Crucial Conversations


By Brian Hammons

Sometimes in leadership we come across something that just seems to fit the times, the situations we’re going through. A book I’ve been reading, Crucial Conversations, just seems to fit right now. For many reasons.
The book has four named authors, and I recall hearing one, Joseph Grenny, talk about the subject at Leadership Summit last August. My pastor recommended that all our congregation’s leaders read the book and discuss it in a recent leadership training, so I’ve been reading and absorbing what I can. 
A “crucial conversation” is described as one where opinions vary, emotions are strong, and stakes are high. The authors describe how people often don’t handle these situations well and the result is...not good. They describe skills and techniques that can help us stay in dialogue and work through these conversations. They remind us to remember a common purpose while maintaining mutual respect.
Sounds like many of us could use these skills, doesn’t it? Think about how often conversations break down in our personal lives, our workplaces, and our churches – really anytime people are doing things together. We’ve all seen people who can work through “crucial conversations” well, and others who seem to let strong emotions and differing opinions cloud their judgment.
As I think about our church and the upcoming session of the Annual Conference in June, it seems like the skills in Crucial Conversations will be needed. The “Holy Conferencing” concepts, inviting God’s Spirit to be part of the process, also will help. After all, with elections, proposals on camping, and perhaps other issues, there is a danger that we could lose focus upon our common purpose and our mutual respect as leaders in Christ’s mission. Hopefully we can work through those and come away energized with ideas from the main theme, Discipleship: Growing in Grace.
Now, regarding the “crucial conversation” of GC / JC elections, I’d like to share a few thoughts – and will be interested to know yours. You see, I believe that the 2016 conferences will be very important for the future of our church. We will need to elect people who can humbly offer reasoned perspective, a focus upon local congregations, and spiritually engaged leadership experience in Missouri. We especially need to elect people who can keep focused upon the “Main Thing” in transforming lives by helping people follow Jesus.
Of course, General Conference will include many proposals. I think the biggest issue really isn’t the church’s position on homosexuality or other potentially distracting, divisive issues. The church will need to deal with those proposals, hopefully in a respectful way, and I do believe it’s important to uphold faithful understanding of scriptural truth, accountability, and excellence as we make decisions. “Crucial Conversation” and “Holy Conferencing” skills can help here. 
But the biggest issue involves the church’s ability to redirect attention, energy, and resources toward increasing the number of congregations that can be healthy, reaching more people. With less bureaucracy that inhibits effective change. That’s the “adaptive challenge” for the future of the church, as our bishops and other leaders have continued to remind us. In addition, Leadership issues will be important, particularly recruiting and training clergy leaders. Also tenure and accountability. 
As we look to electing bishops at jurisdictional conference, I believe that future bishops need to be exemplary leaders. Bishop Schnase has been one of those exemplary leaders with us –  doing remarkable work in transformative leadership, and I’m excited to see his ideas making a difference across Methodism. Our delegation should expect future bishops to reflect the five expectations we have of leaders in Missouri – and I would add the following descriptors:
  1. Christ-centered – spiritually engaged, solidly Wesleyan in theology;
  2. Excellence – strong record of teaching, preaching, and leading in congregations and conference roles;
  3. Accountable – willing to listen, allow review, take responsibility, and work within prescribed boundaries;
  4. Fruitful – consistent record of growth in congregations leading people to follow Jesus;
  5. Collaboration – effective work with colleagues, laity, and staff to accomplish the mission and goals of the church. 
Finally, somehow we’ve got to recapture the spiritual energy of the Methodist movement that can change the world. Yes, the conversations we’ll have at annual, general, and jurisdictional conferences will be “crucial” in many respects – often with differing opinions, strong emotions, and high stakes. Can we hold these conversations with mutual respect and focus upon our common purpose? Can we invite God’s transforming Spirit to help us in Holy Conferencing so that we come out affirming relationships and offering Christ to the world? I hope and pray that we can. 
Thanks for all you do in following Jesus every day, making disciples where you are!