Bridging the we/they divide

March 04, 2011

A business CEO who is also an active United Methodist presented five leadership pillars at a recent gathering I attended. With these five pillars, he has transformed every company he has led. He claims that they work in every setting.

His second pillar really struck a chord with me: 100 percent trust. A key practice to building trust is to ban the word “they” from an organization. Within the organization there is only “we.”

I came home from that lecture thinking we need to do the same thing in the Minnesota Annual Conference. Do you know how much we use the word “they” and not in a simply descriptive way?

I see the “we/they” divide between different ministry areas in the annual conference. We sometimes live in silos, not talking to each other and making assumptions and judgments about the other.

It exists between churches: small churches versus large churches; rural versus urban versus suburban churches; new churches versus established churches.

And yes, even among clergy in terms of young and old, liberal or conservative, deacons, elders and local pastors.

I mainly hear a lot about what “they” (the annual conference) are doing to or not doing for “us” (clergy and churches). When I look around to see who “they” are, I discover they mean me, as one of those people who work at 122 West Franklin Avenue.

I have not been exempt from this behavior. I have talked about clergy or churches that don’t measure up to my expectations. I have been frustrated by parts of our annual conference structure or system and have wanted to distance myself from their actions by describing them as “they,” not “me” or “we.” When I have been uncomfortable with a colleague’s beliefs or behaviors, and didn’t want to be identified with them, I called them “they” so people would know that is not me.

“They” dehumanizes

I know how I feel when I get labeled as “they.” I don’t like it. I feel judged, not valued, and somehow dehumanized. So I need to confess and repent of my sin in this matter. Repentance means to turn around. I recognize my sin and then I do better—I change.

I commit to pay attention to my language and thinking, and to ban the word “they,” in a pejorative sense, from my vocabulary. I know it won’t be perfect overnight, but it won’t happen without my making it a commitment.

As a church we have significant decisions to make that will shape our future. I don’t think we can afford “we/they” thinking and language. We have to recognize that our ability to be the church God has called us to be is predicated on our connection to each other. We need the gifts of the whole body of Christ. We must understand that one part of the system does not exist without the other.

One hundred percent trust is cultivated when we assume the best of each other and recognize that we are on the same team working toward a common goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ. When you have 100 percent trust people feel valued, give their best, and bring creative thinking and energy to the table because they know it is a safe place and they will be welcomed. We need that now more than ever.

My invitation to us is to commit to bridge the “we/they” divide. Let us be a connectional church in a new way.

Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404

(612) 870-0058