Alternatives to Voting

Is there another way to make a decision besides voting all the time?

Yes!  there are other ways to make a decision besides voting. Voting tends to create winners and losers. Sometimes people get their feelings hurt when their idea is not accepted by others. Try some of these other methods the next time you have an important matter to decide:

Alternative Ways to Come to a Conclusion

  1. Compromise: This method works best when there are 2 clear choices neither of which thrills everyone. In this approach, each party gives a little to the other to make the issue easier to work through together. Compromise works best when people need a relatively quick resolution, the stakes are not very high, and people are willing to trade off some of their interests for the sake of the group. Voting in this context has the potential to create an enduring division.
  2. Thinking it through as a group: This approach works well when people are willing to give the time to discuss a matter thoroughly in order to arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution. It takes a lot of listening and creativity to find an answer where most people feel comfortable.
  3. Colored Cards:  Try this approach the next time there is an important matter before your group.  Distribute 2 colored cards to each individual: orange for warm, and blue for cool.  Allow time for individuals and groups to give a short presentation on their resolution to the issue, and for the group to ask questions to be sure they understand the proposal.  After each presentation ask the group to raise a colored card to indicate if they are warm or cool to the idea that has been suggested. This is not “yes” or “no”. Rather it is providing an opportunity to be more nuanced. Help people to share what is positive about the proposal from their point of view or where they see a need to change it to make it more acceptable to them. Keep doing this approach until the idea with the highest level of support is identified.matter is decided. Encourage people to have fun with the process and focus on the idea and not the individual making the point. Be very careful not to turn the colored cards into voting cards!
  4. Standing Aside:  This approach works well when the group does not come to a clear consensus yet has a developed view on a clear way forward. Ask people if they are willing to step aside for the good of the group when it becomes clear that one answer is gaining support.
  5. One Person Decides: Try this approach the next time you are making a decision and the group seems stuck and unable to make a decision. Identify a person that the group trusts and respects; or a person with expertise on the topic and agree to let them make the decision. This is like when an arbitrator is used in settling, say, commercial, disputes. This method works well when the issue before the body is not really important, or when people accept that they do not have the expertise to make the decision themselves. However, be sure to allow plenty of time for group discussion and questions first.
  6. Show of Support: Ok, this method is really a vote, but because it is done at the same time the group makes a decision together. This approach works well when you are trying to prioritise 2-3 ideas from a list. Ask the group to brainstorm ideas to resolve a challenge. List the ideas by title on a sheet of newsprint. When all the ideas are listed and explained give everyone 5 colored dots. Invite the group to come to the idea sheet and spend their dots any way they choose. They may place 5 dots on one idea or spread them out over several ideas they like. Count the dots and circle the number of support for each title. The ones with the most support get done.
  7. Spontaneous Agreement: This approach works well after a full discussion of a choice is accomplished and the matter before the group has full support. To be sure, these times are rare but they do happen. It is most helpful when there is a feeling that the entire group backs an answer. Ask: “Is there anyone against our following this solution to our problem?” Invite people to share their perspective, then repeat the question to gauge if there is full support.

Don’t Give Up!

There are alternative ways to make a decision that do not have to divide your group. Always have a full discussion of the merits of an idea before making a decision. Encourage your leaders to practice good listening. Answer all questions carefully when raised. Finally, let people know when decisions are not final. They can always evaluate a situation later and fine-tune their options until they feel satisfied with the results.

Fruit of the Spirit Supports Consensus

Consensus and Choices

Consensus is hard work – it demands that we make choices as a faith community.  Yogi Bera, the Baseball Commissioner in the US, once jokingly said:  “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”  As ridiculous as it sounds, churches often make the mistake of merging opposing choices to try and keep the peace.  This rarely satisfies anyone. Moreover, this approach can actually cause frustration that results in fights and uncivil behavior.

Galatians 5: Fruit of the Spirit

Paul understood that they way people treat one another often places them in a position to make good or bad decisions.  Think back to the last major decisions you faced.  Was it a good experience?  How did people treat one another during the process?

“But what happens when we live God’s way?  He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others (love), exuberance about life (joy), serenity (peace).  We develop a willingness to stick with things (forbearance), a sense of compassion of the heart (kindness), and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people (goodness).  We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments (faithfulness), not needing to force our way in life (gentleness), able to marshal and direct our energies wisely (self-control).        [The Message and NIV versions]

These are often called the Fruit of the Spirit.  The believer who walks in the Spirit of God does not need a system of laws to produce the right behavior – they rise from within. Jesus told us before he ascended to the Father that he would send us the Spirit to help us live together in community.

Carefully read the 3 categories of these gifts defined below.  Which is easy for you?  Which is harder to accomplish?

Inner Qualities that reflect our relationship to God

The first three fruit (love, joy and peace) have to do with our relationship with God.  Love nurtures an obedience and willingness to serve God before all else.  Joy provides a deep sense of well-being that all is well in God and that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  Peace comes from being right with God – it reminds that God is in control.

REFLECTION:  When you make decisions, how do you live out of these qualities? What practices are a part of your process that acknowledges God and God’s will? How does your method of making decisions take God’s will into consideration?

The Christian’s attitude toward others

The next 3 fruit help us properly focus our attitude toward others.  Often when we are in the heat of a decision, there is a risk of treating others who disagree with you as being wrong or the enemy.  This should never happen.  Consider the true meaning of the next three qualities:

Patience is being tolerant of others even to the point of enduring pain inflicted by them.  It is a calm willingness to accept situations that are irritating or painful.

Kindness is being decent to others – being humane toward others. Especially people different from you.  Not remaining silent in the face of a wrong, really matters; allowing God to use you to make things better is important.  Kindness stands ready to forgive.

Goodness is often called generosity.  It is a moral and spiritual excellence in doing good for others.  think of it as allowing GOd’s grace to pass through you to others so God gets the glory.

REFLECTION: How would you rate your treatment of others who think differently from you?  How do you live out these qualities in the way you listen to another perspective or proposal?  Would you say that God is glorified in the conversations and interactions of people when they gather to make decisions or is more like a power play or competition?

Living out our Christian Calling

The last three Fruit of the Spirit guides how we live out our Christian calling with one another.  Faithfulness is being loyal and trustworthy to God’s best.  It is believing that God has a higher purpose. Gentleness causes us to be humble and work for God’s best in us.  Self-Control is often misunderstood to mean controlling how things turn out so that our choice prevails. Rather, it is restraining anything in us that prevents us from following God whole heartedly.  Sometimes this means that we act in ways that leave us open to fresh perspectives and options to the decisions we face.

REFLECTION: How do people in your congregation or organization live out their calling when making decisions?  Do you seek God’s will together or does your process cause a ‘free-for-all’ of clashing wills and agendas?  How might you foster these fruit in your group?

Ways to use this material

Galatians 5 makes a good study for leadership groups and decision-makers.  Consider ways to keep this material before people such as Devotions, Preaching series, or as an Evaluation tool.

Conclusion

We can learn several things from this Bible passage:

  1.  The Holy Spirit is our Sustainer, Guide and Counselor whose presence makes a real difference in how we live in community and approach decisions.  The Spirit helps us to be in tune with God’s purpose for our lives and religious groups.
  2. We are not perfect! We are all a work in progress – Methodists call it ‘moving on to perfection’. Do not get frustrated or impatient with yourself or others. Strive to let God dwell in you so you are more in God’s image.
  3. The Fruit of the Spirit is not a gauge to judge one other or put others down.  How we live out these fruit in unique although there are common traits.
  4. When people see these fruit in us – they want to come to Christ! People are turned off by infighting and a lackluster witness of how Christians work together to make decisions.  Is God glorified when they see your actions and hear your words?

May God’s fruit dwell in you and be evident when you make your next decision.

 

Community based decision-making process – 4th step: implementation

Implementation is step 4 in a series of steps required for effective community based decision-making. This is the most important step because without implementation you don’t have a decision that is worth anything. The first step 1 is preparation. Step 2 is invitation. Step 3 is deliberation and decision. The final step 4 is to implementation of the decision.

“The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together” expands on this material in pages 96 and 187. You can get your copy at Cokesbury or Amazon.

What now? Implementation!

Decisions deserves action or follow through. This final step is so important for a community-based process of making decisions. You have taken the time to prepare people, invite them to participate, discern God’s will through deliberation, and…?  Don’t forget the final step: Implementation! This is why decisions matter – things get done.

Implementation of the decision made by your faith group involves easy but often overlooked things. All are important. All are essential. Confusion and lack of synergy shows up in groups that do this step poorly. Groups that do this step well have discovered that their membership own the decision, and just as importantly, own the process. It becomes natural to them. They discover a strength in accomplishing God’s best hopes.

So, what’s involved in this step? Here is a  list of actions for you to consider once a decision has been made.

Meet with people who are affected by a decision

Not every decision needs a special meeting to relay the results. However there are times when something is significant and needs extra effort.

If a decision is complex, contentious or affects a lot of people then it is pastoral to meet people face to face. Listen to the concerns they have. Answer their questions. Explain again the process that was undertaken, the decision and the implications. Care for one another.

Send a letter

People were invited into the process in the first step. They have been partners with you in the process of discernment. So inform members that a decision has been made on the specific matter about which they have been in prayer. If appropriate convene a meeting rather than try to cover everything in a letter.

Of course websites, newsletters, Facebook groups and other communication tools can also be used to share information. However don’t hide behind a computer screen or a piece of paper.

Other people will tell the story if you don’t. Therefore ensure that people get the right information. Do not let people rely on gossip to know what is happening. If your decision impacts a specific ministry or previous arrangement with groups, be sure to let them know in writing as well.

Request continued prayer and support

Making a decision is only half (maybe less) of the story. Implementation of the decision can take weeks, months or years. Request prayer and other appropriate support for those with responsibility for the implementation of the decision.

Make these requests for support very specific. Share the projected timeline, key people involved, and name those who will be positively or negatively affected by the decision.

Think about what specific things can people do to support the decision throughout the timeline. Then offer concrete tasks for action.

Thank people

Discernment is a team effort. Remember, encourage and thank people for participating in the process. Think of specific people who have carried a heavy load in the decision-making process or will have to in the implementation phase. What special blessing can you offer them?

Have clear lines of accountability

The meeting decided who would do what tasks and by what date. The minutes provide a clear record of the decision. The implementation of the decision must be monitored.

Whether it is a small or large decision the decision-making body should get progress reports. There is a saying that people don’t do what is expected, they do what is inspected.

Do not be naïve. A person will delay and divert attention from a project if s/he doesn’t want something to happen. The community has discerned Christ’s will for them and therefore it is the responsibility of everyone to accept that decision. People are held accountable through regular progress reports.

More positively accountability ensures that the implementation of the decision is happening. When people sense that they are being faithful to what God has called them to do, this can be an energising and encouraging time.

Assess the process

Leaders should be clear about what went well in the process and what can be improved next time. Remember, it takes several attempts at a new way of doing things before people feel comfortable. Stay the course.

Strategies for review include setting time aside at a regular meeting to reflect on the process, or hold a special purpose meeting or design a survey.

Remember when you do your review to include all four steps and the people who were involved. For example

  • Were there any steps in the preparations that were missed or could have been done better?
  • Did the members of the congregation feel invited to participate and know how that was possible?
  • How well did we do in the four phases of the discernment process – community building, information sharing, deliberations and determination? What can we do better next time?
  • How was our communication? Did the implementation go to plan?

Celebrate

In an appropriate way acknowledge that you have done well.

Conclusion

As you can see there are many aspects to implementing a decision. More than just the decision matters in a community based process. The community matters. People affected by a decision matter. When your decision-making process has an eye beyond just the decision it is easier to recognise the many steps involved in implementation.

Decisions that are made actually get put into action when you do this step well. Things change. Your faith community becomes stronger.

Let us know your experience in making decisions. We would welcome your feedback to this series. Post a response. We’d love to hear from you!

Community based decision-making process – 2nd step: invitation

 

Who would throw a party and not send an invitation to guests? Sounds silly, right? Would you believe that many church leaders plan for an important decision and fail to get the right people to the table? Therefore in an effective decision-making process invitation is essential. So give careful thought to who should be present. It takes effort to think this through. However it is well worth it.

This post is part of a series of four that walk you through the steps required for effective community based decision-making. The first step is preparation. Step 2 is invitation. Step 3 is deliberation and decision. The final step 4 is to implement the decision.

“The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together” expands on this material in pages 92, 93 and 185. You can get your copy from Cokesbury or Amazon.

Decide who should be present

I know – it sounds obvious, but this step is often overlooked. Who should be on your invitation list? Some meetings have a limited group of people involved in the decision-making. Some decision-making bodies like congregations can be quite large. When holding important meetings make sure to hold them when as many people as possible can participate. The first group of people who need to be present are the people who need to make the decision – plan for maximum involvement.

Decision-makers need good information and good processes. Therefore the second group of people you need at a meeting are resource people. They may be subject experts who offer technical information or other data.

Some discussions are complex and need processes that can maximize participation, exploration of issues, and the drawing out of opinions. Not every Church Board or congregation has experts in meeting processes. So consider – do we need some help in developing the processes for our discussions?

Decision-makers are not the only persons affected by a decision. So it is important to have people who are affected by a decision, present at some stage in the decision-making process. Decisions-makers need to understand the impact of a decision. This is important information for decision-makers. Therefore think about who can help a group understand the impact that their decision will have. Then add them to the invitation list.

When possible, make a list of people who need to participate. This group will include those with authority to decide, people who can assist the knowledge base and processes of the group, and others who help to make the impact of the decision clear to the decision-makers.

Develop a clear communication plan – invitation

Participants need to know what is happening. Encourage people to understand why it is important that they attend. Also they need to know where the meeting will be held and other important details.

A note in the bulletin or minutes is not enough to get the word out. Try some of these ideas: send an open letter to the congregation or organization, make numerous announcements, present involvement as an invitation to something important, and introduce the process leaders to your group and have them explain what will happen.

Practice the Means of Grace

Invite people to be in a spirit of prayer for the meeting. Encourage them to pray and reflect on scripture during this time. Every member of the community of faith is a partner in the process. So respect them and affirm them by providing them with the opportunity to support the process through prayer and other acts of faithfulness.

Conclusion

When you have the right people at the table, the process of making decisions goes better. Take the time to invite people in as many ways as possible. Encourage their participation by providing good information, specific invitations and concrete recommendations for how they can be involved.

Do the ideas in this article match things that you have done? How did that work out?  Let us know your thoughts, experience and questions.

 

 

The story of a first time Discernment Group facilitator

Consensus discernment processes have many parts. Discernment Groups are one very important strategy for discernment. However groups need leaders – facilitators.

The WCRC, an international ecumenical gathering meets every seven years. About 1,000 delegates attend from over 350 churches. They come from diverse church and social cultures. The meetings operate in four official and two other languages.  To run its Discernment Groups the meeting used 18 facilitators.

First time users of consensus discernment

This is the second post where we share with you the experiences of some people who were in Leipzig. Many participants who are sharing in these blogs experienced consensus discernment for the first time. We trust that they will be an encouragement to you. They speak about the value of, and possibilities for, consensus discernment. We hope that you will share their stories widely.

Rev Dr Gonda is Associate Professor in Missiology and Ecumenical Studies at Debrecen Reformed Theological University.  The General Council meeting held six sessions for Discernment Groups. Laszlo, a first time facilitator for this methodology, led one of these groups for their six sessions.

His reflections include that this methodology

  • helps the church to be true to its character
  • encourages us to listen to each other but also to listen for what the Spirit is saying to the churches through one another
  • avoids the trap of winners and losers
  • allows Christians to express what it believes about the church – we are one
  • encourages Christ like behavior

I invite you to spend a couple of minutes listening to Laszlo share about his experience in his own words.

Rev Dr Laszlo Gonda