Summer 2014

Corporate Listening

How do we make decisions as a church?
by Alan Kraft

A number of years ago, our church needed to make a significant decision that we knew would affect the trajectory of our congregation for decades. Because we were growing in attendance, we were maxing out our land-locked, parking-challenged, aging facility.

Our church leadership had spent several months exploring our options: Relocate to a larger facility? Purchase land on the west side where our city is growing? Remodel our current facility? After lots of processing and discussions, we still didn’t know what to do.

Seeking God’s direction

In the years leading up to this, we had utilized a singular approach to church decision-making—what I would call prayerful pragmatism. Pray for wisdom, look to God’s Word, carefully explore and discuss the options, then make a decision based on what seems the wisest and best course of action.

We see this course of action in Acts 6 as well as in Acts 15, where the apostles make a ministry decision based on what aligns with God’s Word and what seems best for the church. Often, this approach works well, enabling us to discern a particular course of action.

However, sometimes after pursuing this process, we may still be uncertain about the wisest and best next step. That was our situation. We had prayed and processed and sought guidance from Scripture, but no course of action was clearly wisest or best.

In desperation I called together our elders one Saturday morning, gave each a yellow pad and a pen, and said, “For the next 45 minutes, we are going to listen to God. No praying aloud. No verbal discussions. I want you to listen to the Holy Spirit and write down on the note pad anything you sense He is laying on your heart.”

Listening to the Holy Spirit

We had never done anything like this before, but I knew there was scriptural precedent for God speaking in this way. In Acts 13, we read about a group of leaders in a growing church in Antioch gathering for prayer: “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2).

We don’t know specific details about how the Holy Spirit said what He did, but we do know that He clearly spoke to them, giving specific direction. This decision-making process was what I would call intentional attentiveness. It involves making time to quiet our hearts and be attentive to the voice of the Spirit.

So on that Saturday morning, our elder board practiced intentional attentiveness for the very first time. After several minutes of silence, I asked each elder to share what he had sensed the Lord saying regarding this decision.

Some had specific Scriptures come to mind. Others had phrases or images sort of “drop” into their heart. As each man shared, a few key themes seemed to emerge.

That one Saturday-morning prayer time made a huge difference in the life and impact of our church.

One, we were supposed to stay put and focus on continuing to love the people around us. (We have an elementary school across the street, a high school one block away and a university campus a half-mile away). Two, we sensed that God was already orchestrating a plan that we were going to “fall into.”

Believing that God had spoken to us, we stopped worrying about what to do and just continued to love people. Sure enough, within a few months a plan was made clear to us. It involved purchasing the five houses to the north of our facility and building a larger worship center. As these plans came to fruition, God indeed began to open doors for greater ministry in our neighborhood and community.

That one Saturday-morning prayer time made a huge difference in the life and impact of our church.

Being prepared for the unexpected

In addition to prayerful pragmatism and intentional attentiveness, there is one other facet of corporate decision-making that may occur. While the first two approaches are more typical, sometimes we experience what I would call Spirit surprises.

This is what happened to Paul and Luke in Acts 16 as they were trying to pursue ministry opportunities. We are told that they were “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (Acts 16:6-7).

Again we don’t know specifics about how the Spirit spoke to them. What we do know is that the Spirit repeatedly stopped them from pursuing ministry.

They had to be frustrated at this situation. Here they were, earnestly trying to advance the gospel in this region, but the Spirit had other plans—which He eventually unveiled to them in a vision given to Paul one evening. (See verse 9.) It was certainly an unusual way of being led, but sometimes that’s the way God works … as I discovered a few years back.

I was in a bit of a leadership fog, not certain about God’s future vision for our church. One Monday afternoon I had my weekly prayer time with two men who were committed to praying for me. As is somewhat typical for me on a Monday afternoon, I was struggling to stay awake as they interceded for me and the church.

I did wake up, however, when one of them said, “I’m seeing in my mind a picture of our worship center, and it is filled with mannequins—people who look like they are alive but in reality aren’t. I believe the Lord is saying, ‘My people don’t love Me. If they will repent and turn to Me, I will make My way clear to them.’”

I certainly wasn’t expecting this. Being the spiritual person I am, my immediate reaction was, No way. God, this can’t be You speaking. Our church is growing. We’re doing fine.

I left the meeting in a sour mood but assured the men that I would pray about this to see if God would confirm it to me. The next morning in the office, I began the day with a quiet time before the Lord. In the back of my mind were the things shared on Monday, things I was still convinced weren’t true.

I opened my One Year Bible to the passage for that day’s reading and found myself in 2 Chronicles 14-15, a passage about King Asa—who had started well, trusting the Lord, but in his later years grew complacent and began to trust in his own strength and wisdom.

As I was reading this, I sensed in my heart that God was speaking to me about spiritual complacency, confirming the things shared on Monday. I immediately called an emergency staff meeting and shared my heart, asking them to pray with me about this. One of our executive assistants came to me later, describing a specific picture she had received in prayer, a picture that further confirmed how God was leading us.

That weekend, I scrapped my planned sermon and instead shared with the congregation how I believed God was speaking to us, calling us all to repentance for our spiritual complacency. That weekend was a defining moment for our church.

Within a month, God had given us a vision for kingdom impact in our community and our world. Since that date, millions of dollars have been donated above regular giving to various projects around the world, including providing clean water, rescuing girls from sex trafficking, creating a “seminary on wheels” to train pastors and leaders in Peru and Uganda, and starting two multisite campuses in our own city.

Desperate to hear from God

I don’t share this as a way of tooting our own horn. The truth is, I was content in my complacency. I didn’t know how desperately I needed what God had for us. The Spirit had to wake me up and surprise me into a new course of action. I hate to think of the ministry we would have missed had we ignored or dismissed the Spirit’s surprise promptings, simply because they didn’t fit the ways He typically had spoken to us previously.

After 22 years of pastoral ministry, I can say with certainty that God desires to lead us and that He may choose to do so in a variety of ways. Let’s be open to each.

Through prayerful pragmatism, we learn that God has given us wisdom in His Word and in our ability to assess a situation. Through intentional attentiveness, we learn that sometimes we need to stop and take time to listen to the Spirit. Through Spirit surprises, we learn to not ignore or dismiss too quickly something that initially seems outside the box. We can ask the Lord to confirm if it truly is from Him.

The Spirit will never lead us to disobey or contradict God’s Word, but we often need His help in knowing how to obey. He is eager to reveal that to us as we seek Him together as leaders. I realize some of this may be outside of our comfort zone, but I also know that I wouldn’t trade these divine whispers for anything in the world.

Alan Kraft is lead pastor of Christ Community EFC in Greeley, Colo., and author of Good News for Those Trying Harder. His new book, More: What can happen when you invite the Spirit into your everyday life, will be available this fall. Alan is passionate about cultivating a church environment where all believers experience the joy of living in the gospel through the presence of the Spirit. He blogs at