Church Innovations’ Partners Post

June 26, 2009

Once in awhile you’ve gotta check in

In the past two months I’ve read 257 interviews, sat on 17 reading teams, and written 15 reports. All of those interviews were completed in order to get snapshots of the cultures of organizations or congregations.  All of the interviewees  (I am assuming) were good Christian people who were willing to speak and be heard.  All of the interviewers (I am assuming) were good Christian people who were willing to really labor, really listen, in order to free others to speak. 

And in each of the 15 reports I wrote and then digested along with their recipients, there were surprises. Amazements.  “I thought we’d hear about that, for sure!”  “We thought people would say X, but they said Y and Z instead!” “Why isn’t anyone describing the fish dinners or the strawberry festival?”

Sometimes I wonder, like my late friend, Rita, about what fences in our neighborhood have cost us, making it tough to follow the children as they lope from yard to yard, running into and chatting with their parents as you meander through.  I wonder what long commutes in cars or even buses have cost us.  I wonder what shyness and discomfort in the presence of others has cost us. 

It’s very expensive, not knowing what your neighbors think. Not knowing what your fellow congregation members wish for. Not knowing what your colleagues at work would love to see happen there.  If Church Innovations’ very most valuable gift to the people and places we work with has been Dwelling in the Word, perhaps the second most valuable gift is that, in order to do Discovery, people have to really listen to one another.  No wonder they’re surprised at what they hear. They just don’t have that many occasions to do it.

June 10, 2009

Knots: Comparative Safety in the Storm

People on sailing vessels know how dangerous a life at sea can be. How do they cope? By tying knots. It’s a simple act – one that is practiced over and over and over again during calm times, so that when the storm rages, they can do it with ease.

Some knots secure things. Some knots hold temporarily and then slip at just the right moment. Some hold one thing down so that other things can move. These knots are simple but complex. They are deceptively easy but they hold the whole system together.


The same might be said of spiritual habits like Dwelling in the Word and doing spiritual discernment. These simple acts, practiced when a group is in calm weather, become the simple practices that focus attention and keep some things like anxiety and fear lashed to the foundation in order to let the Spirit move. When have you recently practiced tying the knot of Dwelling? Spiritual discernment? Why not today?

June 4, 2009

Addressing vs Conversing

Politicians, whenever they speak, address some community.  It seems inevitably one-way.  The result is a corporate (communal) experience, a message waiting to fall on receptive ears.  If we’re lucky, such a message invites us to open up doors and windows, to listen and speak beyond that moment.

When I read in our congregational discovery interviews people’s stories about how their church fights, it’s the one-way stuff they hate. It’s the one-way stuff that seems to leave them out.  If they’re truly open, it makes them long for more and better conversation.  If they’re passive-aggressive, it’s something they store up and use against the person who erred in that direction – the pastor, the council president, the head of Sunday School, the music director…

Everyone desires to be heard.  What kind of communication in your congregation is designed to deeply listen to people? How do you make room for that activity in these busy days?  And, and this is important, how do you listen not only to members but to strangers?

Peace.  Pat Taylor Ellison

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