Tag Archives: discernment

quaker clearness committee

a few years ago, i was describing, to my spiritual director, the process used by the group of guys i meet with once a year for support and accountability. she mentioned that it sounded a little bit like a quaker clearness committee. i was intrigued by that (new to me) idea, and blogged about it here.

last week, i got to participate in a clearness committee, and it was a great process. a friend of mine had contacted me asking about getting a group together to help him with some discernment around a life decision he’s trying to make (and is feeling rather “stuck” on, in terms of deciding). he’d heard on a podcast how shane hipps had used a clearness committee as part of his decision process to move to michigan and join the staff of mars hill bible church. i knew my wife, a spiritual director, would be more familiar with the process than me; she suggested my friend needed a facilitator — someone who explained the process, held the boundaries, and hosted the space. at my friend’s request, jeannie (my wife) agreed to play that facilitator role. i think the facilitator role, btw, was only important since none of us were familiar with the clearness committee process. if the participants had all done this before, i think it would be quite easy to self-regulate the process without a facilitator.

this process was fairly simple, really, and is based on the idea that the holy spirit is in each of us (both the person with the question, and the other participants). but it’s not as much about “advice giving” (which often crosses into our own junk and mere opinions), as it is about asking open-ended questions to bring the convener into a space where he or she can more clearly hear what the spirit is saying.

the “rules” are straightforward (as i understand them):

1. the whole group enters into a time of prayerful silence, becoming aware of god’s presence.

2. the convener takes a period of time (10 – 20 minutes?) to describe the question, as well as his or her current thinking about it.

3. then, after some silence, the group asks open ended questions. the whole experience is considered an act of prayer, and there needs to be an open-handedness, expectancy, listening-prayer vibe to it. we were encouraged to not be afraid of silence — instead, to allow spaces of silence for reflection and listening. in fact, after our time was over, the guy who called it said he would have appreciate more silence and space between the questions, as he often didn’t feel like he had permission to reflect. the questions are meant to be “discerning” questions — so we asked things like “what emotions do you experience when you think of making X choice?”, or “what’s your fear about X choice?” this question asking portion is the major part of the clearness committee, and it’s essential that it NOT spill into advice giving. advice giving is not a part of the clearness committee process. it’s also important to give plenty of time for this, knowing that some of the best questions won’t be the ones that come to mind initially. “plenty of time” means at least 2 hours for this portion of the process alone.

4. after a pre-determined boundary of time (it can’t just be that the 2nd section ends when there are no more questions, or the group will naturally think they’ve reached the end when they first run out of questions — but patiently waiting for more brings really good stuff), the group has an opportunity to share observations. again, this is not an advice giving time. the observations are more along the lines of “i noticed that you seemed to have a good deal of energy when you talked about X,” or “it felt like you might be trying to talk yourself out of X choice.” the convener has an opportunity to respond to each of these observations, if he or she chooses.

5. i don’t know if this is technically part of the clearness committee process, but our group ended with a time of prayer – but our prayers were focused on blessing our friend.

after we were done, we all reminded each other not to slip right into advice giving mode. it would be very easy, as soon as the 3 hour process concluded to think, “great, now that’s done, i can tell him what i really think he should do.” but that would be a violation of the process. our guideline was, if he wants to bring the subject up with any of us in the days and weeks to come, that’s his prerogative; but it’s not our place to bring it up with him (and certainly not to tell him what we think he should do).

anyhow. it wasn’t like the process ended with my friend knowing exactly what he should do. his situation is very complex, and doesn’t have anything remotely close to an easy or obvious answer. but i do think the process took him a few steps forward on identifying questions he should be prayerfully wrestling with, and on listening to the spirit (and not only his fears).

here’s an excellent overview, written by parker palmer: The Clearness Committee: A Communal Approach To Discernment (this content is available as a downloadable pdf on a bunch of other sites, including here, and here).

my plans for 2010 (and beyond?)

ok, time to go public with my plans.

after a few months of prayerful discernment, loads of phone calls and face-to-face meetings to seek input and refine my thinking, and a good deal of new clarity about what i am not called to (as well as what i am called to), i’ve landed on a plan, at least for the rest of this year (though maybe longer). it’s a bit confusing, to be honest, because there are a bunch of aspects to this that allow me to create some space for the wide variety of things i love to do.

part 1
but, the bottom line is that i’m launching a consulting business aimed at the sweet spot of helping organizations with a justice/relief/global issues/education focus with anything pertaining to youth and young adults. i’ll also work with publishers and other organizations, if those came up. i’ve got some great stuff percolating at the moment, with work for a relief agency, a missions group, and a publisher for whom i’m developing a couple bible concepts in this sweet spot.

part 2
i’m going to continue speaking (primarily to youth and youth ministry events), which involves opening my calendar for the rest of this year. and i’ll continue one-off church consulting. these things both supplement my income as i try to get the consulting thing going, but i also love doing them. i’ve got some great stuff on the calendar between now and the end of may, but need to start booking some things for the summer and fall (and, i still really need to find a couple more opportunities per month in march, april and may!). i’ll blog about my speaking calendar in the days to come. i’ve also had a blast with a few one- and two-day church consulting opportunities, and hope i can some more of those.

part 3
writing. i’ve been wanting to take a step, as an author, to write something for church leaders or general christian living. i signed with a literary agent, and we sifted through a couple dozen ideas i had this past week. we’ve landed on one for now, and i’m going to flesh out that proposal and see where it goes.

part 4
i’m going to launch a year-long youth ministry coaching program i blogged about the other day. i’m hoping this will also grow into something bigger, with multiple sites; but i won’t know that until i test it once here in san diego.

i think it’s highly unlikely that i won’t want to stay 100% freelance guy for the rest of my life; and i’m thinking that, a year from now, i may be looking to either embed myself into an organization with a global consciousness (particularly in the areas of justice/relief/advocacy/education) and function as a global youth and young adult specialist for them, or develop the youth ministry coaching program more fully, or some combination of the two.

now, i need to create a simple website for the consulting work i hope to do, as well as launch the youth ministry coaching program (plus all the ticky-tack issues like figuring out health care for my family and stuff like that). lots to do, and i’m pretty pumped about it all!

my career discernment process

i’m going to post in the next few days (or week) what i’m planning to do for 2010. but i thought i’d start by sharing the process i went through to figure it out.

let’s back up to december of 2008. i’ve blogged about this before, but in mid-december, a year ago, i found out i had to lead ys through a major downsizing. in that meeting, i misunderstood some things my boss said to me, and thought she had said i should resign. in the midst of thinking of the ys stuff, this put me into somewhat of an identity crisis. i realized that “who i am” and “what i do” were too enmeshed, and that i couldn’t even fathom the possibility of a non-ys life. in hindsight, this was a massive gift from god, because it launched me into a process of seeking, clarifying, thinking and discerning.

by mid-year, 2009, i was more comfortable with the notion that there might be a life for me outside of my role at ys; but i was still actively pushing away thoughts of what that could possibly be. i brought this up at one of my monthly leadership coaching sessions with dr. john townsend, and he gave me the counter-intuitive input that i needed to address what i could do square on, so that i could set it aside and focus on my current role. as a result, in june, i spent a good deal of time processing what kinds of jobs/roles might give me life. at that time, i came up with four buckets:
– something where i could leverage my passion for and knowledge of teenagers
– something involving social media and the internet
– a ceo (or other exec) role in a business that i could, in some way, tie off to my understanding of the gospel
– and, while i thought it wasn’t as likely, a role in a church

and i did set these aside, until october, when i was let go.

since i had the cushion of severance, i knew i needed to lay low and not dive into a job search immediately. that first month was so nuts in terms of my own anxiety, loss and hurt, that i could barely breathe, let alone discern. i had a few soft inquiries right away, which, at least, made me feel like less of a failure (“at least someone might want me”). and my time in the desert (that was a literal desert, btw), provided a good deal more clarity about what i am and am not called to.

i entered into my second month of unemployment sensing a handful of things:
1. i am called to the church. i have sensed a renewed passion and calling to help the american church and the global church. but, as i’ve sat with a few soft offers from individual churches, i do not sense that god is calling me (at this time) to “employment” in one church.
2. i don’t want to do the corporate ceo thing, or the internet thing
3. i sense god’s calling to encourage and influence, but i really don’t sense a big need to have a public platform
4. i am more and more drawn to helping in areas that have global influence, and that will make a difference for people with less resources and opportunity
5. i still love youth workers, and i think i would lose something of myself if i don’t have an avenue for engagement on that level

with that in mind, i put together a list of a dozen people i wanted to have conversations with. i called it my “career discernment list”, because i really do see this as an act of spiritual discernment. the list was a wide variety of people i thought would be willing to have a conversation with me, but who might have something to say about the kind of work i was feeling pulled to. i started having these conversations in early december, and have taken lots of notes on every one. my questions have continued to morph as i have more input and more clarity. and the list has swollen, also, to about 25. as i write this, there are only two left on the list.

i’ve tried to prayerfully sit with the ideas that are slowly taking shape in my mind and heart. i’m paying close attention to my excitement and energy — kind of an ignation prayer of examin approach (though not with actual practice of these things, but with the ideas): as i consider options, which ones give me life, and which ones feel life-draining in some way.

and here i am in mid-january with an only-somewhat-pixilated picture, in my mind, of where god is leading me next, in terms of my work. the description of that i’ll leave for another post!