As we approach this Thanksgiving season, I have been praying about the word “appreciation.” Hearts filled with appreciation move quickly and easily to thanksgiving and it spreads within communities. As Voltaire wrote: “Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
In church revitalization there is a mode of organizational development called appreciative inquiry, which is a strength-based approach to organizational change that asks constructive questions and builds shared values and vision. While we know for a fact that we can only practice Congregationalism with engaged stakeholders, I would also offer that the manner of our engagement is of equal, if not greater, importance as it determines the spirit of our community.
As I’ve shared with you before, my favorite holiday is my newest! This North American tradition of Thanksgiving is wonderful and I love it as a metaphor for the church – gathered around the table, making sure all are fed, and appreciating the people and blessings in our lives. We take the day with its feast to honor life’s strengths. That’s not to say we aren’t still aware of the places where growth is needed!
I ask us this Thanksgiving, to reflect on how we might choose to make appreciation and appreciative inquiry more a part of the spirit of our church community so that, as we engage, we ask one another more questions, talk more about the decisions we assume another person has made, and ask them about the motivation and experiences that led to particular actions. While often it may seem politically incorrect to broach these conversations directly, this is the only way we can share values and build common vision. Through honest dialogue we are in fact communicating our faith in that person’s commitment to our community, as well as our appreciation for all they give and for the relationship you have and are building with them. It says, “I see the value in you so much so that I want to know you better and invest with you.”
We are a strong and vibrant community and that strength always relies on our nurturing the relationships we have through our appreciative inquiry and engagement with one another – an act of our thanksgiving.