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

Congregational Constituents

As you may know, I recently completed a doctoral thesis. The premise was that my current church is dealing with some level of paralysis in its decision-making. The paralysis is a result of injury from past conflict. I feel that we have made some progress over the past year as we have developed a process of discernment. This process was intended to break the paralysis, leading the church into Spirit-informed decision-making. One of my conclusions (in my thesis) was that this transition (from paralysis to active Spirit-led decision-making) is not quick. In fact, I find myself (as the pastor) constantly discovering pockets of paralysis. I feel like the physical therapist who has worked with a patient over and over; I return to the hospital room to find him shriveled, unable to walk. I question if my efforts are working.

A key vexation is an overwhelming concern for satisfying members of the church. As we make decisions, we drift into people-pleasing mode. Will the decision be popular? Will it upset key congregants? Will it “sell well” to skeptics? While I understand the need to properly involve the entire congregation in decision-making (we are Baptists by the way), I wonder if we might be asking the wrong questions. Certainly decisions at our church need to be affirmed by the congregation. An isolated forum of leaders making decisions is not an ideal dynamic. At the same time, a smaller group discerning the movement of the Spirit seems appropriate. But there is a difference from discerning the Spirit together and determining the most popular direction for the congregation.

As I struggle with this dynamic, I wonder if there are intentional questions that can be posed to our group to focus our attention on the Spirit’s movement. I unquestionably understand that God speaks through the people of our congregation. I know that this is a part of the process; yet I am not sure that it outlines the entirety of our work. Are there other ways to discern God’s direction as we seek to be obedient to His leading? Perhaps these questions would serve as a start.

  1. What has God revealed to you in regards to this decision? How does He seem to be leading our group as we have dialoged about this decision?
  2. How might our decision be received by the congregation? Will there be members who are happy or unhappy with this decision? What does that mean if we go with a particular direction?
  3. Will this decision require us to adjust our understanding of “how we do things”? Are we willing to adjust as a congregation out of faithfulness to God’s leading?
  4. After exploring all possible options, can we conclude that God is prompting us in a particular direction? If so, how can we communicate His movement to others? How do we tell the story of the Spirit’s movement?

We often think of a constituent as one who polls the broader group and then represents their opinions in decision-making. A constituent is defined as,

being a part of a whole or being a voting member of a community or organization

Leaders do represent the broader congregation. But we are called to represent them in seeking God, not simply polling their opinions. We must learn to discern the movement of God for the congregation. As Baptists, we surely need to verify God’s movement by bringing major decisions back to the congregation. Yet we must be active in seeking the Spirit, not merely doing market research. I do not pretend to have it all figured out. I know that adjustment is required; I am working through how to instigate this modification of posture. Perhaps God will reveal ways to shift our mindset as we faithfully seek Him in our decision-making.