And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question . . . The apostles and elders were gathered together to consider this matter . . . And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related the signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
Acts 15:2, 6, 12
The congregational meeting. Tension is in the air. We are gathered to discuss church business, perhaps a serious doctrinal dispute, proposed future plans, motions to open or close, hire or fire, build or repair. This is not the ethereal side of church — songs of praise, flowery speech, feel-good spirituality. No, now we talk about nuts and bolts, steel and girders, labor and sweat, dollars and cents — numbers!
All this collides with wishes and desires, pet projects, dearly held opinions, and the fragile egos behind them. Not only that, but congregational alliances and fissures, friendships and offenses past are all on the table.
Will this lethal mix propel us forward into a new direction, a future of hope and accomplishment, or explode like one of Wilbur Wright’s early planes, crashing to the ground and sabotaging us all before we go anywhere? Will a misplaced word, an angry outburst –like a match to gasoline- engulf us in an inferno? This and memories of failed efforts at open dialogue in the past create a gnawing apprehension. What to do?
Many churches dispense with this broad public effort at communication altogether. Others diffuse (or is de-fuse?) them through internet surveys and less visible methods of communication. Can the public deliberation be done well? And is the benefit equal to the risk? On the other hand, what is the price of silence? More silence?
Here are some simple thoughts.
The effort to improve congregational communication increases transparency. Transparency regarding numbers, plans, concerns and problems promotes trust. Trust is the basis of a community’s confidence. Confidence is the basis of faith – con fides – with faith! Collective confidence is an irresistible force for good and accomplishment in the faith community. A sine qua non of vital church life!
Open, public communication must be managed if it is to be healthy and effective. It is the job of the stewards of the house (the elders or governing council) to protect the household from an abuse of the communication process. That requires prescience, thought beforehand. It means preparation. It means pre-communication. It means rehearsing or planning the purpose of the meeting, its agenda, and desired outcomes.
What do we get out of this effort? Sunshine kills darkness – hidden agendas, well-nursed grudges, murmuring spirits. Unfiltered it burns, brings deep discomfort, festering cancer, sitting like a time bomb hidden in plain sight on the surface of the skin. To return to the metaphor of flight, well or poorly managed communication is the difference between a crash on take-off and the world changing marvel of successful flight. By overcoming every obstacle and the law of gravity it opens a new era of confidence and accomplishment.
Prescient thought and preparation require a defined agenda, a clearly defined purpose, advance notice to all participants, competent, prepared presenters, and a clear understanding of the purpose and parameters of public input. Of course, it can still go wrong. On the other hand we might burst into flight!
For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…! Acts 15:28