To Love is to Listen

Jan 7, 2021Community, Listening, love

We understand what it feels like not be heard. We love our church, both what it was then and who we are now. So did others who didn’t agree with our discernment about affordable housing.

Hearing ‘no’ in that moment may have hurt for a bit. It didn’t change the fact that something needed to be done.

We were at a tipping point. Our decline in membership was noticeable. Fewer people were showing up. The building was falling into some disrepair. Financially, we were okay for the moment. However, we lacked shared vision about the future.

After some reflection, mediation, and conversation, we chose to listen. If our idea wasn’t going to move forward, then something needed to take its place. We enrolled in the New Beginnings program of the PC(USA).

New Beginnings was a church revitalization program. It was created to help churches assess their strengths and develop vision. It also looked at barriers to change and challenges to doing effective ministry. 

The first duty of love is to listen.

Paul Tillich

Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.

James 1:19

With New Beginnings you received an assessment and training by a consultant. The assessment helped you understand your community and context. The training taught you how to facilitate meaningful and difficult conversations. Those leaders conducted house meetings to discuss the future of the church. From there we were challenged to make choices about what came next.

Like all church programs and consultations there are strengths and limitations. Data and knowledge are different from discernment. New Beginnings gave us a lot of data. It also gave us some common language.

We held house groups that allowed people to open up and speak. As one member put it, it reminded her of marriage counseling. It helped us talk, breathe, and wonder. Good counseling is predicated on the ability to communicate. It helps us talk and listen to one another.

Our hope was that by listening to one another a vision would emerge. Our results were mixed. Some groups became echo chambers. Others were more mixed. These included people who wanted to embark on the radical change of building affordable housing, and others who knew things needed to change but didn’t want to commit to something that big. New Beginnings gave us the pause we needed to have conversation. However, we were left to our own devices to figure out what came next.

That is the difficulty of hiring consultants and working through programs. A one-size fits all approach isn’t personal or contextual. That said, you get out of a program what you put into it.

We learned that it was important for us to listen. People needed a voice in the process. We learned that good discernment requires us to be open to listening and talking.

It was hard to know something needed to change and that not everyone would be happy. New Beginnings was a bridge. It filled in some gaps. It gave us a sense that we wanted to start again. We wanted to redefine our mission as a member of the South Arlington community.