Creating Space for Imagination

By: Chris McCain
April 11, 2016

Building on principles and practices that FTE has learned through the Art of Hosting Community, Discernment Café is a conversational process that supports the development of new ideas through collaboration.

I am often asked, “What does it mean for FTE to be the Forum for Theological Exploration?” It’s a great question – and one that we at FTE think a lot about.

When you think of the word forum, what comes to your mind? Maybe it’s the Roman Forum, the heart of ancient Rome where laws were debated, victories were celebrated, and civic life was on full display. Or perhaps you think of a modern-day Internet forum where ideas are shared and discussed by people all around the world. Then and now, forums are spaces – real and virtual – where people come together to talk about the ideas that undergird and shape their communities.

For us at FTE, being a forum informs all that we do. It means we strive to create spaces for inquiry, imagination and collaboration. It means we work to bring diverse people together to explore what God may be calling them and their communities to be and do in the world. And it means we host conversations about questions that really matter – and encourage the willingness to respond with concrete actions.

One of the ways that FTE embodies this vision is through a group process we call Discernment Café. Building on principles and practices that FTE has learned through the Art of Hosting Community, Discernment Café is a conversational process that supports the development of new ideas through collaboration. These conversations link and build on each other as people move between groups, cross-pollinate ideas, and discover new insights into vocational questions or issues that are most important to them and their communities.

In Discernment Café, there is no set agenda or anticipated outcome; there are only guiding questions intent on deepening the vocational exploration of all participants. Through this process, we seek to draw upon the collective intelligence of the whole group through the movement of the Spirit among all who are present. That means that in each round, participants move between different topics of conversation to order share from their unique wisdom and diverse experiences.

Discernment Café begins by inviting participants to call out ideas for projects or initiatives that they would like to discuss with members of the larger group. Once topics are identified, the “callers” take seats at tables and serve as hosts for three rounds of conversation. After all tables have been chosen by someone sharing a question, other participants are invited to join one of the tables.

The process proceeds in three rounds of 15-20 minutes each. After each round, participants are asked to move to another table for the next round while the hosts remain at their table to carry forward the conversation. The guiding questions of each round help hosts to focus their ideas and move toward concrete next steps:

  • Round One: What is the project? What is the caller’s motivation? What are their hopes?
  • Round Two: What is missing? What would make the project more compelling or complete?
  • Round Three: What are their learnings and their next faithful steps? What help might they still need? What insights can you offer them?

Discernment Café concludes with a large group conversation in which the host of each table reflects on what, as a result of this process, they are grateful for and what their next faithful steps will be.

Every time we host it, Discernment Café is a new creation. Just like a forum, it’s a constantly changing space for new ideas, insights, and connections – a great tool for helping the church discern and live into what God desires for it.

Tags: Inside FTE, Innovation in Ministry, Thinking Out Loud


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