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

Small Group Discerning

I have been thrilled to use material from my doctoral thesis in a variety of practical contexts. It seems that groups are constantly needing to make decisions. We often wait until we are forced to choose a direction, not able to give appropriate time and attention to seeking God’s promptings. Yet when groups are able to dedicate time to a process, they are able to slow down and come to a unified decision. This summer, we have worked through a discernment process with a group of young adults in our church.

A group of (primarily) twenty-somethings have been meeting for three years in a small group. The group meetings consisted of a weekly meal and Bible study. The experience has been tremendous for all involved. It has been a catalyst for growth, provided needed accountability and allowed members to engage Scripture together. Over the past few weeks, members have shared of the group’s value in their lives. The group has gelled into a family-like unit; the fear of losing these crucial connections has created fear and anxiety.

At the same time, life circumstances have shifted for many group members. Several children have been born, some members have relocated. Additions to the group have filled most home meetings to capacity. It seemed to many that God was prompting the group to consider something new. But how would the group discern the next step? A few attempts to define the issues led to frustration and confusion. At the beginning of August, we introduced an intentional process of discernment for the group. The group was able (in the Explore Stage) to adequately define the question.

Reflecting on what God has taught us, how is He calling this group to action so that our efforts might be expanded for the benefit of the church and the community?

Such clarity was crucial in leading group discussions. We were not going to decide every detail. We could not address issues of meeting times, childcare, meeting purposes, etc. We could only discern the next step. How was God calling this group to action? It was also critical to focus on God’s movement for the past three years. God had been working, moving in this group. The group needed to celebrate this reality as it considered the next step.

Surprisingly, the group was able to come to a conclusion in just three weeks. Perhaps the tedious conversations earlier in the summer contributed to the focus of the group. Perhaps God’s Spirit had been working for months in the heart’s of group members. But once the question was on the table, it did not take long for the group to reach consensus. The group formulated this statement:

God is calling some of us to step out of this existing group in order to begin (lead) new groups in our church (perhaps missional groups). Some of us feel that God has called us to stay as this group. This will open the group to others (allowing this group to be accessible) so that the they may be discipled as we have been.

The specifics of this decision are yet to be determined. Each member will need to discern God’s promptings. Yet, I applaud the courage of this group to follow God’s leading. So many small groups cleave to the comfort of familiarity. They come week-in and week-out without ever considering what God may be doing. Only through this intentional discernment process could this group discover and express God’s calling. The next step may lack clarity. It may be difficult, but clearly communicating the outcome of this discernment process will empower this group to move ahead.

As we consider the promptings of the Spirit, may we take the necessary time to intentionally discern God’s leading. May we always have the courage to step into the unknown. May the clarity gained from this process be the fire that kindles our work in the future. There are more decisions to be made, more steps of faith. But for now, we can celebrate the unified conclusion of this group.