The consensus pattern of decision making is reflected in the life of the early church. The consultation procedure followed during the conference at Jerusalem described in Acts 15, included a variety of components: the gathering together of church leaders, identification of the issue, sharing various points of view, an appeal to history and biblical truth, a review of current experiences, summarizing a possible direction based on a new interpretation of Scripture, gaining consensus on key points, and trusted leaders communicating the outcome. This model of decision making appears to have been followed in the Anabaptist communities according to Peachey, Redekop, and others, The consensus model takes seriously the Anabaptists' understanding of the church as a community in search for truth. it allows for a mutuality in decision making which values the insights and views of the entire body of gathered believers.
In the late 20th century various interpretations have been given on the meaning of consensus as a form of decision making. Lippitt sees a difference between unanimous decision making and a consensus decision. In the latter case people agree on a course of action, but those who disagree reserve the right to test the intended action which will be evaluated later. This amounts to a provisional decision. This approach is different than compromise, which entails bringing two opposing views together forming a new proposal different from the two original ideas. In consensus, people may not be sure of the right decision but are willing to give the proposal a try.
Others would see consensus more in the direction of an unanimous decision, or coming to a "common mind." The Quaker view is that this is not a "humanistic" process using good group dynamics procedures. It is rather a search for truth to discern "the mind of Christ." Through the use of silence, listening carefully to the insight of community members, the group moves in a direction which reflects the sense of the meeting. The clerk of the meeting possesses the skills to draw together the emerging consensus of the group.
Consensus decision making need not presuppose full unanimity. However, consideration must be given to those people who have not fully made up their mind but are willing to proceed, given a time of testing and evaluation. Further, there may be those who would choose to go a different direction, but for the sake of the group are prepared to support a decision to move ahead. Various procedures can be used to test whether consensus has been reached, such as a voice or hand vote or outlining the decision and asking whether people disagree.
The consensus approach works well where the group is not too large, is relatively homogenous, has a high level of trust, and is accustomed to interacting with one another.
Lippitt, Gordon L. "Improving Decisionmaking With Groups, in Group Development, Selected Reading Series One, National Training Laboratories (1961): 90-93.
Bauman, Harold. Congregations and Their Servant Leaders. Scottdale: Mennonite Publishing House, 1982: 7-16.
Claassen, Willard. Learning to Lead. Christian Service Training Series. Scottdale and Newton, 1963: 79-90.
Concern Pamphlet, no. 14. 1967.
Brinton, Howard. "Reaching Decisions," in Friends for 300 Years. New York: Harper, 1952: ch. 6, also published as Pendle Hill Pamphlet, no. 65.
Redekop, Calvin. The Free Church and Seductive Culture. Scottdale, 1970: 70-71.
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MLA style: Lebold, Ralph A. "Consensus." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 20 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C6667ME.html.
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