Background: from November 2020 to June 2022, nearly 2500 people from more than 80 CRC congregations participated in Challenging Conversations listening circles. These circles helped participants listen deeply to each other and to the Human Sexuality Report as they prepared for Synod to meet in June 2022. Pastor Church Resources has now launched Challenging Conversations: Next Steps Discernment, a substantial revision and expansion of Challenging Conversations intended to help you hold grace and truth as you discern and decide what Synod’s decision means for you or your church.
Our Anxious Moment
In June 2022, the synod of the Christian Reformed Church made a series of consequential decisions about the denomination’s teaching (and the confessional status of the church’s teaching) on human sexuality and same-sex marriage. In this season after synod’s decisions, you may be wondering how those decisions will impact you and your church.
Many are feeling some anxiety about what Synod’s decisions may or may not mean for them or their congregation. Yet no two individuals and no two congregations are feeling that anxiety in exactly the same way or with exactly the same dynamics or consequences.
At some churches, though most people may basically agree with Synod’s decisions, they are feeling overwhelmed by the practical and pastoral challenge of living into this vision well.
At other churches, the decisions of Synod may feel like an imposition. Now, members and ministry leaders are asking whether they can remain a part of a congregation with which they might disagree on this issue.
In these and more churches, leaders are wondering how much difference in belief with each other or with our denomination we can live with, and how, practically, we can live with that difference.
Our Naturally Unhelpful Reactions
When faced with anxiety in our churches, most of our natural reactions prove quite unhelpful. We are tempted to run away, shut down, or pick a fight. We begin to see the world in simplistic, black/white, good/bad terms. We feel like we have to pick a side, and we feel like there are only two sides. We start attributing all kinds of negative motivations to those with whom we disagree. Our capacity for creativity is diminished. Our willingness to love fades.
As leaders in anxious times, we vacillate between avoiding the issues and hoping they go away on the one hand or trying to control people and outcomes on the other hand. We are eager to relieve the tension and we are tempted to cut corners to do so. We wonder if the right, good or true ends might justify some less-than-Christlike means.
And so, right when we most need the trust of our congregations, we act in ways that corrode trust.
Maybe we rush the decision-making process along, without considering the consequences of those decisions.
Maybe we hush important voices: we don’t listen deeply or well to the voices we most need to hear. We are not attentive to God’s voice and we are not intentional about hearing the voice of others affected by our decision.
Meanwhile, we may start cutting corners in the decision-making process itself. The process may become 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 is ultimately made.
A Better Way?
What if it didn’t need to be this way?
What if the anxiety and conflict of this moment were not a distraction from your church’s witness and discipleship, but what if they were actually an opportunity for making better disciples and offering a more winsome witness to the world? After all, aren’t most of the instructions we have about Christian life together written in the form of letters to first-century congregations experiencing conflicts and tension of their own?
What if God knew that it would be hard to “bear with one another” and “submit to one another” and “be kind and compassionate to one another.” What if those commands were not for after the conflict subsided and the differences disappeared but for during the conflict and while the differences persisted?
What if God used challenging seasons like these to deepen our dependence on him and build up our capacity to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus?”
What if there were a way to love each other well even if we still come to the conclusion that we cannot stay together as we once were?
What if we could hear not just the most strident and polarized voices but also all the voices in between?
What if we acted as though God’s voice really was the voice we most needed to hear and follow?
An Alternative Way Forward
In Ephesians 4, Paul pleads with the church to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Maybe it is unrealistic to expect us to make every effort. But can we make some effort? Is this, perhaps, the season for making an effort?
Next Steps Discernment cannot make your differences and disagreements magically go away. It cannot guarantee you’ll stay together; it cannot ensure a happy outcome. But this process does give you a chance to make an effort: to lean into the challenge of this moment in a way that is oriented to Christ and insistent on exhibiting Christlike love and humility.
Next Steps exists to supplement your council’s decision making about next steps by providing practices, prompts, and a pathway for intentional congregational discernment. When followed, Next Steps should help your church clarify core issues, generate trust, and honor God, regardless of what final decision is adopted.
To sign up for facilitator and council training, register here.
To read answers to frequently asked questions, visit our FAQ section.
If you have other questions, email us at [email protected]