Discernment Back Home
The First Presidency cannot say enough about how grateful we are for the wonderful spirit that people brought to the recent World Conference, and for the prayerful support given to the Conference by Saints throughout the world. There are many things one could say about the Conference, but at this time I would like to focus on a frequent question that emerged by the end of the week. That question is this: How can we take what we’ve learned about practicing discernment this week and apply it back home in our congregations?
Let’s begin with a definition. While there are many ways of describing discernment, Carolyn Brock and Donna Sperry provided an excellent definition in the January Herald:
Discernment is an intentional process of opening to God’s will, utilizing reason, faith, and prayerful reflection, so that our choices are aligned more closely with God’s purposes. Discernment flourishes in a context of regular spiritual practices, a suspension of personal agendas, and a desire to join in God’s creative action in the world.
Discernment practices are typically done in relationship to a specific question that people are deeply interested in. For instance, a congregation may be asking, “What might the recent insight given in Doctrine and Covenants 163 mean for our congregation?” Another example would be, “Given the many issues that could claim our energy and attention, what should matter most for our congregation?”
We often tend to approach such questions by eagerly exchanging opinions, data, and personal perspectives. In discernment practice, though, there is an attempt to put aside personal agendas and make special attempts to listen as we open our hearts and minds to God. This listening comes in times of silence and times of conversation. It comes in moments of directed introspection and in moments of thinking about things external to us.
The First Presidency encourages congregations to incorporate sound discernment practices as a part of congregational life. In many ways, this is not new to us at all because our heritage as a church has always included efforts to discern God’s guidance on countless matters. At the same time, approaching discernment as an organized, interwoven process may be new to some, even though it, too, is very much a part of our spiritual tradition.
For those whose interest in group discernment practice was stimulated by the activities of the recent World Conference, we would like to suggestion three things. First, it is important for everyone to realize that the discernment activities at Conference were quite abbreviated and only included pieces of an integrated discernment process. Those who are interested in facilitating discernment processes in the congregation would be well-served to first read the following resources:
- Seeking and Doing God’s Will: Discernment for the Community of Faith, by Stevens, Lardear, and Duger (Discipleship Resources, 1998)
- Discerning God’s Will Together: A Spiritual Practice for the Church, by Morris and Olsen (Alban Publications, 1997)
- Hearing with the Heart: A Gentle Guide to Discerning God’s Will for Your Life, by Farrington (Jossey-Bass, 2003)
Second, we should all be reminded that one way to engage in discernment and spiritual practice is through Covenant Discipleship Groups. There are currently more than 800 trained Covenant Discipleship Group facilitators, and more than thirty people available to train facilitators.
Third, if you have questions about any of the above, please contact Carolyn Brock, Spiritual Formation and Wholeness Ministries, International Headquarters.
We look forward to learning with the church the insights that shall surely come as we become more deliberate about discerning God’s will as we move into our world more forthrightly with the message of Christ’s peace.
David D. Schaal
(First Presidency 2005–2012)
May 2007 Herald, page 5.