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

Pulled Away

For the past few months, I have failed to update this blog. It has been a season of transition for our church; it has been necessary to give time to other items. Enough with the excuses; I am diving back into this work. I enjoy the discipline and work of writing. It helps me articulate particular aspects of what it means to live as a discerning church. As I have written before, this is an ongoing process. We are constantly pulled away from this posture as we are enticed toward other means of decision-making.

This past week, it was my turn to present at a pastor’s gathering at Franklin College. We bring a 5-10 page paper for group discussion. I chose to highlight three ways in which our culture pulls us away from the task of discerning. I would like to briefly highlight these pulls.

The Pull of Hurried Schedules

A detriment to the task of discerning is busy lives. Discernment takes time; it cannot be accomplished in one meeting. We live in a fast paced, hectic culture. It is difficult to get everyone together at one time and place. George Barna, in his book A Fish Out of Water: 9 Strategies Effective Leaders Use to Help You Get Back Into the Flow, describes church leaders as unintentionally acquiescing to instinctive modes of operating. He speaks of “reflex actions and routines” as the primary force in our church meetings. If we are going to appropriately discern, we must be willing to carve out time for this important task. Also, we must be willing to allow the process to play out over several months if necessary. We cannot allow our hurried schedules to hinder our discerning.

The Pull of Personal Preference

Secondly, personal preference impedes discernment. We live in a world where individual needs and desires are foremost in our decision-making. I propose that the American tendency toward individualism and personal preference is contrary to our calling as Christ followers. It is crucial that we recognize this predisposition. We must engage the teaching of Scripture to put our individual needs to the side. Three of the Gospel writers quote Jesus, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, Mark 8:34, Matt. 16:24 NIV) This challenge involves an intentional laying aside of personal preferences.

The Pull of Powerful Personalities

Finally, the third pull highlighted in my paper was powerful personalities. Church decisions are often controlled by a few people. Significant energy is often required to keep powerful personalities from dominating the discussion. As we (church leaders) contest inequitable power mongering, we sometimes turn to political jockeying. Tactics of compromise, discrediting, conciliation or appeasing are used to gain approval for agendas. It is difficult to discern God’s voice in such an environment. If we stoop to such maneuvers, we are equally responsible for hindering God’s movement among His people. A process that weighs all the voices, not just the powerful ones, is necessary for leaders to discern God’s movement. We must move beyond the “squeaky wheel” approach.

Each of these pulls has the potential to keep a church from adequately discerning God’s direction. While I have not offered specific ways of handling each pull, it is first and foremost a matter of keeping these pulls in mind as we discern. A process of discernment is essential in order to keep these hindrances at bay.