Spiritual discernment as a foundation for congregational vitality
LE3 .A278 2015
Standish, N. Graham
Doctor of Ministry
Acadia Divinity College
In response to the steep decline in Canadian church vitality, and in light of the emphasis on a prayerful approach in Christian history, the focus of this thesis is to examine the hypothesis that if the leaders of a congregation undergo a process of prayerfully discerning and articulating together God’s vision and purpose for it, the congregation will become tangibly more vital. A survey of both Old and New Testaments reveals four key components that are necessary for biblical discernment: a desire to listen for God’s voice; a receptive heart to hear and take it in; the will to respond and act on God’s will; and the ready self-surrender of our gifts in community and service. At different historical periods in the church, each of these four components were emphasized and developed. Core spiritual practices of discernment in these four biblical areas were identified, observed in onsite research at a growing Presbyterian ministry in Pennsylvania, and then adapted to design the discernment process that was tested at Kings Church in Nova Scotia. Quantitative and qualitative data from a spiritual vitality survey and two elder focus groups indicated that, on average, elders grew in spiritual vitality by 39% following the leadership discernment process. Men averaged a higher degree of spiritual growth than women. New elders grew in vitality the most. The qualities of spiritual vitality that grew the most were listening, flexibility/openness, faith and humility. Elders described substantial deepening of relationships with God, with each other, and with others in the congregation. The discernment process led to hearing a new vision of ministry for Kings Church and increased spiritual vitality in the congregation as a whole.
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