Calling Committee, Finance Committee, and Congregation – I’d like us to be intentional about our terminology and our motives.
Roger Nicholson, who is a teacher and good friend of mine, edited a book of essays for interim ministers entitled Temporary Shepherds. Terry Foland’s essay from this book is especially helpful for congregations entering a time of information sharing and discernment.
In his chapter, Foland highlights the differences between a congregational “discussion” and a congregational“dialogue.” According to Foland, “Discussion” has the same roots as percussion and concussion. It literally means to use force to make a point. I expect that you, at some point in your life, have heard someone say, “We ought to knock some sense into them!” In a discussion, opposing parties come to the table seeking to push their agendas rather than seeking compromise and unity. This type of information sharing is counterproductive because force is usually met by force, so “discussions” can become more and more heated and combative with no one listening to anyone else. This is certainly not a Christian approach.
“Dialogue” on the other hand, Foland argues, is a search for common meaning. The roots for dialogue are dia meaning “through” and logos, meaning the “word.” This concept of logos can also be more broadly stated, as “meaning.”The main idea here is that dialogue is a conversation “through meaning” and denotes the free flow of information between people.
Quoting Peter Senge, Foland goes on to discuss the purpose of dialogue as distinct from discussion:
“The purpose of a dialogue is to go beyond any one individual’s understanding….In dialogue, individuals gain insights that simply could not be achieved individually….In dialogue, a group explores complex and difficult issues from many points of view. Individuals suspend their assumptions but they communicate
their assumptions freely. The result is a free exploration that brings to the surface the full depth of people’s experience and thought, and yet can move beyond their individual views.”
As we begin many different dialogues aimed at discerning our collective future, I pray that we can suspend our preconceptions, leave our assumptions at home, and really share with each other the depth of our experience, the depth of our emotions, and the depths of our care for our parish. In so doing, we may fully
discern a direction for our parish that takes into account individual passions but moves beyond individuals to a collective answer. Most importantly, we, all of us, each of us, need to be open to the Word, the Spirit of God who is always with us – keeping in mind that in the Gospel of John, it is Jesus who is the logos. In so doing we may move beyond “discussion” to “dialogue”and make our conversations a richer and more