In this article in our series on “Growing the Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit,” guest blogger Susan Finck looks at the Reformed faith and how it encourages us to discern the Holy Spirit’s activity so that we may cooperate with Him in ministry.
In Presbyterian and Reformed churches, our church government is set up for a group discernment process which can be both orderly and open to the dynamic guidance of the Holy Spirit.
I would imagine that in larger churches this might be more of a challenge, but I will speak to small churches since this is what I know.
I have served three churches with sessions of no more than six.
Two principles from our theology as Christians in the Reformed stream of Christ’s body provide a great foundation for us to abandon ourselves to this corporate dance of cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
The first one it is God who is the initiator, and we can trust Him to do just that – not just in bringing us to salvation, but also in birthing and nurturing vision in us for ministry, and in giving direction to our governing bodies for use of time and resources.
The second principle that is foundational for our corporate dance with the Spirit is the fact of the absolute fallenness/depravity of human beings—even those of us who are redeemed in Christ and ordained by the Holy Spirit. Because we hold these two realities in tension, we always realize that we could be wrong or off track even when we feel passionately led towards a certain direction or course of action. This tension keeps us submitted to the group process of the session or ministry team and allows the Lord the time and the space to shape the topic at hand.
Participating in the dance of cooperation with the Holy Spirit is key for discerning vision and for separating His vision from other apparently great ideas which may be Christ-honoring, but not what He has in mind at the time. Participating in the dance helps us sift through all the programs, directions and requests for the church’s time, energy and money.
In a small church, this is particularly critical because our pool of leadership/manpower and finances is usually quite limited.
Also in many small churches, (though not my current one!) change can be quite disruptive—many established smaller churches can only absorb so much change at once.
In Acts 16:6-10 we see snapshots of this type of group discernment process operating:
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.
During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.Acts 16: 6-10 (NIV)
I would love to know the full story which is condensed into these five short verses! 🙂 The Great Commission was their assignment. They, indeed, were giving their lives to share Jesus with the world, but here we see that certain decisions needed to be made as a group in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
What is the Purpose?
Paul and his team were traveling, having been kept from preaching the word in the province of Asia. What’s that about? Does not God want the folks in the province of Asia to hear about Jesus? What about “make disciples of all nations?”
The answer is we don’t know.
We’re not leading the dance. Our task is to be responsive to the nudges of our Dance Partner and just trust that He’s got this.
The next place they went was to the border of Mysia and Bithynia where they were once again met with a no from the Lord. We don’t hear the specifics of how they discerned this no, not here message.
I usually hate religious lingo or jargon, but some Christians use the phrase a check in my spirit to express this reality. How do we express that sense of an inner stop sign, or at least, a yellow light, as we are praying about a certain direction or decision? Evidently Paul’s team discerned this very clearly, that the Lord was saying “No, not there” to Mysia/Bithynia.
I would imagine by this time, Paul and his team were getting frustrated. Were they crying out for some leading?
Lord, show us! Where do we go next? We are your servants!
The guidance came to Paul in the form of a vision of a man from Macedonia. I wonder how he knew the guy was Macedonian?
This vision was what they needed to establish the next step in their dance: They turned their attention toward Macedonia, “concluding that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them.”
For several years, the church I serve has been specifically praying for the Lord to connect us with our neighborhood. We are located on a busy street in a residential neighborhood with lots of families and kids.
We have a multi-age core group that loves the Lord and is excited to see our church grow.
At one session meeting, we got the idea to host a Sunday school kick off day with free breakfast. Our young adult Bible study group decided to hand-deliver flyers in the community around the church.
We walked the neighborhood. We prayed for God to direct us. We met people. We invited. No one came. Not one person.
Meanwhile, several of us in the young adult group were getting into Zumba at the local Y. One night at Bible study, one of the young women shared that she wanted to get certified to teach Zumba.
Talk started about having Zumba at church. The more the idea grew, the more I had an inner sense — not just that this would be fun – but a sense that this was a God thing.
Another of our young members said, “I feel inside that this is going to be big for our church.” I think she was sensing the Holy Spirit’s prompting.
We took it to the elders who discerned that it was right. The church paid her certification and now we hold a thriving Zumba class two nights a week. Our church finances have turned around as well!
We often play a Christ-honoring song for a cool-down, and we offer prayer after class. It’s mostly relationship-building at this point – but our church has literally been packed with folks from the community.
A couple of years ago, we began to ask the Lord about offering English classes. Four members got some great training, but the timing just never seemed right to launch the classes.
Now we have started English class with a handful of Zumba people, plus some of our members. We are following the dance with the Holy Spirit as a church. It’s taken a while to turn that corner of connecting with the neighborhood, but God is the one leading the dance!
Susan Finck serves on the Dunamis Fellowship Adjunct Faculty with PRMI. She has served small churches in the PCUSA for 24 years while raising her four kids. She is currently Stated Supply pastor at El Calvario Presbyterian church, a Hispanic bilingual congregation in Waco, Texas. You can find El Calvario on Facebook.