What Constitutes “Consensus”?

August 10, 2010

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 is never quite as easy as counting votes.  Rather, it is simply an understanding by everyone of what exactly is taking shape among us.  I may not like the picture, I may not like how my piece fits in the picture, but I can see clearly what the picture looks like.

That is the definition of consensus.  And that is the point at which we can say we have rightly discerned God’s will as a church.  Until then, we do not know the will of God, or maybe a few of us do know it but we do not yet have God’s timing.  Either way, we are not ready to move.

Back to my search committee experience…there were some on our committee who recognized immediately when they had met our next pastor.  I can still remember Julie’s testimony after being the first to go and hear him preach: “I just heard our next pastor, I’m ready to vote.” And she was right.  But she was one of nine, and it would be months later before it became God’s timing to reveal to all of us His will.  We waited for consensus.  And it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever had the privilege of being a part of in my life.

© Blake Coffee

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