I'm just one voice

Picture this: a community has received a donation from a benevolent family. The sum is enough for them to consider purchasing a new property for a growing congregation. Three sites are possible and volunteers are stepping through the process of gathering data, exploring options and articulating what might be the best way forward. It’s exciting, a whole new opportunity for the church and a wide range of voices are weighing in. Everyone is optimistic about the possibilities that well be offered. No one person has decision-making authority about the purchase.

A decision is eventually made by a committee, the congregation moves, and within four years it has closed down. The following are excerpts of reflections by people who played a role in the decision-making.

Congregation member: “At the time it was hard to know what to base the decision on. What do you give priority to? I had a few doubts that I didn’t share, I was worried I might be wrong. … It wasn’t my decision to make and others seemed to know more. We spent so long thinking about the building that we almost didn’t remember what else we did, or how to return to normal once we had it.”

Synod rep: “Sure there were some big questions but I didn’t know what to say, it’s not my decision, it’s their project. The people on the ground need to discern on matters like this. Synod needs to be aware of its limits. We are criticised if we get too involved or put up barriers.”

Ministry agent: “The decision had taken so long already and to be honest, I just became desperate for any decision to be made. We were paralysed while we were just in limbo. People were tired of not knowing what was happening and the whole congregation was distracted by it. By the end I didn’t feel I could say anything against [the purchased property]. Even though my decision personally would have been different, I’m just one voice.”

Questions

  • When it comes to decision-making, who is best positioned to take part in the process?
  • How do you know when we need to speak up and when to listen?
  • What makes it difficult to voice an opinion?
  • How could you contribute in a situation where different voices need to be heard?
  • What are the times when you have seen collective decision-making done well? What gave people permission to participate and how was the fear of failure reduced so that people feel bought in to risky decisions?
  • Where should authority lie for decisions about property?

Wisdom from the pews

“Every voice across a project has value and a unique role to play, from the innovator to the supervisor, to the participants, to the local or regional accountability body. ”

“Engaging widely and valuing broad perspectives is a useful process for discerning effective ways forward, a helpful question to identify missing information ask is: Who isn’t in the room? Who isn’t being heard? ”

“Having the courage to share a perspective and to speak honestly is an important resource in the discernment process. Without this, it is difficult for wisdom to surface.”