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

Entering Into the Story

This past week, I have been re-reading a book entiled Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition by Alan Roxburgh. I read it for the first time shortly after its publication in 2010. I was in the midst of my doctoral work. On the other side of this endeavor, I wanted to revisit the book. I find it incredibly relevant for a discerning church.

I would like to take a few minutes to highlight one of Roxburgh’s chief recommendations for leaders striving to create new maps for our time and place. In the latter section of chapter 2, Roxburg describes the role of pastoral leader in guiding the church in the in-between (Roxburgh believes that we are living in a transitioning world that has not yet settled into the new world that it will become . . . if it ever really settles). He recommends familiarity with maps that have shaped us in the past. In other words, we need to understand modernity. Secondly, he advocates an engagement of the biblical narrative. This is where most like to land in this post. If we are going to navigate the changes in our world, we must continually return to the Story of God. Only in this story can we find direction.

Roxburgh highlights the continual adjustment of God’s people to chaos and change. As we live in the story again and again, we allow God’s Spirit to speak in new ways. Roxburgh explains,

Transition is not a zone to move through quickly. It is the place where the imagination for God’s future can be born or, in the words of Hannah Arendt, the place that contains the moment of truth. It’s the place where we reengage the narratives of Scripture so that they challenge us afresh. p. 37

So how does this work in the discernment process? Is this something that is built into the process? Or should the church be continally engage the Story of God week in and week out? Maybe there are some decisions that demand a fresh look at a particular aspect of the Story of God. Certainly, it would be appropriate to explore a distinct facet of the story that is pertinent to the decision at hand. Yet, I understand this task as fundamental to our existence. In other words, it should be happening all the time.

Discernment is not something that is contained in a process. It is something that we are doing all the time. As we engage Scripture, God speaks. It is that simple. Therefore, we have to keep returning to the biblical narrative over and over. I’m often amazed at how applicable our Sunday sermons are to a particular decision we are making as a church. One might think that such connection is planned. It is not. May God speak to us as we study Scripture. May His Word do its work in us as we meticulously enter into the Story each week. As Roxburgh concludes in chapter two,

The implications for mapping a future in churches and denominations are massive. We cannot predict the shape of our new maps from where we are right now. But if we dare reenter Scripture from the perspective of the edges, of liminality, to read our own traditions from this perspective without the need to create solutions and control outcomes, the maps will emerge. p. 40