Through Jesus, we have direct access to God (1 Peter 2:9). This truth, called the priesthood of all believers, undergirds the practice of collaboration in discerning direction in the church.
In the New Testament we see instances of shared discernment. Whether caring for widows (Acts 6:1-6), resetting direction (Acts 13:1-3), or resolving a tough question (Acts 15:1-29), first century believers talked, prayed, and fasted together to discern the mind of God.
How can we practice this in the church today?
In Transforming Power: Biblical Strategies for Making a Difference in Your Community, Robert Linthicum describes a strategy of talking with individuals, one at a time, to build “relational power” that can change a church and the world around it.
This approach builds on one-to-one conversations with leaders, influencers, and ordinary folks. The aim is to discover joys and concerns, gain insights about the church and community, and to build a relationship.
It is important to keep a record of these conversations: the name, contact information, and occupation of the person; and in a single page, notes about his or her joys and hopes, hurts and concerns, and any other comments.
As records accumulate, common concerns and themes will emerge. A profile of the church will take shape. A description of the community will form. Intersection points between church and community will become apparent.
A next step is to gather individuals with common concerns into group meetings. Participants are given a chance to tell their stories, share their pain, express convictions and hopes, and to make a commitment to action.
Group meetings are a transitional step to action teams—groups of people committed to hands-on action in relation to a specific concern. Intentional, committed, and focused relationships in action teams can invigorate a church with direction and solidarity both for internal ministry and outward mission.
“All truly transforming change,” Linthicum contends, “must be built upon the creation and maintenance of strong relationships.” And through these relationships, God can transform his church, nearby neighborhoods, and even a city.
Also see Setting Direction II and Setting Direction III