Leading with Discernment

If you’re like me, you’ve had countless moments throughout your lifetime when key decisions are before you and your waking hours are consumed with efforts to discern the will of God. I remember a time in 1988 when I was asking God if the girl I was dating would someday become my wife. Faith and I will celebrate 34 years of marriage this summer. I also recall the purchase of our first car and our first home, our decision to move from one church to another, and many other key decisions where we looked to God for wisdom and direction.

Of course, a major discernment moment for us arrived in February 2022, when God presented us with the opportunity to come to APU. The preceding months included much prayer; meaningful engagements in God’s Word; focused conversations with family, key friends, and mentors; prayer walks on the APU campus; and extended time with APU’s Board of Trustees. The posture of our hearts was one of complete openness to the will of God. I’ve often prayed 2 Timothy 2:21, the verse that talks about being a “willing vessel, suitable to the Master”—wanting to be used by God however, whenever, and wherever He so chooses. When good discernment has run its course and a decision is made, we know that a deep sense of peace soon follows. Such was the case when Faith and I said yes to our call to APU.

As I approach the one-year mark, one of the many highlights has been leading a newly formed President’s Cabinet. Last fall, this executive team was blessed to spend a few days together at Hilltop Renewal Center—a wonderful getaway in nearby Idyllwild, California, where we shared our stories, received guided spiritual direction, enjoyed long meals together, laughed, prayed, worshiped, and connected at a deep personal level. It was exactly what our group needed as we embarked on our collective APU journey together.

In advance of our retreat, I asked the cabinet to read the first chapter of Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Pursuing God’s Will Together (InterVarsity Press, 2012). I believe that anchoring APU’s leadership team in the Word of God is paramount, and building our collective “discernment muscle” is key to our effectiveness. Over the months that followed, we worked our way through the 12 chapters of Barton’s book, each week having a member of the cabinet lead the rest of us in a time of deep reflection and prayer.

As Barton suggests, discernment in its fullness requires a “practiced heart, fine-tuned to hear the Word of God, and a single-mindedness to follow that word in love.” Barton says that “discernment is a gift from God, not one dropped from the skies fully formed, but a gift cultivated by a prayerful life.”

As a cabinet, we believe that corporate discernment begins with what God is doing in our own hearts. I love the image in Luke 6:45, which says, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” We often talk as a cabinet about the importance of filling our hearts with so much of God’s Truth that what we bring to the decision-making process, and therefore to the broader APU community, is from the “overflow.”

I want this team to be so rooted in their relationship with Jesus Christ that when we’re facing the challenges and opportunities of leadership, we’re personally, and therefore collectively, ready to discern God’s will.

To do so, Barton provides some helpful guidance. As a cabinet, we value times of solitude and silence—setting time aside to give God our full and undivided attention, learning to distinguish God’s voice from all other voices. We also intentionally engage the Scriptures, believing this to be key to effective spiritual leadership. The cabinet also spends significant time each week in prayer, praying what Barton calls “prayers of quiet trust”—acknowledging our utter dependence on God and in God; “prayers of indifference”—asking God to work in our hearts to make us indifferent to anything but the will of God; and “prayers for wisdom”—marked by a readiness to receive much-needed direction from God.

The cabinet at APU is as much a spiritual community as it is a leadership team. We prayerfully set our weekly agendas, we listen to God’s voice and to each other’s, we pause and discern more deeply when needed, we align our decisions with what we believe God is doing, we ask each other if we believe the Spirit of God rests on major decisions, we seek inner confirmation and peace, and we affirm our decisions as a team.

As we look to APU’s future and lead from a posture of discernment, we believe wholeheartedly God’s promise to be “a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path” (Psalm 119:105).