The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”… it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Acts 15:6-11;25
Can you picture the scene? Church leaders gathered together discussing whether or not keeping the whole Law (sacrifices, circumcision and all) is to be a requirement for Jesus-followers or are Christians everywhere truly freed from the burden of the Law? What a pivotal moment in church history. Dusty sandals, arms spread open in prayer, murmurs of thoughts and input, debate including traditions and scripture and opinions, brotherly love extended in the midst of heated discussion.
How did they go from “no small dissension” to “in one accord” within the context of community? How messy could that discussion have been? I imagine it was quite complicated. Because people are complicated. Anytime more than one person is making a decision, the process is bound to be complicated. We are human and we come with different perspectives, personalities and experiences. My husband, an Enneagram 8, does not shy away from voicing opinions. I, on the other hand, would rather run in the opposite direction. It can be easier to make decisions on our own. Much harder as a group. Yet we must make decisions with the guidance of the Holy Spirit in community (whether it be between two people or ten) if we are to be a healthy, growing church.
I recently reread a thought-provoking and challenging book called Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. In it the authors explore how people who are excellent at communicating and handling difficult conversations do it. Among the many skills explored in the book is the idea that great communicators recognize a “shared pool of meaning.” Some people force their opinions into the pool while others may withhold their opinions – both are usually motivated by fear. Our goal as communicators within community should be to create a safe space where all feel welcomed to respectfully add to the pool of meaning for the purpose of contributing to the group’s best interest and best potential decision. This requires a respect for and invitation for others to share their stories and a willingness for us to truly listen.
Is there a relationship struggle you are in right now that could benefit from you humbly listening to the other person’s story? Is there a conversation you know needs to happen but you’re afraid of how to move forward? I encourage you today to first, ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and motivation to bravely communicate with that person and second, to seek out resources such as Crucial Conversations to help guide you along the way.
By Ellen Rosenberger