Quaker Discernment

You might have noticed that the entries on my blog are rather few and far between at the moment.  Part of the reason for that is that MSA is in the midst of reinventing who we are as an organization.  We are moving from being a project oriented to a community oriented organization.  We have been working on a rule of life, morning and evening prayer booklet, and a total restructuring of the way we operate.

Yesterday as part of that process we met with our good friend and Quaker pastor Stan Thornburg who helped us to understand the Quaker process of group discernment and consensus decision making in which decisions are made not by a leader who tells people what to do but by the whole group who are responsible together to listen to the voice of God, and search actively and openly with other group members for clarity before making decisions.

Group discernment is experiential and mystical not rational.  At the centre is our commitment to put Christ as leader not just in theory but in practice.  The main skill we need to accomplish this is listening which of course sounds simple but isn’t.  This process strongly affirms the fact that God speaks through all individuals and that all people has the potential to be Christ’s message bearer.  However it also recognizes that some people are better at discerning the voice of God than others are (What the Quakers caller weighty messengers) and that these people need to recognized and given voice.  However it also affirms that it is only in community together that we are able to discern what the Spirit is saying and how to act on this voice.

We are in an exciting and somewhat scary place.  We say that we want community to touch the fibre of all we are and do but this is where the rubber meets the road.  Group discernment and consensus decision making mean we need to bring our rational thoughts and ways of doing things into the mystical chamber so that they can be touched by the light of Christ and in that light they may be anointed but they might also be discarded.  The exciting thing is that this process opens us up to a broader array of possibilities – possibilities that we may not be aware of when we allow our rational minds to guide and direct us.  And that of course opens us up to be transformed by the abiding spirit of Christ.

For those of us with very rational brains it seems a very slow, messy and inefficient process.  Quaker business meetings might take hours and if there is no consensus then a decision is not make.   However I am becoming more and more aware of the fact that our so called “efficiency” which is often a rationalization for letting some guy who loves to have his own way make all the decisions, is not always the Christlike way to do things.

Jesus constantly gave up power he did not grasp for it.  In fact he refused to allow his followers to make him into the kind of leaders the Jews and Romans specialized in where authority was used to control and often to subjugate others.  Jesus leadership model was that of true servanthood.  Through word and example he embodied a different model of leadership.  He rarely told his followers how to do something he asked questions that enabled his disciples to find the answers that God had already placed within their hearts.

10 Responses

  1. Seems to be a movement of the Spirit everywhere. Our church community is seeking the same kind of process.


    I love everything I keep discovering about the Quakers. I like their slow pace and their lack of a need for any kind of worldly success.

  2. Yes I do think that God is doing something new and the amazing thing about the Quakers is that though they are small in number and do not go after worldly success or prominence they have had an influence on his country far in excess of their numbers. Hmm I wonder if that is the way that the Spirit works?

  3. […] in a new change of direction that the Mustard Seed Association is taking. She talks about it in this blog called Quaker Discernment. I found the blog very interesting – I like the idea of decisions being made in community, but it […]

  4. I just stumbled across this post, and I’m grateful for it. I’m a Quaker, and I’m seeking ways to translate Quaker discernment into other contexts, both other faith communities and secular organizations (http://spiritofinstitutions.blogspot.com/). I appreciated your description of the essence of Quaker discernment. I was also happy to discover your post because I’m going to be at the Common Root conference in a few days. I look forward to meeting you there.

  5. Michael good to connect. I look forward to meeting you at the conference. We will only be there Friday evening so I hope we can connect then.

  6. […] the end of the year is moving towards us at a very rapid clip.  The MSA team has begun a series of discernment sessions to try and shape at least some of what we focus on over the next couple of years.  As we have […]

  7. […] to enable others to become all that God intends them to be.  I talked to her about our use of the Quaker discernment process and the group decision making structure we have set up to encourage cooperation and mutual support […]

  8. Greatly encouraged by the Quaker reference. Our small Free Methodist church practiced a type of the same gathering in search of consensus before reaching out to our community. We took 8 weeks to arrive at a conclusion rather than a consensus . In
    Retrospect it was perhaps too structured and logic based. We shall attempt to gather again in silence.
    Romans 8 v 25,26 ?

  9. […] as an organization. Some of that journey I have shared here on this blog as we have embraced the Quaker discernment process, learned the value of organic strategic planning organically and become more of an organization […]

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