Discernment, Cont.: Why I Love Meetings

August 19, 2011

Since switching lanes from the pastorate to academia (albeit teaching ministry skills in a seminary) four years ago, I have had occasion to answer the question, “What do you miss about serving a congregation as pastor?” Believe it or not, I miss the meetings. Meetings are those gatherings of “two or three in Christ’s name” to address the work we have been assigned, to translate vision into intent and means, to consider mid-course corrections, and otherwise to lead the people of God in faithful worship and mission. My office was arranged with the conversation area front and center, to illustrate the importance of coming together before God in conversation, problem solving, and decision-making.

A good, godly meeting is an exercise in discernment: What would God have us care about today? What guidance have we been given to accomplish God’s goals? Where do our expectations strain against God’s methods? Who are we and what gifts do we bring to the task?

I remember one meeting three weeks into my most recent pastorate. A gentleman, a (former) elder of the church, came in to strike a bargain. He would donate a considerable sum of money to the church if I agreed to funnel it into a project he felt called to implement on undeveloped property the church owned. I said, “You know, I don’t have the power on my own to make this decision, and I’m brand new here; I’m going to have to involve the session in our discussions” (understanding the role of the Body in discerning God’s will…). He asked me to endorse the idea, right there on the spot, and recommend it to the session. I said, “I’m going to have to take this matter to prayer. I would like five days to pray about it, and I’ll get back to you on Monday” (understanding the need to ask God’s advice and counsel). He said, “What good will that do?” ::sigh:: this is an elder, remember.  Sweating bullets through the weekend, asking God to help me discern whether the offer was a temptation or an opportunity, I came to the peaceful conclusion on Monday that the idea was not of God. And yet, I could hear the voices, “What? Are you crazy? How could you turn down that much money?” How could I, indeed.

Over 35 years of ministry, I have slowly discovered the requirements for a reliable process of discernment:

1. Know the facts that can be ascertained of the situation at hand.

2. Gain some insight into the people involved in the situation.

3. Identify the question(s) to be answered, the problem to be solved.

4. Note the gifts and limitations of this body to address the question or problem. Identify resources that might help fill in gaps, if necessary.

5. Ask: what biblical theology is relevant to the issue? Any commands of God that apply here? Any examples (positive or negative) from Scripture to give insight?

6. Ask: “What would Jesus do if he were in our shoes?” What would the ministries of truth and grace look like in this situation?

7. Decide what we shall do, in light of all these considerations.

8. Ask: do we have the “unity of faith in the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph 4:13) to proceed with a mature decision? Can we defend it biblically and pastorally? [Or, in my mother’s words, Is anything here illegal, immoral, or fattening?]

Tomorrow: A word on how spiritual disciplines, personal and corporate, can help processes of discernment.

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7 Responses to “Discernment, Cont.: Why I Love Meetings”


  1. What a wonderful series on discernment, judgment, etc. Thank you. I have kept this series in a single Word doc for future reference for myself and others. Well done!

  2. John E Says:

    Mary, this does not concern your post, but I just saw that you were one of the contributors to the Serendipity NIV Study Bible. It was great to see your name connected with this valuable resource! I am using it for our Sunday evening Bible Study!

    Bless you!

    • revmary Says:

      How funny, John! Yes, in 1988 I worked all year (every Thursday) on Exodus, Matthew, and the 100 boxed questionnaires in the Serendipity Bible. A great experience, and the resulting “product” is one of the best deals in Christian publishing IMHO. Glad you are enjoying and using it.

  3. Jake Horner Says:

    Wonderful and timely advice.


  4. […] Wow. Since switching lanes from the pastorate to academia (albeit teaching ministry skills in a seminary) four years ago, I have had occasion to answer the question, “What do you miss about serving a congregation as pastor?” Believe it or not, I miss the meetings. Meetings are those gatherings of “two or three in Christ’s name” to address the work we have been assigned, to translate vision into intent and means, to consider mid-course corrections, and … Read More […]

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