Discernment is one of those churchy, religious words we use that people outside the church think we made up to make something simple seem harder than it actually is. They hear ‘discernment’ and think simply ‘a decision’. But the idea of discernment has been important to me and to our denomination for a very long time. We believe that God does have a purpose for us, a use for us and that God does try to nudge us in the right direction. We believe that it is important to test in community what we think God is saying. This is the basis of our church court structure and it is the basis of how we ordain ministers. A person may feel called into the ministry but that is not enough proof of call. Teams of people meet with the person and through prayer and interviews try to sense whether or not the call is true.
Over the years I’ve heard people wistfully say that it would nice if we could set up discernment teams for people in all kinds of life situations. People thinking of changing jobs, people thinking of changing relationships, people thinking of any big life change could benefit from some corporate discernment. Most people who hear the idea like it but I’ve never really seen it put into action, until now. Last January I announced my intention to retire this year. That announcement was challenged by some and has led to the establishment of a discernment team and on this Sunday the congregation I serve will vote on whether or not I was right to think I should retire. I will abide by the community’s discernment. If they decide God is not finished with me I will continue to serve.
This is an odd or at least unusual way to approach retirement but in this moment it feels faithful. I trust we can listen for the spirit and not simply listen for expediency.
The discernment team we established to ask whether or not I should stay will remain in place and will meet with me quarterly to continue to help me seek the spirit. I am very thankful for the gift of them.