolen, I heard the loudspeakers blasting. When I walked up the path and peeked into the church, I was astonished to see Andre standing in the pulpit preaching into the microphone to four shell-shocked people sitting on the pew just ten feet in front of him.

In virtually any circumstance or country, leaders face the temptation to drown out the quieter voices around them in the name of authority or personal agendas. Much of our work with The Experiment in Alternative Leadership involves creating space for others to express, decide, brainstorm, and act—in an effort to transcend people’s tendencies to fill up the space with themselves and to exclude others.

We use methods like Open Space and Reflection Circles, which enable ideas to emerge from the group (not just the leaders), give each person responsibility, and empower people’s passion for change. Some would say this encourages the image of God, which is present in each person, the opportunity to be expressed. For me, learning to be inviting rather than excluding is a life-long apprenticeship, and these methods have encouraged me along this journey. I’m excited that through this work and the initiative of a growing number of Haitian leaders, more and more people are stepping away from the microphone and sitting in circles engaged in respectful dialogue.

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