The Broad and Washington Stakeholders meeting on Pentecost Eve and then the Council meeting last Saturday were good examples of how an authentic church is formed. As difficult as it is to be in a large group and listen (much more to talk!) such listening and inspired replying is probably one of the crucial skills for being a real Christian. Circle of Hope is blessed because nearly 100 people will engage in the Council meeting on a beautiful Saturday morning and give it a try. The world will be even more blessed when we can engage even more.
I think the main difficulty for a lot of people in these large, community dialogues comes down to this question: How can I hear the Holy Spirit rather than merely soak up emotions? So many of us grew up in places where there was little direct communication! We had to pick up the emotions and underlying content by squeezing them out of what was unsaid, what was nuanced, what was withheld. So many of us are experts at reading vibes, we almost do not listen to actual content; we listen for what is in between the lines – especially for the emotions we crave or fear will not be there. So put us in a Council meeting and we are overwhelmed with all the vibes that are assaulting our emotional Geiger counters. The most wicked or hurting or selfish or mistreated person can end up coloring our sense of what happened rather than the Holy Spirit.
The faith we have is that the Holy Spirit is actually resident in the followers of Jesus, in one way or another, to some conscious extent. When we listen to content or emotions, we are listening for the Lord, too – especially when we are in a meeting designed for that. We want to give our brothers and sisters the grace of listening for Jesus in them all the time, but we especially want to do that when we say we are doing that.
Three sets of questions distilled from a good book on decision-making called The Discerning Heart by Wilkie and Noreen Cannon Au might help. I offer them to you to help sort out what you are doing when you are listening for Jesus and trying not to merely soak up emotions and call it listening.
Are you speaking from the Bible? Are you speaking from our common lore?
Does the common sense we seem to be speaking from still make sense? Do the circumstances, opportunities and new revelations confirm it?
What are my feelings, intuitions, gut instincts, aspirations, and that sense of being spiritually confirmed tell me about what is being said?
We can listen for things we know to be true. We can chew on things that might be reasonable or become more so. We can react heart-to-heart to revelations that could be from the Spirit. All these are better than falling into the group and feeling emotions that probably have more to do with what we ate, or who is angry with us, or who helped to install our defense mechanisms as a child. The process of discernment in the body is an art form that every contributing believer will want to master as deeply as they are able.
The other night at the BW Stakeholders meeting I thought we had a good moment of proverb creation that looked to me like guidance from God. We came to a conclusion that we needed to agree to a ban on comparing the congregations. We realized that the way we were talking was, for many of us, more about our desire to fit in and to have a place that looked like each of us instead of all of us. Comparisons are odious. When we (inevitably inaccurately) stereotyped another congregation as a certain type of people, we were actually contributing to evil’s strategy to divide and conquer us. Not only were we factually wrong about each other, we were very spiritually wrong. Good discernment.