Hundreds of small groups across the denomination are using the Challenging Conversations Toolkit to help them read and respond to the Human Sexuality Report in ways that encourage them to listen deeply to the report and to one another. Some councils and classes, having realized the helpfulness of some of the tools for elevating core issues and helping many voices be heard, have begun adapting the tools to supplement their ordinary decision-making procedures.
After all, making consequential decisions is hard, there are lots of ways it can go wrong and we want to be wise about who will make the decisions and how the decisions are made.
The following three activities can be used in your decision-making to produce better engagement and yield a more satisfying and fruitful outcome.
1. Check-in with Fears and Loves
Developed by The Colossian Forum, this exercise builds upon 1 John 4 and has been adapted by churches as a means of helping leaders clarify what’s at stake in an upcoming debate. Debates according to Robert’s Rules of Order can sometimes get lost in technical distinctions and procedural confusion, frustrating delegates eager to discuss what they believe really matters.
A check-in exercise like “Fears and Loves” invites every person to share and listen, elevating core issues quickly, and helping ensure the debate itself addresses matters of greater consequence. This exercise can serve as a check-in at the beginning or at a scheduled interval in the middle of a debate.
How to do it:
Facilitator: “Because the issues we are about to discuss are relevant, personal, and important, it is natural to have some fear about how this process might go and what might happen as a consequence of making a decision. Often, our fears or concerns reveal what we love and value. In this exercise, we’ll be invited to identify a significant fear or concern and share what love or value might lie behind that fear. In this way, we hope to better understand what each other believes is at stake in this debate.
When you think about this decision and what it means for you, your church, your classis or your denomination…
What are you concerned or anxious about? What do you fear could go wrong?
What do you deeply value (the love behind the fear) that you want to protect?”
In the free flow of typical debates, 10% of delegates typically speak 90% of the time. Given that some are more gifted debaters than others, this breakdown is not altogether a problem. However, this 90/10 dynamic, plus the sometimes rough-and-tumble format of even the best-moderated discussions, does sometimes prevent participants from feeling invited to speak or listen well to each other. One way a chairperson can encourage greater listening and wider sharing is to incorporate a listening circle or talking piece moment into the process.
How to do it:
Pausing regular rules of procedure, the chairperson starts by defining a question like,
“Having heard the debate so far, what question or comment would you still like to have considered by the group?”
“What would you like the group to keep in mind as we prepare to vote?”
“Who is being affected by this decision that we have not yet heard from yet?”
“What has been the hardest part of this for you?"
Then, going one-by-one, each participant is invited to respond, typically by having the current speaker pass a “talking piece” (an object of symbolic meaning to the group) to the next person. No interruptions or crosstalk are permitted. Each person receives only one opportunity to respond to the question. The next person does not respond to the question until the speaker ahead of them passes them the shared “talking piece” or says “I’m finished.” Each person may pass if they would like. Once everyone has shared, regular rules of procedure are restored and the debate on the motion continues.
3. Check-out with Praise, Lament and Hope
Also developed by the The Colossian Forum, some churches have adapted “Praise, Lament and Hope” as a means of offering their sometimes tense debate and decision once more to God. In an ordinary decision-making process, anxiety can increase and we can lose sight of God’s activity in our midst as well as our shared Christian commitments to love one another and love God. We can act as though the decision and its consequences are up to us and our eloquence, rather than recognizing our reliance on God’s gracious presence.
This adaptation of “Praise, Lament and Hope” gives each participant a chance to offer God gratitude for how we’ve seen God work, offer lament or confession of whatever painful or even sinful ways this process or decision has unfolded, and offer hope, based on our confidence that Christ is Lord over even this process.
How to do it:
Using a talking piece/listening circle format (see #2 above), each participant is invited to respond to the following questions with a word, phrase or short sentence.
What happened here that we are thankful to God for?
What are we sad about? Do we regret something we said or left unsaid? What do we want to be different?
Looking to the future, what possibilities do you see? What do we hope for?
Facilitator: Trusting that God is present we pray “Lord, in your mercy,”
All: Hear our Prayer
Every organization has their own decision-making procedures, usually codified in their bylaws or rules of procedure. Those decision-making procedures should be observed. But we hope these activities will prove to be useful supplements to those procedures as your group makes consequential decisions together.
Check out Quick to Listen, an initative of Pastor Church Resources for better meetings.
Explore the Colossian Forum’s other creative resources and practices designed to equip leaders to transform cultural conflicts into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness