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

Another Decision

It has been a while since I have blogged on this site. I have been a bit overwhelmed finishing my doctoral thesis. However, I hope to contribute to this site throughout 2012. My thesis has been submitted to the second reader and I have a bit of time to sit back and evaluate what I have learned.

At the same time, we are implementing the discernment process (outside of the thesis) with a major church decision regarding changing our Sunday morning schedule. While this may seem like a minor decision to some, in an established church an adequate process can make the difference between much confusion and unity.

Going through the process a second time has revealed the power of a defined process. The process pressed us to spend sufficient time and energy on the decision to alter our Sunday morning schedule. Without giving too much detail, I would like to summarize the work of our leadership team. We met yesterday evening in our third meeting since November 7. Allow me to describe each meeting; this may give you a sense of how the process works.

###November 7 (Explore/Listen)

In our initial meeting, we explored various options for altering our Sunday morning schedule. These options included everything from moving to one combined service to canceling Sunday school. We eventually ruled out some of the more extreme actions. However, everything was on the table during this stage. By the conclusion of this meeting we had reached 3 potential options: 1) Do nothing 2) move our early service earlier and late service later 3) implement a flip flop schedule that includes two worship hours and two Sunday school hours.

The second task of this initial meeting was to develop a listening strategy. The strategy would include listening to outsiders, congregational participation, and seeking the Holy Spirit. We developed a three-week listening strategy. Everyone had an assignment and began to work the listening strategy. Over the next 3 weeks, we conducted an all-church survey, spent time in Sunday school classes discussing possibilities, spent time in worship corporately praying about the decision, made phone calls to the other churches regarding their schedules, spoke to students in the area about their Sunday morning schedules, and more.

###December 5 (Examine/Decide)

We met a second time on December 5 to examine and synthesize what we learned. This was an amazing experience. We all came into the room with different ideas; we left the room in unity. In this two-hour block of time, we explored what we heard. People shared from their experience of prayer and discernment. Everyone agreed that some change was necessary. We explored the two options informed by the activities of the listening strategy. It seemed as if the Holy Spirit was speaking in our midst. The more we discussed, the more a flip-flop schedule seem to make sense. By the end of the meeting, everyone agreed on a direction. We did not have all specifics worked out; we would meet again on January 9 to discuss the specifics. We also scheduled in all church gathering for January 22 to present the model.

###January 9 (Communication)

The fourth stage of the discernment process is communication. It is not enough to decide; we must tell the story of the process in order to confirm our discerning. While a schedule change does not require affirmation from the congregation (a church vote), the leaders felt it necessary to communicate and give the congregation a chance to endorse the decision. We now have a developed plan to communicate the decision. It involves each person on the Council sharing an element of the process with the congregation. We will find out how it goes on January 22. We plan to share and take a consensus vote on this date (I need to share with you about how this works. This will be a subject for a future blog post). I will keep you updated on the progress.

###The Benefit of a Process

Is this process of discernment helpful? Will the process aid unity at First Baptist Church Muncie? My sense is that it will. We are learning how to discern as a congregation. We are learning to ask for God’s will rather than lobby for our own preference. I am hopeful that the Spirit will move through our continual discerning as a congregation.