Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through an annotated translation of Pascal’s Pensees called Christianity For Modern Pagans, I’ll post the thoughts I’m emailing the students here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2020. The reading schedule is online.
This chapter has three emphases: Foster talks about communities of believers seeking the will of God together (should our congregation buy this building or not?), he talks about individuals turning to the gathered body for advice (like that couple who asked the congregation to assess their readiness for marriage), and he talks about individuals turning to other individuals for spiritual counsel (seeing a spiritual director).
I’m just going to talk about the first one — when an entire group (such as a life group or a worship team) seeks the will of God together. When a group like that needs to make a decision we almost always do one of two things: we vote or we just leave everything up to the leader. There are times when each of those is appropriate (for example, when it is a routine decision), but there are also times when this is an inferior solution (for example, when passions are high and a wrong decision can destroy the entire community).
Foster describes an alternative:
“As a people they had decided to live under the direct rulership of the Spirit. They had rejected both human totalitarianism and anarchy. They had even rejected democracy, that is, majority rule. They had dared to live on the basis of Spirit-rule; no fifty-one percent vote, no compromises, but Spirit-directed unity.”Richard Foster, Celebration of Disciple, pages 178–179
And then a little later:
“[these groups] all operate on the basis on Spirit-directed unity. Issues are approached with an assurance that the mind of the Spirit can be known. They gather in Christ’s name, believing that his will will be fleshed out in their midst. They do not seek compromise, but God-given consensus.”Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, page 184
In other words, there are times when we realize that our community needs wisdom beyond human wisdom and that the issue is so important that we cannot leave it to one leader to seek the face of God for it. We must all do it together.
When we do that, Foster suggests, we must expect unity. I know several church leadership teams that follow this practice: if there is no unity then the team does not proceed. This means that even one voice can derail a plan that everyone else is in favor of. Whenever I’ve spoken to people about this practice, they can point to specific times one person vetoed a decision that enjoyed overwhelming support. At the time the rest of the team had been mildly to intensely annoyed, but it later became apparent that their friend’s refusal to express false consensus had saved the team much grief. In retrospect the entire team saw that God had protected them through the integrity of their friend and the integrity of their process.
Again, this should not be the way we usually make collective decisions. If a large community always does this they will inevitably find themselves held hostage by unstable people. Or if a church routinely does this they will find themselves in thrall to a handful of unbelievers who attend the church. And so for simple matters touching on everyone, take a quick vote. For decisions requiring an awareness of background knowledge or perhaps some special expertise, defer to the leaders.
But if doing this for every decision would be unwise, I would like to suggest that never doing it would be even less wise.
The next time you are part of a Christian group facing a significant decision, consider proposing this idea — “Let’s pray until we have unity on this issue and then do whatever God tells us.”