First, a coded message for my friend who is just waiting to see if I will blog about this:
“Hmmm...I do not think that Word means what you think it means...”
And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
On a completely unrelated note (sorta), we had a great conversation at our DFW Church Planter’s forum today. For those that don’t know, once a month, there is a gathering of church planters who are connected to (or friends with) Mission Alive and our growing network of churches in the DFW metroplex.
Today, as usual, we had some really good laughs - the kind that left my face nearly purple with tears streaming down my cheeks. It was great. It is good to be with a group which has that kind of synergy and friendship so that the jokes compound on one another, reproducing until they have completely rabbified and take over. I think I may have burned as many calories as I would have had we been playing racquetball!
We also had some great (semi-legitimate) conversations. One which sticks out in my mind was in regards to cultivating communities of discernment. The conversation began with the comment that the type of leader we hope to cultivate and see develop in our churches is not solely (or perhaps even primarily) defined by skills or abilities in regards to some ministry. Rather, we are praying for individuals who listen to the voice of God. Folks who practice a lifestyle of spiritual discernment and following Jesus in such a way that others desire to follow in their footsteps.
As we unpacked what this may look like, how we encourage this type of growth, etc., it came out that the need is for our churches to operate this way communally. We need to cultivate communities of discernment for several reasons. For one, the community should model corporately the same things which we hope to see played out individually.
But even more than that, there is a need for the members of the community to serve one another in this process. There is great danger in individuals engaging in an isolated “spiritual discernment.” It is easy to use the phrase, “the Spirit told me,” to simply rubber stamp what you want to do. A community can help us engage in the process honestly and fully.
Several years ago, when I was first introduced to the concept of listening to the voice of God in a real way, I was blessed to have a friend guide me away from an isolated approach. I said to him, “I really think that the Spirit is speaking to me about this. In fact, I feel that in a way I’ve never experienced before, I’ve heard the Voice of God.”
His response has stuck with me: “Wow. What did your community say when you brought this to them?”
I had no idea what he meant - first of all, my faith community didn’t really do “listening to the voice of God” so I was pretty uneasy saying anything to anyone. He told me, “You should be very hesitant to declare that you’ve heard the voice of God without first approaching a community of discernment. Does this word line up with Word of scripture? How does this word resonate with their hearts and the Spirit which resides in them?”
These types of questions are not meant to shoot down or squelch the Spirit - but they do take seriously the need to test the spirits and discern whether the voice being heard is of God, of the person or of something else entirely.
So how do we go about forming that type of community?
Well, I’m sure there are lots of ways to go about this process. It seems to me that one extremely valuable precursor to cultivating a community of discernment is to nurture and develop a confessional community. When our gatherings and conversations - formal and informal - are marked by a willingness to openly and authentically confess our sins and struggles with one another we create an environment where posturing and creating a polished version of ourselves is neither needed nor even accepted.
I’m not sure all the ways in which this type of culture was encouraged at Christ Journey but it is definitely present. I think that Chris has modeled this type of behavior - both in his preaching and in one-on-one interactions. I really believe that Marvelous Light has been instrumental in this as well - since confession is an integral part of that experience. Beyond that, I believe that those who participate in this community have seen the value and are intentional about continuing to journey (cha-ching) deeper in this practice.
A community which is confessional is poised, I believe, to practice discernment. When we engage in something like Lectio Divina (which we have done in our house churches as well as our Sunday gathering) we experience a process of communal discernment. Together we listen to the Word of Scripture and we share the fruit of that listening with the community. Because of the experiences with confession, this doesn’t come across as contrived and there’s little need to shroud the practice with pretense.
As we continue to engage in discernment at this level, as we continue to be people who live in this fashion, I believe that we’ll find ourselves more and more in a context where communal discernment is the norm. And this is something which gives me great hope and excitement.