Symbols and words have different meanings and intents. What does it mean for us to ask questions and listen to another’s experiences, history, and lens? With God’s help, let us prayerfully prepare ourselves to be welcoming in our conversations. Stephanie Anna Hixon reflects on a story she heard from JustPeace board member Tom Albin.
Much of traditional conflict resolution focuses on deficit-based change – focusing on problems to be diagnosed, analyzed and brainstorming treatment or action plans. Appreciative Inquiry focuses on strength-based change; appreciating the best of what is, imagining what might be, designing what should be, and creating what will be in a vital faith community. Key to the Appreciative Inquiry lens or approach is asking powerful questions that
- elicit the telling of stories;
- open up peak experiences, strengths, resources, successes, hopes, dreams and values; and,
- assist individuals and groups to reach deeper levels and new ideas.
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In structuring Welcoming Conversations, the Golden Rule does not apply. The answer is not: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; rather, what makes a conversation welcoming is if you find out how they want to be treated and structure the conversation to account for those concerns.
To help leaders move congregations through times of high anxiety, the following are strategies that I have found helpful. This is not a comprehensive list, but several of my own findings that I offer to you.
When the anxiety is lower, the congregation has a higher capacity to perceive what is trying to emerge and invite a new narrative. Granted, as anxiety rises, the functioning of people potentially becomes more reactive and conflict can easily follow, for conflict is a way of dealing with anxiety. The anxiety and conflict, when responded to appropriately by leaders, can be the catalyst for creative, adaptive growth and positive change.
Appreciative Inquiry was introduced to the group as a way to celebrate what is going well in ministry as well as address the very difficult conversations around diversity and the places where we need to grow. As we introduced ourselves in an ice breaking conversation—where we lived, our conference affiliation, what we brought to the table and what we hoped to gain from this experience—the words people shared were intriguing.
Appreciative Inquiry offers new hope and new possibilities for congregations in the midst of change. Church leaders can invigorate their congregations by focusing on strengths and re-imagining the future. When done in the context of discerning God’s call, we celebrate what God has done and what God can do through the people of Jesus Christ.
Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which grew out of Dr. David Cooperrider’s Ph.D. work in the 1980s, is a response to more traditional approaches that tend to focus on problems. Rather than focusing on problems, AI focuses on discovering and building on the life-giving forceswithin an organization. A core belief of AI is that in every organization, something works.