Originally posted Nov. 11, 2012, at faith in community. Republished with permission of the author.
I started reading a book recently. It’s called “Holy Conversations,” and it’s about strategic planning in congregations.
You might think, “Why write about a book that you have barely started reading?” That would be a good question.
We will be embarking on a strategic planning process in my congregation soon. The other pastor thought that this was the process we should use to go through the process at our church. He wanted me to get ahead on the reading, so that I could help discern the right mix of people to be a part of the conversations.
Coincidentally, I already had a copy of the book. I’ve been thinking about strategic planning as a spiritual discipline for a while.
So, while reading this book at the end of last week, one sentence struck me, and made me think: “The plan does not transform the congregation; the conversation transforms the congregation.”
I’m not sure that I’ve ever really intentionally thought about it this way, but I immediately realized that it was true: Conversations transform us. Conversations change the way we think and feel, and affect who we become. It isn’t always or necessarily a positive transformation, either.
I remember the conversations I overheard as a young girl — the arguments between two of my uncles: one a staunch Democrat and proud sixth-grade teacher, and the other an extremely conservative Republican (he used to remind us that the founding fathers only intended landowners to vote). Listening in on those conversations affected my politics, made me both fascinated by politics and anxious about political fights.
Of course, the more powerful conversations are the ones in which we are active conversation partners, listening and speaking, telling and hearing stories. Perhaps these are the ones called “holy conversations,” where we dare to take time to find out what is important to one another, what we agree about, where we disagree.
When I think about it, I realize how seldom we really have a “holy conversation” with one another. I wonder why it is, and the first thought that comes into my mind is this: We don’t have time. We are busy people, and it’s hard to find the time to sit still, look into each other’s eyes, see the image of God in each other’s faces, and know who we really are.
But I don’t think that’s the only reason we so seldom engage in a holy conversation. I think it’s also because it is risky to find out that we don’t all agree with one another (and I’m not just talking about politics, here, not even mainly).
Perhaps it’s easier to assume that we all agree: about which hymns are the best to sing, which way we should pray, how we should reach out and serve, which community issues should most define our discipleship. There’s a risk to finding out that your community contains a diversity of pieties as well as politics.
But even riskier is this: I suspect that in a truly holy conversation, all participants are open to being transformed. What will happen to me if I listen to an older person tell me of their experience of the liturgy and how it has formed them, or if I hear a new member talk about what it means to feel welcomed, or excluded, by the way we worship?
I just had a conversation with a woman who brings her granddaughter to church with her on occasion. She told me that her granddaughter would like to go to church more often, but it’s hard because “she doesn’t know what’s going on.” This statement cuts me to the quick, which is the beginning of transformation.
So we’re going to do this thing called ”strategic planning,” and I don’t know much about what it will look like yet. But, as we move along, I will be reminding myself again and again that it is not the plan that will transform us. It is the conversations, the holy conversations that will transform us, turning us again and again, back to God, and back to one another.
Find a link to Diane Roth’s blog faith in community at Lutheran Blogs.