Don’t start a discernment process without this!

How to be a natural at discernment

Being a natural at discernment is like anything else – you have to be born with it! I admit that on occasions I have been given to the odd case of envy. In my youth it was about my younger brother’s incredible ability to play any sport to which he turned his hand. That I couldn’t do. I knew the rules of the game but I was hopeless and he was “a natural”.

What makes a person “a natural” at discernment? Discernment is the outcome of a process. So do activities that put you where you recognise the wisdom and direction offered through the Holy Spirit. People who do that “naturally” have the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. These people have developed the spiritual practices that enhance sensitivity to the movement of the Holy Spirit in their life.

The good news is that every Christian, by definition, has the gift of the Holy Spirit in their life. Christian discernment needs Christians to do it. I am not encouraging you to hold tests to see who is a Christian in your church meetings. However the point is that it doesn’t matter whether you have great accountants, office bearers, lawyers, donors, etc, on your Committee. You cannot start a discernment process based on these expertise. The baseline requirement is to be a follower of Jesus.

How do we discern God’s will?

Discerning the will of God is not easy. If it was that easy then Christian libraries would have a lot less books in them. There are lots of reasons that it is hard. Some that come to my mind are:

  • people like to get their own way and are not inclined to take directions
  • the tools for listening to God are very different to those we use to listen to people
  • some people are inclined to associate their own ideas with God’s opinion
  • some cultures are cynical about insight coming through emotions and “hunches” rather than logic and reason
  • too often we do it on our own rather than with companions
  • we try to use methods that are not aligned with the way God does things
  • we haven’t been taught how to do it

Discernment requires the attitude of being genuinely open to, and expecting, the leading of the Holy Spirit. So openness to the Holy Spirit needs to be the base line orientation of a person’s approach to decision-making. Then it is possible to build the spiritual disciplines that help people to tune into the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Group discernment needs people who know how to discern God’s will for their own life

Before you can do group discernment you have to have learned how to do personal discernment. If you don’t know how to recognise when God is speaking to you then you will not be doing it in your meeting. When people learn to identify the movement of the Holy Spirit, how to be self-emptying, and when to let go and trust in their personal life then they will do the same in your meeting.

Don’t start a discernment process without taking seriously the capacity of the participants to engage in spiritual discernment. We like to assume that people called to make decisions on behalf of the church are mature, Spirit led people. They all can be – but it isn’t always how things work out.

The consensus building discernment process that we commend emphasises the importance of prayer, worship and growing the quality of community life. When these are present you ensure that in every meeting God’s claim upon your work, and the tools to hear God, are before the group. Assumed and embedded in these practices is the foundational conviction that it is only possible to make faithful decisions if the people gathered genuinely want, and know how, to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in their midst.

How do you go about building the capacity of your leaders to be a community of discernment? What resources can you offer us that can be helpful?

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Author: Terence

I am a Minister of the Uniting Church in Australia. My current ministries focus on consultancy and teaching about consensus based decision-making, mediation, governance training and professional supervision for Ministers. I am co-author of the book "The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together". I live on the beautiful Far South Coast of NSW from where I undertake ministry across the globe. Contact me at

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