What is a "Fish Bowl", anyway?
by Melanie Taylor
Our church is bursting with people who are sensitive to the needs of others. As Romans 12:15 instructs we, “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Doing so has enlarged our hearts, our families, and our borders of fellowship.
We’ve become good “crisis people”. We’re professionals when it comes to organizing an emergency prayer meeting, setting up a Take Them a Meal, or taking care of kids for a few hours when parents are at their breaking point. But, what about the in-between time? Are we actively listening, learning, and demonstrating compassion to one another without the prompting of a crisis- whether internal or external?
Fish Bowls are an opportunity to hear from one another in that in-between time. The concept itself is not unique to City. I first heard about the concept during a workshop at the Christian Community Development Association National Conference (CCDA) in Memphis, TN back in 2013. A church in Georgia invited different groups within their membership to host conversations on Saturday mornings and the rest of their body was asked to listen in to learn more about their experience.
Fish Bowls will allow us to take a look at the identity and experience of a particular group as a part of our church family ("Being _________ at City"). These folks will respond to different questions, that they've prepared ahead of time, as they share amongst themselves for 40-50 minutes in view of those gathered in attendance. The events altogether should last about an hour and a half.
A Fish Bowl is NOT:
A panel discussion
The audience is central to a panel discussion. Participants frame their remarks for the understanding of the audience, sometimes taking questions from them directly. But at a Fish Bowl, the participants are central. They prayerfully decide ahead of time how best to cover the topic at hand. Then they talk amongst themselves as if the audience isn’t in the room, allowing them to have a richer and more authentic conversation. The audience is invited to listen in on what is likely a normal conversation for folks of that particular experience but, without being invited, they may never have had access to that perspective!
In Fish Bowls, the burden of understanding is on the audience, not the participants. The audience has to momentarily set aside their own experience in order to empathize and receive what the participants have to say. They understand that this one event isn't designed to answer all of their questions regarding the given topic but they can, at the very least, walk away with a fuller picture of what they don’t know. And that in and of itself is valuable!
A chance to vent
These events are much more than letting folks get stuff off their chest, though I pray they can be cathartic experiences for all who chose to participate! Fish Bowls are a great exercise in vulnerability on the part of those sharing and those receiving. They are an invitation to deeper fellowship with brothers and sisters in our church family.
A teaching moment
We are sure to learn a lot from one another as we continue with Fish Bowls. But we're not asking those participating to prepare a theological treatise on their topic or step-by-step plan for addressing the needs of their population. We're asking them to share about important aspects of their identity, and their experience as a part of our family of faith.
A Fish Bowl IS:
An act of prophetic listening
Prophetic listening involves listening to honor the speaker and the Holy Spirit as He speaks through them, listening to understand what’s being said, and listening that we might be changed as individuals and as a body. We encourage active participation like “talk back” during Sunday service and other events, but not in the same way at Fish Bowls. It’s alright to laugh, cry, say “Amen” or “Ouch!” where appropriate, but the role in attendance is to actively listen without asserting their own opinions or perspectives. Think of it like organized eavesdropping. Fish Bowl just sounds a lot better than calling it "Flies on the Wall"! You can take a look back at the "How to Get More of What You Really Need" blog post or listen to "The Power of Shutting Up and Listening (Part 1&2)" for a refresher on prophetic listening.
A step toward health and flourishing
Leveraging our power and influence justly sometimes means speaking up for those at the margins of our fellowship. But more often than not the marginalized are quite capable of speaking for themselves, if only we’ll turn over the mic! We have the opportunity, through Fish Bowls, to hear words of wisdom and healing that are vital to our body's flourishing.
1 Corinthians 12.21-26 gives us a picture of the desired outcome of this event series:
“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; it one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
How can I support these events?
Depending on each event’s topic it may be easy to assume that we are already know plenty about a given topic or that is has nothing to do with us. Participating in a Fish Bowl is an incredibly vulnerable experience. It means a lot to those involved that you would come and support the work of the Lord- in person!
A lot goes into making Fish Bowls happen! We will always need volunteers with childcare, and the Hospitality and Tech Teams. Let us know if you’re interested in serving or donating resources for these events.
We know that the last thing the Enemy wants to see is unity in God's family, so we're committing to fast and pray that the Lord would have His way with each Fish Bowl event! You can download the Fasting and Prayer Guide for the upcoming Fish Bowl HERE.