Because the Christian faith is rooted in community, we need to see that the process of spiritual discernment is also a community function. Rather than every Christian being required to do all their spiritual searching alone, God meant for the whole community to be involved. That community involvement has not been as big a factor in Western Christianity as it could or should be.
Certainly, we do involve other believers at times. We will ask people to pray for us–but many times, we don’t even give them the specifics of what they are being asked to pray for. And generally when such a mysterious request is made, those being asked don’t necessarily want to know the full story behind the request.
We need to begin with the realization that if God is working in one believer’s life through the power of the Holy Spirit, he will often through the Holy Spirit be working with another or others to prepare them to help in the process, as we see in Acts 13.1-3 where the whole church in Antioch was given the message about Barnabas and Paul being called to go on a mission trip. Paul and Barnabas didn’t have to go through the private and painful struggle many in North America choose to do because they relied on the whole community to help them.
Even when people do seek help from the community when searching for God’s leading, they fall prey to other temptations. Some go seeking the advice they want. I remember one pastor who was in some trouble in his church. His ability to do ministry was seriously hampered. He began asking other church and denominational leaders to help him determine if he should stay or leave. Since it was fairly obvious to anyone who have been involved in the situation that his staying would cause more harm to both him and the church, he kept getting told that it was time to leave.
He would seek out a person, ask the question, hear the answer, thank the person and then go on to ask the same question of another person. He was not looking for help in his decision making process–he was looking for someone to tell him to stay. He eventually found someone who gave him that advice and accepted their wisdom. He stayed and things did get worse for both him and the congregation. Those of us who were involved in the situation and who were asked for advice later found out that he actually wanted to stay at the church until a family member finished an educational program. Once that was done, the pastor quickly resigned.
This really isn’t an effective use of the power of the community. When we don’t listen to what people are saying to us, it can well be that we are refusing to listen to the Holy Spirit as well. Only listening to the advice we want to hear means that we really aren’t seeking God’s leading no matter what we say.
Related to this is the situation where an individual only seeks advice from people who are sure to agree with them. A pastor seeking to leave the ministry may seek advice from someone who has already left or who is struggling with the same issue. A church trustee may seek advice from someone who has already voiced a desire for the same thing the trustee is looking into. This is not a true involvement of the community either. Rather than calling on the collective wisdom of the whole community, we are simply seeking out people whose advice we already know and want to hear.
The Christian community is a truly valuable resource for people seeking the will of God but we need to use it properly. We seek the leading of the whole community, not just those we agree with. We listen carefully even when people tell us what we don’t want to hear. Making us of the community is much easier when we have been honest with ourselves first and when we are willing to share our desire with the community so they can help us really seek to leading of God.
May the peace of God be with you.