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Courageous Conversations: Dialogue over Debate

By Scott Hughes

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Why might your church need a Courageous Conversation? Will your church need to have some difficult conversations leading up to General Conference? Does your church need to have a difficult conversation about racism or Christian nationalism? Or perhaps your church is having a difficult time talking through the need to hold in-person worship? There is no shortage of opportunities for Courageous Conversations.

What exactly is a Courageous Conversation? A Courageous Conversation is a structured dialogue for learning. Engaging in conversations with people who hold differing perspectives likely causes anxiety. When we feel anxious (or worse, afraid), our brains tend to shut off. Physiologically, we are more ready to fight or flee than we are to learn from one another.

Having a covenant or guidelines for conversations, along with intentionally structured time for individual reflection, small-group sharing, and large-group time can help mitigate much of the anxiety that people may feel. The politicians we see on television or the internet model unhealthy debate. Healthy and Courageous Conversations take on the tone of dialogue rather than debate. Instead of one side looking to win an argument, the aim is to learn from differing perspectives and to question our own assumptions.

These are just some of the ideas presented in the Courageous Conversations teaching series. Many of the students who have participated in the course have found support in holding a Courageous Conversation-styled event through learning about the importance of creating a design team to help strategize and plan the event. Students have also expressed the importance of a covenant and framing the Courageous Conversation as a learning event.

One of the biggest fears course participants have expressed is that Courageous Conversations might lead to further division and hurt within the church. Without proper planning, that kind of hurt would likely be the result. This is true even while most churches continue to worship together and serve in mission together, even though not everyone agrees.

Glossing over our differences might keep superficial unity in place, but Scripture calls us to deeper relationships. Jesus’ modeling of an intimate relationship with the two other persons of the Trinity provides a model for how believers should experience a deep and vulnerable relationship with the Triune God by the power of the Holy Spirit and within the body of Christ. We see these kinds of relationships exemplified in the portrait of the early church in Acts 2:43-47. Learning the skills of Courageous Conversations is not just helping us to be better listeners, but to be better disciples.

I invite you to enroll in the Courageous Conversations teaching series for whatever conversations your church is preparing to undertake, whether those conversations are about General Conference, racism, or just becoming better disciples through listening and learning from one another. This course is open to clergy and all church leaders. There is a free version and a CEU version (The content is the same; CEU credit is available for a nominal fee.) See “How to Have a Courageous Conversation.”

To facilitate more learning and sharing among participants, we also host a quarterly Zoom meeting. The next session is Friday, February 12 beginning at 1:00 pm Central Standard Time. Click here to register for the Zoom session.

Scott Hughes is the Executive Director of Congregational Vitality & Intentional Discipleship, Elder in the North Georgia Conference, M.Div. Asbury Theological Seminary, D. Min. Southern Methodist University, co-host of the Small Groups in the Wesleyan Way podcast, creator of the Courageous Conversations project, and facilitator of the How to Start Small Groups teaching series.

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