When we seek to use conversation as a model of leadership in community, it is important to understand the kind of community that we are seek to create. Conversation is flowing and only unfolds because of the presence of multiple voices in the room. It is an act that is, by its very nature, restorative to relationship. To create conversation is to issue an invitation, either formally or informally, for others to participate. It is to create an open space in which many others are invited to join the restorative community that is being created through the act of dialogue, and it is an act that seeks others to be part of that community of co-creators that is coming together. It is through invitation that we begin to live into the possibilities that we have named in community as the future that we want to live into, and it is through invitation that we seek the wisdom found in community conversations.
But, we cannot create the restorative community that is described in the Holy Scriptures if we are unclear about the importance of invitation. It is more than simply asking someone to attend; instead, it is an act of generosity towards another as someone that can become a co-creator of the very future that we are seeking to make real. We are putting ourselves out there to another with the hope that the invitees will consider the invitation into the deep work required to move us from one reality to another. We are being vulnerable in the moment that we extend ourselves through invitation.1
The vulnerability comes because we have, in extending an invitation, left open the possibility of the invitee to say no. We are vulnerable because we have invited this person into something for which I care deeply, and in the back of my mind, I know that the person can, and some will, say no to this act of generosity that I am extending to them. In that moment, I might want to feel rejected myself, but it is also important to remember that an invitation is only invitation if no is also held as an acceptable response. In this moment of recognizing that no has to be a possibility on the table, I enter into the practice of restorative community. The person is no coerced or forced into attending. I extend myself through invitation and hope that the other will say yes.2
Though I might not want to give people a choice in the invitation, I might also miss that there is a strength that comes from people that volunteer to show up for the work.3 Instead of focusing on the numbers, I am being asked to see that people have chosen to show up for this work. In showing up, they are stating that the work in front of us is important work that they want to be part of, and they are also entering into the work of creating the possibility that has been named in the context of community when something was at stake. They are taking up the mantle of becoming a co-creator.
Invitation is the first conversation that a community needs to have in order to take up the work in front of it. It is not simply an action to get people to a meeting; instead, invitation has to become a way of being in the community itself. The strength of the community grows because each member of the community begins to invite, to be generous in the act of invitation, to hold open the possibility of no as an acceptable answer. Invitation is the moment in which we explain what is stake and what saying yes to the invitation is going to mean to the person being invited. It is the first conversation that we need to have because it is through invitation that we are able to practice building a community that embraces the many gifts of the body. It is the first conversation that we need to have because it is how we offer ourselves to another in a fairly vulnerable way.
- Block, Peter. (2009). Community (p. 114). San Francisco, Calif.: Berrett-Koehler.
- Ibid., (p. 115)