That's the question The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle asks whenever he walks into a church. Voyle is an Episcopal Priest, transitional minister, consultant, and leader of one of the top interim minister training programs. He explains the significance of his question in this description of the first time he asked it in a sermon at a church in transition:
What the question had raised in the minds of the people was the unintelligible gossip, or everything that was going on that was not in God's Name. What I am most interested in however is the real answer to the questions: Where is God at work in your midst? Where do you find God? Where do you see God acting in your life and in the lives of your fellow parishioners? Or in other words; What in God's name is going on here?
Voyle is a leader in the development and use of appreciative coaching in his work with clergy. He describes Appreciative Inquiry as a congregational development process:
Where the Church and its leaders are a mystery to be embraced rather than a problem to be solved. Our Purpose is to transform the Church from being a place of fear to a place of love, where duty and obligation become passion and delight, threat and intimidation are replaced by freedom and joy, and mediocrity is redeemed to competent excellence.
Appreciative Inquiry, founded by David Cooperrider, is the model Dr. Voyle uses in coaching clergy and congregational leaders. It is based on the idea of discovering what works and gives life to an organization and building on these life-giving properties.
This model follows a process of inquiry to discover people's best experience as a basis for imagining a future and designing the processes and structures that will make the imagined future a reality. In other words, it is a process that asks, "What in God's Name is going on here?" and concentrates on the discoveries in the lives of parishioners, rather than on problems or deficits. It is less prone to initiating a negative, blaming, and judgmental atmosphere. Or, in other words, it is NOT focused on what is going on that is NOT in God's Name!
Dr. Voyle describes Appreciative Inquiry as a five phase (5D) process:
1. Define: Committing to the Positive
2. Discover: Valuing the Best of What Is
3. Dream: Visioning the Ideal
4. Design: Dialoguing What Needs to Be
5. Deliver: Innovating What Will Be
Dr. Voyle is presenting a workshop, Appreciative Inquiry for Vestries and Church Leaders at several locations in the Midwest, including one sponsored by the Diocese of Kansas on April 24 at St. David's in Topeka. The Very Rev. Steve Lipscomb, Dean of Grace Cathedral in Topeka, says this workshop is designed for vestry members and church leaders of churches:
• wanting to discover their purpose and grow their sense of mission;
• in transition and are seeking new rectors;
• that need to embrace the future rather than run from the past; and
• that want to grow in the love and joy of being children of God.
We have been quietly applying Appreciative Inquiry during this time of transition at Trinity Church in Lawrence, Kansas. In contrast to the old model of interim ministry as maintaining the status quo between rectors, we have been discovering places in the life of the parish where people are encountering God and opening hearts and minds to a future grounded in those positive faith experiences of its people.
I find it all very hopeful! "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jer. 29:11).