Danny Morris ~ Corporate Spiritual Discernment

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Spiritual discernment is not limited to individuals. Indeed, corporate spiritual discernment is just as important as individual. Corporately seeking the will of God through prayer and arriving at consensus plays an instrumental role for the body of Christ to function properly.

Take a minute to soak in these words from the “Prayer of Abandonment” by Brother Charles of Jesus:

Father, I abandon myself into your hands.

Do with me what you will,

Whatever you may do, I thank you.

I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me,

And all your creatures—

I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul.

I offer it to you with all the love

Of my heart, for I love you Lord,

And so need to give myself, to

Surrender myself into your hands,

Without reserve, and with boundless

Confidence, for you are my Father.

Corporate Discernment and the Challenge of Consensus

Corporate discernment is not as easy to achieve as personal discernment, but it is essential for the Body of Christ.

So, consciously make this needed transition. Close your eyes…take a deep breath…offer your earnest prayer that this next part will actually be the best, and most significant part – because you are doing it with and for your sisters and brothers in Christ.

The Upper Room Academy for Spiritual Formation came as a result of my sabbatical. We worked on the formation of the Academy for four and a half years. The nature of the content of The Academy suggested the method: spiritual discernment would be needed to deal adequately with spiritual matters. That’s it! We would interact with each other and with the content, on the basis of spiritual discernment. But what if some discern one thing and some another? Would we then be reduced to voting? No! There was one additional requirement: consensus!

Why Consensus?

My question at the time was, “Why not consensus?” Here, Christians wanted to discern the will of God on matters that could profoundly affect the people of God. I was convinced of three things:

1) God’s will for the Academy was so essential that we must do whatever it takes to know it.

2) God’s will is not so multifaceted, or diffused, or cloud-like that it cannot be discerned.

3) God’s will is revealed in our seeking, for God wants us to know and act upon the divine will far more than we are prone to do.

Therefore, I felt confident that if we came together and earnestly tried to know what God wanted us to do, it could be known-and that we could all know it at once! When I introduced this process to the Advisory Board, agreeing nods greeted the proposal.

Our use of consensus would not be a litmus test, nor a safeguard, nor an effort to prove something. It would be a spiritual ingredient of our relationship. We would be committed to hear each other, learn from each other, and bring forth the best in each other. Consensus would not mean that the many would hold out, or gang up on a few until they abandoned their position, or came around to what a majority wanted to do. It meant that God’s will was so important to each person that nothing else mattered.

I thought of the image of a prism and said, “When we put forth a matter for decision, see it like a prism placed on a little table in the center of our circle. Any of the twenty-two of us can speak about it.”

When each one spoke, it was like the prism had been turned a little, one way or the other. Dr. Douglas Steere, the eminent Quaker of my lifetime said, “When Friends (Quakers) finish speaking on a matter, they like to have a little silence for considering those thoughts.” All of us were profoundly moved by the words of our cherished friend.

Some issues or questions would require little or no turning. When an issue needed to be considered from many points of view, we would continue to turn it in the light until the truth was revealed. Then everyone could see it at once.

The process of turning an issue might mean giving up something or adding to, or modifying, or replacing something altogether. Consensus did not shackle our progress, for that meeting was one of the most productive any of us had ever attended. Consensus was our way of being with each other, and it had the same feel to it as the love we felt among us. Spiritual discernment by consensus was indeed a higher and welcomed way.

I suggested that if someone could not finally agree with a particular point, we would welcome a minority report. After all, we were not only interested in the best decision, but the best thinking on any subject.

Spiritual energy charged the air, and creativity was the result.

All spoke freely, strongly advocating various positions. But we were united in earnestly seeking God’s will on everything. We kept changing, shaping, and turning an issue until the light hit it right! When it did, everyone could see it from where they were sitting. It was amazing! Someone said, “this is the most unusual meeting I have ever attended!”

By the end of our meeting no issues were unsettled. More than 20 issues (one on each line of my notes) were acted upon. Our task was completed on time, with consensus at every point. There was no need for a minority report.

We went away feeling that we had been together in a new way – a higher way – on holy ground. Spiritual discernment by consensus was a new and remarkable way of being and doing.

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Danny Morris is a retired United Methodist Minister. He served as a staff member of the General Board of Discipleship and The Upper Room, and played a signal role in developing spiritual formation resources, among those, the Academy of Spiritual Formation, The Five-day Academy, and The Living Prayer Center. He also helped guide the transition of the Catholic Cursillo into The Walk to Emmaus, which recently welcomed the one millionth Pilgrim. Danny is the author of a number of books in the area of discipleship and spiritual formation and with Chuck Olsen co-authored Discovering God’s Will Together, which has become a foundational book on discernment.

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