Getting from “here” to “there” is always difficult, especially when it is a group that is going! A healthy process of dialogue not only helps us, as individuals, get somewhere, speaking the truth in love helps the whole church cohere and move together. Discerning our map every year is an ambitious process of engaging people at a deep level of personal responsibility, group discernment and covenant action. We are blessed with covenant members and devoted friends who have personal care for our goals and who create an atmosphere of healthy dialogue.
A basic reason for seeking discernment and making a map.
We need discernment in the middle of fear and oppression.
The wicked flee though no one pursues,
but the righteous are as bold as a lion.
When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers,
but a ruler with discernment and knowledge maintains order.
A ruler who oppresses the poor
is like a driving rain that leaves no crops. (Proverbs 28:1-3)
All these proverbs stand on their own, of course. But it is interesting to note how they came to be collected; in this case, I think it is very telling. On the one hand we are dealing with fear in the first proverb. On the other hand we are dealing with oppression in the third. That seems to be the general state of the population in the Philadelphia region – fearful and oppressed. In the middle of that condition is discernment. When wisdom rules, community can flourish; otherwise, we are all our own kings and queens fighting it out.
If the upcoming election can be understood, I think it might be safe to say that the oppressors are promising that we will all be kings and queens and we have nothing to fear. I question their discernment. Watching the candidates work makes it even more important to be an alternative to what they are producing and to learn the ways of life in Jesus. Our approach to discerning our direction every year is all about being that alternative.
Seven reasons for discerning our map the way we do.
1) We map the way we do because we believe the voice of the Spirit is heard in the body of Christ. Direction should not be set in a board room but in our meeting rooms. We either learn discernment or die at the hands of the data. It is not that anyone really wants to Google their lives, but we are being trained to do so – to not think, to not listen to the Spirit, but to listen to the most expert person in the world, virtually. The Apostle Paul was so exasperated with one of his church plantings that he said: “Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?” (1 Corinthians 6:5). We have to keep listening for God; hearing his voice in the other believers is a crucial way to do that.
2) We map the way we do because we need to elevate the dignity of each individual as they presently are, right now. Everyone’s voice has value. Everyone matters and their power should be honored: “To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). We think people have the God-given capacity to discern together, as the body, at a very deep level. Everyone has the Spirit of God and they should offer what they have to our common understanding and we should all listen. Whether they are right or wrong, whether we think we should follow their lead or not, listening is the right thing to do and makes us people after God’s own, listening heart.
3) We don’t want to encourage people to merely follow the leader. We want to produce leaders of other people. We are always working out 2 Timothy 2:2. Paul tells his protégé Timothy: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Every believer is entrusted with the truth about Jesus and inspired by His Spirit, so they are, by nature, an influencer who leads others to know and follow. Our mapping process is another exercise in deepening that capacity. It requires us to resist leaving it up to someone else and taking the luxury to complain about what we aren’t doing.
4) Likewise, we need to build a trust system of partners. The leaders may have good sense, but if the body does not own a common vision, their leadership isn’t going to make much of a difference. Our pastors think of our work as mainly facilitating what God is doing among us. We’re not just trying to get people to do what we want. We all have to own what God is doing, not just the leadership team. And I think that in order to own what we are doing, we need to have a chance to change it. We all have to drive the car at some level. We all need ways that we connect at a level of trust or we will sink into sitting in meetings and consuming church products, fearful and oppressed.
5) Community is our strong suit for evangelism. One of the main problems the people of today have with the church is that we don’t seem to be able to get along. We avoid conflict or have unhealthy conflict. Our discerning process teaches us how to have conflict in a healthy way. To be cells forming congregations in a region-wide network, we have to master loving communication. Creating a network might be one of the weirdest things about us, but it is also one of the most attractive. We have to keep explaining it to our neighbors by how we act. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”(John 13:35). Coming up with the map helps us answer the question: “Still love each other?”
6) Discerning for the map teaches a basic missional skill— how to help people get peoplefrom here to there. It is tempting to think faith and service just “happen.” But it is, in fact, very hard to get anything done in the world – especially when it is resisting Jesus! Mapping helps us all figure out how to make the most of what we have and to direct our energies where we should make the most difference. We each need to keep growing and changing and so does everyone we know. Mapping helps us answer the question: “What does God want us to do to get where we are called to go?”
7) Discerning for the map teaches a basic conservation skill – how do we develop and maintain the capacity to do what we have the opportunity to do? Mapping has a “farming” aspect to it. We have to assess how much people power we have to extend our “acreage.” We need to understand what it takes to fulfill the goals we set. We map because we want to make sure that our basic structure — cells and PMs — is still intact and makes sense. We map because goals motivate us to invest what we have achieved in what God has given us to do next.
I think we are pretty successful at discerning. Our mapping meetings last week encouraged me and inspired me! Themes emerged as different groups met each night. Brilliant, spiritual people revealed themselves and shared their gifts. People felt conflicted and threatened and dealt with that. People felt loved and affirmed and celebrated that. It made me think that authentic Christianity had a good chance of surviving in the middle of fear and oppression.