May 5, 2017

Community Conversation is Worth It

“Why can’t we just ask people what they want to do?”

Sounds so simple. Logical, even. Why spend months in conversation about history, gifts and values to determine “what God is calling this congregation to do to next” when you could just ask people in one parish meeting for suggestions?

Here’s why. We live in community. Think of your congregation as a microcosm of the Body of Christ, which overall is more diverse than we can imagine. People flow in and out of the microcosm. Let’s think first about those who’ve come. Some have been there a long time – decades perhaps. Others arrived ten years ago, or one year ago, or last month.

Perhaps you would rather think about those who have gone. You may know that they left because of some turmoil or because the community was not meeting their needs. You could honestly suggest that, “We should hire a youth minister,” or, “We need to repair the parking lot.”

These may be good ideas, but how do you know they will result in a brighter future for the parish? More importantly, what if you “fix the problem” only to realize that it was neither strategic nor helpful to do so?
In a community, it is healthy to understand the value of the people who have stayed, rather than focus on those who have left. This takes time and intentional effort. But oh my goodness, there are gifts to be discovered and used.

For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

- Ephesians 2: 10

Since God created each of us to do His work, how He must delight in bringing our diverse gifts together in His church! Begin a congregational conversation by identifying and celebrating the gifts God has gathered together in your faith community. Include time for prayer and reflection.

There are a variety of ways to engage people in describing their gifts and how they enjoy using them. An Appreciative Inquiry-style format might work well, in which members of the congregation will explore questions that reveal ministry strengths. Also explore what people see in the surrounding neighborhood or city as a need. Analyze how the list of OUTSIDE needs are aligned with your INSIDE gifts.

It takes time. It takes invoking the Holy Spirit to be present in your listening. It takes open eyes, ears and hearts. But the result will be authentic to who you are as a faith community.

Such a period of intentional conversation might very well end with a community decision to hire a youth minister or pave the parking lot. However, in addition to identifying the “what,” your time of discernment will allow your community discover things more essential: WHY God needs you to act, and HOW God has equipped you for ministry.