“My dream is that the world would look to the church and say, ‘How is it that you all disagree and yet you love one another?’,” shares The Rev. Dr. Scott Hughes, Associate General Secretary of World Service at Discipleship Ministries.
Hughes is on a mission to help people engage in meaningful dialogue that will build trust and relationships.
“Courageous Conversations are structured dialogues for learning,” Hughes explains. “More than skills or techniques or structures, the hope is to form disciples closer into the image of Christ. Better listeners, loving one another. It’s not just about speaking civilly together.”
Replace conflict with learning
Tension in local churches can stem from many things, such as the style of music in worship or political debates. Many people evade conversations where conflict seems inevitable, but evasion isn’t the answer.
A Christian is called to speak the truth in love, always ready to confront conflict in the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. – The United Methodist Book of Discipline, ¶ 219
Hughes, a self-proclaimed conflict-avoider, suggests that each church member shares a responsibility for learning, something that should be at the heart of our interactions.
He encourages, “Assume a posture of curiosity so that we are leaning into one another. Sin blinds us to how much we need each other and each other’s perspectives. Commit to find mutual purpose – we have the common experience of God’s grace.”
Approach conversations with a spirit of openness and respect, question your assumptions, be ready to learn from those with differing opinions and allow for personal reflection.
Trust plays a vital role. Establishing it takes time. Connect with others and build relationships by first discussing less-heated topics. When we trust those around us and feel we are in a safe mental space, we won’t see the need to fight or flee when conflict-riddled issues arise.
Listen to gain understanding
Courageous Conversations tools help people build intentional listening skills that lead to better relationships in all areas of life. Hughes mentions, “I think it’s a discipleship practice. We become better listeners. We become more empathetic, more compassionate, gentler… We become more Christ-like when we listen well.
“You can't really love one another unless you're willing to push past the superficial into a deeper place of understanding.”
We should always focus on listening when someone else is speaking rather than planning what we would like to say next. Before conversations even begin, pause for a minute to think so that you are ready to truly engage.
Embrace the challenge
Everyone participating in Courageous Conversations must be willing to show compassion and fully participate. The work can be difficult, but it’s worth the effort. Individual and community discipleship will be more meaningful because, together, people can better answer the question, “What is God doing amongst us all?”
“We're limited by our own experience, and then our networks usually are limited to those who think like us,” says Hughes. “And so we need the perspective of others to broaden not just our perspective, but our understanding of the way God has made this world. God has made a big, diverse, wonderful world and we cannot understand it well without diversity, without a bigger understanding.”
Laura Buchanan works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email.
This story was published on August 22, 2023.