discernment

The Dawn of Vision and The Role of Pastor

Photo by  Karl Magnuson  on  Unsplash

Photo by Karl Magnuson on Unsplash

There is a story about the nature of spiritual disciplines that goes something like this:

A student asked the teacher, “What effect do the spiritual disciplines have on gaining salvation?” The teacher said, “As much effect as you have on causing the sun to rise.” To which the student asked, “Then why practice the disciplines at all?” Looking to the east the teacher said, “So that we are awake to witness the sunrise.”

Too often we church leaders think that it is our job to “come up with the vision” of the church. And some might say this is true. I offer that it is not the leader that comes up with the vision but it is God’s vision that leaders are trying to articulate. This means the leader must be engaged in spiritual disciplines so as to not miss the sunrise.

The vision for a church is like the sunrise. It is a gift an it comes slowly. It is not the leaders job to cast the vision but to help and show people how to stay awake to the breaking of God’s vision. The pastoral leader is not the one who decides what the vision is, but the one who calls people to look eastward for the coming vision of dawn. The faithful church is less interested in deciding what to do and more interested in where to face.

Deciding and Discerning Distinction

Photo by  Matt Seymour  on  Unsplash

Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

In church world, we often do not make the distinction between deciding and discerning. For the most part we favor the word deciding over discernment - if we use that word at all.

To “decide” means to cut away. When we make a decision we cut away the options we do not want or like or deem less appealing. When we decide we tend to assign a judgement or an evaluation of that which we decided against. Once we decide, we consider our choice good and the thing we cut away as less than good or perhaps bad.

To “discern” means to to separate. Separating is value neutral. That is when we separate our laundry we are not saying that “darks” are good and “lights” are bad. We are just separating things into piles. Discerning is a value neutral process where we separate out that which is discovered.

Discernment is like panning in a river. We pull many things from the living waters and look and sort. We may think we are only looking for gold, but when we sort things out we may discover other beautiful things. These beautiful things may not be what was originally sought, however these beautiful things are retained. We do not call the other rocks “bad” or “unworthy.” We only sort in order to see clearly. If we assign some value to things as we sort, then we are not discerning we are deciding.

Discerning is non-threatening and requires patience. We tend to place a premium on having a decisive mind that we fail to appreciate the value, joy and faithfulness the discerning heart.

Reviving a Church one Sunset at a Time

Can you discern if this is a sunset or sunrise?   --  Photo by  Johannes Plenio  on  Unsplash

Can you discern if this is a sunset or sunrise?   --  Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Not long ago I found myself in a conversation about how to help local churches embrace the end of different ministries. You know. those ministries that have little vitality and are more of a burden than a blessing. Those things we keep doing to not hurt feelings, keep the tradition alive or other  reasons of nostalgia. I have learned in my context that there are things that people want the church to stop doing, but we do not know how to set the ministry down with dignity so we do never set it down.

Setting ministries down can be a difficult thing, but it is sometimes easier to do when there is a ritual to do so. How does a church ritualize setting a ministry down? One way is through the ritual of sunsets.

At the church I serve sunsets are somewhat common to talk about and all they are is the way we give permission to set a ministry down. Here is how some sunsets look:

  • Finance - when there is money for a project, set a sunset date on that money so that when that date comes and the project is not done it can be asked - is God really calling us to do this project?
  • Small groups - when the group is getting a bit stale, call for a sunset break for a few weeks or months. Then call everyone in the group back together and ask if God desires for the group to continue, continue in a new way, or disband for a new thing. 
  • Annual events - Call for a sunset year where you do not do the festival or fundraiser. Instead, call for a discerning conversation about the reasons God may be inviting a break or a re-imagining of the event.
  • Choirs - take a month off and ask people to pray if God is calling the church to have a choir for the coming year. At the end of the month, if it is clear God is calling for a choir, invite people to consider if God is calling them into the choir for the coming year or not. Those who are not called are free to step away.

I assume you see how the sunset ritual can be used in many different ministries of the church. I have discovered the ritual of sunsets highlight at least two things - liberation and discernment. 

The church is liberated, it is free, to set ministries down in order to do other things. Rest and sabbath is needed for all things - ministries included. People are also free to set away without guilt or shame and the church is free to pick the ministry back up in the future if God desires. How do you know God's desires for ministry? Discernment. 

The pastoral role then is less about drumming up resources for a ministry or being scapegoated when the ministry is set down for a time. The pastoral role is not about green or red lighting different ministries, but about creating the space for the church to listen to God's call in their individual and collective lives. 

A Need for More Yellow Lights

I can recall the times when I hit all red lights and when I hit all green lights, however I don't recall the times when I hit a slew of yellow lights. I wonder why I don't remember?

It could be that we live in a world that prefers red light/green lights. We are either going or stopping.

For instance, the Church is a place where red/green light living is in full swing. There are ministries where we give the green light and we are blowing and going! There are other times when too much is happening too quickly and there is a collective red light that stops the body. Some people are annoyed with green lights because we move to fast. Others find red lights frustrating since we are not going anywhere. So the push and pull between the red lighters and the green lighters continues on. 

I would submit that what the Church needs is not more red or green but more yellow lights. Often times we think that yellow lights mean to "slow down" or "pause". But that is not accurate:

Yellow lights are the place that give us greater ability to practice discernment. 

Living a life of red and green lights means that you don't to discern what to do. We see it most easily in red light living, you have not choice but to stop. However, green light living has just as little freedom: you have no choice but to go. Yellow lights however require a good bit of discernment - should I accelerate? Slow down? How far am I to the next car? What about behind me? Should I change lanes? Thus yellow light living is the most liberating way to live but for most of us that amount of freedom is too much. It is easier to stop or go, discerning is difficult. 

While red lights give us space to stopping, and green lights give us space to move, yellow lights give us space to discern. More than stopping or moving, discernment is what is needed most today. 

In a red and green light world, the humble yellow light is often forgotten.

Source: https://unsplash.com/search/stoplight?phot...