We can all do a pretty good job of getting along when everything is going our way. We can enjoy time with people and think they are pretty good friends. Life is good when no one challenges me or my ideas. But what do we do when someone we thought we were on good terms with ends up on the opposite side of an issue?
The church I am presently serving is facing an issue that is fairly divisive. I won’t tell you what the issue is. You can insert your own issue as I address how we are attempting to maintain unity even as we deal with a divisive issue.
- Clarify the Issue
Whatever the issue is that you as a church or organization or team are facing, make sure that you clarify the issue. We thought we had been quite clear on the issue, but we realized that even after weeks of talking about it, people were confused. Do everything you can to make sure everyone knows exactly what you are talking about.
I remember a story of three men going into business together. They had rented a building and were setting up their restaurant. And then a problem arose. One of the men started talking about where he wanted the buffet area. A second interrupted him and told him clearly that a buffet was not part of the plan. They were going to have people come to the counter to order and pick up their meals. By now the third man was getting a little agitated. “I thought this was a fish and chips place!” We have to clarify the issue, and sometimes it means talking about it again and again to get down to what the real issue is so effective communication can take place.
2. Gather Supporting Information
For us, this was a decision that would affect some of our bylaws, so we had to make sure people understood what the bylaw was that was affected by the decision we were about to make. It was an issue that we believed had spiritual connotations, so we made sure to provide documents to our membership with scripture verses and explanations of how they spoke into the question at hand. We did some historical checking to see how this situation had been handled in the past. We even contacted our denominational office to get their input.
We made sure to pray about this event. We encouraged people to pray on their own, we prayed about it in our services, and we prayed about it at leadership meetings. We prayed about it at discussion meetings we had regarding this question. We asked God to give us clarity and unity in the process.
4. Discussion Events
We hosted one formal evening of discussion on the topic. We recognized that there were people on either side of the question. Each side felt they had scriptural backing to why they believed what they believed. We determined not to enter into a debate. We did not want to set up a situation where we caused people to publicly take sides against each other. So we arranged for a time to carefully look at both sides of the issue. We invited people to speak up, but only in a positive way. No one was allowed to speak against an issue, they could only speak for their side. In this way, everyone was given opportunity to speak into the issue without it being against an individual.
As an aside, it was very encouraging to me as we ended that Discussion Evening, that many present stated their commitment to the unity of the church even if the vote did not go their way when decision time came. They were more concerned about protecting unity as one family or body, than about fighting for their point of view!
5. Make a Decision
At some point you have to decide how you will answer the question at hand. Like us, you may want to have a formal vote by the membership. You will need to decide at which level of authority in your church or organization that decision needs to be made. We encouraged our people to vote as their conscience directed after all the discussion and prayer we had. And then, whatever way the vote went, we trusted that God spoke into our situation and moved ahead according to the results of the vote.
Once a decision has been made, it is important to recognize that not everyone will agree with the decision as you move forward. Be alert to situations where people are having a hard time accepting the decision and take time to walk them as they process the results. You may need to meet with some individuals who are slow in processing the results so that you can help them move forward, encouraging them to trust God will continue to walk with us even as we trusted him to guide our decision process.
May God guide you with divisive issues you face. Too often, we become so closely tied to the issue that we would rather cause disunity than lose out on a vote. May God guide you and help you maintain unity as you too work through issues that could divide.
I would love to hear how you have worked through divisive issues and what worked for you. Let me know. Comment or email me.
Keep looking up,