A Spirit of discernment

Posted Jan 16, 2014 | Pastoral Excellence Network

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By Christina Braudaway-Bauman


Path in Woods

Beginning this month, forty-some members of my congregation are engaged in a study series focused on practices of spiritual discernment. As we gather weekly in small groups, we are exploring how we can become more aware of and responsive to the movement of God’s Spirit in our lives.

Each week every person is given a three by five card printed with an open-ended question to put in a place where they will see it every day—the bathroom mirror, the car dashboard, or a bedside table. When we gather for our weekly meetings, we begin by sharing our reflections and responses to these questions. Among the queries is this one: What does it mean to you to discern the mind of Christ rather than to make up your own mind?

In a culture where the focus often is on making up our own minds as individuals, forming our own opinions, and debating them with others, the idea that we would instead focus our attention on learning the mind of Christ is radically different.

And yet, we believe this is what we as Christians are called to do—to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit, to try to figure out what God is up to, to ask in any given situation what Christ would have us do.

We have also come to see that it’s not a task any of us is fully equipped to do on our own. Indeed, the reason we gather as the church is because our faith tells us we are better able to apprehend the movement of God’s Spirit when we do it together. As the members of my church often remind one another, especially when we are facing a tough or complex issue, it’s important for us to meet because “we never know through whom the Holy Spirit is going to speak.”

For some time now, this is the way we have approached major decisions as a church. Practices of deep listening, inserting spaces for silence, and turning to frequent prayer in the discussion have made our meetings feel more like worship. These practices have helped us to navigate our common life with greater grace, to deepen our trust in one another, and to grow in faith.

Experienced with this way of being as a congregation, we are turning now to consider more fully what communal spiritual practices might mean for us as individuals. How can we help each other discern God’s guidance in each of our lives? How can we gather around one another in circles of discernment to attend to the integrity of our own souls and listen for the Spirit’s leading?

Clergy communities of practice often lean into these practices of discernment. Pastors begin and end by soaking their conversation in prayer. They ask one another open-ended questions which invite them to reflect expansively on their ministries and to explore whose agenda is at work: their own, someone else’s, or God’s. The aim of their time together is not merely to offer one another support, but to help each person see if they can recognize the ways God is, or could be, at work in any given situation.

They make room for the Spirit to show up and reveal the next step forward. Often that’s all we get, but it’s enough to give us the confidence to carry on our ministries with greater clarity or a new insight and a heightened sense that we are not alone. The ministry in which we are engaged is shared always with a community of faith and with a Holy Spirit who is our Companion, our Counselor, our Advocate, and our Guide.

The image displayed in this post is "Path in Woods by Michael, on Flickr" and is used in accordance with Creative Commons licensing.

Christina Braudaway-Bauman is the director of the Pastoral Excellence Network at Christian Theological Seminary.

The Pastoral Excellence Network at CTS seeks to connect and nurture groups for clergy at all stages of ministry. To request permission to repost this content, please contact wsordillo@cts.edu.

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