The churches studied for this book were engaged in different practices that created time and space for people to seek personal and corporate discernment. Discernment is the process of working to determine where God’s spirit is leading, which usually requires more than offering a quick prayer or going with your gut. In different congregations, this was practiced as part of a worship service, in small groups or in gatherings similar to the Quaker Meeting concept.
Butler Bass references theologian Mark McIntosh who says that there are five phases of discernment:
1. Exercising Faith—reaching out to God in the confidence that you will sense divine leading
2. Distinguishing Between Good and Evil—utilizing scripture, tradition and reason to pursue a path of righteousness
3. Seeking Practical Wisdom—listening to other voices speak to your situation
4. Practicing Sensitivity to Pursue God’s Will—putting yourself in position through silence, meditation and other practices that give space for God to work with the input you’ve already received
5. Contemplating Wisdom—reflecting on where you sense God is leading and determining how to obediently live out the divine will in your situation
Diana also gives a fresh understanding of conversion. Rather than viewing it as the “in-a-moment” change from not believing in to believing in Jesus, she sees the Christian life as an ongoing process of conversion and that the intentional practice of discernment fosters this ongoing process in the Christian’s life. Without building in a rhythm of reflection and evaluation on who you are and where you are in your journey, you slow the process of how God’s spirit does its work of transformation in your life.
• Discernment is not something that is done easily or naturally. Why do you think it is so hard to build this practice into our personal or group life?
• When have you felt that you, your family, your friends or your church had clearly discerned God’s will for a specific situation? Looking back on that experience, what practices from the list above do you think you engaged in, whether consciously or subconsciously?
• When in your life as a Christian/Adventist or in your study on the history of the church have you sensed your religion/denomination valuing the role of discernment for issues that affected a large group of people (congregation, conference, denomination)?