How to nurture dialogue: Discern, don’t soak up what’s unsaid

Over and over we have met as a congregation’s stakeholders or as the Council of the whole church and shown the world how Jesus lives in his body. We are a good example of an authentic church. It can be difficult to be in a large group and listen (much more to talk!), but we keep succeeding at it. And it is good that we succeed because such listening and inspired replying is one of the crucial skills for being a real Christian. Circle of Hope is blessed with hundreds of people who will engage in the deep love of dialogue. The world will be even more blessed when we can engage even more.

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Don’t just soak up emotions

I think the main difficulty for a lot of people in these large, community dialogues comes down to this question: How can I hear the Holy Spirit rather than merely soak up emotions? So many of us grew up in places where there was little direct communication! We had to pick up the emotions and underlying content by squeezing them out of what was unsaid, what was nuanced, what was withheld. So many of us are such experts at reading vibes, we almost never listen to actual content; we listen for what is in between the lines – especially for the emotions we crave or fear will not be there. So put us in a Council meeting and we are overwhelmed with all the vibes that are assaulting our emotional Geiger counters. The most wicked, hurting, selfish or mistreated person can end up coloring our sense of what happened rather than the Holy Spirit.

We know that the Holy Spirit is resident in the followers of Jesus, in one way or another, at some level of consciousness for the follower. When we listen to content or emotions, we are listening for the Lord, too – especially when we are in a meeting designed for that. We want to give our brothers and sisters the grace of listening for Jesus in them all the time, but we especially want to do that when we say we are doing that.

Question your discernment

Here are three sets of questions distilled from a good book on decision-making called The Discerning Heart by Wilkie and Noreen Cannon Au that might help us listen. I offer them to you to help sort out what you are doing when you are listening for Jesus and trying not to merely soak up emotions and call it listening. When we are in a group dialogue ask yourself these questions and ask them of others, too.

  • Are you speaking from the Bible? Are you speaking from our common lore?
  • Does the common sense we seem to be speaking from still make sense? Do the circumstances, opportunities and new revelations confirm it?
  • What are my feelings, intuitions, gut instincts, aspirations, and that sense of being spiritually confirmed tell me about what is being said?

What are we doing when we dialogue about what the Lord is saying to us? We can listen for things we know to be true. We can chew on things that might be reasonable or become more so. We can react heart-to-heart to revelations that could be from the Spirit. All these are better than falling into the group and feeling emotions that probably have more to do with what we ate, or who is angry with us, or who helped to install our defense mechanisms as a child. The process of discernment in the body is an art form that every contributing believer will want to master as deeply as they are able.

How many times have we received a great confirmation for our direction during our Council meeting, or immediately felt someone’s inspiration needed to be incorporated into our plans, or felt convicted that we needed to resist some direction or temptation? I can’t count the times. Our dialogue has made us who we are in Christ, as a people. One time we came to a conclusion that we needed to ban comparing the congregations.  We realized that the way we were talking was, for many of us, more about our desire to fit in and to have a place that looked like each of us instead of all of us. Comparisons are odious. When we (inevitably inaccurately) stereotyped another congregation as a certain type of people, we were actually contributing to evil’s strategy to divide and conquer us. Not only were we factually wrong about each other, we were very spiritually wrong. That was good discernment.

I am sure that someone left the meeting and did not even know we decided all that. They were probably too occupied with wondering what that “dirty look” meant when someone entered the room and glanced at them, or they were wondering what happened when a couple of people got into a little argument during the middle of a discussion, or they felt slighted when their comment did not seem relevant and people did not notice they were hurt. We’e are all good at soaking things up, and some of us think it means love to do so, but such an instinct rarely helps us dialogue in love and hear Jesus in the midst.

About Rod White

Pastor for Circle of Hope, http://circleofhope.net , grandparent, church planter, peacemaker, comrade, spiritual director, psychotherapist, silence lover

5 thoughts on “How to nurture dialogue: Discern, don’t soak up what’s unsaid

  1. This is so good, Rod. I never heard someone describe so simply this particular dynamic of group discernment.

    Something I’ve realized is that my default posture is to assume that the Holy Spirit is in the other speaking, especially if I respect or look up to them, or if they’re really mad, articulate, or passionate! That posture can definitely be beneficial, but it’s best alongside the suspicion that the Holy Spirit is in me too. Consciously bringing the “me-in-God, God-in-me” me to group discernment helps sort and sift what others are saying, and ultimately helps me love others better too. If I “forget” that me at the door, I’ll soak up the emotions or sway like a reed in the wind :/.

    What a good practice Circle of Hope engages in regularly. 😀

  2. just thinking about what was said, and I think that we naturally gravitate to listening to the emotional part of what is said (whether it is what we long to hear or fear). I say that with the hope that as we fail to hear the spirit, we get better at listening to God just in the process of trying to hear God. As many times as I fail to hear due to my own internal longings or fears, the more I try to truly listen, the more I can discern between the noise of myself and the melody of God’s song.

  3. Man, I love this process so much. I am always surprised by the unity, one-mindedness, and participation of it all. It really involves a lot of faith and trust in each other. I’m glad we have that.

    It never ceases to amaze me that we do things so much less “logically” than some institutions do and we are so much more effective. The Spirit is alive and present in our congregation and each of us.

  4. Thank you for describing how we do (and how we did) discernment. You speak truth, brother, and a lot to chew on, too.

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