by Kathy Neufeld Dunn, Associate Conference Minister (Kansas-Based)
Do you have a congregational meeting coming up soon? In the past has agenda that you thought would be non-controversial turned out to be more problematic than you or other leadership anticipated it would be? Here are a few communication-related “best practices” for you and your leadership to consider.
First, discuss with other leaders each agenda item in preparation for the congregational meeting. If the consensus is that an issue rises to the level of a moderately complex to complex issue, it should have at least two meetings before coming to the congregational meeting for action. In the first meeting, the issue should be introduced in some depth, including questions of clarification. It’s also at this meeting that the group agrees to the end goal. Will there be a basic majority vote, or consensus, or will you allow a small group to make a decision on behalf of the congregation, or other way of deciding? At the second meeting, discuss two or three possible ways of responding to the issue. Only at the third meeting should a decision be made. Then celebrate an important decision well-made. At least have coffee and cookies!
At the beginning of the congregational meeting, or any other important meeting that might include significant differences of opinion, after prayer or a time of devotion, invite the Chair or Moderator to share some guidelines to shape the dialogue. The list of guidelines doesn’t need to be long, but it needs to be thoughtful. Here are a few to consider:
Because we care about each other and desire to be Christ-like, we commit to:
–Listening carefully and not interrupting each other. If what another says makes me think of something I want to say, I will write it down to remind myself, so I don’t forget it.
–Asking clarifying questions, such as, “What ways could we work through this, so we could all agree to this?”
–Valuing one another’s experiences and imagining how these experiences might have contributed to each person’s thinking.
–Speaking our minds freely and gently and giving others equal time.
–Above all, treating others as we would have them treat us.
For more on this topic of shaping healthy dialogue, review “Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love” found on the MC USA website: http://mennoniteusa.org/resource/agreeing-and-disagreeing-in-love/