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Mission Control: Discern

Over the course of 2019, I want to unpack a simple mission framework in this column. The framework is represented by four words: Know, Notice, Discern, Act. Having begun with exploring the “Know” and “Notice”, let’s move on this issue to consider the third: Discern.

I love the notion of wondering. Wondering what’s going on in the world we live in. Wondering what God is up to. Wondering what God is calling me (or us) to participate in. Wondering can happen in a moment, at a desk, on a mountain top, in a conversation with a friend or loved one.

For me the notion of wondering is at the heart of discerning. Wondering is not enough on its own of course—the process of spiritual discernment also demands me allowing the spirit of God to lead, and ideally in the context of Christian community—but wondering (or openness, imagination and curiosity) is also an important factor.

Having talked in recent editions about “knowing” something of God’s heart for the world, and “noticing” what’s going on around us, the natural successor is to discern, or figure out, or wonder how to join the dots.

What do we have to contribute to the things we’re noticing, driven by what we know of God’s heart and God’s call? What skills, gifts, resources, time and networks can we bring to bear? This, I think, is the task of discerning in our unfolding mission framework. 

In Mark 6 we find the well-known story of Jesus feeding the 5000. The disciples notice the problem of a hungry horde and come to Jesus for the solution. His response pushes them to the questions and action of discernment: “You give them something to eat … how many loaves do you have? Go and see.” Jesus encourages the disciples to see what they can do themselves about the challenges they notice, to see what they can bring to bear, before getting involved himself.

There are lots of spiritual practices to deploy when we think about discernment—prayer, reflection, contemplation, hospitality—along with a host of wider approaches like appreciative enquiry, asset-based community development and so on. These together can help us do the work of discernment.

You’ll have read elsewhere in this issue the latest news on Project Plenty. This project is, in a very real sense, a whole-of-church approach to discernment. Through it we’re trying to listen to the spirit of God as we listen prayerfully and reflectively to God, to one another, and to our neighbours. We’re trying to figure out what’s going to be important to us (collectively) over the next five years and more. Your prayer, your contemplation, your voice, your own wondering is vital to this work of shared discernment.

If, in our mission framework, we don’t do the hard work of discernment, we can easily wander into unrealistic plans and then to burnout or stress. Or if all we do is get stuck here in perpetually attempting to discern, without ever moving to action, we’re in the territory of analysis paralysis, of never acting on what we know and notice. Noticing must lead to discerning, and, discerning to acting.

For now the question I have for you is this: what are you wondering about doing in response to the things you’re noticing? Next time: Act!

Scott Guyatt
Scott Guyatt is the Queensland Synod’s Director of Mission Strategy.

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