At the crossroads of a major decision, a congregant goes to the pastor for help.
"What do we do?"
We might ask the congregant some reflective questions. "What do you think you should do? How do you think God is leading?"
Then we may encourage the person to seek advice from those they trust. If we're feeling particularly bold we might give our opinion. Even then we speak tentatively, reminding them the decision is ultimately their own. Then we send them off with a prayer.
But consider where this leaves them: basically alone, abandoned to collect opinions and take or leave them as they see fit. They alone must make the decision. They alone are responsible for the consequences.
"No one can make this decision for you," we say. But what if we could? Not as pastors but as the church?
Christians argue all day over how churches should make decisions. But what seems to require no discussion—what we all already agree on—is that personal decisions are best left to the individual.
This insistence on individual autonomy is founded upon the cultural conviction that we are each sovereign designers of our own destiny. As the oft cited poem "Invictus" puts it, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."
We exhibit this value every time we announce a major life decision rather than request prayer for it; every time we pretend our decisions don't affect anyone but ourselves; and every time we hide genuine concerns over the decisions of others behind platitudes and a smile.
I think we often want to help people navigate decisions, only we don't know how. Constrained by propriety, we give polite affirmations and rubber stamp whatever the individual is inclined to do.
Why do we abide such blatant paganism in the church? Our lives are not our own, and our decisions belong to Christ (Rom. 14:7-9; 1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 5:15). We are not free to act independently of others; we are members of a body (1 Cor. 10:17; 12:27). Inextricably bound together, there is nothing one of us does that does not affect all of us. (Rom. 12:5; Eph. 4:16). Because we are a body, we serve Christ best when we serve him together (Rom. 15:14; Col. 3:16; Heb 10:24-25). We hear God most clearly when we listen together (Matt. 18:18-20; 1 Cor. 14:29).
We know these things. What we don't know is what to do with them. Like the wedding day invitation to "Speak now or forever hold your peace," we have a vague sense they once meant a great deal, but now they ring hollow.
So what can we do?
What we require is an alternative set of practices that help us make decisions—decisions once considered personal and private—together.
At my church we asked, "As the body of Christ, what would it look like to serve one another during times of decision?"
What we came up with was a voluntary process of corporate discernment for congregants who desire help making a decision. I have no pretensions that this is the biblical model. Scripture doesn't specify precisely how Christians should make decisions together. But it does promote certain values. The following is merely our best effort to apply these values as a church.