Background: The Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality Report includes a recommendation to “encourage the churches to make use of the curriculum prepared by Pastor Church Resources (PCR), in conjunction with members of the committee, to help small groups study and discuss aspects of the committee’s report which may be controversial.”
Since November 2020, nearly 300 Christian Reformed pastors, deacons, elders and other leaders have received training to lead small groups oriented around listening deeply to the Human Sexuality Report and listening deeply to one another. These small groups or “listening groups” have provided a context for hundreds of CRC members to engage the report, talk about it’s implications, and consider what their congregations should do next. More than 200 groups expect to have met by the end of 2021.
You can learn more about this Pastor Church Resources tool, the Challenging Conversations Toolkit, here.
Bring on the Debate
With the Human Sexuality Report set to be addressed by councils, classis, and Synod in the months ahead, some of us are itching for the debate. Our arguments are prepared, our positions clear. Let’s debate these ideas and may the best arguments (mine!) win.
Debate is a critical aspect of discerning complex topics like human sexuality where Christians are navigating Biblical interpretation, systematic theology, church history, church order, medical science and more. Arguments need to be tested; their weaknesses exposed and strengths highlighted. Debate can accomplish those purposes.
Fortunately, our church polity has a mechanism for that kind of debate. Since almost every church council, classis, and Synod follows rules of procedure similar to Robert’s Rules, no assembly can pass any motion without providing space to debate that motion.
Hearing from the 90%
The trouble with councils, classis and Synod, at least in my experience, is that only a very small number of participants or delegates actually speak up during meetings, especially when the meeting gets tense. I would estimate that fewer than 10% of delegates do close to 90% of the debating during these meetings.
I’m glad that we have these 10% of leaders confident enough to put their ideas out there in the midst of heated debate. But the vast majority of leaders remain unheard in such settings—despite the fact that they, too, have been called and ordained as spiritual leaders in Christ’s Church. They, too, have been prayerfully studying the issues. They, too, have been listening for the leading of the Spirit. They, too, may have something worth hearing.
These 90% are essential parts of the Body of Christ. Yet too much of our decision-making process assumes that the 10% speak for all.
That’s why we designed the Challenging Conversation Toolkit to revolve around a listening circle format.
Unlike debate, where participation requires grabbing the right opportunity to speak, the toolkit’s listening circle format is highly invitational. Each participant is given one chance to speak to each structured question.
By using a talking piece or speaker’s queue, no one fears being interrupted the moment they pause in their sharing. No one worries about how they’ll make their voice heard amid the din. And no one needs to expect that every comment will be dissected and challenged by an aggressive cross-examiner.
Rather, everyone knows well ahead-of-time both what the question is and when they’ll be asked to speak. They know they’ll be invited to share as long as they need to and that their contribution will be heard just as much as anyone else’s.
The debates of the next months and years will be essential. And the vocal 10% can do us a great service with their arguments and counter-arguments. But supplementing debate with a listening circle format is one practical way to say to the 90%, “you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."
And that’s the premise behind the toolkit’s listening circles: that the wisdom we need from God is just as likely to come from someone in the quiet 90% as the vocal 10%.
Next Steps for Your Church or Classis
To learn more about using the Challenging Conversations Toolkit in your church, check out our website, including a sample of the group guide, an introductory letter, a set of frequently asked questions and a link to register for the virtual training.