Home Equipping Leaders CONTENT LIBRARY Courageous Conversations Prior to General Conference 2020

Courageous Conversations Prior to General Conference 2020

By Scott Hughes

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Session 1 Outline

Introduction

The following is a two-session outline for guiding a local church conversation prior to General Conference 2020. This is only a sample. While the setting and sequencing is intentional, adjust as needed. Session one focuses on participants’ emotional responses leading into the 2020 General Conference. Engaging emotions first will enable more thoughtful and discerning conversations, which are the focus of session two.

Why have a Courageous Conversation prior to General Conference? The intent is not to raise the anxiety level of a local congregation or further divisiveness. The hope is that by engaging in meaningful dialogue prior to the General Conference, participants will become familiar with the format of a Courageous Conversation and grow in trust-filled relationships. A helpful analogy is that of a cauldron over fire. When fire heats the elements within the cauldron, pressure will build. What will contain the pressure exerted on the cauldron is the thickness of the walls. Trust is like the walls of the cauldron. The thicker the walls of the cauldron, the more pressure it will be able to handle. Building trust takes experience and time. It cannot be rushed. Taking the opportunity to inform your congregation about the process of General Conference is important, but information is not enough. Taking the opportunity to hold a Courageous Conversation-styled event builds relationships and trust, so that if there needs to be a more specific decision or outcome by the church community, there will be less chance for divisiveness to be the result. This sample outline seeks to equip congregations to engage in the slow process of relationship building and learning to hold fruitful dialogues.

Although it will be tempting for churches not to include a practice dialogue as outlined below, this can be beneficial for participants to feel a different style of conversation. It sets the tone that listening and learning from all participants is encouraged and valued. The moments of silence, while perhaps awkward, will be appreciated as times for personal reflection. Additionally, elements such as food, singing together, lectio divina, and a ritual such as Communion should not be easily dismissed, as they forge relationships and remind us of the God we worship and who is with us as we do the work of discernment.

While the two sessions could be done on one day, it is advisable to hold the sessions on different days and even a week, or more, apart. Churches may consider extending into three or more sessions to focus on specific exercises. Another option to consider is ending one or each of the lessons by a “Remembering Your Baptism” service instead of Communion. Having a meal together before or after the dialogue will help reinforce relationship building. Although you probably do not want to over-structure that time, there are ways to build some intentionality by asking participants to sit at different tables or by using guiding questions such as, “What does this church mean to me?” or “The most memorable activity or experience as part of this church was when __________.”

DOWNLOAD Courageous Conversations Prior to General Conference (PPT)

DOWNLOAD Courageous Conversations: How Did We Get Here? (PPT)

Setting

  • It is important that the setting be intentionally reverent. It is imperative to create a setting of neurological safety. When anxiety is high, blood drains from our brains to our feet and our fists. We are ready to flee and fight, not learn. Only when we feel safe can we learn. The aim of the structure involved in this outline is to promote a setting for learning. It might o be helpful to distinguish a safe space (where participants are cautious with their language so as to not offend) from a brave space (where exploratory questions are encouraged). The intent to create a dialogue for learning and not a debate. In a debate, we look to win and attack other’s weaknesses. In a dialogue, we are looking to build relationships and learn from one another.
  • Project or post a covenant or conversation guidelines. A covenant or set of guidelines helps participants know what to expect in terms of the tone of the conversation.
  • Round tables or even circles of chairs without tables are useful for participants to be able to communicate within their small groups.
  • As participants enter the room, they choose a number that corresponds to a numbered table or set of chairs. Participants sit at the corresponding table or circle of chairs. Six people per table or area is recommended for the best small-group dynamics.
  • Each table or open area of a circle of chairs should include a centerpiece (for example a cross), some identifying marker for participants to know their table assignment (could use numbers or fruits of the spirit), and a talking stick and/or timer. Another optional component is to have cards with conversation starters for early participants to begin to relate with one another. A talking stick can be a small cross or a plastic two-minute game timer. The beneficial feature of the game timer is that it also serves as a timer to limit the speaker to two minutes before having to pass the talking stick to the next participant (most cell phones can also be used as a talking stick and a timer).

Materials

  • Communion elements (or pitcher and basin if doing a “Remember Your Baptism” service).
  • Audiovisual equipment for any presentation and microphones for participants during the large-group time. While many participants don’t think they need a microphone to be heard, encourage all participants to use a microphone in case anyone is hearing impaired.
  • Print outs or slides of the “Comparison of Proposals” Chart.
  • Slips of paper or index cards for participants to write down questions during the break.

Lesson Outline

Meal or snacks

  • As participants show up, offer snacks or—even better—a meal. This gives participants the opportunity to have casual conversations and relationship building before the event.

Introduction (5 minutes)

  • Housekeeping items (restrooms, snacks, audiovisuals, etc.)
  • Review the Covenant. One option is to read each line as a group. Another option is to randomly assign parts of the covenant to different participants.
  • Explain the purpose of the random table assignments and the intent of the event. It is helpful to reinforce that the intent of the event is to hear different perspectives. Changing one’s perspective is not the intent. We grow in understanding our own perspective and other perspectives when we are challenged to think through divergent understandings.
  • Opening Prayer

Centering: Ephesians 4:1-6 (10 minutes)

  • Lectio Divina-style centering exercise
  • Have as many as three different people read the passage. Pause after each reading for reflective questions:
    • What word or phrase sticks with you from the passage?
  • Where do you hear God speaking to you in this passage?
  • Who is God calling you to be in light of this passage?

Opening Question (10 minutes; 1 minute per person at the table)

  • "What brought you here?" (5 minutes; 1 minute per person at the table)
    • After reading (or posting on a slide) the question above, pause for one minute of silent reflection. A time of silent reflection allows introverts (and extroverts too) time to process before speaking. It will also enable participants to listen more instead of concentrating as much on what they will say when it is their turn to speak.
  • Around the circle, allow each participant no more than one minute to answer the question. Whoever would like to do so may begin.

Hymn – upbeat song or hymn (5 minutes)

  • Singing together reminds us that although we don’t think alike, we all worship the Triune God together.

Practicing Dialogue (10 minutes)

  • Topic: Which experience do you prefer? Sunday school or small groups? Or which worship experience do you prefer? Traditional or contemporary? You can even use less theological topics such as, “Do you prefer to vacation at the beach or in the mountains?”
    • Using one of the above questions or choosing one of your own, allow participants to get a feel for this style of conversation. (Ideally, the practice topic is one where participants have different perspectives but are not overly passionate about them.) Most adults are used to butting in and talking over one another. A true dialogue style is uncomfortable to many participants. It can feel mechanical or forced. It is normal for participants to feel slightly constrained or frustrated. However, dialogue reinforces listening and learning.
  • After reading (or posting) the question, pause for one minute of silent reflection.
  • After the minute of silent reflection, whoever would like to speak first should use the talking stick. Whatever is being used as the talking stick should be passed to the next person who would like to speak. That person can indicate a desire to talk by raising a hand or by passing the talking stick to the right or left. Participants may pass if they don’t have anything to say.

How We Think/Protocol (15 minutes)

  • It is helpful to remember how complex our thinking is. It is overly simplistic to think we can change other people’s minds. People do not change their perspectives quickly or easily. We can be duped into believing that if others just learned the facts as we have, they would change their minds. that is not likely. As is represented in the charts provided, facts are filtered through layers of cultural values and biases. For people to change their perspective requires sustained conversation within trust-filled relationships.
    • It is helpful as we enter a time of dialogue to keep our expectations in check. Instead of seeking to change minds, we need to examine our own assumptions and listen for ways we can grow in our perspectives.
  • The downloadable PowerPoint contains some information regarding the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. Feel free to add additional information for your group as needed. This should be focused on information. Unfortunately, misinformation has already made news headlines. Use this time to keep participants working from the same information.

Expressing Emotions (5 minutes)

  • Have colored circles (at least green, yellow, and red) in the middle of the table or circle of chairs.
  • Ask participants to choose a color and in one minute explain why they chose that color:
    • “Leading up to General Conference 2020, I chose the color ______ because___________.”
  • Another option is to use cut outs of emoticons to help participants express their emotions.
    • Before engaging issues directly, it is helpful to engage our emotions. If we jump too quickly to the dialogue, it will be tempting to talk based on emotions alone.

Break (5-Minute stretch break)

  • During the break, allow participants to write down any questions they have about General Conference 2020. These should be filled out anonymously. These questions can be about the conference, about the local church, and so on.
  • Have a common collection place for the questions, so that they can be read later.
  • If there is time and if the answers are brief, answer the questions in this session. If there is not time, tell the group that answers will be given in the next session. (These questions might also shape the next session, if need be.)

Small Group Dialogue (35 minutes)

  • As in the practice dialogue, be sure that one minute of silence precedes dialogue for each question. Talking sticks should guide the conversation. Post the questions for all to see.

What are your hopes for the 2020 General Conference? (15 minutes)

  1. How might the actions (or inactions) of General Conference 2020 affect you and your congregation? (20 minutes)

Large-group talk back (10 minutes)

  • What did you learn? What did you hear that was new? or What did someone else say that you would like to affirm? What did you hear that has you thoughtful?
    • This is a time for participants to hear from different groups.
  • One best practice is for this time to be facilitated by a trained facilitator or moderator. Facilitators keep the group focused on the process and enable participants to hear what is being expressed in the best possible light.

Communion (10 minutes)

  • Ending with Communion reminds us that during our anxiety and uncertainty, our faith remains firmly in the hands of God who “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

120 Minutes Total

Session 2 Outline

Setting

  • See the setting notes for Session 1

Materials

  • Communion elements.
  • Audiovisual equipment for any presentation and microphones for participants during the large-group time. While many participants don’t think they need a microphone to be heard, encourage all participants to use a microphone in case anyone is hearing impaired.

Lesson Outline

Meal or snacks

  • As participants show up, offer snacks or—even better—a meal. This gives participants the opportunity to have casual conversations and build relationships before the event starts.

Introduction (5 minutes)

  • Housekeeping items (restrooms, snacks, audiovisual, etc.)
  • Review the Covenant. One option is to read each line as a group. Another option is to randomly assign parts of the covenant to different participants.
  • Explain the purpose of the random table assignments. The hope is to hear different perspectives. We grow in understanding our own perspective and other perspectives when we are challenged to think through divergent understandings.
  • Opening Prayer

Centering: James 3:8-12 or Philippians 2:1-4 (10 minutes)

  • Lectio Divina-style centering exercise
  • Have as many as three different people read the passage. Pause after each reading for reflective questions:
    • What word or phrase sticks with you from the passage?
  • Where do you hear God speaking to you in this passage?
  • Who is God calling you to be in light of this passage?

Opening Question (5 minutes; 1 minute per person at the table)

  • "What gives you hope for this conversation?" (5 minutes; 1 minute per person at the table)
    • After reading (or posting on a slide) the question above, pause for one minute of silent reflection. A time of silent reflection allows introverts (and extroverts too) time to process before speaking. It will also enable participants to listen more instead of concentrating as much on what they will say when it is their turn to speak.
  • Around the circle, allow each participant no more than one minute to answer the question. Whoever would like to do so may begin.

Hymn – upbeat song or hymn (5 minutes)

  • Singing together reminds us that although we don’t think alike, we all worship the Triune God together.

Questions and Answers (15 minutes)

  • Have a facilitator read the questions that have been submitted from the exercise the week before. As best as possible, give answers to the questions or suggest where comments and question can be directed.

Small-Group Dialogue (20 minutes)

  • Use the same method of small-group dialogue as in lesson one. Use the following questions:
    • Where do you believe God is guiding the church?
  • What Bible stories or passages shape how we might view this?
  • Break (5-Minute stretch break)

Monologue World Café Style (30 minutes)

  • Process/Rules
    • In small groups, participants speak one at a time for no more than two minutes.
  • Participants should begin their sentence with either the word “I” or “My.” For example, “My concern is . . .” “I feel that . . .”
  • Participants should express their perspectives as they finish the following statement: “My hope for the church is . . .“ (15 minutes)
  • Following each participant’s monologue, the group sits in silent contemplation for twenty or thirty seconds (using a timer is recommended – this will feel awkward.)
  • Participants should not comment on what other participants are saying (the point is listening, not debating at this point).
  • Participants cannot speak a second time until everyone has spoken once.
  • After fifteen minutes, ask participants (who are able) to randomly change tables. The hope is that participants will now be at tables with different participants. Repeat the monologue process. (If there is time available and enough participants, the process could be repeated a third time.)

Large-group Dialogue (10 minutes)

Use the following questions to guide the dialogue.

  • “What do we hope the community hears from this local church? What is our witness to the community during this time?”
    • Answering these questions can give context to our relationship with the community God has entrusted us to serve.
  • Post or project this question for all participants to see. Offer a minute of silence before allowing responses.
  • One option is for participants to spent two minutes in silent reflection, writing down their answers before opening large-group dialogue.
  • A best practice is for this time to be facilitated by a trained facilitator or moderator. Facilitators keep the group focused on the process and enable participants to hear what is being expressed in the best possible light.

Written exercise (5 minutes)

  • “What do you need to move forward? What do you still need to resolve?”
    • This could be done in a large-group or small-group format.
  • Either way, allow participants a minute or two to write down answers to these questions. Participants should be invited to place the answers to the questions on papers in a basket before receiving Communion.

Communion (10 minutes)

  • Ending with Communion reminds us that during our anxiety and uncertainty, our faith remains firmly in the hands of God who “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

RESOURCES

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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