A couple of weeks ago I learned from a high schooler how intimidating change can be. For many changes in our lives, we don't get a choice; external forces are at play and we may just be along for the ride. But for some very few decisions where we get to feel like we're in control, the possibility of change in those moments can also be paralyzing.
I was on a trip to Washington D.C. and New York City with 24 high schoolers. On a Friday afternoon, we split up into small groups and each group got to pick what they wanted to do in Manhattan. You'd think the choices were endless, right? Well, in our group's case, the choices were so numerous that they stifled us.
One of the choices I'd been lobbying for was to go ride bicycles for an hour in Central Park. We had amazing weather. We had energy. We had all of the time in the world. But what we didn't have was all of the high schoolers wanting to do it. One, in particular, said she was nervous since she hadn't ridden a bike since she was very young.
As leaders it was tempting to find a way to bring her around to the rest of the group's desires.
Enough assurances from us and we probably could have talked her into it.
But if that would've happened, the actual bike ride would not have been the same as we were wanting. We'd be worried about if she'd fall. We'd be worried about the group staying in a pack with the tour guide. We'd worry about lots of other "what-ifs."
Choosing to try to persuade someone from reluctance to a group consensus -- that process isn't really about consensus. That process is about transfer.
In this instance, it would have been a transfer of the girl's fear to the leaders. It would have been the transfer of responsbility for the group to make the choice on activities, to instead have the persuader assume the responsibility.
So what does this leave? LCD consensus-building? (LCD = "Lowest Common Denominator")
Done poorly, yes - that's exactly what results. Decisions get watered down to irrelevant, boring, no-one-is-happy results.
Done rightly, however, and group consensus doesn't mean settling; it means hearing out and saying "not now" when the group hasn't coalesced on a possibility they all can live with.
I'm curious what this model requires. I know of a church (Spirit of Joy in Lakeville, MN
) that doesn't take votes. I know of discernment groups for people considering lives of ministry that have no finite deadline; there's no point the decision needs to be reached by.
Had we as leaders tried to talk the high school girl out of her fears, it would have been a disaster. Had we as leaders tried to talk the group into a Manhattan-sized, unpalatable adventure, it also would have probably been a disaster.
Instead, we let the youth decide. And they decided on Times Square, the Toys-R-Us store, empanada and hot dog stands for lunch, Union Station, the outside of the UN, and an awesome coffee shop outside of Chinatown.
There was no one point of consensus throughout the day. There was also no talking group members out of their fears.
And I'm grateful for all of it.