the weblog of Alan Knox

Modeling an environment among the church that encourages others to speak

Posted by on Nov 12, 2011 in comment highlights, discipleship | Comments Off

Modeling an environment among the church that encourages others to speak

On my post “Discernment: Part of the edifying process of the church gathering,” Art left a very encouraging and challenging comment. In the comment, he offered some examples of how discernment worked among the groups of believers that he meets with.

In response to his comment, I asked the following: “Among many Christians, there is a concern about being “right” about everything they say. Many will not say anything because they might be wrong or someone else may disagree with them. I’ve had difficulty helping people overcome that. Any suggestions?”

Art then responded with the comment below:

I remind myself of various things, such as:

Without meaning to, we often model being right, and speaking/teaching very thoroughly/well. We studied hard to prepare, we know things that may not readily stand out, and we say way too much when it is “our turn.” When you don’t know or see several ways of taking things, say so. Puzzle out loud. Admit some lack of clarity when it is there. Rather than impressing them as a competent TEACHER/PASTOR/PREACHER, we need to reveal our own inadequacies and struggles as real people. Model reality, not caricatures that no one lives up to.

Don’t dismiss someone who disagrees with you–model being wrong, or possibly being wrong–without fanfare. When someone disagrees with you, take a breath, get small before our God, and ask them to explain more, seek to understand them, and leave it at “not sure now” or “never saw it that way” etc. if that is really the case if you were honest with yourself before God. No one needs false confidence.

When we aren’t experts and accept being wrong (or at least being unsure), that makes it safer for others to be that way. It also means that their own lack of knowledge is no reason for not following God with abandon.

And I wonder where the fear of being right comes from–underneath the “importance of handling scripture rightly,” and underneath all the other fears, such as the fear of speaking in public, the fear of failure, and the fear of looking foolish. Can it be the underlying issue is acceptance? Performance based acceptance is pretty much a cultural anchor most people carry, with attendant wounds and scars.

Whatever is going in within us, any hint of negative response to what anyone shares will heighten fears–especially in the beginning, where people aren’t experienced interacting in this way together. People also catch on to disingenuous affirmation with similar reaction. While we should be careful not to evaluate things said as “right” or “wrong,” we should also take care not to lay value their view as “good” or “interesting” or, “That’s one way of putting it.” Honest reactions are OK, just don’t be patronizing. You have to be in touch with yourself if you want to touch others. Too often, our encouragements to others are just performance enhancers for ourselves–where we are more concerned with how we look as leaders facilitating a discussion, than who we are as simple, fellow disciples who make mistakes and are fragile, too.

Those who struggle often aren’t used to being listened to. I’ve seen more than one person tear up when they start making sense and people start responding to what they share.

When someone is timid or hesitant, don’t evaluate or affirm what they say at all. Instead, we affirm them and state the obvious. “This is hard for you, isn’t it?” “You aren’t used to speaking in a group, are you?” “You don’t have to be a TV pastor with this–none of us are!” It can be helpful to let them take a new perspective by asking things like:

“How would you explain this to a small child?”

“How do you think your (mom/dad/friends/pastor) might have understood/understand this verse?”

“What one thing jumps out at You? Why”

“How does this verse make you feel? Why?”

“How would this look in real life?”

This fear of being wrong or even speaking up seems to be heightened in a large group, so getting people started sharing in a smaller size group is helpful.

Using the discussion method I’ve described above has proven very helpful. Everyone takes a turn, so everyone is supportive and patient. In an hour, you can visibly see signs of people finding confidence, surprising themselves with their thinking and putting ideas into words. In a few weeks/months, the capabilities are very different than when they began.

How do you model an environment (among other believers) that encourages them to speak? What do you do (how do you respond) if you think someone is wrong? Do you expect everyone to teach using the same resources and methods that you use? If so, why? If not, how do you express that other resources and methods are valid as well?