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Discern and Pursue


1 November 2021

By Ben Smith

God is calling for a prophetic community to emerge, drawn from the nations of the world, that is characterized by uncommon devotion to the compassion and peace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Through divine grace and wisdom, this faith community has been given abundant gifts, resources, and opportunities to equip it to become such a people. Chief among these is the power of community in Christ expressed locally in distinctive fashions while upholding a unity of vision, foundational beliefs, and mission throughout the world.

There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church. However, the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead.


Doctrine and Covenants 163:11a-b

In Community of Christ, we have a history of listening to both the still small voice inside us and to each other’s voices as we discern our place in the world. It has been our practice for generations to come together to listen to the Spirit and to be led into the unknown. It has taken us on some pretty wild rides, some which have caused division, while others have drawn us together. We’ve learned that there is sometimes a cost to discerning and pursuing the Spirit’s call in our life.

When we examine the words in Doctrine and Covenants 163:11a-b, we see a call for the church to be lived out in distinctive local expressions, while also pursuing a unified global mission. With so much need in our world, the challenge is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead. Discern and pursue what matters most. Discern and pursue.

Discernment is difficult. Or, should I say, it can be difficult. In my experience, we are often tempted in our discernment to create a neat list of things to do or establish answers to the challenges we are facing. But discernment is different from planning. It’s different from fact-finding and research. Instead, it is intentional listening, continually peeling away until the core of the matter is exposed and revealed to us. This can be frightening because the “what matters most” bit is often not on our radar or is something we haven’t yet prepared to do.

With so much need in our world, the challenge is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead. Discern and pursue what matters most. Discern and pursue.

Sometimes discernment reveals something that we just don’t want to do at all! But that’s the process.

What’s even more wonderful is that discernment isn’t external. To discern is to look into the center of our being individually and collectively, take in the whole thing, and glimpse God’s vision for us. We combine our voices in discernment to try to articulate that vision, and then we live it out to the best of our ability.

But what happens next? We’ve listened, discernment took place, now what? My good friend Zac Harmon-McLaughlin, director of the Community of Christ Seminary, would say, “It never ends.” It’s not a linear process where one starts and finishes, it is a cyclical process of questioning, listening, acting, and returning to the question again. It’s an active process of living out the call to be who you are.

When we combine that with the second part of this prophetic call—to pursue what matters most—I picture one of those circular fireworks that spin around and around shooting sparks everywhere. The pursuit is to fully live out our call, with authenticity, whatever the cost. Together, our role in the world is to practice our discipleship in communities of joy, hope, love and peace.

When we intentionally ask, “Where are you calling us, God?” and not “How can the church survive, God?”, we may well be asking the primary question that is essential to our future.

We are in a place right now where we might feel a little worried about the church. Our membership is aging, attendance is shrinking, many are rejecting organized religion, and the pandemic has altered the way we meet. Because of that, I think we feel pressured to find answers that will turn things around in a hurry. However, perhaps we are a little too distracted by the look and feel of the church (as in, there should be this many people in the pews and songs should sound like this because they always have) instead of focusing on how we are being called to transform.

We know God isn’t static, and yet our experiences are often subconsciously formed as if God is unchanging. We know that God is active in our midst, changing our lives on the daily, so we know we’re not alone! Indeed, we’re so connected that we cannot deny the living Christ is active among us.

In the 2017 message “Time to Act!” President Steve Veazey shared, “The future church is being formed by a basic concept: Our chief purpose is to birth, nurture, and multiply communities of disciples and seekers engaged in spiritual formation and compassionate ministry and action. This basic blueprint—spiritual formation, community, compassionate ministry, and action—is true to the vision of Christ. Everything else, like organizational structure, resources, funding methods, congregational forms, and so on, should support this primary purpose.”

When our focus is on the mission of God and not on the church itself, our hearts are lifted with a collective sense of hope because we know we are living our purpose.

In combination with the challenge in Doctrine and Covenants 163, it is clear that the formation of disciples and seekers in our communities is at the heart of our call, and the basic blueprint offered by President Veazey can be held up as a pathway to action. When we intentionally ask, “Where are you calling us, God?” and not “How can the church survive, God?”, we may well be asking the primary question that is essential to our future.

When our hearts join—as we’ve done for generations—in decision-making and collective discernment, we say “yes” to the call to continue building Zion. It isn’t because of our decisions but because of our willingness to ask the questions and live with them, sometimes for years, until clarity is revealed. When our focus is on the mission of God and not on the church itself, our hearts are lifted with a collective sense of hope because we know we are living our purpose.

God has always called and always will. Our job now is to listen, to pick up our end of the conversation and say, “Here I am, willing!” How are you answering? Is it with an exclamation point? With a question mark? With a full stop? Or perhaps even a semicolon?

In this place, you have a voice.

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About the Author

Ben Smith

Ben Smith is the Australia Mission Centre president and lives in Tootgarook, Victoria, Australia.

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