After a few years in my congregation, I realized I had a major, however, hidden problem…
My church didn’t know how to disagree.
This may not seem like a problem on the surface. What pastor wouldn’t be thrilled by a church that jumped right on board with their requests and was quick to respond in the affirmative to a query.
The problem is… not all my ideas are that great. And instead of really tackling an issue and building consensus, a quick yes with no discussion was getting us no where. No one gained ownership. The formation of better and stronger ideas through brainstorming was not being accomplished. I learned a quick yes was far worse than a toughly battled over no.
There was an underlying issue that was at the root of this “problem.” A church with a history of conflict was finally in a place of peace. No one wanted to rock the boat. No one wanted to disagree for fear of starting a whole new season of problems. It was easier to say, “okay,” than to step up and take the risk.
A culture of yes, however is just as harmful as a culture of no. I could never be sure if people really agreed with an idea or were just too unsure of themselves to say anything. It is eerie having an administrative board meeting that only takes 15 minutes because everyone votes up the agenda items without discussion.
This past winter, I gathered our leadership together to begin tackling the problem. I wanted to let them know it was okay to disagree. It was okay to have an opinion. This was a safe place to raise questions and bring up different ideas.
So we played a little game: Early Bird vs. Second Mouse.
I had found the game on a site full of ice-breakers, but I knew instantly that it would be helpful. The group was divided into two opposing sides and each was tasked with defending a statement. One half of the room had to prove “The early bird gets the worm” and the other half had to support “The second mouse gets the cheese.”
Each statement has its own merits. And it wasn’t anything that any of our folks would take personally.
Second, each group had to figure out how to present their position to the other half of the group and myself, the impartial judge. I was amazed at their energy, their humor, and their abundance of good and thoughtful responses.
At the end, we asked if anyone had been swayed by the other side’s argument. One or two did say that they naturally felt like the other side fit more in line with their own life philosophy, so it was hard to defend their own statement.
It was a good conversation, but then I took it a step deeper. I asked them why they thought we were playing this game. And I asked them to think of the last time they disagreed in a meeting.
In the end, we laid out some ground rules for future conversations and I think we instilled a sense of safety and comfort for some of the hard decisions we would face later in the year.
It was a fun morning of disagreement. And I say that because I firmly believe that conflict is not in and of itself a bad thing.