03 November 2005

Resources for missional discernment

OK, as promised, here are some resources for helping an individual, a congregation, or a church system (synod, diocese, judicatory, loose affiliation, etc.) to discern the shape of their calling in the world. I learned about some of these at the conference I recently attended; others I learned of in other ways.

Discernment resources for individuals:

LifeKeys is a set of tools developed by a trio of diversely gifted Presbyterians. It helps an individual determine his or her natural talents, spiritual gifts, personality (using the MBTI), values, and passions. Together, these can be great clues to what you're supposed to do with your life.

One organization that uses LifeKeys is Church Innovations, an incredible Minnesota-based consulting organization that I found out about at this conference. Most of their resources are aimed at congregations or larger bodies (so I mention them a lot below), but I'm sure their LifeKeys-based services are excellent. But if you're a lone individual, you should just buy the book.

The Centered Life program, created by Luther Seminary (where the conference I attended was held), looks to be an excellent resource for discovering a sense of calling or vocation in daily life, be it working in your home or working for "the man". Their tagline is "Connecting Sunday to Monday."

Another expert on that topic is Anne Koester, associate director of the Georgetown Center for Liturgy (second bio down on this page) who offered a series on the Spirituality of Work at my church which I found extremely helpful.

Last, but not least, Listening Hearts is an outstanding program developed by folks within the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. It's designed to help an individual at the point of an important decision to discern what God may be calling him or her to do in that instance. It's based on a great deal of research into historic Christian traditions on discernment (Quaker, Ignatian, etc.), and it essentially involves a trio of trained discerners using a combination of listening, questions, silence, and prayer to help the "focus person" perceive the voice of God. I've been through a session myself, and found it incredibly helpful. If you buy the book, you won't regret it.

Discernment resources for groups and congregations:

Listening Hearts also has a book/program for group discernment, called Grounded in God. I don't have first-hand experience with it, but I don't doubt that it's excellent. Here's the book. They also have a program for spiritual conflict resolution, called Opening the Ear of Your Heart.

Getting back to Church Innovations, they too have a program for dealing with conflict, plus programs on staff covenanting, growing healthier congregations, and small group training.

They also have a really, really exciting tool for congregations interested in being guided through a process of learning about themselves and their contexts. Called Church FutureFinder, it's sort of like a LifeKeys for congregations, with the added benefit of guiding the church to gather demographic and anecdotal (story) information about the context to which they've been called. (In other words, church members are sent out into the neighborhood to talk to people--and not to hand them tracts, but to hear their stories.) That is so important for coming to understand the what God is calling them to do in that place! It's free to use if you don't want to print reports, and only $70 if you want reports and a user manual. It's also worth noting that by using it your congregation becomes part of a database and research project being undertaken by CI. There's also a "complete with consulting services" version of this process, called Congregational Discovery, which costs $2,500.

Finally, I recommend that mainline congregations check out the Project on Congregations of Intentional Practice, a study being carried out by (among others) faculty at the Virginia Theological Seminary. I'm a little concerned that this project may be encouraging some mainline congregations to ignore the elephant in the room (labeled "MISSION"), but intentional and practicing is way ahead of nominal, and I think this project and its findings are wonderful, if they perhaps don't go far enough. (My concerns will be the subject of an upcoming post.) So check it out.

Discernment resources for larger church systems:

I admit I'm new to this, but as far as I can tell, the experts of missional discernment at this level are Church Innovations. They've got a program called Partnership for a Missional Church, in which they take a collection of at least 12-15 congregations through an extended journey of discernment and convenanting together which is built on all their other resources. They've got another program called Robust Church Development which seems to be aimed at teaching church systems practices that help them build strong churches.

CI has also been working with the Gospel and Our Culture Network to equip at least four major major U.S. church bodies to re-envision themselves in a missional mold. This was the main topic of the conference I attended. One of those church bodies, the Mennonite Church, USA, has a lot of excellent resources that interested folks at any level (but especially big church systems) may benefit from. I was personally inspired to hear how these Mennonites, as well as Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Churches of Christ congregations are making mission the core of their identity throughout their organizations.

So that's all I've got for now. To my mind, this is what it's all about, or at least where it all starts. If Christians are a people on a mission, then their first and most important obligation is to discern the shape of that mission, or their particular calling in the world. It's not easy, but there are those who can help!

Know of any others? Comment on this post and tell me about them!

1 comment:

Sarah Dylan Breuer said...

I used to work for Listening Hearts, and am familiar with their programs, including Grounded in God training. Feel free to drop me a line if you want to talk about how I've seen it work for different groups.