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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. 

Next Steps

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].


Interesting, as I write, 339 people have read this article Post-Synod: 3 Ways to Love While We Disagree. 339 people and I am the first to opine? Or have people already begun to "mush" - they've done the decision and let's get going - how many churches have hit that stage? How many are passively moving forward without discussion - "cause this will go away". Or how about well this does not impact our church we don't have any of them - does that one sound familiar to certain members of our CRCNA?

As I read and re-read this article I understood that the intent was to ensure we be like Jesus or Christlike and use Love as the basis for discussion, discerning, listening, deciding and acting. 

Well, the problem you are in is that we didn't start with Love - or Paul's definition of Love. We skipped that and went straight to talk, decide, act. I know many who were ay the Synod will disagree with my view point - but do ask yourself did you feel Christlike at Synod? You certainly could not be like Jesus - only Jesus is Jesus and only He is the true definition of Love as Paul pointed out.  No folks I really do not think you were all Christlike, in fact by all reports it was more like the Disciplines arguing amongst themselves or forgetting who they were  - did not Peter deny 3 times who he was? The man whom the Church was built upon?

No folks, its not that easy, and each church will "deal" with this on their own terms and in their own ways - and Love may not be in the room - if it's not in your heart already.

When the decision came out, were you hurt? were you angry? did you feel like someone punched you right in the gut? Or did you cheer? were you happy with the decision? Or you couldn't care cause it doesn't impact me? - no where in that list is Love. You were not set up to be successful by beginning with learning about Love first and then move into some of the steps list above.

BUT- it's not to late!! We can change were we are in the process and started with Love !! Have your congregation - regardless of were you are  - start with Paul's Letter the one we all know. Read the Letter, Listen to Paul! And then start your Journey and if you were on / in the Synod and you forgot about Love - read Paul's letter - and think deeply - were you in Love when you cast your voice?

I know my heart is in Love, it is filled with Love (most of the time - I'm not Jesus, I'm human a disciple learning to be Christlike), I know that when Jesus called forth for the children he was saying God's words - let all Children come to me, for we all are his Children regardless of our behaviour and sins.


With Love and may Peace be with you.

Jeffrey Thomson


"Well, the problem you are in is that we didn't start with Love - or Paul's definition of Love."

This is insulting and untrue. Synod worked toward Christ's Love with great vigor. 

This was the most prayer-for Synod that we know of. Unprecedented listening sessions and prayer sessions were held through Zoom. Prayer warriors were praying over Synod the whole time. The delegates came well-prepared. We sat through hours of debate on the floor of Synod. 

Synod called upon the Holy Spirit to come and guide His church. And the Holy Spirit did!

Unsurprisingly, the Holy Spirit agreed with His own words in Scripture and led our synod to stand firm on Jesus's definition of Love, and how Love sometimes has to warn and discipline.


(The Apostle Paul actually had a lot to say about the sexual immorality that Synod 22 discussed!)

Sean, thanks so much for this thoughtful piece!  It's got a tone of hope; it's got helpful ideas; and it's so right on!  I'm pretty doubtful that congregations into passionate and judgmental differences can be pulled back from the brink by exercises like this... but I want to hope. And I dare to hope and pray that tools like this can help individuals who are open to the Spirit to find a path of reconciliation. May God bless you and the CRC!

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