In today’s powerful post Jaime Hlavin unpacks the reasons we leaders need to develop discernment. Every leader needs a shepherd’s radar.
And then Jaime proceeds to give us four practical steps to hone this most important leadership skill. Enjoy ~ John
The word discernment can sometimes feel spooky. It conjures images of a person shaking another’s hand and getting a clairvoyant flash of some future tragedy. Or maybe that’s just me because I’m a huge science fiction nerd.
But discernment is far from science fiction and for a leader—it is vital. Discernment is an often overlooked and underutilized tool in a leader’s repertoire. Merriam-Webster partially defines discernment as the ability to “detect with senses other than vision.” This definition is fascinating because in the Bible, the author of Hebrews instructs mature Christians to “train themselves to distinguish good from evil” (5:14). It’s not always possible to simply look at something with your physical vision and determine the goodness or not-so-goodness of it.
In 1 Corinthians 12:10, the Apostle Paul tells us that discernment is a gift from the Holy Spirit which lies outside the realm of what we can detect with our vision. But to bring it down to earth, it can also be described as the process of determining what God intends for a specific situation. This can include His will for your life, ministry, or organization. And it can apply to determining the true nature of an individual or circumstance. John Opalewski once described discernment as the “Shepherd’s radar.”
Unfortunately, due to the very spiritual nature of discernment, leaders often discredit it as hokey or unrealistic. It is an underdeveloped skill which is given to us as a gift. As leaders, we consume as much media as we can to hone our skills. We listen to podcasts, read books, follow blogs and social media accounts, and join cohorts. But we often fail to hone discernment. Our churches and the people we serve can benefit greatly from our developed sense of discernment. Here are a few ways how:
Discernment offers protection
Discernment helps leaders see the wolves in sheep’s clothing that could infiltrate their church. Years ago, a man showed up at the church we were pastoring. He looked normal. Nothing nefarious about him. My husband greeted him on his first Sunday at the church. Nothing was amiss during the conversation. But Aaron had this overwhelming sense something was off about this man and felt the Holy Spirit prompting him to address it.
So, without knowing exactly why, Aaron said to the man, “Well, I’m glad you’re with us today, but just know . . . I’m on to you.” He was horrified those words had escaped his lips and braced himself for the backlash. But the man simply said, “Well, then it’s probably best I go elsewhere. You won’t see me again after today.”
There was no conflict or blow up. That was it: We never saw him again. To this day, we do not know what the Lord protected our church from, but I am thankful that Aaron was tuned into the Holy Spirit and discerned something was off.
Discernment helps us give guidance
When we tune into what the Holy Spirit is up to, we can give wise counsel and sound guidance to complicated or painful situations. Many times Aaron and I have sat across the table from or in the office with someone pouring out the messy details of a situation outside of what we knew how to handle in the natural realm. We silently prayed for God to help us give direction and advice that would bring comfort, peace, and a sense of stability. He came through time and time again.
Discernment assists in vision casting
When you are leading a church or an organization, it is impossible to know what the future holds for that group of people. But God knows. He can lead and guide you as you share with those you serve what lies ahead for your church. Proverbs 29:18 says, “…where there is no vision, the people perish.” So, it is crucial you lay out a God-ordained roadmap for the future. Discernment can help you do this.
So, is discernment just something the Holy Spirit imparts? Or can you intentionally develop it? Yes. And yes. Again, 1 Corinthians 12 includes it in an extensive list of gifts from the Holy Spirit. But these are not elusive and mysterious.
Here are some practical ways we can hone discernment in our leadership:
In Matthew 7:7-12, Jesus instructs us to ask God for help. He tells us God is a good father who does not withhold good gifts from us. When my husband answered God’s call to ministry, he had a profoundly serious conversation with Him. Aaron was raised in a pastor’s home, so he knew the ups, the downs, and the everything in between of ministry life. And he also knew himself and his emotional make up very well. So, he prayed the Lord would not allow him to be blindsided in ministry. He asked God to give him a measure of discernment above and beyond anything he could imagine.
As illustrated in the story about the random guy who came with bad intent to our church–God answered Aaron’s prayer. We have countless stories where the Lord gave Aaron insight into situations and people he could not have known otherwise. God can do it for you, too.
Pray constantly. The Apostle Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing…” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. (This instruction is squeezed in there with a few others like not quenching the Spirit and testing everything. Sounds like discernment to me.) But when you are in regular, frequent, ongoing communication with God, you’re more likely to sense when He’s giving you a moment of discernment.
To make a comparison in the natural, when you know someone very well (I.e., you’ve had much communication with them), you can pick up on things they are communicating even if those things are quiet, subtle, or just body language. You can read that person well. Prayer is essentially getting to know the Lord. And you learn to read Him well.
Get into the Word. So often we overcomplicate things when we are seeking the will of God and His discernment, when it’s literally screaming from the pages of the Bible. His Word still speaks. So, make sure you’re listening.
Get quiet before the Lord
We live in a noisy world. Our phones ping constantly. The tyranny of the urgent marches on. Social media vies for our every second. Be countercultural. In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah was on the run from evil people. He was spent emotionally because he felt like he was the only one left obeying God. After he has a snack and takes a nap, Elijah has it out with God. Suddenly there is a succession of disasters—a hurricane, an earthquake, and a fire. But the Bible tells us the Lord’s voice wasn’t in any of those loud, urgent events. Suddenly, all is silent, and God speaks to Elijah in a barely audible whisper.
Sometimes, we need to ignore what is raging all around us and listen for the small, quiet voice of the Lord to help us discern the next right step, the correct thing to do in a circumstance, or the integrity of an individual.
Discernment doesn’t have to be a spooky, elusive occurrence in the life of a leader. In fact, it can be a vital tool in any believer’s life. As leaders, it is important we learn to develop this gift and use it bring glory to God.
We are rooting and praying for you to develop this most important gift!