Posted: April 25, 2014 by Rob Voyle
Did Christianity Flourish because 11 guys got together and took an anonymous survey and 10 voted for the resurrection?
Or did it flourish because people shared their experiences of encountering the Risen Lord and how it had transformed their lives?
Sharing stories rather than gathering data is at the heart of the Gospel and it is at the heart of the Appreciative Way. In Jesus we had a master story teller in his followers we have people who delighted in sharing their own stories of Jesus.
I think I am a lot like Thomas, I want my own experience. And Jesus met Thomas in both his grief and in his need. Faith is not a second hand experience. We may see and meet Jesus in others but ultimately in the contemplative life we go beyond these temporal experiences and meet the eternal Jesus.
One of the things I deeply value about being a follower of Jesus is that I am known by name. It is personal, I am not anonymous, I am known personally by God. For me that is another fundamental aspect of the Gospel: like Thomas we are known by name, and we get to share our story of the Risen Lord and not just tell other people's stories of Jesus.
Many clergy have received anonymous letters telling them how miserably they have failed in some aspect of life or ministry. Such letters are never helpful because the anonymity makes it impossible to engage in a process of forgiveness and reconciliation. Anonymous letters or comments violate this fundamental aspect of the Gospel: that we are known by name.
Yet here is what confounds me: When Christian Communities want to make decisions at critical junctures of their lives such as in the calling of a pastor they often rely on anonymous surveys. We teach congregations to violate one of the core values of being a Christian and also do something we have tried to teach them not to do.
At critical times in the life of our communities we need to tell personal stories not become anonymous. You may get some interesting data from a survey but you will never change lives. You can find a brief article and podcast on why I don't use surveys anymore at:
As I reflect on the Easter story I am reminded that Jesus didn't come to give us less death, He came to give us life and we need to focus on and use life-giving strategies if we are to be an Easter people. Knowing what questions to ask, to get the right stories told is a core part of the Appreciative Way.
In general we ask questions about what we want more of (success, life, etc.) rather than what we want less of (problems, death, etc.) We also want people telling these stories to one another and not just a select group of leaders so that we grow a culture of appreciative story telling. And if there isn't much life going on then we need to be even more intentional in discovering the stories of the little bit of life we do have.
We can't build the future on less of what we don't want. We can only build the future on what we want more of.
Next week I will explore how to use the appreciative approach as part of creating cultures of excellence, rather than engaging in the soul destroying practice of annual performance reviews. Until then I wish you a truly blessed Easter season.
The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle is a leader in the development and use of appreciative inquiry in church and coaching settings.
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