Dave: Most of you are aware by now that recently the pastors and governing board came to a decision to change our practices and policies regarding women serving in leadership positions. We are removing the remaining limitations on the roles women can play in this church.
We wanted to take the next few weeks to explain how we came to that decision and address some of the implications raised by it. Next week we will explain the product of our decision, the biblical foundation of our new posture. And, in the last two weeks we’ll examine some of the implications regarding family leadership and human sexuality. But this morning we are going to explain the process, the procedures and values by which we reached this conclusion. Admittedly to some of you this could sound ridiculously boring and irrelevant to your personal lives.
But, consider this…you will continue to face an array of crucial decisions in your lifetime…tough ones. So I believe if you pay attention you will receive fantastic foundational help in decision making.
Essentially, there are 2 key ingredients in making a good and right decision: The Word of God and the process of seeking spiritual discernment in community.
The 1st Key Ingredient in decision making is the Bible. Here is what we believe about the scriptures:
We believe that the Bible is written by human authors under the supernatural inspiration of God and is our authority for all matters of faith and practice.
Tim: We believe that the Bible is inspired in two very important ways: First, that people like you and me had real experiences with God that were so overwhelming that they were inspired, driven by something deep in their souls, to pick up a pen and write down what they’d heard God say and seen God do. But, we also believe there was another equally important form of inspiration at work as well… that God’s Spirit was actively moving in the hearts and minds of the original authors guiding them in ways that guaranteed that what they wrote was accurate and that it faithfully represented God’s heart, his character and his intentions. I don’t think I can state it any stronger: we take the Bible and its inspiration by the Holy Spirit very seriously. The Bible is our authority for all matters of faith and practice.
Dave: In short, the Bible is massively important to us…we believe it is…Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105 …meaning it gives us clarity in moral life directions
Tim: We also stand firmly in our belief, to quote the Apostle Paul in Second Timothy, that ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.’ 2 Tim. 3:16. Now, when Paul first wrote this he was only talking about the Old Testament. The New Testament didn’t yet exist. But, we believe that these words do now include all of the books of the Bible. When Paul said ‘all scripture is God-breathed’ he used a word that actually has two meanings: the word for ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’ are exactly the same in Greek. I think he meant for us to think of both meanings when we read this verse: that God’s Spirit breathed life into all scripture; or another way to say it: Scripture is alive because it is filled with the breath of God. And Paul was also telling Timothy, and by extension all of us, to pay attention to ALL of Scripture… that when we are looking for ways to understand how to live righteous lives we need to look at the whole of scripture… we need to study all of it because all of it has the power to teach us and correct us and train us in righteousness.
Dave: So, again…we cannot overstate the importance of the scriptures in our corporate decisions and your daily ones. In addition, we have to understand the right ways of approaching the scriptures. You can’t just flip open the Bible stick your finger down and have that guide your decision making. So let’s talk briefly how we approach and interpret the Bible.
First, to understand any passage we have to see how it fits into the overarching story of the Bible. There is a theme from Genesis to Revelation.
Tim: Well, I believe that there are really two intertwining themes that work their way throughout the entire Bible. The first is “God is the Ruler over everything.” In every story, in every book of the Bible, God is always the main character, he is always in charge and he is continually revealing himself to us... telling about his character and his heart. And the second big theme of the Bible is related to this: God has a mission: his desire is to see his kingdom come and his will being done on Earth as it is in heaven. This was why he made the world and put people in it! He wanted all of us to have a relationship with him and with one another that reflects His amazing goodness. And his greatest desire now is to restore his people, as best as it can be restored in this sinful world, to the kind of relationship with him and with one another that was present in the beginning of creation. The Bible continually shows us God working to save us from the sin that separates us from him and save us into relationship with Him and one another. These two themes are everywhere: God is in charge and He has a mission.
Also as we approach a passage we have to do good exegesis. Which we did to arrive at our decision…And you should too. Tim what is exegesis and why is it important?
Tim: The word ‘exegesis’ simply means ‘what it meant.’ It is the process of discovering, as closely as we can, what the passages in the Bible originally meant. To do this well, to get as close as we can to the original meaning of a biblical passage we have to look at the passages original language, genre, history, sociological realities… anything that might speak into getting us as close as we can to the context of the passage. This is hard work but worth it. Here is why: the more we understand what it meant to the original readers the more confident we will be in finding what it means to us today.
Dave: then once we have determined what it originally meant we have to do good hermeneutics…
Tim: Hermeneutics is the process of moving from what it meant to what it means for us. Sometimes there is a direct connection. You must never lie or you must never commit adultery should make perfect sense to all people at all times. But sometimes the application of a passage into our world is a lot harder than just reading the words on the page and doing it because there is such a distance between the world of the passage and our world.
Dave: Tim can you give us an illustration of this?
Tim: There is a passage in 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul says this, “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. (1 Corinthians 11:5-6). Now, we could, as some do, see these two verses as a universal command that all women for all time must cover their heads in church. But, good exegesis shows us it isn’t that simple. First off, no woman in the ancient world would have ever gone anywhere in public without her head covered… it was unthinkable… a woman walking in public with her hair showing was today’s equivalent of walking the streets in the tiniest of bikinis. It was a very sensual act. We also know that only two classes of women in the ancient Greek culture were ever seen in public exposing their hair: very rich, Gentile women who spent a great deal of time and money on having their hair done up in massive, braided dos that were statements of wealth, privilege and social condescension or, and more to the point in this passage, prostitutes. Prostitutes in Corinth wore their hair out or cut it short as advertisement. Almost no woman in the ancient world would have ever been seen in public without a head covering. (And just as an aside, the conservative Jewish notion of a proper, public covering for a woman was like today’s Islamic naqib: only the eyes are showing). Now, just before this passage Paul had been talking about not using the freedom we have in Christ to bring dishonor to the name of Jesus or bring division into the church. And he’d scolded the Corinthians for overstepping their freedom in what they ate and drank. And then he turned to head coverings. Women were never allowed to pray in Jewish synagogues and women prophetesses were looked at skeptically by Jewish men, but in Christ women had found a new freedom and were encouraged to pray and prophesy in Christian services. And what must have happened was that somewhere along the line some women in the Corinthian church had gotten the notion that they were now free to also come to church gatherings and literally let down their hair… why, we don’t know, but it must have been a problem and it was making the church look like a brothel. Good hermeneutics shows us that the important issue in this passage isn’t head coverings per se… it is modesty and propriety; Paul wanted all Christians to live by commonly understood standards of what is appropriate; for women in his world that meant covering your head. I’m absolutely certain that if Paul had written to us today he’d have said different things to us about appropriate dress and not using our freedom in Jesus in ways that makes people wonder about us. Good hermeneutics takes what it meant and finds what that lesson means to us today. It is hard but very important work.
Dave: So, let me summarize…we took the word of God seriously and approached it with humility and care and with good exegetical and hermeneutical work.
But, in addition…we worked hard to arrive together at a spiritual decision … we sought discernment in community…Which is NOT easy! As we see in Acts 15…even our early church leaders in the first century struggled to get it right in discernment together…
Message Part 2 – Chris and Greg
“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” – Acts 15:28
“We make decisions. Discernment is given.” – Danny Morris and Chuck Olsen
· We didn’t just make a decision, we (the elders and pastors) sought the gift of discernment from God through a process of submitting ourselves to the Word of God, to the Spirit of God, and to one another.
o We wanted to experience an Acts 15 moment.
· The elders and pastors of Grace Church are prayerfully selected to provide spiritual oversight and leadership to this body.
o We understand the high calling that is entrusted to us and we approach our responsibility with the utmost integrity. We don’t just make decisions, we seek discernment.
· Greg Guevara is the Chairman of the Governing Board and leads that team in the process of discerning God’s will together.
· I lead that process, as Executive Pastor, for our Management Team (all of our pastors).
· Greg felt very strongly that this decision needed to be made jointly by the Governing Board and the Management Team—all the elders and pastors of Grace Church.
· He and I are going to describe the second key ingredient in making a good decision: seeking spiritual discernment in community.
o That was the commitment of the leaders of the early church as evidenced in Acts 15
o And it was our commitment as well. We truly believe that:
The heart of spiritual leadership is discernment: the capacity to recognize and respond to God’s will both personally and in community.
“There are many qualities that contribute to good leadership, but it is our commitment to discerning and doing the will of God through the help of the Holy Spirit that distinguishes spiritual leadership from other kinds of leadership.” – Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together
This kind of leadership requires the right people, the right posture, and the right participation.
1. The Right People
a. People who are in community with one another
· Discernment does not take place in a vacuum nor by accident.
o We must first cultivate an environment in which discernment can take place
o Then enter a process that enables us to actively seek God’s will in the decision that we face.
· This means that we must first love one another well before we try to make decisions together.
“…it takes a lot more work, intentionality, vulnerability and openness to the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit’s leading to cultivate community than it does to make decisions through Robert’s Rules of Order or some other human procedure.” – Barton
b. People who are being transformed – ordinary disciples of Jesus
· Discernment takes place in the community of those who are committed to spiritual transformation.
o Each person must come to the table “prayed up” and filled with the Spirit.
“The most important prerequisite for discernment at the leadership level is that everyone in the leadership group is on an intentional journey of transformation—from spiritual blindness to spiritual sight.” – Barton
We believe that we had the right people, but those people were also committed to the right posture.
2. The Right Posture – Palms Up
· The next essential ingredient to spiritual discernment is having the right posture before God – what we call at Grace Church “palms up.”
· We have heard Dave talk many times about the difference between approaching God with a clenched fist as compared to coming to Him with open palms.
· So what does it look like to be truly “palms up” in the context of discerning God’s will?
a. Commitment to humility
· Well first, being “palms up” means approaching God and each other with a spirit of humility.
· Scripture is very clear that God honors those who come to him in humility. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Proverbs 11:2
· And in 1 Peter 5:5, we see that God expects us to be humble toward one another. “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’” I Peter 5:5
· As leaders, we try to embody a spirit of humility in everything we do.
b. Commitment to prayer
· Prayer is also essential to good discernment. We believe that we cannot hear from God if we are not faithful in prayer – both individually and corporately.
· As a governing board and pastors, we dedicated a significant amount of time in our process to praying together and praying individually.
· Ruth Haley Barton talks about three specific types of prayer, and we prayed these prayers throughout our process.
i. Prayer of quiet trust
· The first prayer is the prayer of quiet trust. This prayer says simply, “Lord, I surrender my life to you. I know that you are good, and I trust you to lead me.”
· This prayer is intended to help us quiet our hearts so we can hear from God.
· One of my life verses captures the heart of this prayer: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
ii. Prayer for indifference
· The next prayer is the prayer for indifference. This prayer cries out for the heart of God.
· In this prayer, we ask God to help us set aside our own personal agendas and desires so that His will for us can be made clear.
· It is a prayer for: God’s will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.
iii. Prayer for wisdom
· The third prayer is the prayer for wisdom.
· One of my favorite verses of Scripture is found in the book of James: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5
· God promises wisdom to those who seek His face, and so we go to God asking for His wisdom in our decision-making process.
· We trust that when we pursue Him in this way, He will honor our faith and give us His wisdom in the situation.
c. Commitment to unity
· Lastly in relation to our “palms up” posture, we are committed to unity as a spiritual leadership team.
· Paul wrote in Ephesians, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:2-3
· Unity does not mean that we always agree with each other during the discernment process. Unity means that we are committed to loving one other well even when we have different views.
· And once we’ve made a decision together, we stand united on that decision as we go forward.
So these three commitments – to humility, to prayer and to unity – are central to all of our decisions at Grace Church.
So once we have the right people and the right posture, then we need the right participation in the discernment process.
3. The Right Participation
a. We studied the Scriptures diligently and thoroughly (as Dave and Tim explained)
b. We listened deeply
· The discernment process involves a major commitment to listening with love and attention
o to our experiences,
o to the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit deep within ourselves and others,
o to Scripture and Christian tradition,
o to pertinent facts and information,
o to those who will be affected most deeply by our decisions,
o to that place in us where God’s spirit witnesses with our spirit about those things that are true.
c. Speak the truth in love
· For the discernment process to work, each person must come to the table with a commitment to speak truthfully and courageously – even if that means disagreeing with others.
o Many times, God uses a dissident voice to redirect the conversation or to identify a blind spot that others may not have seen.
· We had hard, honest, robust discussions
d. Seek inner confirmation
· Be patient…don’t rush the process—or the Holy Spirit
o We did not set an artificial deadline
· It is good to take a break (a few minutes, an hour, a day, or even a week) and come back together and check in with each other to see what God is saying to them in their quiet listening.
o We took several months before arriving at a final decision.
e. Agree together
· The final step in the process is agreeing together on a decision.
· Once we have thoroughly discussed the options, listened carefully to everyone’s concerns and answered the questions that have been raised, then clarity over a particular direction begins to emerge.
· At that point, we use a process to determine whether there is consensus over a decision.
· Unlike most boards that I have experienced, we do not vote on the decision.
· That is because we are not trying to reach a decision; we are trying to determine whether there is consensus among the entire group on the direction God is leading us.
· At that point, each person in the group has the opportunity to state their level of agreement with the direction that has emerged.
· We evaluate the strength of each person’s view and then determine whether there is agreement.
· Once we have reached consensus and we believe we have discerned God’s direction, then we move forward together in unity and faith.
· “Unity is the fundamental marker that God’s direction has been discerned.” – Quaker Tradition
As Chris stated before:
The heart of spiritual leadership is discernment: the capacity to recognize and respond to God’s will both personally and in community.
· This is the process we use as a governing board for all of our decisions, and our pastors use the same process as well.
· In fact, as a governing board, we believe so strongly in this process that last year we adopted a mission statement:
· We are a spiritual community of pastors and elders who together listen for the voice of God, discern his purposes for Grace Church, and respond in faith and unity.
· We went through a seven-month process that included all 11 pastors and all nine elders of Grace. Together, we agreed in unity and faith to change our position on women in leadership.
So, there are 2 Key ingredients in making a good/right decision: The Word of God and the process of seeking spiritual discernment in community.
After seven months of painstakingly searching God’s Word and seeking spiritual discernment together as elders and pastors, it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to change our stance and practice of women in leadership.