When faced with making a decision that is complex, divisive or controversial, some councils worry only about getting the end-result right. They think: What is the most God-honoring solution to the challenge we face?
Obviously, councils should be (most) concerned with discerning God-honoring solutions. However, it is possible to focus so much on finding the elusive “perfect” answer that you fail to appreciate the importance of the people and process that will generate and live out the answer.
Councils do well to ask two questions about their team and their process at the outset of any significant discernment process. In this article, we consider the first question.
The First Question: Are We Listening to God?
Too often, at council meetings, corporate prayer feels perfunctory; personal scripture study is assumed; and the spiritual formation of fellow office-bearers is an afterthought to deliberations. We presume to discern the will of God without having even spent much intentional time with him ourselves. We expect to hear God’s voice when we’re assembled as a group, even if we have little practice listening for his voice when we’re on our own.
The fact is, we cannot be fruitful leaders without abiding in the vine. (John 15:5).
If we are not abiding in Christ personally, we cannot meaningfully practice spiritual discernment in our lives. And if we’re not practicing spiritual discernment in our own individual lives, we cannot expect to practice spiritual discernment as a group.
The first and most important question to ask and answer at the start of a discernment process is: Are we listening to God (as individuals and as a group)?
Practices for Listening as a Group
Though councils often think deeply about how to encourage the faith formation and spiritual life of their community, this is the right time to make sure you’re also encouraging the faith formation and spiritual life of one another.
One way to do that is by taking time to practice spiritual disciplines together. Scripture meditation, listening prayer, worship and fasting are just a few of the many disciplines your group can practice together. Build the time into your agenda to tend your group’s connection to the True Vine.
Practices for Listening on Your Own
The other way is to encourage and equip each other for personal spiritual disciplines. Commit to times during the month when each council member will pray for the church and the next month’s agenda. Encourage fellow office-bearers to set aside regular quiet times to be still in God’s presence and listen for his leading. Ask one another what you’ve heard from God in your own personal times with God.
Traditionally, council members encouraged one another’s personal spiritual life through mutual censure (Church Order, Article 36b), a monthly or quarterly check-in on one another’s conduct and walk with God. It’s a custom that’s seldom practiced anymore, but given the challenges of ministry today, it’s a custom well-worth restoring.
Keep Personal and Corporate Life with God Connected
The stakes are high. If you’re not curiously encouraging your fellow-office bearers in their walk with God, and inviting your fellow office-bearers to do the same to you, your assembly will be too spiritually shallow to address the oncoming challenges. And if you’re not practicing some spiritual disciplines together, your group (and your decisions) will struggle to gain traction beyond the meeting room to lead your congregation into an uncharted future.
The Second Question: Is your decision-making process fair?
Conclusion: A Better Way to Lead
We all should want to discern the best possible responses to the most challenging issues facing our churches. But the best decisions emerge from groups that pay attention to the people and processes leading to those decisions. Leadership teams willing to evaluate themselves and their process according to the commitments of their faith are not only more likely to generate strong responses to vexing challenges. They are also more likely to secure the trust of congregations to lead into whatever future challenges come next.
Questions for Discussion
Are we listening to God as individuals and as a group?
Is our decision-making process fair?
One way to practice spiritual disciplines together is to join others in prayer for the CRCNA. Join others on the second Wednesday of each month at 11:00 am EDT for one hour of virtual prayer. Talk to your council or classis about how you can support their decision-making with prayer.