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The Artform of Discernment

cycle of public church framework

In Discernment, the third artform of the Public Church Framework, we move into the space between our neighbors’ stories, God’s story, and our story. In this movement we learn how to listen for who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do in light of the present reality and God’s promises.

Why is it important? 

Discernment is important because our neighbors’ realities matter, our realities matter, and because we believe God has something to say about all of this. God is actively and continually trying to teach us how to live an abundant life together. 

The opportunities to practice discernment are abundant, ongoing, and mundane. Without intentionally, the moments of discernment might appear as simple decision making.  Many people desire to live their lives with more intentionality: to make informed decisions about how they show up in community, how they steward their resources, how they participate in their families, neighborhoods, and societies. etc. We believe God calls us into a thriving, abundant life together and we believe God has uniquely gifted us and called each of us to participate in bringing that abundance into a lived reality for our neighbors. Discernment teaches us to be attentive to and responsive to that call and that good work.

What is it?

Discernment is a communal process of listening to God’s spirit for the next most faithful step forward. 

It is a prayerful, communal practice of critically seeking to determine how to respond to opportunities God has placed before us. It is different from decision making. It involves an intentional process that includes listening to three threads: God’s Spirit, the neighbors’ reality, or demands, and your reality. These three threads have been the stories and themes that have emerged from practicing Accompaniment and Interpretation. Discernment is the movement where we take stock of what’s emerged and what we’re being called towards. Which must include a realistic assessment of our own realities. What gifts do we bring? What limitations do we have?

How does it fit with the other artforms? 

It may be helpful to think about it in a metaphorical way. 

Imagine that there are a variety of stories tangled into a web of thread. Accompaniment, the first artform, is the movement into the web, and then we tug on the thread that is the neighbors’ story. For this artform, we pay particular attention to our neighbors’ story. What is bringing life? What gets in the way of abundant life?

a tangled ball of many threads with one thread slightly untangled and apart from the jumble, that thread is labeled Neighbor's Story and has an icon of three houses

Then, in the next artform, interpretation, we tug on a different thread, God’s story, we spend time reflecting on the things we believe about who God is, what God does, and what God hopes for. We look at the two threads we’ve tugged on in relationship with one another. How does our neighbor’s story influence who we believe about who God is? And how does God’s story influence the way we hear our neighbor’s story? 

Jumble of colorful threads, two distinct threads, slightly untangled. one labeled neighbor's story, and the other God's story

Then discernment is returning our attention to the jumble of threads, looking for the places that the threads intersect. In returning to the jumble of threads, we also pay attention to the “Our Story” thread. What are our unique gifts and limitations? What are we good at? What is outside of our capacity right now? What might need to die in order for us to be a part of new life?  

What is happening at the jumble of threads, and what is our unique call in that intersecting place?

a jumble of threads with 3 distinct threads slightly apart and untangled from the ball, one is neighbor's story, one is God's story, and the third is our story. there is a magnifying glass over the jumble of threads

 

How do we do it? 

The answer the the “How” question is entirely dependent on the strands of the stories, meaning it’s unique to you and your context. Like all of the artforms of the Public Church framework, it isn’t prescriptive, there is no formula. And this might be frustrating because it’s squishy, and there’s no checklist to mark things off. However, we can offer some resources to help guide your discernment.

Resources

Liturgy for Discernment:

an outline to guide an gathering time, from Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus by Mark Yaconelli

Liturgy For Discernment

Reflection Questions:

  • Where do we see death and resurrection in our neighborhood?
  • Where are we hearing lamentation in our neighborhood?
  • Have we been part of the problem? What do we need to confess? To whom? Where? How?
  • Where and with whom do we sense the Holy Spirit pleading with us to linger, to pay more attention, to listen more closely?
  • What questions do we still have? Where might we learn more about these questions or with whom do we need to visit?
  • What are the passions and strengths of our faith community that seem to present themselves as assets in light of what we have seen and heard in our accompaniment and interpretation? (For example, space, people, finances, vision, relationships, etc.)
  • If the gospel is good news, what is the good news that needs to be proclaimed in our neighborhood in order to liberate people from the bad news we have heard in the neighborhood?
  • How are we equipped to proclaim this good news? How are we not?

 

  • Given what we have seen and heard in our neighbors’ stories, God’s stories, and our stories – who is God calling us to be? What is God calling us to do? What might God be calling us to sacrifice or risk? How is God calling us to show up in this community?

 

Mix It Up

Discernment happens best when we move a little outside of our norms, here are a few practices to shake us up as we reflect on the questions above: 

  • Charades: take the prompt question, “What is God calling us to do? How is God calling us to be?” and respond in the form of charades. Pay particular attention to the energy. 
  • Dwelling: look backwards at the listening you’ve already done, through those experiences, where was there energy, what did it feel like in our bodies? 

Example:

Congregational example from a previous learning community and their experience with discernment: “From Decision Making to Discernment”