During seminary, I made it a point to attend at least one Daily Office service and one Holy Eucharist every day of the class week (i.e. Monday-Friday). Whenever I was sitting in Evening Prayer in our chapel, I was routinely struck by the fact that we would end the prayers of the community with a prayer attributed to St. Chrysostom, which itself includes a clause that says, “when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them.” When two or three are gathered…
It seems that it is when there is more than a single person or single decision-maker that Christ shows up in the midst of them to encourage them, as a community, in the way of the Gospel. It is in the moment in which dialogue must play a vital role that Christ promises to be in our midst. It is when we must participate in the leadership of conversation that the Divine moves through us and encourages us forward in the slow work of discerning the future that God is holding open for us.
In the contemporary era, it is rather difficult to think of conversation as an act of leadership when we routinely see people that are gifted the title of ‘leader’ speaking over, past, or behind the very people with whom need to be at the table for a wise decision to be reached. It is difficult to understand how conversation is an act of leadership. Perhaps, it is because true conversation is rarely put on display for us to view. Instead of conversation that requires the willingness not simply to speak but also to listen, we see argument and speaking over another. The models that we have in the marketplace of media are, in effect, not models of conversation at all.
Thus, it seems that we need to step back from the very people that should be modeling behavior for us to follow in order to reclaim the virtues of conversation and to see how conversation is itself an act of leadership.
To begin, we would need to recognize that conversation requires active listening to our dialogue partner. It is not about being ready to jump in with our rebuttal to the latest thing that our dialogue partner has offered. Instead, it is about receiving what has been offered with kindness and with the willingness to ponder what has been offered into the center of the conversation. We would need to recognize that we cannot have dialogue if we do not create the space required for every member of the conversation to participate in the conversation. In creating the space for each person to speak into the center of our shared space, we are creating an open environment for new things to emerge. We are letting go of the need to achieve a specific thing by the time our conversation ends, and we are letting go of that in order to allow the Holy to participate through the words that are offered by each member of the conversation.
The leadership of conversation is found in the way that conversation invites every partner to participate. It is allowing every participant to offer something into the center of the conversation, and it is leadership in the ways that every offering is received with grace and with patience.
When we use conversation as a leadership tool, we are recognizing that no single person has all the answers that are needed for our community. Instead, conversation recognizes that what we need is the wisdom found in community. The wisdom found through conversation invites us into wise action for our community. The actions that we take for our community are informed by the communal wisdom that exists in our parish. It is not about meeting a timeline as much as it is about being faithful to the Gospel and to each other. The leadership of conversation is found in the way that it creates the space for all o fun to participate, for all of us to host conversations that are important to us, and for all of us to become co-creators with God in and through the wisdom of conversation.