Ministry Musings: Enter Into Community

We continue our exploration of selected practical aspects of discernment.

Today, we move a third practice:  entering into community.  A look at the history of Christian spirituality shows that the saints did not practice discernment in isolation from others.  Neither must we.

We already have too much “privatized spirituality” (me-and-Jesus) in North American Christianity today.  Attempting to discover the will of God alone only makes matters worse.

Instead, community provided the context and the confirmation we need in discernment.  The context is the Tradition—a grand total of 4,000 years of the Judeo-Christian tradition, chocked full of insight and guidance.

Of course, the primary instrument is the Bible.  But beyond that, we have the wisdom of “the great cloud of witnesses.”  Much of what we want and need to know is already found there.  So, there are more times than we like to admit when we say we need discernment, when what we actually need is familiarity with what God has already made known.

Moreover, our discernment will never run counter to what we find in Scripture and Tradition (the Book of God and the books of the church).  Of course we must “translate” ancient wisdom into our particular locations and vocations, but the will of God is always congruent with revelation.

Community likewise gives us the basis for confirming our impressions.  There are times when I am “moved” (in mind and/or heart) toward a particular thing.  But I grow in my confidence that it is God’s will for me when I can find affirmation in the community.  Sometimes as I’ve just shown, it will be the affirmation given to me by texts; at other times, it will be the confirmation given to me by friends.

Either way, it is a blessing to find God’s will confirmed by participation in community.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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