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

Fighting Old Models

One of the challenges of becoming a discerning church is fighting old models of decision-making. Discerning is no easy task. It is not very efficient and requires time and energy (two highly valuable commodities in our world today). In addition, it is natural to revert to ingrained patterns of functioning, such as political jockeying or power/control maneuvers. So what can we do as church leaders to keep our congregations from slipping back into such practices? While the answer is not simple, I hope to offer a few suggestions in this blog post.

Celebrate Times of Discernment

One way to keep discerning a high value is to celebrate the past experience of going through a discernment process. We are on the other side of a couple of key decisions. We have still not had enough time to fully evaluate the merit of these selections; yet we seem to have experienced relative unity around these decisions. We have to keep reminding each other of this experience. Reminiscing together where we have been can fuel the worth of the process. Expressing sentiments like, “It really seems like the church is on one page about the new Sunday morning schedule” or “I was not sure what we would end up deciding, but God’s Spirit was truly active as we explored the issues together” or “It sure took a lot of time to come to a decision, but it seems that we explored all possible angles.” Such affirmation can bolster the value of a discernment process in the mind of the congregation. This brings me to the next suggestion.

Make Appropriate Use of Discerning Language

Language is a powerful force. Phrasing sentences in particular ways can have tremendous implications on how we think. It is important to use discerning language in our conversations. When we say, “not too many people are complaining about the new Sunday morning schedule,” we are communicating that our task is to eliminate complaining. If there is no complaining, it was a good decision. However, if we say, “It seems that God has directed us how to distribute missions funding,” we are communicating that God is the one who needs to decide; we are the ones to figure out what God wants. While this may seem petty, such language can transform how we think.

Challenge Inappropriate Behavior

A third suggestion is to challenge inappropriate behavior. This act needs to consist of its own level of discerning. Leaders can easily gravitate toward control-freak status. We feel that we need to make sure that everything is lining up. We must remind ourselves that we are unable to squash all reverting to old models, nor is it our task to do so. However, when obvious misbehavior occurs, we may need to call it out. It is crucial that our tone be in love, but we must not wink at dysfunctional schemes. We must state reality in light of proper discerning as the people of God.

Keep Leading, It Takes Time

Finally, we must remember that transitioning a community of believers from an institutional, self-serving entity to a discerning body of Spirit-led followers of Jesus is no short task. It takes time, energy and continual guiding. We must not be discouraged if our efforts appear short-lived. We must keep pointing the way ahead. This is what leaders do.

No magic pill is available. No three step program will fully transform your church into a discerning community. It is hard work; day in and day out we must keep moving forward. Battles will be lost, personalities will attempt to overthrow the process and people will often revert to self-serving agendas. May we continue to gently lead toward authentic communal discernment. As we experience this sort of environment, may we discover the wonder of living as a discerning people.