How Consensus Works
Moving Ahead with Consensus - Restorative Practices Decision Making
Jubilee’s theme verse is “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” -- 2 Corinthians 5: 17-18
Jubilee aims to be a RESTORATIVE PRACTICES community. Restorative practices see conflict as an opportunity for growth. Restorative means keeping everyone’s dignity intact. One of the ways we have attempted to live into the ministry of reconciliation is through decision making by consensus – navigating conflict in a way that brings people together rather than apart, and by seeking to restore broken relationships through restorative practices.
At Jubilee we use the practice of seeking consensus when we are faced with making decisions. We believe that the church is not a democracy, where members simply decide matters by majority vote; nor is it a dictatorship, in which a hierarchy makes all the decisions without congregational input. Seeking consensus allows us to follow the nudging of the Holy Spirit as we listen to each other and see each other as equal image bearers of Christ.
CONSENSUS PROTECTS MINORITY NEEDS AND OPINIONS. Seeking consensus does not mean we have to change our minds on a given question or that we may not state disagreements. But it does mean that we seek to move ahead together in harmony, provided we do not violate our consciences. If significant concerns remain unresolved, a proposal can be prevented from going ahead. This means that the whole group has to work hard at finding solutions that address everyone's concerns rather than ignoring or overruling minority opinions.
The idea is to weave together all the best ideas and address all the key concerns to find something that works for everyone -- a process that often results in surprising and creative solutions, inspiring both the individual and the group as whole. The goal of consensus decision-making is not to achieve unanimity although it may. Rather it looks for a solution that everyone involved can accept.
CHARACTERISTICS OF SEEKING CONSENSUS
● Seeking consensus is not first of all agreeing with each other but agreeing with God's Word and Spirit.
● Seeking consensus is not first of all speaking our own minds but listening to each other.
● Seeking consensus is not first of all that I get my way but that we submit to one another.
● Seeking consensus is not first of all achieving a predetermined outcome but prayerfully following the nudging and direction-giving impulses of the Holy Spirit.
Fundamental conditions to ensure effective consensus-building
● Agreement on Jubilee’s core values
● Willingness to make it work – belief in the value of consensus-building
● Active listening and sufficient time
● Patience and trust
● Succinct expression of views and concerns
● Skilled facilitation and a conducive setting
AGREEMENT AND DISAGREEMENT
In seeking consensus, we acknowledge there will be disagreements. Consensus decision-making does not try to achieve unanimity but looks for a solution that everyone involved can accept. Usually within most groups, agreement should be viewed as a spectrum from completely agreeing to completely objecting to a proposal.
These five categories help define these levels of agreement and disagreement:
● AGREEMENT WITH THE PROPOSAL: ‘I am generally or completely in agreement with the proposal.’
● RESERVATIONS: ‘I’m generally in agreement, but have some reservations.’
● NEUTRAL: ‘I don’t know enough or don’t have an opinion about the proposal.’
● STANDASIDE: ‘I am not in agreement and I have not changed my mind, but I will not stop the process.’
● FUNDAMENTAL DISSENT: ‘I have a fundamental objection that violates my conscience. I believe the decision is wrong and is not good for the organization.’ A fundamental dissent must be based on a member’s perception of group needs rather than on something they want for themselves.
IMPLEMENTING THE CONSENSUS PROCESS AT JUBILEE*
a) Council brings a recommendation to the congregation at a congregational meeting.
b) Within small groups members consider the proposed recommendation ensuring everyone is given an opportunity for input.
c) The facilitator of each small group shares the groups’ input, including the levels of agreement or disagreement within the group.
d) Open forum discussion takes place seeking a level of consensus at the meeting.
e) If all have expressed either agreement, reservations, neutral or stand aside positions, the proposal is considered accepted, and the chair declares that consensus has been reached.
f) If consensus has not been reached, more conversation is required. The proposal is tabled along with a commitment to employ the principles of restorative practices to facilitate those conversations. In certain extraordinary circumstances, if the ministry or direction of the Jubilee community are at stake, it may be necessary for Council to make a final decision after members of Council have considered all the input and discussed as much as possible, especially with those who have expressed fundamental dissent.
*The only exception to this process is the budget, which by law requires that the congregation vote democratically.
Note for ministry leaders: an appendix outlining additional factors for council & congregational meetings, vision retreats and the role of the facilitator is available.