Discerning Mission

Discerning mission: The Holy Spirit's new challenge and opportunity

By Gary Simpson

In his August 5, 2011, letter to the rostered lay leaders and pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson highlighted the calling "to discern together" what the ELCA's 2011 LIFT Report (Living Into the Future Together) confesses is our "missionary God." It's no accident that the Holy Spirit's renewed call to apostolic mission meets congregations and leaders straining to get a handle on discernment.

The turn to discernment lies in a newly emerging missional imagination happening all around the church, often hidden yet thriving in unsung places. How do we together ask, seek, and knock at the door of what seems good to the Holy Spirit and to the church now that God is turning the page on Christendom habits and bringing in a new era of postcolonial Christian mission?

Discernment together seeks to discover, understand, and share in what the Holy Spirit is up to in the close-to-the-ground particulars of engagement in, with, against, and for the world. Furthermore, this missional turn to discernment will be decidedly ecclesial, churchly, and in this way will not be clergy captivated, individualistically colonized, or win-lose majority-vote dominated. We at discerningmission.org invite you to join in this adventurous turn to discerning how we all together will participate with our missionary God in the world near, far, and in-between.

As one noteworthy church commentator has observed, discernment is "intricate and complex" and thus "difficult to describe." It is not "something that can be packaged, delivered, and taught." Indeed, it even seems somewhat easier to say what it is not than what it is. While discernment might be "impossible to program," let's not give in to quickly to discernment as so much nondescript jello. In a series of five blogs I'll suggest one model of ecclesial discernment that focuses on five integrated communicative practices. Also, I'll offer both theological and theoretical rationale for these 5As: attending, asserting, agreeing, acting, and assessing.

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