Privatization of Faith
The fourth threat to corporate witness is the most serious because, if it overpowers the culture of the ministry, it will leave you bereft of the most important way of communicating with your ministry’s owner. This biggest threat of all is the privatization of faith.
We are being conditioned by our society that faith does not belong in the public realm. People of faith are told to keep their faith in their places of worship and homes, to hide it away. Even Jesus said we should hide in our “prayer closets” when we pray, so as not to make a show of our prayers. But Jesus wasn’t saying that we should not have group prayer!! He was contrasting two ways of praying to make a point. Don’t take it too far.
The result is that a surprising number of Christians are not comfortable with group spirituality, sometimes even in church! We are especially not comfortable, it seems to me, with silence in a group situation, one of the central practices in group discernment. Sure we can pray at the start of a meeting that God will guide our minds and the discussion and be with us, but why not then take time together to listen together?
Paul talks about putting on the full armour of God. Yet when we do not engage in group discernment it is as though we take off our armour, lay down our weapons, and then walk into battle! We’ve needlessly neglected to make use of the greatest resource Christ gave us — his Spirit, our counselor and guide.
You know you have a problem with group spirituality when people treat the opening devotional and prayer time of a meeting as not the real meeting, but just an optional preliminary. Although the meeting starts at 7:00, some will arrive at 7:30 — in time for when the ‘real’ meeting starts.
The problem when people keep their faith private is that:
- Group prayer becomes a perfunctory exercise, consisting only of petitions and no listening.
- Discussion is limited to the ‘practical’ things and never ventures into a theological discussion to set context or to guide discussion.
- Without faith in the foreground, the work of the ministry is reduced to simply good deeds or need fulfillment.
- If people are embarrassed to share their spirituality with their teammates, how can they share it as a public witness?
- Something that God wants to tell us may not be heard, because it is often in the shared discernment process that a team discerns God’s leading.
Privatization of faith can be overcome by the truth that we have the Holy Spirit among us, and that as a group we have divine guidance.
God wants us to know his mind. He wants us to have conversation with him! This truth does not just give corporate life a spiritual dimension, it fills it with a vibrant, living faith!
We need to become aware of the constant presence of God in our lives. We are the people through whom God works in this world! How can we possibly work together as a group unless we are listening to God as a group?
Building Group Spirituality
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:16 that we have the mind of Christ. We have his mind by learning to think like him and by listening to his Spirit. It’s a fact that God wants to communicate with us, but it is not always our experience that we hear him. Pastor Manoonsak at Jai Samarn church in Bangkok, said in a sermon that when people ask why God doesn’t speak to them they are asking the wrong question. The real question is, “Why am I not listening when God is speaking?”
I’ve learned that:
- If we do not expect God to speak to us, we will not likely hear him speak.
- If we do not expect the Spirit to be active today, we will not see what he is doing.
Therefore if you want to discern God’s leadership, either individually or corporately, you must expect to find him. God says he will be found, and if we ask for wisdom, he will give it to us.
I admit that it used to really bother me when someone said “God told me.” it always evoked the same, unspoken, response from me: “Oh really?” First, I was very, very skeptical of their claims, and second, I always was afraid of mistaking my voice for God’s voice, so of course I never heard from God.
But then about 1993 I asked God, “Please teach me to distinguish your voice from mine” and I started to have some pretty amazing experiences. Let me just say that over perhaps about five years, the Lord caused things to happen so that he could say, “That was me!” and I knew that anything else was me talking to myself. He was training me so that on May 25, 2001 when I asked God a direct question, I was equipped and ready to receive the most direct response from God that I have ever received!! That question changed my life.
Here’s what you can do to build your group discernment skills:
- There is a great little book called Practicing Discernment Together that you could read together. The CCCC board read and discussed this book earlier this year. It’s the best introduction to group discernment that I know of. Another book that I have ordered but not yet read is Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups by Ruth Haley Barton. If it is as good as her other books, it will be excellent.
- Have a professor from a seminary come and teach your staff some discernment practices. I had Dr. David Sherbino from Tyndale Seminary come and do a half day experiential spiritual retreat for all CCCC staff.
- Take your leadership team off-site to a more relaxed environment for a spiritual retreat. I did this with our leadership team and we made very good progress on some strategy work.
- Build extra time into your meetings for a spiritual exercise. When the leadership team began work on what became our strategy map, we set aside time to do lectio divina, and to leisurely debrief.
- Work through my blog series Hearing God Speak.
- Ask questions that will stimulate discernment, such as:
- “Let’s think about this issue keeping God’s character in mind and see what insights we get.”
- “Which doctrines pertain to this issue, and do they cast any light on what we should do?”
In this series I have covered the four major threats to your corporate spiritual witness: individualism, careerism, self-centredness, and privatization of faith. Each of these is absolutely antithetical to our Christian faith and will severely impair our ability to be an authentic Christian witness through our corporate life.
By overcoming these threats with the four great truths: we are the body of Christ, we have a high calling, we belong to Christ, and we have the Holy Spirit, we will be a fully functioning Christian ministry that can, through our corporate life, be an authentic Christian witness that:
- points to God,
- manifests his character, and
- models his kingdom on earth.
May God bless you and your ministry as you seek to be true to his ways in all that you do.
This article is both thought-provoking and very practical. Thank you, John.
Thanks for the encouraging comment, Michael. Blessings!