The Power of Discernment-Based Decisions In A Church

“The tendency of the church is toward certainty, security, familiarity and survival rather than toward mystery, adventure, humility and surrender. There is often a gravitational pull that can undermine risk, deny failure, seek control, lose memory, and domesticate mystery.”

-Mahan Siler

Mahan Siler’s observation speaks to the heart of congregational and community life. If we are learning anything from the pandemic, it is that status quo no longer works. We are in a unique time in the history of the church, a time that affords congregations the opportunity to honestly and openly reflect on who they are as a faith community — and who they are being called to be.

A key factor in how a congregation responds to the world is in its decisions around resources, both what they are and how to make use of them. Often we find the congregational decision-making that is necessary becomes difficult, with fear being one of the biggest obstacles. This fear might show up in a number of different ways:

  • Fear of not being in control of what we think is right.
  • Fear of change, as it may alter who we are, and it leads to unknowns in the future.
  • Fear of trusting in God speaking through the community.

Perhaps the key questions are: How can we remind our leadership team or congregations that the ministry and very life of the church belongs to God, and not to us? And how do pastors lead their congregations and invite leaders to discern where God seems to be leading the church in this time of history?

One answer to both questions is through the use of a discernment process paired with organizational intelligence. This process is one of the best tools a community can use to foster honest reflection and, more importantly, find direction for their ongoing journey.

How does organizational intelligence help churches?

To help make decision-making and a discernment process work the best, it’s important to have a good sense of the underlying dynamics in the congregation: motivations, concerns, and culture. Such an understanding is what we call organizational intelligence.

Typically, leaders’ perspectives on their congregation are heavily influenced by the congregants with whom they spend the most time. But our experience at Clergy & Congregation Care and the data collected suggests that basing decisions on leaders’ perceptions alone frequently leads to inaccurate information or an incorrect sense of the congregation. This inaccurate information then too often informs the decision-making process.

That’s why we highly recommend the use of an assessment method prior to any decision-making. This provides an opportunity for everyone to share their perspectives and generates a largely unbiased report.

The importance of discernment

The discernment process coupled with the organizational intelligence is the next step of the decision-making process.

It helps congregants and leaders center themselves on once again hearing God’s purposes and direction. Discernment also includes a reminder that this is a journey which is undertaken with the assurance of God’s presence, even if the path to follow is not what one may anticipate.

The process combines prayer, spiritual awareness, spiritual disciplines, intuition, reason and common sense. It includes listening to God, to one’s deeper self, and to others — and then being open and attentive to various views while weighing different options.

In our Clergy & Congregation Care program, we’ve seen the power of this process during leadership transitions and strategic planning sessions, as well as within congregations struggling to find alignment with their leadership team.

The discernment process that we have used is a divine-human process that allows congregants and leaders to open themselves to transformation so that they can discern God’s guidance together. It preserves the community of believers while preventing it from growing entrenched or stagnant in its growth.

As such, the process helps communities let go of the tendencies described in the quote from Mahan Silar and more toward, “mystery, adventure, humility and surrender.”

Have questions about organizational intelligence or the discernment process? Contact Clergy & Congregation Care Coordinator David Miron at or 717-560-1949 for more information and resources.


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