Small Group Decision-making: The Essential Concept You’ve Probably Never Been Taught

Summary:  Majority-rule isn’t of the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom operates by consensus.  

When you try to operate within a small group setting, you’re at a tremendous disadvantage.  You’re an American.Consensus 1

Now the reason that’s a disadvantage has nothing to do with nationality or politics, but everything to do with culture and mindsets.  When it comes to decision-making, you were trained to think about yourself first and foremost (you gotta do what makes you happy!); and that the majority should rule (whoever gets the most votes wins).

Now you may be thinking that individualism is more the result of sin and not your culture, and you may have a point there.  But there’s no doubt that your culture provides more of an opportunity to be an individualist than most throughout history; and most of us are influenced by that opportunity.

You’ve also grown up in a governing system that operates by majority rule.  The concept is…instead of working to come to one heart and mind on a matter, we’ll just take a vote and whichever perspective more people agree with, we’ll go with that one.  While this method is certainly easier at first, it’s not the case in the long run.

The Kingdom of God is not a democracy

It’s a kingdom.  I mean…it’s in the name!

In a kingdom, the King’s vote is all that matters.  In a righteous kingdom, a righteous King makes decisions based on what’s best for the citizens of the kingdom.  Righteous citizens listen for the decrees of the king and carry out his business in an effort to care for and grow the kingdom; not do what’s best for themselves.  So, the task of the citizens is to listen for the king’s voice on each matter and then carry out his business.

When it comes to organic-kingdom-community small groups, laying hold of the King’s wishes comes about through the decision-making principle of CONSENSUS.

To operate by consensus, everyone must be listening for the voice of the king.  He’s only sending one message.  He’s not telling part of the group one thing and the other part of the group another thing.  If there is disagreement, then the group as a whole has not yet heard what He’s really saying on a matter.

While one side may be hearing the Lord accurately, the Lord’s heart first and foremost is that His Body would act as one.  This is always His desire above and beyond what He’s saying or asking a group to do.  Righteous citizens also desire oneness above and beyond being right.

Instead of accepting disagreement and moving on, small groups that operate in the Kingdom work together to find out what the King is saying.

They exercise patience.  They consider alternative solutions.  They get creative.  They intently listen to those they disagree with.  They respect what everyone thinks they hear.

They don’t take the easy way out and just go with what the majority think they hear.  They don’t justify their way of thinking when one person agrees with them.  They don’t take inventory of who’s on their side and who isn’t.  They don’t feel like they have to know the answer right away.  They don’t “stick to their guns.”  They don’t disband or leave because they disagree.  A few smart, strong personalities don’t take over and argue their point until they get their way.

A cost/benefit analysis

When a group is able to operate by this Kingdom principle, it comes with a cost.  It’s the cost of your pride, of needing to be right, and the behavior that results.  But that temporary cost has benefits.Consensus 2

Here are some, but I’m sure there are many others…

  1. Everyone feels co-equal.  The Kingdom doesn’t have classes of citizens.  There’s no such thing as an upper-class Christian.  When a group operates by consensus, it makes those in minority feel like they matter just as much as everyone else.  Think about how a person would feel if they were the only one in a group that thought differently, but the whole group decided to respect that and work together with them to come to a mutual agreement.  How does that make them feel?  Respected.  Valued.
  2. Decisions stick and are put into action.  Here’s what Dale Hunter says in the book The Art of Facilitation – “Collective decision-making can take longer than majority decision-making, but the decisions stick and are often put into action more quickly and effectively because they’ve been agreed to by the whole group.”  If everyone agrees, then everyone is motivated.  There aren’t divisions among you that act as seeds of bitterness.  The opportunity for anyone to say “I told you so” is removed.
  3. You can lay hold of the mind of Christ.  Many times, nobody’s perspective in a matter is actually that of Christ’s.  But working together can reveal it over time as everyone continues to listen and consider all the possible solutions that could exist.  Or, if an individual or individuals do have the mind of Christ on a matter, the patience, respect and love that is shown to those who disagree can have such an affect on them that it helps others to see that they’re being led by things other than Christ, like fear or other emotions.  Many times, they will come to this self-realization and concede that they aren’t being led by Christ in the matter.
  4. The cross becomes real in your life.  When there are disagreements, you’re typically sure you’re right on the matter.  In order to operate by consensus, you have to let go of the need to be right.  Now, biblical statements like “die to yourself,” and “pick up your cross” become real instead of just leisure reading or a challenging message.
  5. Agape love springs forth.  Instead of the division that majority-rule cultivates, the cross of consensus brings forth life and love.  It strengthens the group relationships.  Now, biblical statements like “you are brothers and sisters in Christ” become real instead of just leisure reading or taboo titles.

Some special situations

Does this mean there are no situations where action cannot happen without everyone agreeing?  No, not really.  Again, Hunter gives us some special circumstances where this might be the case…

  • Only those who want to be involved make the decision.  Sometimes there will be issues where some people just don’t care what the decision is.  Maybe it’s an issue that doesn’t really affect them.  Or maybe they just don’t care what’s decided.  In this case, they may choose to allow a certain subgroup to make the decision.  But the important thing here is…they had the power to make that decision.
  • Only those affected are involved in the decision.  This is similar to above in that persons that aren’t affected by a decision likely don’t care one way or another, but they still have the power to make the choice to not be involved.
  • The group gives authority to individuals or subgroups to make decisions.  We have new people we don’t know who will contact us inquiring about becoming a part of our organic church group.  Because no one knows anything about them, we’ve established a “get to know you” process before inviting them into our homes.  Since this process can’t involve the whole group, a couple people have been set apart by the group to get to know them and discern if what we’re doing is really what they’re looking for.  They report back to the group with a yay or nay and the group typically accepts that recommendation because they trust the ones they’ve sent.  Each individual in the group still has the power at any time to voice their opinion or suggest a change.
  • The group decides that majority can rule in specific circumstances like emergencies.  Sometimes things have to be decided right away.  In this case, the group may recognize it together and all agree that majority should rule in a specific instance.  Again, all members of the group had equal power and authority to make this decision.
  • Group members can agree to disagree and not hold up action in specific circumstances.  When we first started meeting with the organic church we’re a part of, every meeting started with one of my favorite things…food.  After about 6 months, people started suggesting that maybe we didn’t need to eat together every time we met.  The group discussed it and most people were on board with suspending meals for certain meetings.  I was in the minority who disagreed.  I think there’s something spiritual about eating together that bonds people, I like to eat good food, and I believe it’s easier to take one thing each than for every family to cook whole meals for themselves.  Even though I disagreed, I conceded to test out not having meals for a while.  Why?  Because it’s really not a big deal and I’m interested to see if the group notices any affect on the meetings.  I disagreed, but did not hold up action.

Coming to consensus is like baking desserts

Because this is such a big, important concept to the health and well-being of groups, I’ll expand on specific healthy processes for coming to consensus in the future.  For now, I want to leave you with a metaphor that helps me visualize what coming to consensus is like.  It helps me understand what it is we’re trying to accomplish together…Mixing Ingredients

To bake a dessert, you’ve got to throw a bunch of ingredients together into a mixing bowl.  All the ingredients get mixed together, put on or into something to be baked and then thrown in the oven for a specific amount of time at a specific temperature.  When the amount of time is up, the dessert is done and ready for consumption.

In a group, each person brings a different “ingredient” (perspective).  The “ingredients” get mixed together as people come together and dialogue.  Then, the mixture gets “thrown into the oven” of patience, prayer, humility, selflessness, etc. (the heat) for as long as it takes.  Sometimes it takes minutes.  Sometimes it takes much, much longer.

After the dessert is baked, it comes out in a form that looks nothing like any of the individual ingredients that were put into it, or even the form it was placed into the oven as.  In the same way, the perspective that comes “out of the oven” will likely be unique and different from any one individual’s perspective.

Although this metaphor is imperfect, it helps to think about small group decision-making differently than you may have ever thought about it before.  Every small group should be looking for Christ’s perspective on all matters – the dessert that comes out of the oven – and not the individual ingredients they are put into the mixing bowl.

This is an extreme change from what we’re used to, and some may not be able to make the transition.  In the end, you may lose people that aren’t ready to operate by Kingdom principles.  But that’s part of the cost of doing the King’s business.

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