Collaboration in discerning direction for a local church is undergirded by a biblical truth, called the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9).
One way to apply this truth is described by Steven Musser and Eric Orka in Seeking the Pillar of Fire: Uncovering God’s Direction for a Local Church. Their approach engages the lead pastor and church leaders in an interactive process, using focus groups and a personal retreat.
To assure trust and build ownership, Musser and Orka involve church leaders in the envisioning process. Yet they assign a key role to the pastor to avoid one pitfall of group discernment—a hazard expressed in the witty adage: “a camel is a horse designed by a committee.”
As a first step, focus groups composed of the governing and ministry leaders of the church meet together. At these meetings, participants respond to three questions:
What are 2-3 of the greatest gifts God has given this church?
What are 2-3 of the greatest opportunities God may be presenting at this time?
What is your God-given dream for the church?
The pastor’s role at these meetings is to take notes. Strengthened by the counsel in these notes, and undergirded by the prayers of the congregation, the pastor then takes a couple of days, apart from normal daily tasks, to discern God’s direction and priorities for the church.
Hopefully, from this time alone with God, the pastor returns with a sense of overall direction.
Next, ministry leaders meet regularly, over a span of months, to develop an implementation plan with goals, action steps, and anticipated outcomes. At key points, the plan is reviewed and approved by the elders or governing board of the church.
With this step-by-step approach, the pastor and leadership core prayerfully and collaboratively discern where God is leading the church. The anticipated outcome is a clear vision, an action plan, and strong ownership by the pastor and church leaders.
Also see Setting Direction I and Setting Direction III