For some time now, I've been pondering the difference between enabling and empowering. Often it seems as though these words are interchangeable.
This week, I may have discovered something of the fundamental difference between them.
In many ways it is easy to enable people, to make room for them to step into roles and be supported as they discover their particular gifts, even as they experiment to find their niche.
However, once that support is removed, for whatever reason, other forces come into play and, unless the one enabled has also been empowered, they will succumb to sabotage.
This is particularly pertinent in church settings, where there are often unhealthy behaviours at play. While ministers and/or leaders can mitigate the underlying sickness for a time, unless the root cause is addressed, once the leader moves on, people default to what they know best and, in a short space of time, good work can be demolished. Those enabled by a supportive leadership now feel disempowered and back down, deeming the struggle too much. And so the church loses out on those who have gifts to share but do not want to fight for their place in a corrupt system.
Ironically, those whose behaviour leads to division and strife are endlessly patient, largely content to wait in the wings until opportunities present themselves to assert (or re-assert) power and destroy any positive strides made. Often in the minority, they are nonetheless powerful in the tools they employ - undermining, disarming, spreading doubt and fear, insidious in their reach.
Empowering others involves addressing the systems and forces that seek to undermine. It involves setting in motion a cultural change that will withstand the temptation to default to previous unhealthy behaviours when a leader moves on, empowering folk to recognise and stand up to negative forces. Changing a culture takes time but empowering folk to recognise the signs and the forces at work will go some way to maintaining ground gained when leadership changes.
Regretfully, enabling is not enough without the work of empowerment.
A lesson learned the hard way.