At the last day of our Canadian Council of Churches gathering we talked of process. Some churches want to move to agreement and forge ahead with advocacy around issues like poverty, housing, refugee support, disarmament, and other social challenges. Some churches would prefer to take their time, differing to a consensus model, praying, listening to one another, sharing statements made by our respective church bodies. As someone who generally would fall into the former group I have learned here the value of taking time. Issues like death and dying are a good example. Even though we could not find consensus on pieces of that issue we were able to come to a common voice on palliative care. Had we rushed to decision making we would surely have missed finding the common voice on an important part of this issue.
Those of us who leap to content over process do have legitimate concerns. In non-profit groups, which includes churches, if there is more focus on process than outcomes, the morale and enthusiasm of said group does wane. Process people can come to believe that good process is content and walk away feeling much has been accomplished even if concrete action is completely mission or deferred to a later date (skeptics like me hear language like deferred dates as similar to people who overeat over Christmas holidays assuring others that in the new year they will make up for overindulgence with rigorous exercise, “deferred dates.”
But content people do need to hear that some need the space and permission to share their views. These expressions are cathartic and can self-reveal insights that allow the person to move to action. Likewise the sharing of these views can change hearts and minds and move the community to action. I never appreciate it when people arrive at a meeting with the sentiment, “OK, let’s vote!” It’s as if listening to the other might threaten the strongly held belief, begging the question how thoughtful the point-of-view was in the first place.
Conversations like this, done in this way, is a way of arriving at a deeper place, an outcome that is more likely to have a lasting effect. People voting on an issue who feel their views have been heard are more likely to take that decision back to their bodies with determination. If a minority know their view is not likely to carry the day having their voices heard in a full and patient way can lead to insights by those in the majority. The result is then “owned” by all in the room.
Process need not be a debating society or an exercise in endless personal sharing. One thing that truly drives us content people to distraction are voices that have little to do with the issue at hand and more to do with ourselves. This kind of process is not helpful to the interests of deep content. Surely process and content people can agree on this.
Listening, sharing, honouring, these are all ingredients to a more authentic and just decision.