Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

Drafting a Process

Developing a process of discerning for church leaders is a daunting task. Frank Rogers, in Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People (edited by Dorothy Bass) describes the difficulty.

Unfortunately, there is no method that guarantees that the ways of the Spirit will be discerned in any given situation. The Holy Spirit eludes capture by any formula. Loc – 2160

Yet it seems that leaders need some sort of process to guard against self-seeking motivations. As I struggle to put something on paper, I am encouraged by the continuation of this quote. Roger further clarifies,

However, certain methods have been developed that help counter self-deception and heighten the possibility that God’s Spirit can be known. Loc – 2160

These methods have been used for centuries to help Christians, both individually and collectively, discern God’s movement. The challenge of this project is to make the process simple and doable in any given situation. As I prepare to meet with lay leaders in July, I have drafted a five step process. This process is a culmination of several years of reading, writing, and reflecting on issues of discernment. I am sure that it will change as we engage in conversation; nevertheless, here is the skeleton.

The first stage is to Define the Decision and Identify the Options. The one word description is Explore. We will ask questions like:

  1. Is this a decision that has to be made?
  2. What are the choices?
  3. What are the implications of each choice?

Each stage is separated by a time of prayer and reflection. The second stage is to Identify God’s Movement. The brief description is Listen to God. This will involve exploration of both scripture and events. Questions will include the following:

  1. Does Scripture speak to this decision?
  2. Has the Spirit been working in light of this decision?
  3. What is God revealing to us?

The third stage is Discussion. The description explains it as Listening to Each Other. Questions include:

  1. How might the outcomes help us fulfill our mission?
  2. How does this decision relate to our values and history?
  3. What potential conflicts might we encounter?
  4. How might we address concerns/conflict?

The fourth stage is Checking Against Tendencies. I will also call this stage Examine. There are all sorts of dynamics that work in our deciding. We want to make sure that we are not operating out of unhealthy or sinful tendencies. Again, we will again ask questions.

  1. What unhealthy church family dynamics might be impacting our decision?
  2. What factors might be playing into our decision? (personal preference, political motivations, cultural pulls promoting individualism)

At this point, the group will make a decision. However, the process does not end; there is a fifth post-decision stage. This stage will be called Communicating and Reflecting on the Decision. The short description is Communicate/Reflect. The questions and actions are as follows:

  1. Why did we make this decision?
  2. Tell the story of God’s movement.
  3. Address concerns or questions.
  4. Remain open to new information that may require revisiting the decision.

There is still work to be done, but this is the starting point. I would appreciate any feedback that you have.