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.

Asian Ecumenical Institute Studies Consensus Discernment

The Asian Ecumenical Institute

The Asian Ecumenical Institute involved 25 young Christian leaders. They met for a month in Yangon, Myanmar in September / October 2017. The aims of the Ecumenical Institute include to introduce young leaders to other churches, the issues that these churches face and to how churches can work together.

I delivered lectures as part of the program at the Asian Ecumenical Institute on the “Foundations for Discernment” and “How to run a meeting seeking consensus based discernment”. If people are to understand and work with other churches deep listening, respect, and openness to change is needed. So, the values and practices of consensus building discernment are very valuable in achieving successfully working with other churches.

The participants came from 10 churches across Asia, and were very interested in consensus building principles and tools. They recognise that consensus building practices provide many possibilities to improve the quality of relationships in Churches in Asia. This post provides an opportunity for them to speak for themselves.

What Ecumenical Leaders say about Consensus

The General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) was held in Leipzig, Germany in July 2017. The WCRC is an international ecumenical body of Reformed, Uniting / United and Waldensian churches. It meets every 7 years. For the last 20 years it has been on a long journey of developing consensus based practices in its meetings.

Many first time users of consensus discernment were present in Leipzig. There was a lot of positive feedback on the experience. You can here what Martin Engels, Norbet Stephens, and Laslo Gonda have to say by following the links.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts as you learn more about consensus based discernment.

 

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.

 

 

Teaching Your Church about Discernment

Decisions and Discernment – not always the same

Most leaders know how to make a decision.  Not so many know how to discern the will of God. Sadly in our churches we have assumed that making decisions in our meetings is the same thing as discernment.

Discernment is a process that allows a gathered faith community to seek and understand God’s will for a specific time and subject.  It actively engages people in prayer, study, reflection and Christian conferencing to accomplish this vital work together as disciples of Jesus Christ. These tools are different to the ones that are used to just “make a decision” in a meeting.

Teaching in your church about discernment

Here is an activity at your local Church Council or Board meeting to explain discernment to your leaders and generate a shared meaning.

  1.  Prepare a handout with various Bible passages about discernment on one side and an acrostic on discernment on the other side (see #2).  Suggested passages include:                                                                               Phillippians 1:9-10 – And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.
    Romans 12:2 – And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
    Psalm 119:66 – Teach me good discernment and knowledge, for I believe in Your commandments.

    Hebrews 4:12 –  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Proverbs 3:1-6 – My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. John 7:24 – Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.    Proverbs 2:15  – My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

  2. Prepare a sheet of newsprint with the letters of the word “discernment” vertically.  Leave a space for responses.

D ______________________

I  ______________________

S  ______________________

C  ______________________

E  ______________________

R  ______________________

M  ______________________

E  _______________________

N  _______________________

T  ________________________

2.  Lead a Bible Study on the word “Discernent.”  Have participants take turns reading the selected Scripture.  After each reading, ask:  “what does this passage tell us about discernment?”

3.  Explain for every letter in the word “Discernment” they are to think of a word or phrase that explains what discernment means to them.

4.  Distribute handouts and pens to people. Provide a few examples:  ‘D’ stands for disciples or decision, ‘I’ means involvement; ‘R’ means reflection, etc.

5.  Provide 10 minutes for participants to complete their acrostic.

6.  Walk down the letters n the newsprint beginning with D and record people’s responses in the space provided.

7.  In concluding ask participants what they have learned about discernment.  Ask: “Does our way of making decisionss lead to discerning God’s will?””What changes could we make to move in this direction?”

Next Steps

At your next meeting return to the conversation about what changes are needed if your group is to move into a discernment mode of operation. Look closely at each part of your agenda and meeting procedures and make concrete decisions for change.

The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together includes a number of other strategies and conversation starters that you can use to foster discussions and learning about discernment.

Please share what you are doing to foster the practice of discernment in your church. We’d love to learn from you.

Don’t start a discernment process without this!

How to be a natural at discernment

Being a natural at discernment is like anything else – you have to be born with it! I admit that on occasions I have been given to the odd case of envy. In my youth it was about my younger brother’s incredible ability to play any sport to which he turned his hand. That I couldn’t do. I knew the rules of the game but I was hopeless and he was “a natural”.

What makes a person “a natural” at discernment? Discernment is the outcome of a process. So do activities that put you where you recognise the wisdom and direction offered through the Holy Spirit. People who do that “naturally” have the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. These people have developed the spiritual practices that enhance sensitivity to the movement of the Holy Spirit in their life.

The good news is that every Christian, by definition, has the gift of the Holy Spirit in their life. Christian discernment needs Christians to do it. I am not encouraging you to hold tests to see who is a Christian in your church meetings. However the point is that it doesn’t matter whether you have great accountants, office bearers, lawyers, donors, etc, on your Committee. You cannot start a discernment process based on these expertise. The baseline requirement is to be a follower of Jesus.

How do we discern God’s will?

Discerning the will of God is not easy. If it was that easy then Christian libraries would have a lot less books in them. There are lots of reasons that it is hard. Some that come to my mind are:

  • people like to get their own way and are not inclined to take directions
  • the tools for listening to God are very different to those we use to listen to people
  • some people are inclined to associate their own ideas with God’s opinion
  • some cultures are cynical about insight coming through emotions and “hunches” rather than logic and reason
  • too often we do it on our own rather than with companions
  • we try to use methods that are not aligned with the way God does things
  • we haven’t been taught how to do it

Discernment requires the attitude of being genuinely open to, and expecting, the leading of the Holy Spirit. So openness to the Holy Spirit needs to be the base line orientation of a person’s approach to decision-making. Then it is possible to build the spiritual disciplines that help people to tune into the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Group discernment needs people who know how to discern God’s will for their own life

Before you can do group discernment you have to have learned how to do personal discernment. If you don’t know how to recognise when God is speaking to you then you will not be doing it in your meeting. When people learn to identify the movement of the Holy Spirit, how to be self-emptying, and when to let go and trust in their personal life then they will do the same in your meeting.

Don’t start a discernment process without taking seriously the capacity of the participants to engage in spiritual discernment. We like to assume that people called to make decisions on behalf of the church are mature, Spirit led people. They all can be – but it isn’t always how things work out.

The consensus building discernment process that we commend emphasises the importance of prayer, worship and growing the quality of community life. When these are present you ensure that in every meeting God’s claim upon your work, and the tools to hear God, are before the group. Assumed and embedded in these practices is the foundational conviction that it is only possible to make faithful decisions if the people gathered genuinely want, and know how, to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in their midst.

How do you go about building the capacity of your leaders to be a community of discernment? What resources can you offer us that can be helpful?