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27 Apr '14

Spiritual discernment in ministry leadership

Posted by T.J. Addington in church leadership, discernment
Individuals who have the gift of spiritual discernment are needed components in any ministry leadership team or board. Spiritual discernment is the ability to identify aberrations in theology or character issues in those who propagate those aberrations, who use theology for their own agendas or who are engaged in church power plays.

In First and Second Timothy, Paul tells Timothy to stay away from individuals who promote theological controversies. In 2 Corinthians (10-11) he takes the congregation to task for following so called super apostles who were using position and theology to rally people to their followership. Wherever there are people there will be those who use leadership or theology for their own agendas and it takes people of discernment to call it for what it is. 

Paul called it for what it was: "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an agent of light. Is it not surprising, then if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)." 

What is interesting is that there were many in the church in Corinth who did not discern the issues Paul is talking about. Obviously the spiritual cloak these individuals wrapped themselves in was effective in hiding their true motives.

The reason discernment is so critical is that when one is using Scriptures to make their case, there is enough truth that it takes discernment to identify its misuse. For instance, when a leader is always talking about money and the need for the congregation to give more and is using Scripture to try to force or manipulate individuals to give, you have moved from inviting people to be generous to "spiritual coercion." While it sounds Scriptural its application has become more about manipulation than the Holy Spirit's leading. 

As one who works with troubled churches what often fascinates me is that members of the congregation are often more discerning than the leadership of the church. When Scripture is being misused for the personal agenda of the pastor for instance, prescient  individuals often quietly leave while elected leaders remain unaware of the issues. And it is not necessarily pastors but others, especially who have the ability to teach and who have theological agendas who can promote controversies in the congregation that if discerned early can be dealt with.

Spiritual discernment also comes into play when there are people with power agendas in the congregation. We are often naive in the name of grace to name power games for what they are. As a congregational consultant they seem blatant to me but leaders have been reluctant to entertain the notion that a nice guy (or gal) might have poor motives and personal agendas for the church. Those with spiritual discernment usually read those situations for what they are. The fact the boards are often clueless tells me that we have too few with this ability in church leadership.

The early warning system of any church should be found in its leadership rather than the congregation at large. But that presupposes that there are individuals in leadership who are deeply spiritually discerning. And listened to! Can you point individuals in leadership of your church who have the gift of spiritual discernment?

(Posted from Oakdale, MN)