Strategic Priority – Discernment

Let me read to you a statement from Craig Vernall our Baptist National Leader…

Over the next few weeks I want to look at those priorities and consider how they relate to us here at Eastside and how we can implement them.

The first one is “Discern: We will be a movement that passionately seeks God’s kingdom on earth. By seeking his will and seeing his activity in our communities we will be given the confidence and direction we need to engage in his missions.  Jesus said ‘apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:5

This seeking God seems such a given, that it seems trite to even have it as a priority.  We know that we are the servants of God; that God is our boss; and we do nothing unless he wills it.  Or that is the way it should be anyway. On second thoughts, maybe we do need a reminder!

Jesus himself said that he does nothing except the will of his father.

John 8:28-29

I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”


That may be okay for Jesus but often in our churches we decide what we are going to do, and as an afterthought ask God to bless it.  Then we wonder why that strategy does not work and we get upset at Jesus but we were warned:

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Something to think about: Does God order your priorities or do you go it alone?

Oswald Chambers identified that “It is easier to serve God without a vision, easier to work for God without a call, because then you are not bothered by what God requires; common sense is your guide, veneered over with Christian sentiment. You will be more prosperous and successful, more leisure-hearted, if you never realize the call of God. But if once you receive a commission from Jesus Christ, the memory of what God wants will always come like a goad; you will no longer be able to work for Him on the common-sense basis.” [1]


Point 1: all Christians can hear from God


Neither I as the pastor, nor us as the Leadership Team have a stranglehold on hearing God to discern the future of this church and the path it takes.  In some denominations, it may be that only the priest hears from God but that is not our belief. We believe in the priesthood of all believers and you are in that priesthood and therefore can hear from God too.


That is why we as the Leadership team are always open to hearing what God has been saying to you as a congregation because we value what God says to you. When you get focused on a particular direction, sometimes we are blinkered to other opportunities and that is why we value your insight and input.

The second thing I want to highlight is that discernment of God’s activities and words is not individual.


Marva Dawn reminds us that “except for the books Timothy, Titus and Philemon, which were written to those individuals, most of the rest of the Bible’s instructions to discern, choose, make wise decision, and so forth are primarily in the plural.”[2] In other words, they are instructions to be done by more than one person, a community.


We need the wisdom of those who have gone before us and the good sense of a community that is with us and knows us so that we can best discern what to do and how to be to become more truly ourselves,[3] she says.


So although I am saying that each of us hears from God, which is so true for his direction in our personal lives, the church as an entity discerns the will and word of God as a group/as a church for the church.


Two ingredients in communal discernment: a corporate seeking of the mind of God and a consensus of the whole group that God’s will has been discovered by the power of the Holy Spirit.[4]


Now it is going to seem that I am contradicting myself because I am going to say that corporate discernment is not the same as a consensus vote.


Consensus plays a significant role in the discernment process, but consensus can enable a group to decide among several options that are all undesirable and do not reflect God’s priorities. Consensus helps a group reach decisions that most or all members of a group agree with, that meet the needs or convictions of most of the group members.[5]


There is saying “death by committee” or as my father would say “if all your friends were jumping off a cliff, would you follow”.


Consensus by itself is no guarantee that God’s call is being heard; consensus can be a process that focuses on meeting the greatest number of felt needs in a group, and felt needs sometimes have no connection with God’s priorities.[6]


Sometimes the minority report needs to be listened to and followed.


If that is not confusing enough, there is our impatience to deal with. Discernment takes time and we hate waiting.


Discernment doesn’t happen just because people want it to or talk about its importance; it requires a significant commitment of time and attention.[7]


That is why continual corporate and private prayer time is so important.  That is why retreats like our leadership one yesterday are so important. We need to set aside time to attune our ear to what God is saying


I intend to run another spiritual retreat at Omaui when summer finally arrives and that will give each of you an opportunity to set aside technology and your own agendas and let God speak to you. I hope you come.


Let me give you a practical example of how these concepts of discernment work by looking at the format of our Leadership Team retreats. 


At the start of each year, we go aside and dedicate a full day to discernment.  When we get together, after a cuppa, we go our separate ways for an hour and ask God to direct our thoughts. We have no pre-set agenda or focus. We go with an empty page. 


If we have a preset agenda, we are in essence saying to God “Here is the plan, agree with it” and we restrict our vision of what God has for us. It is like running a race with blinkers on. We cannot see anything outside our own predetermined thoughts.


During that time, God normally directs each of us to a piece of Scripture, sometimes it is a line of thought, but most often Scripture.


After the hour, we come back, and we each tell what God said to us. This is an important step.  We can all think we have a great idea or that God has told us something but we need the communal wisdom of the group


God speaks differently to each of us and gives us eyes to see something or hear something different. And that is why corporate seeking God is important.


You have heard the age-old story of the blind men describing the elephant.  All were right but none had the full picture, and that is what corporate discernment is:  Each providing their part of the picture to make the whole.


We then go away and say to God individually, “we think this is what you are saying, please confirm it and flesh it out for us”.


Remember it is God’s plan not ours so we need to seek instructions from the Master


From that comes a focus, or foci for the next year.


Last year’s foci (the plural of focus) were


Rebuilding the Walls based on Isaiah 58:12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

And Enlarging the tent, based on Isaiah 54:2

"Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.

And that became the underlying direction of all our decisions for the church last year.

We are still processing yesterday’s discernment so I will not speak about that just yet.

All that I have said may have given you the indication that God only speaks in the church, to dedicated Christians or that he only works within the church.  But if we think that, we limit our perception of God.

Missions is less about the transportation of God from one place to another and more about the identification of a God who is already there…it is pointing out to the people there the creative, life giving God who is already present in their midst.[8]

Pakeha did not bring God to Maori. He was already here in the form of Io Matua Kore (the God with no father), we merely explained who Jesus was. God was already here.

God is in the world. It is his world. He is already out there working. We need eyes to see what he is doing so that we may partner with him.

We need to think outside the box, we need to have eyes to see outside the box and our preconceptions of what God and his kingdom look like.

Because we seek God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven we need to look for signs of His activity and seek to discern evidence of His grace in our communities, our nation, and our world, and align ourselves with His purpose to reconcile all things to Himself in Christ.

Later in the year I want to focus on the concepts of the Kingdom of God – here already but not yet fully so.  But more of that later in the year.

We need eyes to see what God is already doing out there, and then go and partner with him to achieve his purposes rather than our own agenda.

Your homework this week is to consider in what places might God be working that is outside the local church, and consider how we can respond to that knowledge.

Don’t keep the answer to yourself. Tell one of the Leadership team or your ministry leader.










[1] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest


[2]Marva Dawn Joy in Divine Wisdom: practices of discernment from other cultures and Christian traditions 115

[3] Dawn 107

[4] Dawn 118


[5] Lynne M Baab The Power of Listening: Building Skills for Mission and Ministry Loc. 1241-43 


[6] Baab Loc. 1346-48 


[7] Baab Loc. 1259-60 

[8] Rob Bell Velvet Elvis: repainting the Christian faith 87-88