Conversations are interesting things. In a recent blog, I explored what having different conversations might mean for the church. When we engage with one another, sometimes we realise that if we keep doing the same things we’ve always done, we are likely to end up with what we already have. Having rituals that offer a sense – perhaps even illusion – of stability, therefore, may not be that helpful as we navigate this time of change.
It’s one thing to name this, it might be another to answer, ‘so what?’ Or – perhaps – what are our alternatives? I do not claim that there’s a cookie-cutter solution, but I thought I would offer one possible resource. In this shifting landscape, in which the church finds itself, how might we share our faith in Creator and the wisdom that comes through our experience of Jesus the Christ? My experience and use of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) feels like something I might share as a way to continue the dialogue.
If you are interested in the particulars of AI, I have provided some links. The community that is involved in nurturing this process – though more significantly the underlying philosophical lens – utilises an open source or Creative Commons approach to the experience, knowledge and learning that the community generates. This ethos, I believe, is just one aspect that connects with our faith community’s experience of sharing our gifts without an expectation of getting something in return.
The particular pieces that I would like to highlight at this point are two that allow churches to reconnect with some of our core beliefs. More specifically, I believe these allow us to reclaim these concepts of faith that too often get obscured, lost and even forgotten in deficit-driven and consumerised world often finds its ways into our meetings, worship and evangelism. I believe AI allows us to look to our past, in order to begin moving now to a great future – which in turn allows us to share the Gospel.
The first aspect of AI that I think translates well to a faith based context is the role of story. It is through our stories, that not only might we begin to create new things – be generative – but also by hearing our stories, we actually create a sense of identity. In Christian language, this insight is important to (re)embrace that metaphors such as the Body of Christ are more than figurative. When we share our stories as the resource with which to move forward, we also humanise one another. We gain understanding of one another – and this is central. It is in understanding that not only are we humanised, but we are also less likely to be drawn into stereotype or assumptions of the Other. We are – to be clear – much less likely to cause hurt to one another when our story is held by one another.
The second aspect of AI, which I believe connects with church, is the idea of abundance. Central to AI is that the system – community – possesses a wealth of wisdom that is rich, abundant and beyond value. To harness this resource, a system that may be experiencing apathy or inertia, is awoken through remembering what good has looked like and what great might look like. And – if people are open to letting go of ‘control’ and listening to one another (and in our Christian context to discern the Spirit’s movement) – rejuvenation and revitalisation begins. This reminder allows for a recognition that central to our own Story – as seen and experienced in the Gospel – is that blessing and abundance are always present. The temptation of deficit is exposed for the illusion that it is when we read – whether throughout the Psalms or Letters of the Early Church – that gratitude for Creator’s gifts is core to our understanding of church (ecclesiology).
I will end this brief exploration of AI and church by sharing one last (surprise connexion): I am not trying to sell you something. Evangelising should not be about conversion or debating. To share the Good News as an engaged and active way to model faith is invitational. So, all I can say and offer, is that this has been a powerful lens to embrace and has enriched my own sense of faith as a Christian. What might that mean, therefore, for you? Perhaps, we might have a conversation, perhaps we might share … and should we come to some new understanding through our sharing of story, something new and rich might come to be. Perhaps, if we as church continued this conversation within our larger community, we might not see the future before us with eyes dressed in numbers’ loss, but potential not yet dreamed …