Adaptable Courageous Conversations Outline - Interview style

This is a sample outline for Courageous Conversations that is not specific to an issue or a situation. Churches have conflicts about all kinds of issues — from the color of the carpet to the possibility of starting a new worship service. As John Paul Lederach observes, “Conflict is normal in human relationships, and conflict is a motor for change.”1 Instead of avoiding or fearing conflict, churches that handle conflict well can be learning organizations that promote healing and transformation.

The following is merely a sample. Feel free to adapt the time and other variables as needed for your particular context.

Setting for a Safe Environment:

Set up the room with a small circle of chairs (4-8).

Set up microphone and appropriate number of chairs for interviewees in front of the room. 

Place Guidelines for the Conversation around the room in large print or on a projection screen (See Sample Guidelines for Courageous Conversations).

Needed:

  • Chairs and tables for small groups
  • Chairs for interviewees
  • Small crosses or some other markers to serve as talking sticks
  • Printout or screen for displaying Guidelines
  • Printout of prayers (See “Prayer Guide.”)
  • Drinks and snacks
     

Recommended:

  • Bell or chime for beginning and ending times of silence
  • Microphone to enable all to hear the speaker(s) clearly
     

Estimated Timeline:

The following is based on a 120-minute timeframe. Adjust as needed. This sample lesson, in particular, could be done in a retreat setting covering several hours if needed.

Opening Prayer (3 minutes)

Overview (10 minutes)

Setting Aside Baggage* (10 minutes)

Interview in the Presence of the Whole Group* (40 minutes)

Break (5 minutes)

Samoan Circle (35 minutes)

Large-Group Reflection (10 minutes)

Closing Prayer (2 minutes)


Courageous Conversation

Opening Prayer

Begin with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. This time of silence is important to center yourselves and mark the space and time as unique. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (For examples, see the Courageous Conversations Prayer Guide)

Overview

Give an overview of the main topic of discussion. Point out and read the conversation guidelines. Reinforce that this space is a safe place for people to freely express their opinions and perspectives.

Setting Aside Baggage*

Form people into small groups, with a maximum of three people to a group.  Allow each participant no more than two minutes to answer any or all of the following:

  • What is keeping you from being fully present today? 
  • What I hope for today is...
  • My greatest concern/fear regarding this is...
     

Remind the participants that this is a time of naming and listening, not for discussion – that will come later.

Interviews in the Presence of the Whole Group*

Interviews (30 minutes)

Decide the number of interviewees and questioner. These should be well-respected persons. There should be at least one interviewee per major perspective under discussion. The questioner, ideally, will be someone with interviewing skills and a person who is seen as neutral pertaining to the outcome. The participants should be silent during the interviews so that all perspectives receive equal weight.

  • Have the interviewees and questioner up front. The questioner should begin by allowing the interviewees to introduce themselves to establish rapport. (Asking a humorous or silly question could also release some of the tension in the room.)
  • Then move into a time for the interviewees to give their perspectives. The questioner should try and prod for places where the interviewees still have questions, what assumptions inform their opinions, and what is the importance of the issue to them.

Additional Interviews (10 minutes)

So that all voices might be heard, ask the participants if there are perspectives not named by the interviewees.

If there are other perspectives, invite those persons to move to the front to become additional interviewees. The questioner then interviews those who have moved to the front.

(Break)

Samoan Circle

Form a small circle of chairs at the front of the room. Each of the interviewees (including the additional interviewees if they wish) will sit in the circle. Add two additional chairs opposite each other as part of the circle for participants.

The questioner (or other facilitator) establishes the ground rules for the Samoan Circle:

  • Only those inside the circle can speak.  
  • All other participants are to remain silent.
  • The two empty chairs are for any of the participants.
  • If the participant chairs are occupied, additional participants who would like to speak may line up behind those chairs.
  • Once there are participants in line, those in the chairs should respect the wishes of others to enter the dialogue circle.
     

Remind the participants that this is a time of naming and listening, not for discussion – that will come later.

Large-Group Reflection Time

This time is for the larger group to reflect on the statements made during the Interview and Samoan Circle experiences.

This is the part of the exercise that will require the most from the facilitator. The facilitator should not voice any of his or her own opinions or comments, but encourage the freedom of various other perspectives. The facilitator’s role is also to clarify assumptions and issues for the group. Additionally, the facilitator will need to model calm when anxiety grows as the result of particular comments.

In the large group, the facilitator can use the following questions to move the group toward consensus and problem solving:

  • What is one strength of someone else’s opinion that has challenged you or that you would affirm?
  • What common values have surfaced?
  • What do we seem to agree on?
  • What actions could we agree to do as a result of this conversation?
     

If possible, ask participants to use a microphone when they speak so that everyone can hear. Give a time limit for how long each person may speak. One way to emphasize attentive listening is to have participants state only what others have stated. This is intended to keep people from stating their own perspectives (and often pet agendas).

Before ending, allow any participant who would like to answer in one sentence, “One thing that I will take with me from this conversation is…”

Closing Prayer

End with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (For examples, see the Courageous Conversations Prayer Guide)
 

*For more detailed instructions about these models, consult The Little Book of Cool Tools for Hot Topics by Ron Kraybill and Evelyn Wright.


Teachable Points about Church Conflict

The following is a minimal representation of teachable points. Be aware there are many others that could be included. The aim of these outlines is more about listening and uncovering assumptions than hosting a debate or passing on information. As noted in the Introduction to the Sample Courageous Conversation Outlines, the point is not providing more information or arriving at a consensus.

Scripture passages of note (a minor sampling)

  • Matthew 18:15-20 — Jesus advocates that we take our disagreements to each other and not hide behind immaturity. As well, Jesus encourages group discernment.
  • Matthew 22:34-40 — In response to the question as to which was the greatest commandment, Jesus gives two. It is often referred to as the Greatest Commandment – To love God with your whole being and to love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Acts 15:1-21 — Conflict and disagreements are not new to the Christian faith. Conflict is a part of life within a community of others. When the first believers had disagreements, they made time for silence and for listening (15:12).
  • 1 Corinthians 13:12 — None of us has perfect wisdom. Even the Apostle Paul advocated for humility in holding our opinions.
  • Ephesians 4:1-16 — Paul writes about the unity of the church being a gift. Paul also advocates that we live with “humility and gentleness…,” while also encouraging us to “speak the truth in love.”
  • James 1:19 — James encourages us to do what is often against our nature of being self-defensive – to listen first. We are better off getting curious, than getting mad.
     

Additional Resources

The following resources are not an endorsement of any particular viewpoint. Rather these are some of many potential resources that could be of benefit for those looking for more information or in help to broaden perspectives.

 
 

1 John Paul Lederach The Little Book of Conflict Transformation (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2003) 4. 


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