Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.
“There are two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘Fine, have it your way.'” C.S. Lewis
I have often compared the process of finding consensus in a congregation to that of piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. If every believer truly does have the Spirit of God living in him/her, then he/she has access to at least a part of what God is doing in that church. I am one who believes that, in His time and in His ways, God desires to make known to His church what He is about. In other words, I believe God wants us as a church to understand His assignment for us, and I believe He gives us that understanding through much more than just the pastor or elders or deacons…He reveals His will for our church through the entire church.
In that sense, then, discerning our next step as a church is less about taking a vote (voting on God’s will is a little like voting on what time it is) and more about learning to hear God speak through everyone. It is very much as if each of us has been given a piece to a large puzzle and we see the picture of that puzzle only as we each bring our one piece to the table and see how it fits with everyone else’s. It is not so much a single event as it is a process. Building consensus in the church is as simple…and as difficult…as learning to hear God speak through every Spirit-filled person among us, and then seeing the collective picture which begins to form as a result of all the pieces coming together.
In making this observation, I am not necessarily advocating any particular form of church government. I believe the New Testament is deliberately vague on the question of exactly what the governing structure is supposed look like. Rather, I am merely advocating for a culture which seeks to hear God speak through any and every member of the church in order to best understand God’s will for the church. Whether a church accomplishes that through an pastor-led model, an elder model, or a congregational model does not matter to me. What matters to me is that those who are doing the “discerning” are paying close attention to what God is saying and doing through the people who make up the church.
I believe this is how the New Testament church began. I also believe that, over time, various cultures have corrupted that process, resulting in some common abuses. The pastor who casts a vision for a church without hearing from the church is one such abuse. The church who simply moves forward by a simple democratic process (majority rule) is also such an abuse. There really is no substitute for taking the time to hear testimony of people who are sharing their best sense of what God is doing right now.
One of the fascinating aspects of this process is the reality that very few puzzle pieces, taken all by themselves, give a complete picture of the puzzle. I may have a perfectly clear sense of what my particular piece shows, but it doesn’t really mean much in isolation. I need to see it in the context of all of the surrounding pieces before I dare speculate about what the picture is. By the way, that ability to gaze at all of the pieces and to begin to recognize the picture that is forming is what I call the gift of pastoral vision.
And so, it would be the height of arrogance for me to look at my single piece of the puzzle , my single sense of what God is saying to me through my prayer time, or my little scripture passage that God “gave to me” last night, and then proudly proclaim what the picture must be. That would be humiliating indeed. Rather, I must learn the process of bringing my piece to the table, placing it down among the other pieces, and then backing away from it to try and get a bigger picture. When we learn that process as a church, we come much closer to discerning the will of God together. And that, I think, would be a good thing to learn.
© Blake Coffee
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