Our society provides numerous examples of people not listening to and respecting each other. We let prejudices and preconceived ideas get in the way of respectful discourse. Unfortunately, we often find the same practice in the church.
When we consider the change process, the second step is “honor the other.” Honest differences of opinion must not only be respected but honored. We all have our points of view. As we talk and reason with one another, uniformity is not the goal. Writer Walter Lippman was reported to have said, "When everyone thinks alike, no one thinks very much." The challenge is to present one’s opinion in such a way that we do not cut off effective dialogue and discussion. We want to generate light rather than heat.
A mistake often made in the process of change is to jump to conclusions and to try to resolve a contested issue without adequate discourse. There are ways to avoid this. Many churches use a “town hall meeting” approach to get things on the table for discussion. In this moderated discussion, people have the opportunity to express their opinions on a topic without having to make an immediate decision.
For example, a pastor search committee might conduct several town hall meetings to listen to participants’ expectations, concerns, and questions before starting the actual search process. The approach also works well in discussing changes in worship services, building development or usage, or new ministry opportunities. Since the town hall meeting is not an official business meeting, the stakes are low and there is no need to make a decision for action.
Another approach is to meet with diverse groups to get their insights in focus group settings. One person asks the group questions and another records their responses. The goal is not to resolve an issue but to get insights. By involving diverse groups such as deacons, Bible study classes, youth, and ministry leaders, we gather diverse perspectives without asking for commitment.
We might be able to have more of these honest and non-threatening discussions, if we remembered Paul’s injunction in Romans 12:10: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (NIV)