This past week, I had the privilege of working together with the Youth Council to make an important decision for our youth ministry program. I had recommended changing something that I soon found out was probably one of the church’s biggest “sacred cows.” I felt fairly strongly about my recommendation, had good theological reasons behind it, and was hoping that the change could come about.
There were some who were supportive – others who did not want to see the change happen. What I found were people who had very strong personal opinions about this issue. I told them that it’s great they were so passionate about it; better to have passionate people than folks who couldn’t care less what you’re doing.
So we met as a Youth Council to make the decision and I was able to lead the group through a Group Discernment process, something which I was given by my Spiritual Director. I was a bit ambivalent about the process, having never led something like this before, but the end result was amazing. What happened in the room and between everyone present could only be explained by the Spirit’s guidance and direction.
Now, I get goosebumps VERY easily (you can ask me wife) and very often. For example, during every single episode of Friday Night Lights and whenever I hear Glee’s version of Don’t Stop Believin’. It’s odd (and slightly embarrassing), but I’m okay with that. However, as I shared with the group what my sense of our direction was at the end of the meeting, and as everyone was able to get behind the decision and vision (and not just get behind it – but really able to own it), I totally got goosebumps.
I think that this Group Discernment model really revolutionized the way we discussed this significant issue. If we had tried to go another route or have a 51% majority vote, there is no way we would have had the kind of unity we experienced.
If you’d like to download a document that can guide you through the Group Discernment process we used, click here. This section below is what we did yesterday, as we had already held our first meeting in which I shared my recommendation for the group, and asked that they spend some time thinking and praying about it until our next meeting. Here is what we did this past week:
- Opening Prayer/Song/Silence: Choose a call story from Scripture followed by quiet reflection and sharing of what was stirred as one listened to the Word. The opening prayer is a way of rooting the process in God’s word. Take your time!
- Clarification of the Purpose and Process of the Meeting: The purpose is to gather together and make the decision that was presented at your first meeting. The process is one of prayerful discernment which will unfold through several steps.
- Testing for Openness and Freedom: Check in with the group about the first focus of personal prayer: openness to God’s call and recognition of bias or attachments. Some may say they are open. Others may share obstacles to inner freedom. “I’m having trouble letting go of my agenda.” All statements should be honored as honest statements of concerned and struggling people. After each person has spoken, the group can proceed. Freedom may grow as the process unfolds.
- Exploring the “Cons”: Allow time for each person to present the fruits of their prayer and reflection on the cons, concerning whatever it is your decision is about. The cons are recorded. Allow time to discuss their relative weight and feelings the group may have about them.
- Exploring the “Pros”: When the group reconvenes each person presents the fruits of their reflection on the pros, concerning whatever it is your decision is about. These are recorded and discussion takes place regarding the weight of the pros and the feelings associated with them.
- Individual discernment of God’s call: Break for quiet, prayerful reflection on both the pros and cons and what each person senses as God’s call.
- Sharing individual discernments with the group: Each person shares his or her perception of God’s call for the community. A clear consensus may emerge at this time. This is ordinarily confirmed by a sense of peace, rightness, joy, freedom, enthusiasm, etc. If this is so, the session ends with prayers of thanks.
- If there is conflict or division or uneasiness about the decision, there are several possible options: try to identify the underlying obstacle; take time for further prayer and reflection; meet again at a later time; appoint one person to decide for the group; decide by a vote with a predetermined majority rule. (simple, 2/3, ¾)
- Rest in the decision for a day or two and see if it continues to bring peace and consolation and a sense of being “of God.”
I encourage you that if your group is needing to make a big decision in the near future, you should try out this Group Discernment Model. It worked really well for our group, and I had never even had any experience leading such a discernment process before. Hope this comes in handy for someone.