Tag Archives: consensus

God’s Will: Keeping the “What” and the “When” Together

Tuesday Re-mix –

Last Summer (2011) will go down forever in the scrapbook of the Coffee household.  It was crazy!  Between May 10 and May 28 (just 18 days), my older daughter graduated from ACU, my younger daughter graduated from MacArthur High School, and my older daughter got married!  That whole month is just a hazy flash in my memory.  But it was not over.  To top all of that off, my younger daughter was driving with a friend through our neighborhood in the middle of a weekday morning and got hit by a drunk driver.  Timing is everything.

The car accident happened at an intersection. My daughter was actually the second car to go through the intersection. The drunk driver blew through a red light and totalled my daughter’s car. My daughter and her friend were (thankfully) spared any serious injury. If the drunk driver had come a second or two sooner, she would have missed us altogether. If she had come a second later, she would have done serious (maybe fatal) damage to my daughter. We have all thanked God for his perfect timing. Timing is everything.

Sometimes it takes circumstances like this to help us appreciate just how important God’s timing is. That is particularly true in the church.

I have lost count of how many conflicted congregations with whom I have worked who struggled in one way or another with God’s timing. Here are some examples:

Moving forward on a narrow majority “vote”…

Paralyzed by caution and missing an important ministry opportunity…

Forging ahead with huge changes without building the necessary consensus…

Making the right decision in committee but fumbling the communication out to the rest of the church…

The pastor weighing in too soon on a controversial issue…

The pastor weighing in too late on …

The Multiple-Choice Pastor Search

Tuesday Re-mix –

I always preferred essay tests when I was in school (duh, I became a writer).  I didn’t like the “objective” tests, because I felt like they weren’t as accurate in measuring how well I knew the material, at least for material that is thick in concepts and not-so-thick in memorizable facts.  In law school, I became even more opposed to objective tests…we called them “multiple guess” tests…it seemed always about finding the “least wrong answer”.  Give me an essay test, please!

I feel that same way when it comes to eliciting information from a person or a group of people.  If learning what is on their minds is important to me, I would much rather sit down and have a conversation with them than give them an objective survey.  And I especially feel that same way when it comes to discerning God’s will as a church…my concept of God’s will just does not lend itself to a series of multiple-choice questions.

And yet, the conventional wisdom (and literature) for Pastor Search efforts is to do just such a written survey to your church in order to develop a profile for your pastoral candidates.  The problem with asking your church objective, demographic questions like “Place a check next to the age range you think our next pastor should be?” is that, invariably, once all the results are tabulated, what your church ends up telling you is that they want a 40-year-old pastor with 30 years of pastoral experience…and a big, red “S” on his chest would be nice as well!  Good luck with that.

Objective surveys may be mildly effective (not greatly effective, but mildly so) at figuring out what the people wantbut not so much at figuring out what God wants. For that, if you …

Figuring it All Out…Together

Tuesday Re-mix –

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. I Corinthians 13:12

Blind men and puzzleImagine being locked in a dark room with a bunch of other people with whom you must work together to find a way out.  There are obstacles and opportunities throughout the room, but they are difficult to see.  You truly must rely on each other to feel your way through the room, exploring every corner and piecing together the information accumulated by the group.  In such a scenario, your chances of figuring it out all by yourself without anyone else’s help are slim to none.  But together, it can be done.

That is very much like discerning the will of God together as a church body.  For now, when it comes to seeing Spiritual truths, we all see as through a glass dimly.  We are never so arrogant as when we proudly proclaim to the world that we have seen the will of God all by ourselves, and that we clearly understand it better than anyone else.  In this age of the church, that does not seem to be God’s desire.  Rather, He apparently intends that we would learn to come to Him together, seeking His truths together, and gently massaging those truths into one another.

But that process can be truly frustrating, especially in times of conflict.  Working with a conflicted congregation, I often wonder why God doesn’t just make an appearance  in their worship service one Sunday morning and tell them exactly what He is thinking about them and what He wants them to do.  Frankly, it would be a lot easier for them –if not a little …

What Constitutes “Consensus”?

Tuesday Re-mix –

I remember well the very first meeting of our last pastor search committee at my own church.  We prayed together and then we discussed process.  One thing we all agreed on was that we were trying to discern the will of a sovereign God, and that was no small task.  We agreed that we would not act on a simple majority vote.  Rather that we should act only upon “consensus”.  Then one of us (and I don’t recall who it was) asked a very natural question: if there are nine of us on this committee, what number constitutes consensus?  Great question.  I’m not sure we ever came to a  consensus about how to answer it.

Just as soon as your church purposes to find God’s will by a “consensus” process rather than a simple majority vote, that question immediately comes to the surface: how exactly do we define “consensus”? Is it necessarily the same as “unanimous” or is it something less than unanimous but more than a majority?

puzzle-consensus

This is another place where our puzzle metaphor is a bit enlightening.  It makes “consensus” easy to understand.  “Consensus” simply means that we have enough puzzle pieces in place to leave no doubt about what the picture is.  We can still work to add the other pieces, but it is crystal clear to everyone  (not just a few, but everyone) what the puzzle is showing us.  In that instance, then, it is not so much about a specific number of pieces, because the number will change, depending upon which pieces we have in place.  If we have a 56-piece puzzle (like the one pictured here), how many pieces do we need in place before everyone can see and understand the picture?  55?  50?  40?  Again, it depends.

Defining consensus …

The Frustration of Missing Pieces

Tuesday Re-mix

One of my “go away and do nothing” places is the beach near Port Aransas, Texas.  My in-laws own a condo down there and it has been my family’s tradition to go down there for a few days every Fall after the vacation season is over and it’s not quite so crowded.  The agenda for those few days is pretty simple: do nothing.  We go to the beach and do nothing, or we go to the pool and do nothing, or we sit in the room and do nothing.  It is wonderful.

Among the “nothingness” we do, there is always a jigsaw puzzle sitting on the coffee table, waiting to be put together.  We rarely get it all put together, but nobody seems to mind.  It is just something kind of mindless to do while we are doing nothing.  One of the challenges to putting together a puzzle is when there are missing pieces.  You don’t actually know there are missing pieces unless you get all the other pieces in place.  Otherwise, you just figure this one critical piece you’ve been looking for is just mixed in somewhere with all the other pieces.  It can be frustrating.

That can be frustrating in the church as well.  We cannot seem to find peace about this decision or that decision, we cannot seem to be in consensus about what God wants for us because we still do not have the entire picture.  There are pieces missing to the puzzle…people not here.  We may not even know there are missing pieces, but there are.

Actually, in most of our churches, we do know there are missing pieces.  Very few churches in America get more than 50%-60% involvement from their membership.  We may have 1000 names on our roles, but only 500 …

How the Puzzle Pieces of God’s Will Fit Together

Tuesday Re-mix:

(This is the next in a series of posts about discerning God’s will together as a church body.)

Nine blind men stand in a circle, with an elephant standing in the middle.  They are asked, “What is it that stands among you?”  The blind man who is in the front of the elephant reaches up and feels and says, “It is a large hose of some kind.”  The blind man standing behind the elephant reaches and feels and says, “No, it is more like a rope of some kind, attached to something very large.”  One of the blind men standing on one side reaches up and feels and says, “No, it is neither a hose nor a rope…it is a large wall, with hair on it.”  Which of them is right and which of them is wrong?  They are all right.  But they are all wrong. From ancient India, author unknown

If the key to building consensus in the church is to stay focused on God’s will (and not our will), then the biggest challenge becomes, well, the fact that we are talking about God’s will.  It is a challenge because we  are uncomfortable trying to reach agreement with each other about God’s will.  If I say God’s will for us is “ABC” and you say God’s will for us is “XYZ”, then we have conflict.  And in the worst of circumstances, we begin to question one another’s walk with the Lord.  So, rather than risk that kind of conflict, it is easier to just take a vote and let the majority rule.  That way, we can bypass God’s will all together and just follow the will of the people.

puzzle-pieces-fitting

But as our nine blind men from ancient India teach us, “ABC” and “XYZ” are not necessarily conflicting …

Solving the Puzzle of God’s Will for Your Church (When My Piece Is Not Critical)

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

My girls grew up with Disney.  Being girls, it was always the Disney heroines which had their attention: Belle, Ariel, Jasmyn, Mulan, and of course, Cinderella and Snow White.  But it was when we started putting Disney character puzzles together that I made an important discovery: with the obvious exception of the “ethnic” differences, all the princesses’ faces looked the same.  So if you are putting together a puzzle and you have the piece that shows just the face, it doesn’t tell you much about which puzzle you have.  Is it Cinderella or Aurora?  Is it Belle or Ariel?  No way to tell…not without the other pieces.

puzzle-piece

Isn’t that always the case with puzzles?  There are some pieces which end up being critical to finding out what the picture is and then there are pieces which do not end up helping that much, like the piece at the very bottom right hand corner that has the words “Milton Bradley” on it…doesn’t really tell us much about the picture.

Putting together the puzzle which is God’s will for your church on a given issue is like that.  We all bring a piece to the table.  We would each like to think that our particular piece is critical to this picture, that it will determine the big picture for the whole church.  We each examine our individual piece and begin extrapolating and speculating about what the big picture must surely be: “I have the most important piece, the one that tells the entire story…this must be a picture of Milton Bradley!” Then, when we begin looking at all the other pieces and see how far off our own piece is from the big …

Solving the Puzzle of God’s Will for Your Church (Introduction)

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

“There are two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘Fine, have it your way.'” C.S. Lewis

I have often compared the process of finding consensus in a congregation to that of piecing together a jigsaw puzzle.  If every believer truly does have the Spirit of God living in him/her, then he/she has access to at least a part of what God is doing in that church.  I am one who believes that, in His time and in His ways, God desires to make known to His church what He is about.  In other words, I believe God wants us as a church to understand His assignment for us, and I believe He gives us that understanding through much more than just the pastor or elders or deacons…He reveals His will for our church through the entire church.

puzzleIn that sense, then, discerning our next step as a church is less about taking a vote (voting on God’s will is a little like voting on what time it is) and more about learning to hear God speak through everyone.  It is very much as if each of us has been given a piece to a large puzzle and we see the picture of that puzzle only as we each bring our one piece to the table and see how it fits with everyone else’s.  It is not so much a single event as it is a process.  Building consensus in the church is as simple…and as difficult…as learning to hear God speak through every Spirit-filled person among us, and then seeing the collective picture which begins to …