Background: The CRC Council of Delegates called for this year to be "a year of prayer to listen to the Spirit and to one another, recognizing that we stand in a challenging moment that invites us to be discipled in postures and practices of prayerful discernment." Talk to your council or classis to see how you can support their discernment and decision-making.
2 QUESTIONS YOU MUST ASK BEFORE MAKING A DECISION
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.
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?
Leadership in a Fallen World: Well-meaning Misuses of Power
The norm in our society is for the powerful in any institution to bend the rules of process to ensure their preferred outcome. Shamefully, church assemblies are not so different. We, too, have strongly preferred outcomes. And sometimes, we can subtly structure decision-making such that contrary voices are marginalized. So long as we arrive at the right outcome, the end justifies the means.
So I’ll make a motion to end debate, confident “my side” has the votes, in order to ensure no complexifying or contrary voices are heard. Or maybe I’ll nominate a fellow office-bearer for council president, not because they are spiritually-mature or a trustworthy facilitator (in fact, they might be quite spiritually immature and a reliably polarizing voice) but because I know their views on issues align with my own. Or, sometimes, I’ll allow ambiguity about a decision to persist, knowing that if we clarified and communicated our decision-making process or our decision, it’s inadequacy would be exposed.
In all of these situations, being complicit in an unfair process requires very little effort. How contrary, though, all these subtle actions are to the life of a disciple of Christ! These actions do not express the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5) or demonstrate caution about selfish ambition or vain conceit (Philippians 2). They are more in keeping with life “in the flesh” than life “in the Spirit” (Romans 8).
Wise Practices for Redeeming Leadership
One of the great opportunities of spiritually-wise leaders is to align their decision-making process in ways that embody the Christian virtues we aspire to practice and frequently espouse. How can our decision-making process reflect...
our trust in God above our trust in ourselves?
our love of neighbor?
our humility before God and each other?
our interdependence as the body of Christ?
Can the very way we decide reflect our commitment to “bear with one another in love” (Colossians 3) or “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ?” (Ephesians 5)?
The truth is, the way we treat each other while we make decisions is just as important to our witness as the decision itself.
One of the best ways to align your decision-making process with your faith commitments is to evaluate your process according to the three common pitfalls of decision-making: rush, hush and mush.
Your process could be too fast (rush). It could neglect to listen deeply to the important voice of God or others (hush). Or it could be unclear to those affected (mush). When any of these pitfalls are present, the potential for manipulation or control increases. Your decision-making procedure can often mitigate the damage of these pitfalls by incorporating some simple, supplemental activities.
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?
The Christian Reformed Church takes the call to spiritual disciplines so seriously that the Council of Delegates called for this year to be a special year of prayer. Follow this link to learn how you can join.
Talk to your council or classis about how you can support their decision-making with prayer.
For practices to reinforce fair process, consider Rush, Hush and Mush and three practices to strengthen decision-making process.