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


I have not been as faithful through 2016 in writing for this blog. Other work has taken precedence during the year. However, I am not abandoning this blog. I am more convinced than ever of the necessity of discernment in churches. This past week, I met with an area pastor. He is new to the pastorate and is following a long tenured pastor. He knows that change needs to take place but is uncertain about the timing and process. He and I talked about discerning the path that God would have the congregation travel. We often, with best intentions as leaders, begin to chart out the way that seems best to us. We then construct a plan to get the congregation to buy in to our plan. I explained to him that discernment begins with God. It presupposes that God is active and moving. Our job is to find out what God wants rather than decide what we want. This approach looks great on paper but is seldom practiced in churches.

As I think about 2017, I am eager to see where God leads us in the coming year. I am fortunate to have been awarded a Clergy Renewal Grant from the Lilly Foundation. This means that we will spend three months this summer away from the daily grind of ministry. We will travel, read, renew and relax. We will see new places and experience God’s movement outside of our context. At the same time, our church has planned to engage the local community in new ways during our absence. When we come back together in September, we will discern together all that God has been showing us.

Discerning can be fun. While it may offer a less predictable path, it provides opportunity for God to lead. We don’t have to take responsibility to figure it all out on our own. We simply walk with God and allow Him to reveal direction. We must do the work of listening, but we allow God to form His plans rather than inventing our own.

I am looking forward to 2017. I approach the new year with a sense of expectancy. The sabbatical experience will be different for me. I have never been away from working in a church for this length of time. I suppose I will learn more about myself as a follower of Christ and as a pastor. At the same time, there is much to do before June. Our planning will be a process of discerning. We have worship services to draft, areas of community engagement to organize and workshops to arrange. May God lead us in this endeavor. May he give us all we need, both in terms of planning and in terms of carrying out our plans. May this adventure of sabbatical be a time in which we can look back and see God’s movement in our lives.