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

Planning with an Open Mind

We meet this evening as a church leadership team to develop a listening strategy for our discernment process in church staffing. The process began in May and has been interrupted due to hiring an interim worship pastor. Just as we were planning to listen, God spoke.

This raises the question of a listening strategy. One might think that the word strategy does not belong in a discernment process. We are seeking God rather than planning or envisioning an outcome, right? Certainly, we want to tread this ground carefully.

You may or may not remember the first stage of the discernment process. The explore stage allows the team to consider the question at hand. It also prompts the team to consider the possible outcomes of the process. A careful balance between an anything goes brainstorming session and a careful ruling out of infeasible possibilities is necessary. The goal is to come to some agreement on the scope of the decision at hand.

The next stage involves developing a listening strategy for the identified decision. While any sort of strategy runs the risk of limiting God’s movement, an agreed direction can aid in our discerning. This is the reason we call it a strategy.

However, we must be careful when we talk in these terms. James warns us,

(James 4:13–14 NIV) Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.

We should be tentative in our strategies and plans. James advises,

(James 4:15 NIV) Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

So, I want to use the word strategy in the loosest possible manner. As we consider a plan, we must remain open to God’s plan. As we consider methods of listening, we must not limit the voice of God to our strategy. As we move forward, we must be sensitive to the sovereign Holy Spirit’s direction.

If you are uncomfortable with the word strategy, I certainly understand. However, I will keep calling it a listening strategy for lack of a better term. Nevertheless, I preface our work this evening with James’ words, “if it is the Lord’s will we will . . .”