Have you ever noticed that if you talk to the same people all the time, you rarely hear a new idea?

Whether these folks are family, co-workers, church members or fans of your athletic team, we tend to hang with those who think, act and feel like we do. While this is comfortable, it does not promote a climate for change and growth.

In a previous blog, I suggested several factors that have impacted all organizations, including churches, in the last couple of decades: fragmentation, customization and decentralization. Let me suggest one way to deal effectively with those influences.

It’s dialogue.

How does dialogue differ from discussion or debate? David Bohm suggests an answer.

Discussion comes from the same root word as percussion, so the sense communicated is “beating against something.” Dialogue, on the other hand, comes from the root word for “flowing together.” Both can promote learning but they begin from different perspectives.

Discussion assumes that by pushing something hard enough, I can persuade you to my point of view. Dialogue suggests that we can walk alongside each other and come to a “meeting of the minds.”

Churches and denominational bodies will gain new perspectives on the issues impacting them today only when they stop talking among themselves and debating with other groups but enter into true dialogue with others, including those different from themselves. Think about the possibilities.

We can promote dialogue among generations. Generational theory is not as popular as it once was, but we can identify differing expectations on the part of boomer, Gen X and millennial people due to their differing life experiences. These experiences both challenge and inform us. This is not a matter of trying to satisfy everyone but of taking their stories seriously and learning from them.

We need to talk with people of various ethnic backgrounds. Because we are becoming a nation where there is no racial plurality, we need to take into account the wisdom that comes from other cultures. There is much we can learn if we engage in dialogue rather than confrontation.

I am becoming more aware each day of how much we can learn from those of other faith communities, both Christian and non-Christian. The Christian tradition offers a rich palette of colors upon which we can draw.

Non-denominational churches are discovering and implementing new approaches that can inform mainline churches. Mainliners bring great experience and skill to the table. We must also recognize that other world religions are having an enormous impact not only politically and economically but culturally as well.

Finally, churches need to be in dialogue with the marketplace. For many years, church leaders have read management books and picked up pointers from the secular world, but now it is time to identify common goals and find ways that we can work together to impact society. Enlightened businesses and corporations have a stake in developing healthy employees and building a coherent world.

I offer one word of warning as we enter into such dialogues. We are not blank slates. As church people, we have certain values and beliefs that are engrained. We need to decide which of these are givens and which are negotiable.

We cannot have a healthy dialogue with another unless we know who we are and what we bring to the table. Only then can we identify and embrace the new insights that will help us deal effectively with the world in which we find ourselves.

Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.

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