by Bobbi Smisko, spiritual director and member of Methacton Mennonite Church
In hopes of expanding my understanding of our Anabaptist leanings in decision-making process, I attended Franconia Conference’s God-Centered Decision-Making Workshop held on April 21, 2018 at Swamp Mennonite Church. I was certainly not disappointed in the program that day. I found Sherill Hostetter to be an excellent presenter. Her information was meaty and extremely useful, her presentation was well-planned and delivered professionally, yet with a personal touch, and her use of both small group interactions and sharing in the larger group helped the attendees to discuss and practice the methods she presented.
There was a friendly buzz of conversation in the room during breaks that gave testimony to the relationship-building that was taking place. If this group of people moves into their decision-making process with the same generosity of spirit that they welcomed each other and me, a newcomer in their midst, I believe there is high hope for fruitful choices in future days. Surely, this was helped by the welcoming environment provided by the hosting congregations and the tasty snacks and delicious lunch provided by Franconia Conference.
If adopted and internalized, the material Ms. Hostetter presented will certainly help make God-centered decision-making possible. She presented such helpful information that I wish we could continue with monthly round-table discussions using her material. Not only did she talk about how to accomplish making decisions in group settings, but also she explained how folks from different backgrounds and cultures view conflict. For instance, most people do not see conflict as an opportunity but rather look at it as something to solve or manage. She pointed out that folks from some cultures come with evasive methods of interacting and others are more direct. Such differences can cause deep divisions and misunderstandings, so initially working with a group on understanding each other helps the process be more successful.
Ms. Hostetter also emphasized the fact that good planning for the decision-making process is essential for group unity, and added that unity and uniformity are two different things: unity is the Spirit among diversity (we are not all called to be alike, but we are called to be one, prays Jesus in John 17). Hostetter explained the challenge: Conflict is a visible sign of human energy. The greater the interdependence, the greater the potential for conflict; the greater the concern for inclusion in joint decision-making, the more tension is generated by the drive for harmony. For such reasons, preparation ahead of time is of great importance.
Discernment is integral to this process, so a main focus was helping people learn how to move into the spiritual practice of listening prayer. Spending time in silence and opening ourselves up to hear from God helps move people to connectedness in spirit. Ms. Hostetter suggested a book, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Factor for Leadership Groups by Ruth Haley Barton, as a resource for this practice. She suggested other spiritual practices, such as storytelling, sharing faith stories, using silent prayer throughout discernment meetings, and listening and responding to Scripture readings. In our roundtable group sharing time, we had an opportunity to practice listening prayer and felt the move of the Spirit as we shared what we had “received” in our silent moments of being vulnerable to the voice of God. Sharing from our hearts brought a deeper level of understanding to a group of people who barely knew each other before meeting on that day. We entered the workshop as strangers and left as friends. How could that not be good for any family, leadership group, or congregation?