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More churches are using consensus instead of voting. One example, Epiphany Lutheran, Rock Hill, SC, is using consensus voting. Since moving to the permission-giving structure, they have not voted once, in any arena. They agreed that this was the best way. They do no have “congregational meetings,” to vote. They have “information gatherings,” to share information with the congregation and to get their feedback. In the first half year of their new structure, they have done remarkably well. Epiphany began public worship in February, 1990.
Woodland United Methodist Church in MN used Morris’ book and other materials to learn the discernment-consensus building model a couple of years ago. The process has been helpful as they begin to revision an eighty year old congregation. People seem less threatened as they participate in the discernment process.
Arvada Presbyterian in Arvada Colorado is working toward consensus building and discernment. They have been using discernment models from Chuck Olsen book Transforming Church Boards and more recently Discerning the Will of God by Chuck and Danny Morris. According to the pastor: We have determined a month in advance that we are going to take issue through the discernment process. We define the issue and ask each member of our 24 member session to pray and to begin to think of Biblical material that relates to the issue.
We then agree that we will be in consensus before we take any action. And that we are willing to let go of our own personal desires and seek the will of God. This may take some time another meeting to get to that point. Then we will share the Biblical, theological resources and our historical tradition around the issue. This is done without doing any debate, or suggesting solutions. After we have spent as much as an hour doing that, we are generally ready for some centering prayer and asking God to lead us. We then list different options without debating them. After we have exhausted the options, we go back to prayer for God’s leading.
Sometimes at that meeting or the next we ask if any ones has a sense of God’s leading. Sometimes there will be three or 4 options. Sometimes consensus comes almost immediately. If there are still various options the next step is to see if we can make each of the options the best it can be. We will evaluate each in terms of its fruit and its appeal. We return to prayer. And seek God’s lead. Asking again if we have a sense of God’s leading.
On one occasion we ended up with two options not in opposition but both equally good. We decided God would be pleased with either so we flipped a coin. On another occasion we selected one of our board who had been basically listening to make the final decision. In both cases all were in agreement to support the final option.
One of the most exciting experiences was a time when we had spent three different meeting on the issue of our summer schedule. When we would seek leading we would be all over the water front. I had reached the conclusion that we would not find consensus. I said as much but suggested we go one more time to prayer before abandoning the issues for that year. When we ended the time of silence, I asked if anyone had a leading from God. One man articulated a possibility that had not been put up on the news print in three meetings. Another said I was thinking the same thing, another as well, and suddenly we had consensus. We sat there almost stunned and then I said “Praise be to God!” Someone started to applaud and the whole session ended up on its feet applauding. With no few tears shed. There was a real sense God’s presence in the at time and the results of that program change what been phenomenal.
This process has dramatically changed the feel of the whole congregation. There is a high level of feeling that we are being lead in our life together. Families and individuals have started using discernment for their own issues.