Blog Post: Chapter 8, “TOV Churches Nurture A People-First Culture”
An effective people-first culture requires authenticity and safety in the church; in the spirit, soul and body of each person who regularly participates in church life and in the structure of church life in its many forms. It is impossible to fabricate authenticity and safety. Our central nervous system has been wired for safety. The social engagement system, part of Polyvagal theory, helps us navigate relationships by our face-heart connection; through the eyes, ears, voice, facial expression and head movement, signalling and searching for signs of welcome and warning, with and without our intentional awareness. (Deb Dana, ‘Polyvagal Flip Chart; Understanding the Science of Safety). Where do we focus our eyes when we talk to someone? What is the tone of our voice? What is our facial expression indicating? Our actual words are only a part of our communication. Is there congruency between our verbal and non-verbal communication? What is the other truly hearing/sensing? Mr. Rogers is a wonderful example of the face-heart connection that the Polyvagal System refers to.
The authors quote Fred Rogers: “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.” (p. 123).
On p. 124 we read that Mr. Rogers’ values were “… integrity, respect, responsibility, fairness and compassion, and . . . kindness.” In other words, people first.” As I write this, I am reminded of the Billy Graham song, “Just as I am without one plea…” Our first encounter with God is that He loves and accepts us just the way we are. Just as Mr. Rogers told his children every day. As we greet each other, as we have coffee together, as we take part in the Sunday morning activities, we are giving out messages of welcome, or not, as we unconsciously engage with each other’s face-heart connection.
The placement of the chapters is interesting; whether this is intentional or not, I do not know. Spoiler alert: the next chapter focuses on ‘TOV churches nurture truth.’ A wise person once told me: ‘Grace before Truth.’ In issues of doctrine, truth is of the utmost importance. Is it possible that in relationships, grace goes farther than truth? God’s intent in relationships is clear in John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave…” His primary intention is love and giving, in His wisdom. What is our primary intention?
The authors suggest five essential practices to regain a people-first culture in our churches: “(1) treat people as people. (2) enfold others into the community. (3) recognize all people as made in the image of God. (4) treat people as siblings, and (5) develop Jesus-like eyes for people. Each one of us is ‘searching for’ a safe place to be and feel loved and accepted.
If we would rate our churches in the context of the above five practices and the social engagement system, how would we score? What if I individually rated myself, how would I score? Oh dear!
Two sentences in the five practices stood out for me:
“Each person we meet is designed by God to look like Christ. As such, we are to give everyone profound respect and honor for who they are – even if the image of God in them has been tarnished or “painted over” by sinful choices.” (p. 30).
Only as I allow God to do the deep work in my life, am I able to respond with eyes that truly smile, with a voice of genuine care, and with a welcoming gesture to every one of the image bearers God places in my path.
Blog Post from Dianne Loerchner, Registered Psychotherapist and Elder at Kingsfield Zurich Mennonite Church