Discerning God’s spirit for the future is some of the most important work a congregation can do. The key is discerning how God is calling us into the future and to whom God is calling us. God has a vision for our church and our community and our work is to listen, sense and follow that vision.
Some common mistakes congregations make in the vision/discernment process are:
It is very helpful to set up a Leadership Team who will lead this process for a congregation. This Team should be made up of leaders in the congregation who have exhibited a deep faith and who have the gifts of listening well, synthesizing a lot of data, and coalescing that data into a sense of vision and purpose. What should be avoided is having a person on this Team who has an “agenda” and can’t hear anyone else. You will also need a Prayer Team that will pray for the process and create ways for individual and the whole congregation to deepen their prayer life with spiritual practices (including discernment)
Discerning God’s vision for your congregation is really like putting a number of pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together to see more clearly how God is calling the congregation. Some of the pieces of that puzzle include:
1) Holy Indifference to Outcome: It is crucial to ground the process in openness to God’s Spirit, Presence and Guidance. The best visioning processes include working towards letting go of what we need the church to be in order to allow God’s Spirit to reveal what we can be in our next chapter(s) of ministry. .
2) Understanding the Mission Field: Along with a spiritual grounding the congregation needs to go into a vision process with a clear sense of who is in the community around them. A study of demographics, interviewing leaders in the community, prayer triads, etc;). Gives a congregation a sense of the heart of the neighboring community: its dreams, longings, spirit, challenges, needs, etc. This understanding serves a backdrop for the all-church gatherings.
These two preparatory steps are essential. This allows the church to enter into some all-church discussion with the Bible in one hand and a sense of the community in the other. Skipping these preparatory steps leads to a shallow and often inward-focused vision/discernment process.
The congregation then proceeds to three meetings. The first two can be in small groups if it is a large Congregation. The last one should be an all church meeting. These meetings focus on:
Between the first two meetings the Leadership Team is reflecting on each piece and sensing where God’s Spirit is leading the church.
The Leadership Team attempt to pull together all the insights, learnings and questions from the small group meetings (without bias) into a final document to bring to the congregation at the all-congregational discernment meeting.
They do this by praying over the pieces and discerning where the Spirit is leading the congregation. This may take some time of reflection and discussion. It will be helpful for the congregation to focus in on
This involves two phases. One is to begin brainstorming strategies and ideas that will help the church live into its identity and purpose. The second is to review church governance and staff job descriptions so that everything is revised and aligned to accomplish God’s vision for the church.
Periodically, church leadership and staff will pause to see if they are still moving in the right direction towards God’s vision and with all the resources, training, support and insight they need to help each other and the whole church get there.
An in-depth vision/discernment process takes most of a church year to complete. The more investment of time and energy, the clearer and more on target the vision becomes. This work then becomes the guidepost for all activities, worship, mission efforts, etc. for the years to come.