Why Discernment is essential, and how it can change everything
There are two contemporary driving influences in modern decision making. These are highlighted in the questions: How does this decision align or be divergent with me as an individual and my interests? And how does this decision align or be divergent with social, community and family expectations? Notwithstanding, and counter to political polarization, there are also relationships between the two influencers. Discernment, however, may include elements of these, but it isn’t just decision making between these two frames, in fact, it is far more enriching as it engages God, others and self.
I would like to suggest that there are five critical elements to Christian discernment. And that these elements are essential for any follower of Jesus at any point in one’s faith journey, from the enquirer to the experienced elder and minister and everyone in between. Each element is naming a focus area rather than a demarcation, as often discernment can include many, if not all, at the same time. Being attentive to discernment will change everything. We will find ourselves transformed more and more into the people of God we are called to be in Christ, for the transformation, reconciliation and renewal of all creation.
What are these elements of discernment? They include discerning, our place, our way, the Spirit, our gifts, and the wider Church.
Discernment of one’s place is essential. Where is one located, what are our relationships that inform our place. Christian faith informs our discernment in creation as a creature of creation, one’s place as a created in the image of God, One’s place in relationship, with God, with others, with self. One’s place as a pilgrim people of God, a place of hope and not just of certitude or self-assurance. Where one is placed and grounded takes good discernment, discernment of one’s place in the community and environment. Discernment can provide some clarity in dialogue with the competing ideas of where you belong, who you are? Discernment requires remembering God’s story and remembering our part in that tapestry of God’s story. Worship and focusing that which is of worth in God’s story in prayer and study, praise and lament can assist in grounding this discernment of place.
Discernment can also be one of orientation or way. This is discerning the Jesus way of life, of discipleship, of Jesus shaped direction and action in living. The way of incarnation, death, and resurrection. In living the way of Christ, we witness to a different way, a way of love and compassion, not hypo-suspicions, hate or fear. A way of justice and peace, not empire, slavery, abuse or exploitation. A way of forgiveness and reconciliation, not envy, revenge or marginalisation of the other. Discernment of the way of Jesus will shape our behaviours and our actions. This discernment informs our witness and service of God and the Christ in words and actions.
Discernment of the Spirit is creating the space to discern the promptings, the uncomfortable wrestling, the encounters of transcendence, awe and wonder. This discernment is transformative. Of self, of others, of relationships. This discernment can be cultivated in worship, in prayer, in silence, and in day to day living. It is discernment of that which is beyond the horizon of our own limited biases. The discernment of the things of God beyond reason, which can be wondrous and mysterious.
Discernment of the gifts and skills in community. This is a practical discernment of the gifts and skills you can offer, as well as the discernment of the gifts and skills of those around you. Some people are good educators, others at organising, others at communicating, others at advocacy, the list goes on. Discernment here is often ongoing and lifelong as needs and opportunities to serve and witness change. This discerning leads to organising around the mission of God as a community.
Discernment of the Church. This discernment is beyond the individual and local community and is with the wider Church (Presbytery, Synod and Assembly). This discernment is often focused around specified ministries, like Lay Preaching, Ministry of Pastor, or even ordained ministry as Deacon or Minister of the Word. This discernment in the Uniting Church happens in our committees and councils for formation. The starting point for this for an individual begins with a Period of Discernment (PoD). The PoD assists in the curation of all the above discernment elements, with the wisdom of the Church. The deeper wisdom of this discernment is called to be faithful to the one holy catholic and apostolic church and what it means to be a part of this Uniting Church.
I would encourage each of us to make the time to discern well, and to then act on that discernment collectively and individually. It may produce some of the most meaningful work you may ever do. That is to engage in the work and mission of God. Make time to discern, place, way, Spirit, gifts, and, the wider Church wisdom.
Talk to your minister and Presbytery to explore a Period of Discernment if you are seeking to explore intentional ministry practice which is affirmed and supported by the discernment of the whole Church. Talk with each other as members of the Uniting Church about making sure our decision making is grounded in discerning God’s wisdom and way.
Discern well in God, with peace and goodwill.
Ben Gilmour, Head of Vital Leadership Pathways, Uniting Mission and Education
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