How to achieve group consensus around a difficult issue

Spiritual discernment begins with the rational and progresses toward the very center of our being. This movement from the head into the heart is crucial. First, give careful attention to assembling information and ideas. Evaluate them. Then let the mind descend into the heart. Stay there, centered in God’s presence, seeking signs of the Spirit. (From Grounded in God, p. 78.)

  1. Develop a clear statement of what you are gathered to consider. Work the statement into a concise question addressed to God, such as, “God, what would you have us do about . . . ?” or “God, where are you leading us to go with . . . ?”
  2. Prayerfully review the DISCERNMENT LISTENING GUIDELINES from Grounded in God: Listening Hearts Discernment for Deliberative Groups, p. 57. Laminated copies of these GUIDELINES may be purchased form Listening Hearts Ministries. Each person is responsible for keeping the entire group grounded in these guidelines.
  3. Observe several minutes of CENTERING SILENCE. (Agree on the exact number of minutes you will remain in silence.) Someone pre-identified, conclude with prayer at the appointed time.
  4. If this concern is one the group has been wrestling with for a while, enter into a brief review of the points already agreed upon, or the consensus reached so far.
  5. Now turn to the Discernment Question, restating it for purposes of clarity and precision. You will need to stay clearly on topic during the next phase.
  6. Take the time you need to pool information, ideas and concerns.
  7. Identify options, perhaps listing them on a flip chart.
  8. Evaluate the options in terms of the realities you face—the cost, the probability of making it happen, the possibility of finding volunteers to carry it out, etc.
  9. Proceed with sensitivity to the needs of all, including individual or shared fears and insecurities. Be aware that a controversial situation may touch off grieving in some people and that they may need time to work through it.
  10. Each person should look for ways to bring together strands from differing views.
  11. Select a Scripture for reflection. One suggestion is Romans 12:2: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 
  12. Then, each person find a quiet place for reflection on the Scripture as it relates to the question for discernment. You may focus on a phrase or even a single word in the Scripture. Hold this and the question in your heart, opening yourself completely to God. Remain in silence. You may wish to hold something in your hand to help you focus: a small cross, a ball of clay, a smooth rock. Suggestions: If a labyrinth is available, you may wish to walk the labyrinth as you reflect on the Scripture and the question for discernment. Or walk around the meeting place, inside or outside, or find a quiet place and sit.
  13. Come back to the circle at the appointed time.
  14. Each person who wishes to may offer the fruits of their reflection around the chosen Scripture. Listen to others from the center of your being. Avoid discussion or comment in order to stay in a deep place.
  15. Look for signs of the Spirit that emerge from the sharing of reflections. Signs of the Spirit are discussed in both Listening Hearts: Discerning Call in Community and Grounded in God: Listening Hearts Discernment for Deliberative Groups. See Chapter 5 in both books. The one sign of the Spirit that is imperative for spiritual consensus is for all present to share a sense of God’s peace. It is important that anyone who feels a sense of agitation or uneasiness speak up, so that the group can try to identify its source. If anyone feels uncomfortable with where the group is going, it signals that more prayerful discernment is needed. Other signs are clarity, joy, energy, persistence (when the same message keeps coming through different channels), and convergence (when points that seem to be unconnected merge.)
  16. At this point, you may be able to articulate consensus around the action you want to take on the issue. Or the consensus may be that another session is essential. Or you may indicate where you have found consensus and schedule another meeting to take up points still under consideration. If possible, articulate the consensus in one sentence.
  17. Whatever the consensus, the next step is to develop a Plan of Action to identify exactly what steps need to be taken and who will be responsible for each step.
  18. If the group likes to sing, choose a closing hymn or chant.
  19. Closing Prayers. Someone volunteer to open and close the prayer, leaving time in between for everyone who wishes to offer a prayer to do so.
  20. You may conclude by Passing the Peace, an opportunity for everyone to greet everyone else with “The peace of the Lord be with you.”
Copyright. Listening Hearts Ministries, 2013.
Copies of this material may be made for use by spiritual
or educational groups. Please acknowledge the source.

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2 comments… add one
  • suzanne robinson

    Greetings to Listening Hearts Ministries

    I am writing to inquire if you have focused your discerning at any time
    on the healing ministry of Jesus and how one discerns when one is
    called to this ministry? I have been asked this question by a person in
    California where a healing ministry is rising up and they are seeking
    guidelines. I wrote them about a healing ministry I had experienced
    and watched grow within the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul
    in DC..The process there was organic..those eager to serve were sensing
    a nudge.. no one person had a startling revelation but rather it was
    quiet and gradual.. There is in this pattern a whole lot of room for the
    Holy Spirit of God to work as well as an honoring of that Spirit by
    creating a lot of space within and around the individuals in need of healing,and
    a lot of space within a service of healing, prayers offered according to the
    Spirit’s leading etc. I would love to speak with Susan Farnham about this
    if she would have time to speak with me. I could come over to
    Baltimore to your offices if that would create some holy space around
    the conversation. I recall that she is near Camden Yard and that the Yard
    was shut down the other night following the riots and disturbances and
    marches. I am so sorry this wonderful city has suffered in this fashion
    but hope that there will be a clarity to the many facets of the problem
    before it can begin to heal.

    With warm regards in the Risen Christ, -suzanne robinson

  • Monique Ellison

    Dear Suzanne,

    I would be happy to talk to you about our process of discernment. I am the Associate for Client Development and Evangelism at Listening Hearts Ministries. My number is 410-366-1851.

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