coming to "one mind"

The recent discussion on voting, along with the upcoming election constantly in the news, got me thinking about voting in the context of communities. The intentional Christian communities we've lived with have attempted to make decisions by consensus rather than majority vote. That does seems more in keeping with the desire to come to "one mind" in Christ. And it also avoids perhaps the most obvious drawback to "majority rules," which is that the minority gets decisions forced on them against their will. This is the impetus for political power struggles, trying to gather a majority on your side of the issue. Because the majority clearly has power over the minority. Consensus decision-making seeks to avoid this.

Of course there are drawbacks to consensus decision-making as well. One big one is the pressure that is felt when only one or two people disagree and hold back the group from proceeding. Often people can feel forced to give in in those situations. But the main drawback, which has caused most communities (including the ones we've lived among) to give up on consensus decision-making, is that it's too hard to get everyone to agree. Decisions are made too slowly or not at all. Too much gridlock, and not enough gets done. So, for example, the community here has moved to a 75% majority vote for decision-making. Which gets us back to the power dynamics mentioned above.

What I've noticed, though, is that consensus is not as hard to achieve in smaller groups. It's easier to understand each other when you can talk freely among a few people, and often people in these smaller gatherings are initially closer to "one mind" when they come together for a project, a common interest having drawn them to it. "Majority rule" is unnecessary in small groups, and usually even feels inappropriate in these more intimate settings.

So it seems to me that many of the problems of group decision-making could be avoided if the groups in which decisions were made were smaller. That's not to suggest oligarchy instead of democracy, but that decisions be made on a lower level, by the few people involved in the work. That fits with my other recent thoughts on work and getting things done with minimal low-level organization. When we gather the power of bigger groups of people, we also get ourselves into the power struggles or gridlock of big group decision-making.

Of course our communities are not going to reorganize themselves into smaller groups. But in whatever situation we find ourselves, we can look for and cooperate with the smaller gatherings of people that are coming to "one mind" around something God is doing.

"Where two or three are gathered in my name," Jesus said. And very often that's all that's needed to get the job done.