November - December 2017

Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On

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Eyes dart around the room. Nervous energy builds. Some on the leadership team are hesitant to speak. Others talk to fill the void. The issue has been presented and it is time for a decision. One of the more vocal team members, drawing on workplace experience, offers a reasoned solution. It seems like a good idea. It may be the best idea. No one has a better idea. So the team votes to move in a particular direction. On to the next item.

Such is the familiar process by which many church leadership teams make decisions. Without adequate Christian tools, we, by default, take courses of action based on processes from the secular arena. The workplace model, with its primary emphasis on intelligence and experience, guides the decision.

Intelligence and experience are valuable and necessary, but they are not enough. After spending time considering what distinguishes Christian leadership from that used in the world of business, I have discovered several differences. One of the principal ones is discernment.

Discernment is simply the practice of hearing from God. Behind it lies the belief that God actively speaks to His people—draws and directs; whispers and woos. Discernment requires patience and practice as Christians position themselves to hear the voice of God.

Discernment requires patience and practice as Christians position themselves to hear the voice of God.

The Apostle Paul disclosed his prayer for the believers in Philippi: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9-10). According to Paul, God’s transforming love gives us the capacity to recognize and respond to His voice. That love leads us toward discernment, and discernment leads us, according to Paul, to holy living.

Discernment is a gift. It cannot be forced or formulized. It can, however, be received and nurtured. The practice of Christian discernment is, at least, about three things:

Laying Aside Personal Agendas

We must lay aside personal agendas, opinions, and attitudes. We do not switch our brains off, but we recognize there are times when brains, mouths, and egos can cloud or even corrupt discernment. To hear from God, we must lay aside whatever is in us that is not of God. Many models emphasize what leaders bring to the table. They are centered on self. Christian living and leadership, on the other hand, is about denial of self. When leadership teams approach God with sincere, selfless humility, they are more apt to hear the voice of God.

Hearing within the Context of Community

Discernment involves hearing God speak within the context of community. It can be an individual practice, but by and large it is corporate work. The majority of scriptures which speak on the topic call believers to collective discernment. Experience has taught me that the voice of God is best heard among the gathered saints, in situations where mature followers of Christ, such as those on a church leadership team, come together to hear from God collectively.

Focusing on Prayer

Discernment involves permeating prayer. Prayer should be the primary work of leadership teams. When people walk out of such a gathering, they should wonder, “Did we just attend a board meeting or a prayer meeting?” The focus on prayer should be more than peripheral or perfunctory—more than a ceremonial invocation to open the meeting. To truly discern the direction of God, deep prayer is required—ongoing prayer; listening prayer—prayer where the people are hushed before the God who speaks.

As church leaders, we must constantly remember that the church is not our own. It belongs to God. We have been granted the sacred, spiritual trust of leading our flocks, but before we can do this effectively, we must actively seek to discern God’s will.

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.

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