Change – take it one step at a time

 

It is really hard to change your lifestyle in one sudden act. The most effective and long lasting change happens through incremental steps.

Diets and making a change to meeting procedures

We have all done it! We know we need to lose weight, or rebalance our eating so that it is more healthy. So full of motivation we dive into it “boots and all”. With no half measures we go cold turkey on all those unhealthy calories and carbs. As a result we find the change a painful experience!

We know that the most effective way to make long term change in our eating habits is to take incremental steps. Give away the fizzy drinks this week, the popcorn and chips the next week, cut back on the carbs a little bit here and there.

Why would we expect it to be any different if we are changing the way our community engages in discernment? It is most likely that a complete and sudden change of process will be hard to sustain. Make the changes in small steps. You will see that by building them into your processes over time they are more palatable – less of a shock to the system.

Small steps you can take – now

  1. Build in transparency: provide quality information about the subjects under discussion well before the meeting and during the meeting. Make sure that there is plenty of time for questions for clarification.
  2. Grow the quality of your community life: encourage sharing and prayer for one another; attend to any special needs that people may have; show respect.
  3. Listen: provide time so that everyone that wants to contribute can do so. Consider power imbalances and how you can overcome them. Look at how to present your business in a way that avoids jargon or the need for inside knowledge or high levels of ability in the language you are using.
  4. Generate options: think about ways to pick up and explore the fresh ideas that are raised. Perhaps defer a decision to allow consultation between people with different perspectives. Don’t try to conclude every piece of business the first time that you raise it. For example set up working groups to take up the ideas raised in the meeting and to bring something to a later meeting.

Slow and steady wins the race

Years ago the Northern Territory in Australia had a tourism slogan “If you never never go, you will never never know.” Of course the idea was that people had lots of reasons they put forward for not visiting this tropical, hot and isolated part of the country. So the encouragement was to just give it a go and then you will know if it is any good.

People offer all sorts of reasons why consensus building discernment will not work for their context. But if you never never have a go, who will never never know if it will work or not. Just give it a try and see what happens.

The World Methodist Council has become the latest group to “give it a go”. Rather than jump in and change everything they are going to do some training and then “test drive” the process on a piece of the business agenda. That’s right – they are going to practice the process before they decide to take it up.

When the World Methodist Council meets in Seoul, South Korea in July 2018 Terence and Julia will be providing training and orientation to consensus based decision making. There will be a very practical introduction to the processes and the values that lie behind them. This will be followed by a later session where a genuine piece of business will be processed using consensus practices. Terence will chair that session. No decision will be taken at that time. The decision will be made in a business session but it is expected that the material will be close to ready to resolve once it comes to the floor because of the processing that has happened in the workshop. If your church, local or regional,would like to workshop consensus processes just get in contact at terence@makingchurchdecisions.com, and let’s see what we can make possible.

This one of many examples of where an organisation that is considering change is taking it a step at a time. By trying the ideas out without committing to change they can build confidence and learn how to adapt the process to suit their situation. The World Communion of Reformed Churches began this journey with the meeting of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in Acra, Ghana in 2002. Subsequently it has implemented the lessons that it learned there and in Grand Rapids (USA) in 2010 into its meeting in Leipzig, Germany in 2017. How did it go? Very well because they have built on the lessons of the past.

Conclusion

Don’t be daunted by the apparent size of the task involved in making a change to consensus based discernment. Take the small steps that are open to you. There is a lot that you can do without having to change your meeting rules! Then look for opportunities to showcase different parts of a consensus building approach. Consider holding a training workshop in your meeting like the World Methodist Council is doing.

Sometimes you have to crawl before you can walk.

Enough! It’s time to show some courage.

Where are the leaders who are ready to show some courage? Where are those who will risk losing everything for the sake of the reign of God?

People are tired of the fighting

I talk with a lot of people from around the world. Many come from churches where there are major disputes. Most Christians are sick and tired of the aggressive, disrespectful way in which debates happen. So, they want leaders who will find a way to resolve problems in the church without trying to control and remove their opponents.

Framing debates as “yes” or “no”; “left” or “right”; “liberal” or “conservative” is not helping. Forcing people to argue from the extremes is proving to be ineffective in resolving conflict. Yet people in many churches seem to be rewarded for being warriors for their extreme position. However this is alienating for people inside and outside the church.

People are looking for leaders who have courage. The church needs people who have the courage to take the risk of not fighting! People in the pews are tired of the paralysis that afflicts their church when disagreements go on and on.

What does courage look like?

Courage is being prepared to

  • give up my desire to control others
  • value relationships over power
  • trust that God knows best and so be open to change
  • believe that God desires the unity of his family
  • acknowledge that I have made God in my own image when God hates all the same people that I do
  • do unto others as I would have them do to me
  • love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me

Please add to this list from your own heart. What is hard for you to do in support of fostering a faithful, loving, quality Christian community?

Seek relationships instead of control

The only way to get past the paralysis that comes from hyper partisanship is by seeing the other person as a fellow human being.

There are many examples of where constructive and life giving options have been generated as people stop seeking control and work on the relationship. Perhaps the most powerful and common example is in divorces and setting up parenting plans. When a couple have a toxic relationship it harms the children; makes them bitter for longer; it is destructive and costly; makes later adaptations to the plan difficult;  and limits the number of options. As couples focus on the children and take time to understand the needs of the other person, they generate better solutions that are easier to live with.

It’s the same for disputes in the wider society and the church. Of course it is not easy for people to just switch off their desire for control – that’s why mediators are needed. It isn’t easy for some Christians to stop wanting to demonise their opponents and to get their way -that’s why facilitators are needed. Taking up the alternative of showing respect, de-escalating the tension and looking for alternative solutions does not come easy.

Seek relationships over control. You don’t have to change your mind on the issues in dispute. But you should change your attitude to the other person and the issue.

Will people seek relationships over control?

I like to think that the Holy Spirit will make it possible! But faith is an act of will, as much as it is a gift of grace. People have to choose to be obedient to Christ.

God has created a community through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We are incorporated into that community through trusting (faith) in what God has done in Jesus. Our responsibility as disciples is to live in this community that gathers around Christ. This community is our primary identity. It is God’s will that we be one for the sake of the witness of Christ in the world.

When we are convinced that the quality of our discipleship as Christians is more important to God than our opinions on theological and ethical issues then we will choose relationships over control. The early observers of Christians did not say “Look at those Christians – see how they agree with one another.” Rather it was said “Look at those Christians – see how they love one another.”

People will seek relationships over control when they have the courage to believe the Gospel that we are one in Jesus Christ. However, this unity is not achieved by what we do, but by what God has done in Jesus Christ.

Does it happen in real life?

It is somewhat sad, but perhaps encouraging, that most of the examples of success come from outside the church. It is encouraging because if fighting spouses, political enemies, and hostile opponents on moral issues in society can do it then Christians should find it easier.

People move from control to relationships when they:

  • know that the present way of working is destructive
  • have a hope that things can work better
  • have a unifying principle, eg being citizens, family, fellow believers, etc
  • show courage by giving up power
  • habit disrupting rules are put in place
  • firm structures are put in place
  • thoughtful questions are offered

Mark Gerzon in The Reunited States of America, offers numerous examples of community organisations that are helping people to make the move from hyper partisan and aggressive approaches to healthy and respectful discussions. I recommend that you buy the book.

You can also look up some previous posts on this site for how change can happen, for example here. Or find examples of where and how change has happened in The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together.

Be of good courage, keep the faith, hold strong to the calling that you have in Jesus Christ.

11 ways to use our book to bring change in your context

When we wrote our book we wanted to support you in bringing about change. Therefore it is our sincere hope that you will use our book to bring about change. We all know that “Shift Happens!” However we also know that it does not happen by accident. It takes intentional action.

So, here are some practical ideas to make the transition in your ministry context. It is time to move from the traditional method of making decisions based on Robert’s Rules of Order. Now is the time to change to a more faith-based process for making decisions. You can get the book at Cokesbury or Amazon.

  1. Organise Reading Groups

    Get the book into the hands of key members by organizing groups to read and discuss the book. Then name a convenor for each group and have groups meet in homes for prayer and discussion. Read and discuss a chapter a week – this will take only 8 weeks to complete the study. A basic outline for discussion can include:  What seems important to you in this chapter? How could we use this material in our church?  What might need to change around here? What questions do you have about this chapter?

  2. Use the Guide as Sunday School Curriculum

    Offer the book to Adult Sunday School Classes, or home groups for discussion.  Study a chapter a week. Ask teachers to provide a short (say, 10 minute) synopsis of the chapter. Use the Reflection Questions at the end of each chapter to guide discussion.

  3. Pastor Picks

    Name the book as a ‘must-read’ for your Congregation and order books for purchase by individuals. Provide a one page outline with reflection questions to help people move through the book.

  4. Leadership Reports

    Assign a chapter to various leaders and ask them to present the highlights of their section at your Church Council or Judicatory Meeting. This Report should be no more than 20 minutes long. End each report with the question: “How can we do this here?” or “Why is this important to us?”

  5. Sermon Series

    Read the book and design a series of sermons on the highlights. Use a Biblical text from each chapter to cover key thoughts and practical application. Be prepared to advocate for change.

  6. Pastor’s Bible Study Class

    Consider offering a series of classes on the Scripture and topics covered in each chapter. Also be sure to include some of the activities listed at the back of the book to get students involved.

  7. Retreat Focus

    Use the material at a Leadership Retreat. Focus on the  material you would like to use to bring change in your Church Board or Council meetings. For example; plan a 4-hour session on a Saturday to cover the decision making process in the book and discuss implementing it. Be sure to make this occasion a positive team building exercise with fun, music and a meal. Then at the end of the session by name an Implementation Team to plan next steps.

  8. Lead a Workshop on our Consensus-Based Decision-Making Process

    Read the book and provide a brief outline for leaders in your Judicatory or Church Council. Design a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation on the content on the process. Start with a “Values Clarification” Activity. Place words on a sheet that list possible values of your group. A sample of words may include: family, love, peace, honesty, organization, loyalty, growth, discernment, discipleship, Bible-based, community, respect, openness, patience, etc. Invite people to underline 5 words on the handout that they believe are important to them about the group. When this step is finished, invite participants to star 2 words that are really vital to them. Have them cross off one of the two words with stars and circle the remaining word.  Ask people what was the hardest word to give up. Then, ask for the word they feel is most important. Lead a discussion on how their method of making decisions respects their values as a faith community.

  9. Mentor and Guide another Person

    Think of a person in your ministry context that holds relational power to get things done. This person could be your Church Council Chair or someone else. Invite them to read the book. Plan a meeting with them to discuss what they have found helpful to use in your setting. Then discuss what it would take to apply the process in your context.

  10. Introduce Leaders to Elements of this Process

    People may be used to a basic parliamentary process of making amendments, suggesting substitutions and voting on ideas. They may not be aware that there is another, community-based way of making decisions. Introduce elements that are vital in consensus based discernment but that can be used in any system. For example, being sure to allow time to ask questions for clarification, find ways to help the less vocal people to contribute, set up methods for helping people to really listen to each other, encourage people to slow down and not rush to a decision, etc.

  11. Use the book at a “Clergy Day Apart”

    A powerful way to get Pastors interacting with a new process is in a collegial learning setting. Be sure to take the time to provide a basic overview of the book. Consider inviting 2 or 3 people to make a presentation on a specific topic or chapter. Encourage open and honest sharing of the positive responses and reservations about change. Allow time for participants to complete some of the activities at the back of the book and reflect on how they can use the process in their setting.

Conclusion

Once you have read the book and see it’s value – don’t stop there. Choose one of the ideas mentioned above to introduce the book’s content to your organisation. If you can, please order copies of the “The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together” from Cokesbury or Amazon. The small commission we receive helps us to maintain this site. Finally, post your experience on how you are using this book with us on this web site. We look forward to hearing from you.