Whenever I have to make a hard decision, I always feel some accumulation of personal strain and pressure. What if I make the wrong call? What if my ability to discern God's voice is impaired by ambitions, entitlements, short-sightedness, or fears?
In reflection, I often chide myself for my tendency to forget the role of community in discernment. My experience in the last few years is a constant reminder that we hear God in community — we interpret the contexts of our personal lives, our culture, and the Scriptures best in community. My experiences with community and discernment have been so positive that it reaches the level of sad humor that my predisposition seems so oriented toward taking the pressure of decisions and making decisions individually.
The work of the vision community for our church's emerging culture initiative provides a powerful case in point (and provokes today's posting). This community gathered in February and we have been meeting every two weeks with the expressed goal of proposing an emerging culture ministry plan for the Chapel Hill Bible Church. Over the last five months, I have watched this diverse group (diverse in interests, faith stories, age, gender, and life situation) become a community that listened to each other and remained committed to listening to God — despite my efforts to the contrary. As usual, I showed up ready to explain rationales, prod for opportunities, and to guide us to a "decision" (all the while, feeling strong pressure to come up with "the plan" that all would accept and even eagerly join). But this community constantly offered these words to me (and to each other):
• "Let's make sure that we sacrifice and lead as a community!"
• "Let's be careful not to orchestrate our own agenda without discerning God's agenda and patterns of God's ongoing work in this endeavor.
• "Let's make sure that we consider other communites who share this burden."
• "Let's also consider communities who fear the emerging culture and a ministry agenda directed toward the emerging culture."
• "How will concerted effort in the emerging culture affect other unrelated initiatives in our fellowship and community."
The results of our time together have not been surprising (based on past experience) but have been confounding (in respect to my utter determination to lead individually). When we first met, the group shared their personal hopes and passions about an emerging culture ministry. As I heard these thoughts expressed, my first reaction was that we would never reach a consensus. But, once again, I have experienced a community committed to the spiritual disciplines of community being guided to not only near consensus but also enthusiasm for the process and potential outcomes. Once again, community operates as a recipient of God's presence and guidance and as an interpretative balance to our personal understandings of God's will. Given my predispositions to individualism, I'm sure this will be a lesson I continue to learn.
The good news (already implied) is that the Emerging Culture Team is almost ready to make a recommendation to our leadership. We will meet on July 15 to hopefully complete a proposal and ministry plan that we would then take our church's leadership. We are eager to share our thoughts and visions with you and we are eager to include many of you in this vision. Thanks for your patience and your interest.