Background: Pastor Church Resources has launched Challenging Conversations: Next Steps Discernment, a process intended to help you hold grace and truth as you discern and decide what Synod’s decisions mean for you or your church.
How to Love if We Disagree?
One of the primary goals of Next Steps Discernment is to help your congregation and council love one another while you navigate anxious seasons or challenging decisions. In other words, we want to clothe ourselves with Christ or act in Christlike ways while we talk, listen, discern, decide and act.
Our conviction is that the best ends (the right decision, the just or true answer) do not justify less-than-Christlike means.
Love through Listening
The main way that most people will be invited to express their love for one another during Next Steps is by listening. The listening circle format, so central to Next Steps, is designed to create a container where we can listen well to one another and in so doing, love one another.
Of course, listening doesn’t mean agreeing. Listening doesn’t mean abdicating decision-making authority. Listening doesn’t mean we’ll only ever listen and never make decisions. But listening is a concrete way to love one another. It is also quite useful for encouraging deeper insight and wisdom.
Love through Fair Process
The other way that Next Steps encourages you to love one another is by prompting the council to operate according to the principles of fair process. Fair process is associated with business and criminal justice, but it is also a helpful framework for churches. According to fair process, people are more likely to cooperate with systems and work well together if they feel like decisions were made fairly, even if they themselves do not agree entirely with the decisions that were made.
Fair process typically involves three characteristics. First, those affected by the decision had an opportunity to have a say (engagement). Second, those affected by the decision understand the reasons for the decision (explanation). Third, there is a shared understanding of what is coming next (expectation clarity.).
Another way to look at fair process is to see what makes a process less fair. In a less fair process, you might expect leaders to rush the process along, without considering who is affected and how. Leaders might hush important voices: not listening deeply or well to the voices of those affected. Or leaders might cut corners in the decision-making process itself. The process itself becomes mush: it is unclear who has the authority to decide; it is unclear when, how, or if people will have the opportunity to speak into the discernment. It is unclear what the decision even means
The impact of rush, hush and mush on a congregation is to diminish trust and sow confusion and frustration, even among those who basically agree with whatever decision was made. The impact of engagement, explanation and expectation clarity is to make people feel loved and respected, even if they disagree with the outcome.
Love through Abiding
If we only talk about listening circles and fair process, it could be easy to lose sight of the one whose love even makes our love possible: the one whose voice, more than any other (more than our own) we should most long to hear in seasons of uncertainty and anxiety.
We all hope for fruitful ministry; and no fruit is more prominently expected of Christians than love. Now, we Christian Reformed people can be quite good at working hard to try to manufacture fruit. But the unexpected invitation of Christ is not “manufacture fruit” but “remain (abide) in me.” (John 15)
For a season of discernment to be fruitful, the people discerning must be deeply connected to the true and living vine. Many Christians have found that practicing certain spiritual disciplines together can enrich discernment.
For that reason, Next Steps Discernment prompts you and your church to consider practicing a traditional spiritual discipline like fasting, listening prayer, study or examen.
Some churches will choose to engage these disciplines as part of an intentional season of preparation before beginning the discernment process. Some will suggest that participants engage these disciplines during the season of discernment. These disciplines, like listening circles and fair process, are meant to be a gift, not a burden—and certainly not a requirement. But they do help ensure that our process to discern and decide holds on to our fundamental call to love God and one another.
If you’d like to learn more about how Next Steps can help you and your church love even if you disagree...
Sign up for facilitator and council training by registering here.
Read answers to frequently asked questions, by visiting our FAQ section.
If you have other questions, please email us at [email protected].