Learning to Listen

Every fall, the Industrial-Organizational (IO)Psychology department at SPU has a class that students in the department attend, called “Hacking the World of Work”. It is not your normally structured class as it follows a structure called OpenSpace. This class was set up to reflect the type of learning and deep conversations that happen at conferences – the majority of which doesn’t’ actually happen in the conference sessions, but rather in between sessions in the hallways and elevators. These conversations are informed by the sessions but go much deeper in these other spaces. The class reflects this structure by allowing students to pitch topics of their choice and divide into groups to chat about and research those topics.
Every Thursday for six weeks, we (Mac, Gabrielle,and Eric) announced to our I-O psychology classmates that we wanted to pilot some discussion guides and we listed off several topics they could discuss. All these topics would allow young adults to have these conversations with a Christian lens. These topics are vulnerable, but we ended up getting about 10+ people each session. The topics selected were:relationships, politics, how the church has disappointed us, diversity,evolution, and LGBTQIA.

Discussion Highlights

We had so many rich discussions, but are unable to summarize them all here. Instead, we’ve provided some quotes from each session that highlight a bit of what was discussed.
Relationships and Marriage
  • “My school only taught abstinence”
  • “Christian schools and communities say ‘wait till marriage’ but don’t give ideas of how to move forward if you don’t do that”
Politics #JesusWentThere
  • (people were afraid to disagree, or one person would hog the space)
  • “Not everyone you meet is far left or far right, yet when you hear what part someone aligns with you assume that they are that far left or far right person.”
The Church Disappoints Us
  • “When I was 7 my classmates started saying the prayer alongside the priest during a service one week, he came to our class afterwards to explain why each one of us would be going to hell.”
  • “My church asked me to leave when I came out.”
  • “The church prides themselves on their values of being open and accepting of everyone from every walk of life, but then once you get there you are constantly reminded by the congregation that you are the outsider.”
  •  “Can we have conversations about a group even if we don’t identify with that group?”
  • “How do we create a space in these conversations that invites people to be honest, even with an unpopular opinion, rather than just saying what they feel pressured to say?”
  • “How do we respect the specific terminology and require people to use that, but also be gracious with those who are still learning?
God and Evolution
  •  “I think I used to believe in young earth creationism just because that’s what I was taught and raised to believe in a Christian home. As I’ve read more about these views and had a chance to develop my own worldview, I now believe science and spirituality are different and that creationism as described in the Bible is poetry”
  • “Do you think it’s possible for Science and the Bible to be compatible? Why do we have to choose one over the other?”
  • “The Bible asks the “Why?” and Science answers the “How?”questions.”
  • “You get more conservative as you get older, this topic will be the norm when we are older and there will be a new progressive idea that future young adults argue.”
  • “Medically there have been so many issues with whether you give someone the correct treatment or you respect what gender they identify as.”
  • “Different denominations in the Christian religion interpret this part of the bible so differently, we are all reading the same words but how those words are perceived is drastic.”
  • “If churches do not conform to these progressive views, they will die out because millennials will not come. If churches do conform they will lose their highest donors and longest attending members. They can’t win but they have to find a way to get all generations in the door and respecting of differences on this topic.”

Observations and Lessons

Each week we made notes of what we saw and heard,and then we discussed what we learned and how that might change our approach moving forward. Here are some of our observations and lessons.

  1. Different Sample. Our group was not representative of who will actually be using these guides. Not only are we all in the same program, but the group who attended these sessions also were similar in that they all were interested in and chose to attend. What we learned from this is that (a) we need to pilot these in churches to get richer feedback on edits, and (b) we needed to change the guidelines to encourage this group to disagree. Due to our similarities, little challenging or disagreement occurred. Due to this, we ended up changing the one of our guidelines to say “challenge first, love second” instead of the original “love first, challenge second”.
  2. Lots of People have Church Trauma. It was shocking for us to see so many people share about their trauma with the church. In one group (how the church has disappointed us)each person shared a very vivid memory from their childhood regarding how the church has hurt them. Many were emotional to the point of tears. Even though we know this trauma exists and have experienced some of it ourselves, we did not know it was that present for so many people.

The responses to people sharing were also impactful. Often, those in the group who still called themselves Christian would say something such as “I cannot believe other people who believe the same God as me treated you that way. I’m so sorry.”

  • Storytelling is Super Engaging. Part of what led to the “How the church has disappointed us” group being so engaging was the fact that people were sharing stories. We noticed that people really listened, asked good questions, and engaged with this topic much more than the others. From this, we learned that the repetitive flow of several guides being structured the same got a bit boring, or made students hesitant to share their viewpoint without knowing the research or all perspectives. Asking people to share personal stories made it easy for everyone to engage, and made the topic very real.
  • Young Adults Were Interested in Learning about the Church and Pivot Northwest. One interesting trend across the weeks was that nearly every group reached a point where students were simply asking us questions about the Pivot NW grant, the use of these guides, and about various denominations and the church in general. Several had not interacted with Christian churches before and were just curious about it all. This taught us that there is a need for these discussions so that people can understand where each other is coming from.
  • Generations Don’t Understand Each Other. We frequently heard from young adults in our groups that they feel misunderstood by older generations. However, we have also heard that older generations feel misunderstood by young adults. And, we saw first-hand that many young adults who were not raised in the church genuinely do not know enough about the church to understand it. This once again highlighted the importance of these conversations as an opportunity to learn about another perspective.
  • Students do not Read the Guides. Students did not read the guide, but rather briefly looked at it and then started bringing up topics or thoughts that were triggered by the guide. From this, we see the need to possibly shorten the guides and also to pilot test them in a group that goes through the shorter guides in a more structured way.

Next Steps

Here are some of our plans in moving forward with these guides:

  • New sample of young adults! We want to meet with our participating churches and continue to pilot these discussions with the Young Adults in your church! Look for our email, or email us if you are interested in participating.
  • Revising our facilitators guide to possibly pilot test and/or train pastors how to conduct them in their churches and surrounding communities
  • Revise the guides based on feedback that was received, including getting them to one page so that you can take them with you everywhere you go!
  • Continue to collect topics that are hard to have and look at creating guides around these topics, your ideas are welcome! What is a conversation that could use some guidelines with your members who may have opposing views? Some ideas we have pondered: marijuana, race, tattoos, mental health in the church, and more!

By Mackenzie Allison, Mathea Krogstad and Gabrielle Metzler




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