Leaders of churches and Christian organizations are often successful in the secular marketplace, or even church ministry, but have had little instruction in or preparation for the process of discernment. They might not even understand discernment to be part of what they have been asked to do. In this kind of scenario, a Christian leadership team might be composed of:
• A successful investment banker who is very sincere and has a lot of money to contribute, but is such a young Christian that he barely knows what discernment is, let alone how to practice it in a leadership setting.
• An attorney whose approach to leadership is shaped more by her training as a lawyer than by any spiritual preparation.
• A construction company owner who was raised in the church his family helped plant. He stopped growing long ago and is committed to maintaining things "the way they've always been."
• An executive who climbed the corporate ladder by thinking strategically and learning how to "work the system." While he is a committed Christian and is enthusiastic about the mission of the organization, he relies primarily on his ability to think strategically. Since he came to faith fairly recently, there is very little integration of his business experience and practice with his spirituality. The idea that the wisdom of God is foolishness to this world is fairly incomprehensible.
• The pragmatist who has not yet had an experience of God that is beyond her own comprehension. She believes in the Holy Spirit in theory but is uncomfortable with the idea that the Spirit actually speaks to us today. In fact, she believes too much talk of the Spirit leads to mysticism.
Such individuals do have valuable gifts to bring to the leadership setting, and our churches and organizations would be impoverished without them. The problem, however, is when individuals bring only the training, experience and influences of a secular mindset without preparation in the areas of spiritual discernment. Without spiritual discernment it won't matter whether you have a clearly articulated discernment process, use Robert's Rules of Order, or just offer perfunctory prayers to bookend your meetings—discernment is not going to happen! The people aren't right and they're not ready.
While it is tempting to seek a technique that will enable a group like this to jump right to corporate discernment, it is a grave mistake to assume that these folks have a basic understanding of discernment or that they are practicing it as a way of life. The next step to becoming a leadership group that discerns God's will together is to cultivate a shared, working knowledge of the basics and to begin (or make sure people are) practicing discernment in their own lives. When even one person in the group is not habitually practicing discernment, it can derail the best attempts of the whole group. Five foundational beliefs are the building blocks of a sound discernment practice.