Discernment of the Holy Spirit is essential. This skill is one that we never master because there is always room for improvement. Still, it is important for Christians to have a baseline understanding on how the Holy Spirit speaks. If anything, to know how the Spirit does not speak. Otherwise, we may just make important spiritual decisions on our own, which we are sure to get wrong from time-to-time.
Unfortunately, it took two difficult pastorates for me to grow in the area of discernment. In fact, as I look back at one set of church interviews, it was clear that God was shouting to me, “DO NOT GO HERE!” Sadly, like many others, I had to learn through the hard path of experience.
Hindsight is usually 20/20, but as I was going through this interview process, I remember thinking “something here is not right.” Later, I would discover that my spiritual intuition was trying to tell me that this church and I were not a great fit. As a prior post emphasized, the right fit between a minister and the church they serve is important. It creates the right ministry marriage to further the Gospel. Thankfully, God still works even when we make a mistake. Even when we ignore or fail to discern many warning flags:
- The Pastoral Search Committee seemed very defensive at various points. Things like my educational background to how they spoke about former pastors were unChristlike.
- An interview is a two-way street. Both the church and the pastor should question another. When I attempted to ask my questions about the church, the Committee Chairman cut me off and prevented me from asking most of my concerns.
- One Deacon during the interview process stated, “well this is how it is going to be” and proceeded to restart the interview for himself. He had not even been present at any of the prior meeting times.
- The same Deacon strongly objected to paying for Pulpit Supply Preachers during my two-week obligation with the National Guard. Finally, we convinced him to support me to pastor the church, but only after I agreed to pay for preachers from my pocket.
- During my meet and greet with the church, I was told the church had just split, which the committee previously denied. Their denial was innocent though because from their viewpoint they did not see the previous events as a split.
Please know, these things are mentioned for context purposes. To show that I did not follow these warnings that the Holy Spirit sent me. So, the people at this church are not evil people, and I do not seek to vilify them either. Rather, some things are like oil and water; they just don’t mix. The church was like the oil as I was like the water. We did not work well together and combined we were not a great fit. It was a bad ministry marriage. Independently from another, we are great contributions to God’s kingdom. Not because of any work by ourselves, but because of Christ’s works within us. Remember, like cooking, oil is used differently than water. Neither are bad, but when combined, problems arise. This illustration explains our story, but the good news is that our story is not beyond His redemption. With careful listening, God has used this mistake in my life to learn how to hear and follow the Holy Spirit more clearly.
Independently from another, we are great contributions to God’s kingdom. Not because of any work by ourselves, but because of Christ’s works within us. Remember, like cooking, oil is used differently than water. Neither are bad, but when combined, problems arise. This illustration explains our story, but the good news is that our story is not beyond Christ’s redemption. With careful listening, God has used this mistake in my life to learn how to hear and follow the Holy Spirit better.
So, how do we discern the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives? Here is a mixture of steps I would suggest. Combined, they come from two books: Experiencing God by Henry and Richard Blackaby and The Adversary by Mark Bubeck. Note, these elements are not steps or a formula, but are principles that help facilitate a more active experience with the Holy Spirit, especially when making important decisions.
- Spiritual Intuition – There are a wealth of resources to help us build self-awareness towards who we are in the Lord. I believe we know ourselves better than we give ourselves credit. For example, we are aware when we are attracted or drawn towards various activities. We also know what repels us from them. Therefore, we should trust this spiritual intuition, pursue the good things we love, and rely on prayer.
- Pray – Prayer is never a bad idea, and we can never do enough of it. Two key points to pray over are:
- How is God at work in this ministry?
- How is He calling me to get involved with this ministry?
- The answers could be a variety of responses, to a flat yes or no. No matter the decision, we should not stop seeking the Holy Spirit’s direction with just prayer.
- Scripture’s Role
- The easiest way to use scripture is to determine if any ministry is performing anything opposite to the Bible’s teachings. For example, the more I got to know this church the clearer it became they were ignoring some elements of scripture. Again, it is easy to judge the past, but my spiritual intuition could have been pursued in advance to assess the interview process better and make the determination.
- Also, there may not always be clear-cut scriptures for each circumstance. Still, scripture can confirm our intuitions and prayers. For example, the Bible can infer an answer to our prayers. If so, we should couple it with other confirmations to determine if our scriptural applications are correct, so we do not twist the Bible’s intent.
- Circumstantial Confirmations & the Body of Christ – Both our circumstances and the Body of Christ can serve as a guide in discerning the Holy Spirit’s leadership. As I was interviewing with this church, the pastors where I was attending could have given me advice on the warning signs I experienced. It would have required me sharing these concerns with them, which I did not. If I had been more open, they could have provided some objectivity that I needed in this circumstance. A clarity I could not have determined for myself.
- A Crisis of Belief – This principle teaches us that even when prayer, scripture, our church, and circumstances agree, we may struggle with the Holy Spirit’s leadership. In my case, I wanted to pastor so badly that I was willing to ignore both the warnings and the Spirit to preach again. Therefore, my crisis should have centered on turning down this church, even when there were no other ministry prospects in sight. Who knows what the Lord may have had planned otherwise? But I do know the Lord is faithful and has brought many redemptions from my disobedience.
- We Must Adjust – We must adjust. Unique to this congregation, I was not willing to move into their parsonage. If I had decided not to be their pastor, then there would have been an adjustment too. Either way, when we follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit, very rarely do things stay the same.
Again, it is easy to look back and see what I should have done. Still, I take ownership that I used my judgments than relying on the Holy Spirit. As a result, it impacted me, my family, and the church too. Despite our oil and water relationship, God is faithful. Both of us are with the right fits and the right ministry marriages. As a result, we each seem to be flourishing. Now our story is not defined by our time together, but by our ability to shine the light of Jesus Christ afterward. Again, this skill does not come from our works or worth, but on the worth Jesus provides!
Personally, I am more confident in discerning the guidance of the Holy Spirit now. As for the church, I know they are doing new things for the Lord with each season, and it is exciting to watch from afar. My prayer now is that we each continue to grow and trust the Holy Spirit since our future is brightest under His leadership. Again, Christ redeems, and let that be our focus now!