Steps to Corporate Discernment

Steps to Corporate Discernment

(as suggested by Ruth Haley Barton – Transforming Center) 

Notice that these steps involve time-consuming processes of listening to ourselves, to each other and to God. They are not meant to be merely checklists to follow so that we can automatically “get everything right”. 

1) Long-term Preparation Steps as a Community 

Remembering that discerning = listening… These steps help develop our connectedness and our readiness to listen. 

a. Identifying shared Values 

■ Which values undergird my (particular) community? 

■ Not standard rehearsal of SIL core values, but an open re-expression of the actual values that make us want to do this, here, now. 

b. Listening better to God: Patterns of being Open to God together: 

■ Daily office (fixed hour prayer) 

■ Responding to Scripture (lectio divina) 

■ Silence – space for the Spirit 

■ Rest and retreat 

c. Listening better to each other: 

■ Love… valuing people & the quality of our relationships more than programs or products 

■ Stability… staying engaged, wrestling with a situation vs. choosing to leave 

■ Submitting to one another & to the Discernment of the Group … vs remaining independent 

■ Truth telling (honest, constructive assertiveness) … sustains trust and closeness/intimacy 

■ Confession… both private and corporate. Reflects self awareness, closeness. 

■ Conflict Transformation… determining to stay open to God when handling conflict. 

2) Short-Term preparation steps for a particular time of discernment 

Suggested steps to follow, over a day or a time of retreat – when a particular question demands us to discern the way forward together.

These steps are set out as an explanation or a reminder. They are not meant to “systematise” everything about our corporate prayer. 

a. Beforehand (often a Leader function) 

■ Explain “What?” Clarify the question for discernment 

■ Decide “Who?” Gather the discerning community 

■ Plan “Where?” Create the space 

b. Settle (individually before God) 

■ of quiet in God’s presence. 

c. Prayer for Indifference 

■ Wrestling with self. Putting aside ego, personal agenda, preferences. 

d. Prayer of Indifference 

■ Reaching the point where we can genuinely say: “Thy will be done.” 

e. Test of Indifference 

■ Are we now indifferent to our own private desires? 

f. Prayer for Wisdom 

■ Actively inviting God to give us insight on the question facing us. 

g. Prayer of Quiet Trust 

■ Acknowledging our utter dependence on Him. 

3) Going into a time of active discernment 

In some ways this is a development of a structured or “Focused Conversation” (Example: Institute of Cultural Affairs, Canada), except that here we allow that God is part of the conversation. 

h. Preliminaries again! (Facilitator function) 

■ “What?” Restate the question 

■ “Why?” Affirm guiding values 

■ “How?” Reminder about listening protocols and about the difference between discernment and decision-making 

i. Prepare together 

■ Explanation of the question 

■ History of how we got here 

■ How God has worked so far 

■ Clarification 

j. Listen together 

■ Pray, settle as a group 

■ Listen to each other 

● Expressing reaction to the question 

● Bringing tentative contributions – scripture, ideas, 

● Notice without judging, each contribution 

● Allow silences 

● Expect preliminary insights, but don’t jump to solutions 

k. Listen in silence 

■ Go away from the group – reflect on what has been shared 

l. Share insights 

■ Come back together as a group 

■ Listen to offered experiences, insights, solutions, options 

m. Weigh / select option(s) 

■ Test consistency with what God is doing 

■ Test inner consolation/desolation 

n. Public statement of agreement 

■ Each person state their individual degree of agreement / disagreement. 

■ Sense whether unity has been reached. 

● It is possible to reach unity (commitment to the discernment of the group) without full common agreement. 

● If unity is not reached – use the cycle again, seeking to unpack why.