In the present divisive climate in the United States, we have been hearing hurtful words. Perhaps we need to address this at its roots, in our own hearts. Jesus said, “… what comes out of one’s mouth, that is what makes one unclean…. The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean.” (Matthew 15: 11 & 18)
By beginning with spiritual formation on an individual and congregational level, we can begin to understand and transform what is in our hearts. Is there conflict in your congregation? Conflict within a congregation can actually unite us when: “it is viewed as helpful and evidence of people caring; there is a willingness to disagree and respect those they disagree with; talking is ‘direct’ to those they disagree with (not behind their backs); a receptive climate is created by acknowledging others through listening, being aware of their emotions; leaders invite disagreement and take time for understanding; problem solving encourages group discussion and exploration of possible solutions.”*
This week’s Leading Mission Tip is a congregational exercise in Creating Safe Space through Listening to each other. D&C 162:5c states, “Listen together to one another, without judgment or predisposition.” Choose a time for discussion of a congregational issue in which there may be conflicting views. It doesn’t matter what the issue is, large or small; the goal is to learn new ways of listening to each other. Begin with prayer and/or a hymn for spiritual connection. Make sure that everyone understands and accepts these principles for discussion: (1) there will be a set amount of time for the discussion; (2) 2-3 questions will be posed, and EACH person who wishes to speak will be given a set amount of time to respond with their thoughts (say, 2-3 minutes; use a bell or other sign to signal the end of time); (3) no one may interrupt another person’s response; (4) responses must first summarize (1-2 sentences) what the previous person said before continuing with his/her response; (5) responders need to make “I” statements only, not “You” (i.e. “Here is what I think” NOT “You are completely wrong” or “This isn’t what we do”).
The moderator of the discussion will first gain acceptance from the group of these principles, and will gently remind anyone not adhering (i.e., “We seem to have forgotten Principle no. 3”). Keep the tone light and caring, not confrontational. During discussion, the moderator will write down essential points that can be viewed by everyone at the end. At this point, dismissal with prayer or a song may be appropriate. Leave final decisions for another time, perhaps a business meeting, where hopefully these principles will continue to prevail!
*From Michigan Mission Center materials