When Agreeing to Disagree Fails

Sometimes we just see things differently. Can we have a unified front anyway? Image courtesy bryanridgley.com.
Sometimes we just see things differently. Can we have a unified front anyway? Image courtesy bryanridgley.com.

My wife is in the leadership of the Junior League. She often goes to meetings to discuss the future of the organization, leadership, upcoming changes to the league, and the mission of the league. I remember one year she had to go to a lot of these meetings because they were discussing changing the entire structure of the league. She would mention to me that the discussions went back and forth for the year. Should we change? Should we not change? They brought in consultants and analysts. They read reports. They studied other organizations that had made the change. They studied other organizations that hadn’t made the change. Finally it came time for a vote. I remember the vote night because their leadership meeting started at 6 and she didn’t get home till late that night. This was going to be a highly charged issue so I was sure there was going to be a lot of debate on both sides. Some of the league wanted to change others in the league wanted to stay the same. My guess is that those in leadership probably felt the same way. When she got home that night I asked her how the vote went. She told me that the league had voted to make the change. Knowing some of the situation, I asked her how close the vote was. She told me, “Oh the vote was unanimous to make the change!” I thought there was no way that vote was unanimous with that much debate over this issue. Then she revealed something to me that has stuck. She said,

“Whatever the vote is it is unanimous because all of us in the room realize that the league’s mission is bigger than any of us.”

When the leaders return to the league, they all agree to support the outcome…no matter how they feel about it. Because they have all agreed that the league’s mission is bigger than any one person.

On March 13, 2013, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected Pope on the 5th ballot of the conclave. Four complete ballots were burned with no papal election. This means among the 115 Cardinals voting there was no clear frontrunner. Speculation didn’t have Cardinal Bergoglio in the top 5 Papabile, but after his election as Pope Francis every one of those 115 Cardinals support him as Pope. Can you imagine the impact to the church if one or more of the Cardinals started going around the world proclaiming they don’t support the pope because they didn’t vote for him? All of the Cardinals see the church as much bigger than any one of them. So whether their person got elected or not they offer loyalty and respect to Pope Francis.

What would happen if Ford announced they had a breakthrough with gasoline engines that would allow cars to double there mpg and they were going to commit to this new thing and give up all their old designs? If the Ford dealerships hated the new designs and said they weren’t going to sell them no matter how great the technology, was it would never work.

Too often, a leadership team has done the research, analyzed the situation, invested their time into figuring out the plan, and come up with a solution only to have it fail because there is dissension from the beginning. Think about the way our government works functions right now. Instead of working together to come up with the best solution for everyone, we work together to come up with our solution for everyone. Then we blame the other side when our solution fails.

The problem comes from us not having a common understanding of what our mission actually is.

Is it social justice? Is it professions of faith? Is it membership? Is it attendance? Is it worship? Is it Sunday school? Is it mission trips? Is it outreach? Is it being the prophetic voice? Is it discipleship? I believe the church has read 1 Corinthians 9:22 too literally. We want to be this and this and this and this. We want to be high church and low church. We want to be mainline and evangelical. We want to be sacramental and non-sacramental. We want to be Baptists and Episcopalians. We want to be big and small. We try to do all these things, but in the end they just become another thing we add on top of what we already do. There ends up being very little focus on what our mission actually is; instead, we end up endlessly debating who we are.

After the Junior League implemented the changes, the emphasis was renewed on sticking to what their mission already is: impacting the lives of women and children in the area. They made some people very upset because they ruthlessly cut programs that they had done for years because they didn’t meet the mission of the league. They cut popular programs because they didn’t meet the mission. Every single thing they did was analyzed to see if it was something did because of their mission, and they were willing to sacrifice every single thing that didn’t. The league and its mission was more important than any one person no matter who they were.

The two things I have learned from all of this are:

  1. There has to be crystal clear agreement about your mission. Everyone must agree that this is who we are and what we are about. There is no room for disagreement when it comes to the mission.
  2. There has to be a willingness on the part of everyone in the church to commit to the mission of the church even when their idea is not the one that is chosen. The vote is always unanimous.
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3 thoughts on “When Agreeing to Disagree Fails

  1. This is an excellent analysis, Stephen. I would love to see the UMC in advance of 2016 spend significant time on #1.

    #2 is a bit more difficult, because it presumes a level of maturity in those who come to the table, and we have seen a distinctive lack of spiritual maturity among many of those in debate over the future of our church.

    What are some ways for us to move toward #2, when we can’t presume the major players are mature enough to look beyond self? Would we have to setup stringent consequences for those who chose not to be team players after the vote, or is there another way?

    You have me thinking. Thanks for your post.

  2. Great analysis, Stephen. I agree that clarity and focus of mission is missing in the UMC. We have many different ideas of what our mission is. Even though we say it is “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” we have different definitions of all the key terms (disciples, making, Jesus Christ, transformation). That is the real source of our division. The presenting issues of marriage and homosexuality are just emblematic of the deeper divide.

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