Introduction to Sample Courageous Conversation Outlines
The following are samples of what a Courageous Conversation might look like in a local church setting. They are samples designed with flexibility in mind. In one sample, you might see the use of a guest speaker. If you do not have a guest speaker, look at another sample to see how to use the time to maximize participant dialogue. If a sample does not have a guest speaker included, but you have a speaker, then choose a sample that includes a guest speaker.
Tools such as covenants or guidelines (see below) along with clearly articulating the expectations help participants anticipate both the purpose and the tone of a Courageous Conversations. Courageous Conversations will not likely solve societal issues or result in unity of perspective. The aim to provide structure for listening, help participants learn from one another, and grow in empathy.
The aim with these sample lessons is to promote dialogue in a nurturing, learning environment where participants can bravely own their voice with humble conviction, uncover assumptions, and respectfully listen to alternative perspectives. These sample lessons are not Bible studies, primarily about giving information, or reaching consensus. These lessons are designed with the goal for participants to be more aware of and assess their assumptions (right and wrong). Assumptions can be obvious to one person and unconvincing to the next person. For example, if I were to assume that all rich people were misers and ungenerous, I would be startled to encounter a generous, wealthy individual. Consequently, I would have to reassess assumptions about wealthy people and hopefully hold my opinion with more humility and begin to develop a deeper sense of empathy.
See Sample Guidelines for Courageous Conversations to set expectations regarding the manner in which the conversation should take place.
The environment of the gathering can speak as loudly as any verbal statement. Circles and small round tables set the expectation that participants will have the opportunity to speak (and hopefully be heard).
Symbols such as crosses, Bibles, and Communion elements remind us of God’s presence and remind us about the manner in which we are to speak during the conversations.
Consider providing snacks and music. Post the Guidelines for the conversations to provide a helpful visual reminder for people.
All the samples begin with at least one opening exercise that will help participants warm up to the topic. The opening exercise gives people an opportunity for short and informal experiences in speaking and listening and for centering on the topic at hand. Although spontaneity should be a part of this time, participants should have been introduced to the guidelines, and they should begin practicing them.
There are several options for the main exercises. Choose the ones you need, depending on your context. Not all exercises are equal. Keep in mind dynamics such as the freedom participants have in vocalizing their perspectives and the ability to moderate the discussion to honor each person’s stance. Introverts usually prefer a smaller, reflective setting, while extroverts like to work out their thoughts verbally. Be aware that while extroverts might express frustration with the structures put in place, many introverts will quietly give thanks. Putting in place structures to develop new habits for intentional listening and developing empathy is often resisted or dismissed as not needed.
A closing exercise will help people process what they have heard during the gathering. It might also be a time for participants to connect what they have heard with their everyday lives.
Use of Scripture
In many of the sample lessons, the role of Scripture is intentionally not emphasized. Please don’t conclude that Scripture is unimportant or tangential to Courageous Conversations. Scripture should be used for critical reflection regarding contentious issues, but it should not be misused. Pastors and/or design teams should assign Scriptures as needed for their context. Pastors should serve as Theologians-in-Residence for their church and are encouraged to use a design team in selecting Scripture to foster participation and ownership in the process. As United Methodists, we believe “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation” (Article V, Articles of Religion) and “the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation” (Article IV, “The Holy Bible,” Confession of Faith). The Book of Discipline also reminds us “While we acknowledge the primacy of Scripture in theological reflection, our attempts to grasp its meaning always involve tradition, experience, and reason” (¶105, p. 82).