Becoming a Discerning Community

Thursday 14 July

Craig Stewart  works with the Warehouse project in Cape Town serving churches in South Africa in their work of addressing poverty, injustice and division. Here VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings a summary of his practical seminar on corporately discerning God’s voice.

What does it mean to be a prophetic people?

When I started at the Warehouse a few years ago, I thought it was all about technical community development.  What does it mean to respond to the poverty and injustice in post-apartheid South Africa?  What we’ve discovered is that what we really need is God’s presence.   

Seeking God as a community is fine when there are just three of you.   We could make adjustments as we went along.  As we grew, we found it a lot harder.  As we looked at models of engagement, most organisation have one of two models of discerning God’s voice:

  1. Democratic model- looking for 50% plus one.  It removes the dissident extreme voices but we found that wasn’t helping to engage with minority voices or empowering those who are usually silenced.
     
  2. Apostolic model - one person (usually a white male) decides what God has said to the community and makes the decision about the way forward.

Working to transform communities is tough and difficult:  We are convinced…

  1. That God is at work in the world and especially those places that we feel most desperate about. 
  2. That God does speak.
  3. That revelation is given to the body
  4. Our work is to align with His work.

When we think about the prophetic it follows the pattern of revelation to interpretation to application.  Consider the story of Joseph… Pharaoh has a dream (there is a revelation), Joseph tells him what it means (interpretation) and finally they decide how to respond (application).

Very often people are tempted to move to application before they have received the full revelation. The revelation is the responsibility of the person who receives it.  The interpretation is shared but the application is the responsibility of the person for whom the prophecy is given.

How do we move from a revelation to interpretation and application? 

We use a rhythm of rest, listening and living.  Sometimes in a 90-minute meeting but also three times a year for a full week.  What are we hearing from God and how are we going to work that out?  Too often we hear the first step and rush into action.  What does it mean to constantly stop and ask God - to be sure of His leading? 

Rest

We remember that we are invited by God and we enter God’s time.  There is a conscious awareness that God invites us into this process. He is yearning to speak.  We arrive and are present. 

We practice affirmation of each other in this space.  We speak blessing to one another and that means pushing against our culture.   When we are seeking to discern God’s heart for us we need to trust each other.  We need to refocus on the positive rather than the negative, remembering that these are brothers and sisters created in the image of God.

We deliberately and collectively step into Kyros time (God’s time) remembering that he is able to do in 5 minutes what could take 15 years!

Listening

We want to align ourselves with God’s word.  We don’t have a sermon.  We read the passage and reflect.  We don’t necessarily choose the obvious text. The word of God is living and active.  Very often we need is fresh revelation.

We listen to each other with our “kindness ears” seeking to lean into that which we have affirmed in one another. We use active listening getting two people to tell each other what they are hearing from God and then asking them to report back to the whole group what has been said. 

When we run these corporate times, we havea staff team that leads it. As a senior leadership we never run it (those who have institutional power).  We let go of our power for these sessions.

We seek to listen to others and to the times. This is critical when we are talking about community transformation and especially when we step across barriers.  The journey becomes tougher.  Too often we can apply the revelation through out own lens / worldview.

The work of listening is critical.  How do we listen to those who are not in the room?  How do we get the right people in the room?  How do we listen to their voices?

Finally we return to listening to scripture.

Live

We ask, “What is God inviting us to?”  Usually when there is something new, God invites us to put something down. How do we answer this with our lives?  How do we respond?

The writing of Ruth Haley Barton has influenced my thinking on this - she has a book called Pursuing God’s will together: Discernment Practices for Leadership Groups.  She makes the point that your starting point is spiritual formation.