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Empowerment Sessions

Part of the problem in explaining empowerment sessions is that I've only really gone through the whole system a couple of times so far, and even then, I was making it up as I went along. I'll try to summarise as well as I can, however, what we have done.

I do not want to claim as my own something that someone else actually devised; however, I do not know how much my own plan reflects what happens in business management seminars, etc. because I only read a few pages on the concept in a library a year and a half ago, and then I almost immediately started experimenting with what it seemed to be suggesting.

My first point would be to encourage people to set several days aside for the empowerment sessions, especially if it is the first time you have done it. The reason for this is that it is important to give people a good chance to think through the various stages, so that they make informed decisions, and so they are clear about why they are doing what they are doing. One of the problems with so many of our projects in the past has been that we get swept along with proddings from leaders, etc. and when we're finished, we are not certain whether what we are doing is what we actually decided to do, or whether it is something that we were pushed into doing. It is tempting for leaders to do the thinking for people, and to make suggestions before people have had ample opportunity to think things through themselves. Primarily, leaders should be present in empowerment sessions to just set certain guidelines, and then leave the rest to the followers.

I'm not sure how much the order of the sessions can be altered, but I think we should work on big goals before we work on smaller ones. So one of the first sessions would be for people to work out some of the big goals, i.e. things that they would like to improve in their spiritual walk (and possibly in other areas as well). The primary job of the leader in that session is to encourage members to consider a wide range of possibilities, so that they don't just naturally assume (for example) that the number one goal for everyone should be to get out more tracts. It may be good to have everyone work on making as long a list as possible of various areas where they could improve... something like a vice and virtue profile, only much bigger. Then when you have a very long list, participants may choose a certain number (e.g. four or five) things from the list that they want to concentrate on over the next year. That may be enough for the first session.

Another session which can be included near the start of the series is one where you analyse yourself. There are two parts to it, and you could either separate them or deal with them all in one session.

The first half is to list the kind of things that you "like". Whereas the previous session was blatantly spiritual, in terms of goals like being more humble, honest, confident, generous, unselfish, etc. this list of "likes" needs to have an almost opposite emphasis. It's like a comparison between our ego and our superego. Most religious groups concentrate only on the superego, and they neglect the ego, and the result is hypocrisy... where everyone pretends to be more spiritual than they really are. Too often religious people end up using a religious front (the superego) to feed their ego (i.e. to get something selfish). However, what we are hoping to do through the empowerment sessions is to use our ego (or what we might normally think of as our "selfish" desires) to strengthen our superego. You'll see what I mean in a moment.

The main thing in this likes and desires session is that we let ourselves go and list all of the things that we really like doing. They may include things that we haven't allowed ourselves to indulge in since we've been in the community. Some examples are swimming and other sports, games, hobbies, outings, special foods, videos, and other entertainment. Providing the desires are not blatantly immoral, we should not be afraid to include them. (And we could probably even include sexual pleasure in the form of masturbation, although most people would probably be too embarrassed to list that.)

This list of likes is then set aside, to be used at the end of the series.

The other part of this session is to list our abilities. The two halves of the session may be done as one, because there will be some overlap between them. We may like ten pin bowling because we are good at it. People tend to like what they are good at. But there may be other abilities, such as knowledge of foreign languages, skills with maths, history, art, music, etc. which we could list as well. Once again, we should do everything we can to include anything and everything... without thought about whether it will be relevant to some other end that we hope to make from the list. So if someone is good at making a really shrill whistle with two fingers stuck in their mouths, or if they can juggle three oranges, you still put it down. They are all abilities. You will see later how these lists are to be used.

In the next session, we go back to the list of long-range goals and we do what is probably the hardest part of the whole series. We try to express those goals in some kind of a measurable short-term way. If, for example, you want to improve your relationships with other people, you will need to identify one or two specific things that seem to be hampering your relationships with other people. It may be that you are slack about answering mail, or that you nag other people about things that are not really important, or you don't participate in meetings, or whatever. You make some rule that deals specifically with that problem.

This word "SMART" is a mnemonic for remembering the characteristics that you need for these goals. They must be (S) Specific; (M) Measurable; (A) Achievable; (R) Relevant; and (T) Timed.

For example, if you are working on patience, you could be SPECIFIC by saying that you are going to target "blowing up". You can make it MEASURABLE by defining a "blow up" as any time that you swear, or any time that you raise your voice to a shout. You might also choose to let someone else (like your spouse) determine whether of not you have crossed the line between just being irritated and actually letting your irritation hurt other people.

The main thing is that you determine some objective way of measuring your progress with this specific target. The "A" and "T" areas cover that. To make the goal ACHIEVABLE, you may have to allow yourself a certain number of "blow-ups" per week, or choose not to count minor offences. However, don't make it too easy either.

Although RELEVANCE comes fourth in our mnemonic, it was actually the first consideration when coming up with something specific. A goal of doing thirty push-ups a day, for example, is probably not relevant to an overall goal to be more patient.

Finally, your goal needs to be TIMED. You must set a target per day or week or month. Your target may be not to swear more than once a day or ten times a week, or whatever you think represents a significant (but realistic) improvement on your present practice, and then you need to tick your chart every day or every week or whatever, in order to actually measure your success.

You can do this with each of your major areas of growth, until you have four or five different goals to work on, and all of these goals can be represented on a single chart, which you will need to fill in regularly over the next year.

Now we come to one of the most interesting sessions. It is the reward session. You take your list of desires and match that list up with your empowerment chart. Depending on time and money restrictions, you allot certain rewards to yourself, which are commensurate with the effort that would be required to achieve your various goals. You could have different rewards for different goals, or you could work out a point system which combines all of the goals, and leads to a single reward based on achieving a set point total. Points could be accumulated until you have enough; or they could be limited over a set period of time, such as being able to go out to dinner if you get 100 or more points in a given week. Under that system, if you fail to make the target, you get nothing, and you start again the next week. (Note: We have since decided as a group to work on each achieving a target of 100 points for the week, with each person free to spread the points out over their own list of disciplines.)

It may be that you have been used to indulging yourself with whatever you have desired, whether or not you have shown personal spiritual growth. If this is the case, then you may need to start by working more on "punishing" yourself when you fail to achieve your goal, i.e. by not indulging in the treat that you had previously taken for granted. If you miss out on the treat for a few days or weeks, it will soon take on the form of a "reward" when you do succeed in making your goal.

Obviously, you will need to seek the co-operation of the rest of your team with regard to arrangements for rewards. But please do not be stingy, either with time or with money... for yourself or for others on your team. The Bible says that we should not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn, and the labourer is worthy of his/her hire. In other words, if people are going to work at growing spiritually, then it is only fair that they be rewarded materially (as we are able). I think that it will be quite some time before people start joining us because our empowerment rewards are worth so much more than the material rewards they get from working for the system. So we do not need to fear that people are only disciplining themselves because of their greed. Instead, we are using our natural human desires to get ourselves just a bit more motivated to deal with our real concern, which is to grow spiritually.

Now, the only loose end we have hanging is the list of abilities that you have. That is a reference list which your team as a whole needs to have available and which your team needs to refer to regularly when deciding on specific team projects. Whenever possible, we should capitalise on skills that individual team members have, not only because we will be more effective in reaching others, but also because team members will feel much more useful. Obviously there are limits to how much we can tailor our daily outreach around a person's ability to juggle, but even if we can find an occasional brief opportunity to use such a skill, it will be a source of encouragement for people to develop new skills and to hone the ones that they already have. In the past, we have paid special attention to such skills as languages, art, music, and writing ability.

But there may be opportunities to use other abilities as well occasionally... in a hobby capacity if nothing else.

I hope that gives a better idea of what I mean by empowerment sessions. And before I finish, there is just one final point to bear in mind. Empowerment charts are not set in concrete. You can revise your chart any time you like. In fact, the more you vary it, the better it will probably work for you. If you find it too hard or too easy, or not relevant enough, then change it, and make it more effective.

Good luck, and power on for God!

(Read also Job Lists, Budgets & Schedules.)

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