Having Difficult Congregational Conversations

Larry Glover-Wetherington

This blog refers to the November E-ncourager article on “Five Spiritual Practices for Congregations.” The first spiritual practice was Listening. Listening to God, to one another, and to our neighborhood.

Baptist congregations typically make decisions using Roberts Rules of Order, which are good as a structure for order of business, but in several way do not serve us well as the body of Christ. When a decision is made, there are winners and losers, and often the body is left wounded and not united in the way forward or inspiring support for the decision made. Robert’s Rules favor extroverted people and can also be abused and manipulated by people who have agendas and more knowledge of the parliamentary process. Most importantly, a decision made by a vote determines the will of the congregation but does not discern the will of God.

Congregational discussions can be difficult, and some issues may be avoided because of their potential for conflict. One approach is to have congregational discussions outside of a business meeting where there is no threat of a vote hanging over people’s heads. The congregation should agree on a set of ground rules for the discussion. I often suggest ground rules after the manner of the book, “Everything I Ever Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten,” such as, one person speaks at a time, no interruptions, everyone will have an opportunity to speak, anyone may leave at any time they desire, and make your own statements without debating or correcting others. They should also be conducted in a spirit of “Worshipful Work,” a term coined by Charles Olsen, where discussion is intentionally conducted in the presence of God with calls for prayer and scripture always in order.

Even then congregations should expect discussions to get bogged down and tense at times. Perhaps calling a break for prayer, or even adjourning the meeting to a different time gives people an opportunity to hear from God and consider new ideas. If everyone stays with the conversation in good faith and grace with one another, what may have felt like an impasse can be transcended with new life. These conversations are often better with a third party, such as Barnabas Partnership, acting as facilitator. All this is to say that there are ways to have difficult conversations in a healthy manner that discern the will of God and create unity.

Larry Glover-Wetherington, our partner in ministry who resides in Durham, North Carolina. He has served in various capacities either as pastor, intentional interim pastor, coach, and mentor in numerous churches across the Southeast. For more information about how he can help you, contact him at 919.564.6061 or [email protected].

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