What is a Discernment Group?

In a participating congregation, anyone wrestling with a problem or issue who wants to seek God’s guidance in a focused way may ask the contact person for a discernment group. Three trained discerners are then appointed to serve in a discernment group for that person around that issue. The group, which includes the person seeking discernment (called “the focus person”), meets only when all four members are present.

Each meeting of the group is scheduled for three hours. The discerners keep everything about the meeting confidential unless the focus person explicitly requests otherwise. This means that discerners never initiate any conversation about the content of the meeting with the focus person, with one another, or with anyone else outside of a formal discernment session. The meetings follow a basic format:

  1. The first session begins with introductions, some introductory comments by the convener, perhaps some words of assurance and a suitable prayer; then, a period of silence which is announced for a specific amount of time. The convener concludes the silence in some appropriate way and then asks the focus person to articulate the question to be explored and provides some brief background.
  2. If the issue seems unclear, the group may ask questions for clarification. Next, questions to establish relevant background are appropriate, followed by questions that explore rational considerations. The group then returns to silence in order to prayerfully let a slower pace and more reflective questions emerge to help the focus person explore the issue. The focus person is encouraged to respond to the questions, but is never required to do so.
  3. A half-hour before the end of each session, the focus person is offered the opportunity to ask questions of the discerners. The focus person may want to hear insights or feelings of the discerners, or perhaps parallel experiences that the discerners have had. Or, the focus person may want to request prayer images or silence (see Appendix 1 of the 20th Anniversary Edition of Listening Hearts). This is the time for the focus person to ask questions or make requests, and for the discerners to respond.
  4. Before the closing prayers, the convener asks if anyone feels that another meeting is desirable. Participants need to bring appointment calendars in case the group decides to schedule another meeting.

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