A Step of Discernment – Defining Reality Part Four

Charles Olson’s book Transforming Church Boards into Communities of Spiritual Leaders has formed the foundation for this series of blogs. Before we go to the next part of defining reality, it is helpful to get an overview of his book.

Charles Olson points out that the two most common complaints by those serving on church councils are:

Our board (council/consistory) is run too much like a business.

Our board is not run enough like a business.

These two complaints reflect that one group is looking for priorities that have little to do with business efficiencies while the other is looking for efficiency models drawn from business.

But what if there is another way of looking at the work and calling of the church board? What if the work and calling of the board are to be a community of spiritual leaders who are the nucleus of church renewal? What if the way the board carries out its calling is through worshipful work—an agenda that is formed around worship— even as it completes its calling? What if the board members see this work not as a hobby, but as a deep and important calling of God so that they engage in spiritual practices that form both themselves and the renewal of the church?

Olson takes us into a vision and into the practices of a church board that becomes a community of spiritual leaders – a community of spiritual leaders who are immersed in prayer and scripture – a community of discernment that envisions the church’s God-given, hope-filled future.

One of the important parts of becoming this community is to name the present reality. Boards need to be able to name how they are presently acting. Are they living out a political culture, a corporate culture, a managerial culture, or some other type of culture? Are members of the board living out spiritual discernment in their own lives so they are prepared to join in discernment with the board?

Olson envisions the day when

  • All members of the board are working on discerning God’s will for their own lives through daily prayer and scripture reading and listening to God.
  • All members of the board take personal retreats to listen more carefully to God.
  • The board has bonded as a community through storytelling and common experiences of God’s grace.
  • Board meetings are done in a framework of worship.
  • The board has several important issues before them; they discern the priority issue and spend 6 months in study, reflection, and prayer on that issue.
  • Decisions made are not necessarily the most convenient, cheap, politically palatable, or agreeable to the pastor’s wishes. Instead, they all agree that God is leading and calling out this particular form of obedience for the congregation.
  • The board maintains a playful spirit, not taking itself too seriously. It is open to celebrate what God is doing.

Olson gives us an important way of seeing how our boards can move more deeply into being communities of spiritual leaders – spiritual leaders who can be the nucleus of church renewal. At the same time, he is clear that this kind of work is not a hobby, but a calling that demands time and effort.

Olson’s book is helpful for congregations that are seeking a way of forming councils that are made up of spiritual and discerning leaders in the church—in name and in reality. His book is also helpful in training new council members so that they become spiritual leaders.

What are the two important steps church boards need to take?