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Discernment and Strategy

Jesus teaches us that both are necessary for healthy church.

By Heber Ticas, Regional Director

Some see discernment and strategy as two separate means to determining a course of action and almost treat discernment and strategy as enemies. Sometimes we move forward on discernment; sometimes we follow a specific strategy. But what if the Holy Spirit leads us in both? Certainly, when we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see discernment and strategy in many of the decisions he made in his earthly ministry.

In my view, strategy is vital to Christian leadership. But without discerning the Spirit’s lead, strategies could be just human thoughts and efforts. Strategic efforts that are absent from the influence of the Holy Spirit will be void of the discernment that can only come from God’s presence through his Spirit.

Leadership with Jesus is such that it demands that leaders embrace Jesus’ leadership model. In his model, strategy and discernment complement one another. We see this companionship of discernment and strategy in the way Jesus chose the twelve apostles. In choosing the twelve, Jesus demonstrated a calculated and strategic process that would serve his divine purposes within the confines of our human nature. The twelve apostles were quite different from each other, they came from different backgrounds that would later challenge their relational cohesiveness. Was Jesus aware of this fact? Yes, and he strategically brought them together.

I always marvel at how Jesus recruited ordinary people with deep convictions that were contrary to kingdom life, and then empowered them to carry out extraordinary feats that advanced the kingdom vision. The selection process highlighted Jesus’ ability to discern qualities in the disciples that were not yet evident. He was not blinded by their appearance or a lack of expression of the qualities needed to accomplish his divine purposes. He saw rock-like qualities in Peter, for example, that strategically opened lanes for leadership. Simon Peter would become the leader of a movement that would birth the church and profoundly influence this world.

This kind of discernment accompanied by strategy as displayed by Jesus was bathed in prayer. Luke’s Gospel recounts that the night before Jesus chose the twelve, he spent the whole night in prayer before the Father. Prayer is where discernment and strategy meet. This is where Christian leaders can and should build a solid foundation for our leadership postures. The apostle Paul tells us that, “we have been given the mind of Christ,” and it’s “Christ in us” that enables us as leaders to implement strategies with Christlike discernment.

I naturally think strategically. But, when my strategies lack spiritual insight, they tend to fall short. In my 24 years of pastoral ministry, I have experienced multiple occasions where my strategies were either rejected by others or they just simply did not work. Most of those times, I failed to gauge the pulse of those who were responsible for implementing the strategy, or perhaps the timing was wrong for such strategy in that community. Those were times I had to recognize that my strategies were divorced from discernment. My discernment and my strategies did not intersect in sufficient prayer.

There is no greater discernment in leadership than discerning the lead of the Spirit. It is only by discerning where the Spirit is leading that we can envision a preferred future – one led and guided by the Spirit. Once a preferred future has been discerned, then we can move to elaborate strategies that would facilitate a roadmap towards that future. Pastoral leadership is key at this juncture. Both in the discerning aspect of leading, and in the strategic component. Discerning and attaining a clear vision from the Lord needs to be the initial part. Only then can the implementation of strategies produce a healthy outcome.

The Gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus, provide us with a model where discernment and strategy work together. As we seek to honor God by participating with Jesus in his everyday mission in our churches and neighborhoods, let us follow the lead of the Spirit as we discern where he is leading us and strategically participate with Jesus in his kingdom work. Discernment and strategies are both needed as we seek to be the heathiest expressions of church we can be.

2 thoughts on “Discernment and Strategy”

  1. Heber,

    Thanks much for the important clarification. Spiritual lead and strategical discernment go hand in hand. There is no either/or dichotomy. Both are vital towards in our kingdom work. Well said.

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