Getting Better at Discernment: Who Are We Ready to Be?

    All visible churches fail. The demand is too high, the needs too deep, and the obstacles too wide. So the first step of church refreshment is together surrender.

    Bathed in that surrender the churchly tasks go on, including the task of figuring out what we will be to follow Christ's call and commission in this increasingly secularized context.

    No matter what path or guru a church follows to find its unique and excellent adaptation to today's needs, there will be soft spots on the journey. Maybe some will rest at the soft spots, but many will get stuck there. These soft spots show up at predictable places in the journey, at 1) Determination: Are We Ready? 2) Discernment: Who Are We Ready to Be? 3) Getting Better at Deployment: Is Each Person in Best Position? 4) Getting Better at Durability: How Can This Last? These are my words for the tricky spots and listening can help in traversing them.


    Larry Osborne calls them "small groups" (Sticky Church). George Bullard calls them triplets (Pursuing the Full Potential). Neil Cole calls them life transformation groups (Organic Church). Others have called them cells, or home or fellowship groups. Whether their stated purpose is discernment or accountability, fellowship or relationship building, discovery of strengths or spiritual gifts, deeper study on the sermon or support through life's passages or task collaboration, whatever the purpose and format, their mode necessarily involves listening and talking to each other. This is where listening can help.

    The downfall at this place is that we as believers often fail to make our relationships and groups safe spaces for deep trust to grow. This has to do with how we listen or do not listen. We may talk of encouraging vulnerability in our groups and yet fail to teach them how to make a safe place for it.

    Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, in The Knowing-Doing Gap, described things an organization's policies and structures often foster that close the door on innovation. They are talk, if honored as the highest skill; memories, if captivating and consuming; fear, if not driven out; measurement, if assessing non-values; and competition, if between us. Listening can help here because each of these blocks to small group success can be minimized by teaching the value and skills of better listening.

    Making a group safe for vulnerability and trust to grow means listening with every piece of presence a person can muster, present eyes, focused attention, effort to understand, and kind words. Making a group safe means the banishment of belittling, humiliating, or coercing words, acts, or tones, and even most kinds of interruptions. Making a group safe means giving whole-hearted listening as a gift even and especially to persons who say things in disagreement. People in the group listen or allow silence in order to midwife another person's calling, or a church's calling. The midwife does not necessarily change, except in receiving awe at the new birth.

    Making a group safe for vulnerability and trust to grow means speaking always in my own voice and owning my own values, experiences, perceptions, and beliefs. Making a group safe means stopping at inception all telling of another person's story, either by interrupting, completing, or reporting. In some cases, especially where it hasn't been safe to tell my own story in the past, it takes much work to discover and learn my own story. People in the group listen or allow silence in order to midwife another person's story of his or her own experience, or the church's story. Then each person in the group is a witness and called to tell his or her own story of experience.

    This kind of listening, without humiliating and without gossip, will foster trusting relationships in small groups and traverse well the soft spot in Discernment on the path of church refreshment.

    Think, enjoy the process, communicate.


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