There is something that, at this point, the reader of this series on Spiritual Discipline should be noticing. All of these disciplines mutually support and interlock with each other. While there has been an organization of these disciplines that separate them into three categories of four each, this is purely for the purpose of teaching these aspects of Christian life-style in a simple manner. The reality is that each of these disciplines are conducted in tandem of each other. The Corporate Disciplines are examples of how the individualized Inward Disciplines impact the greater Body of Christ as each believer joins with the others in their practice. The Outward Disciplines are the ways that believers interact with both their peers and those who have not yet realized their part in the Body of Christ. It is important that this perspective be mentioned clearly and that the reader understands how these disciplines combine to form “the way,” the life-style of a Christian led by the Spirit.
The next Corporate Discipline is that of Guidance. Spiritual Guidance comes in two forms, an individual form that emerges during the practice of the Inward Disciplines and a corporate form that emerges out of the practice of the Outward Disciplines. There are times in our practice of the Inward Disciplines that we reach points in prayer, meditation, and study that we feel uncertain. This can come from a lack of certain information needed to make a sound decision, or perhaps there are difficulties in your life that are clouding your thinking, or times when you feel called to work in the life of another. As you submit yourself to the Will of the Spirit and seek to act on a call to serve a fellow believer, there may be in it a need to provide guidance to another believer who may be experiencing those inward difficulties mentioned. These are examples of the importance of Corporate Guidance, and active participation in the community of believers.
What is Guidance as a Corporate Discipline?
Corporate Guidance is not a discipline that takes its form in the structure of decision making within a church organization. It should not be confused with staff meetings and ministry vision casting sessions. Corporate guidance comes in the form of the Spirit leading groups of believers in a particular direction for the greater glory of God through the group or an individual. It is a discipline for the individual in that each believer must be active in participating in the lives of the local group of believers they worship with. God uses Corporate guidance to guide both the whole body of Christ within the local context, as well as using the group to guide individuals.
For the individual, it requires each believer to be involved in the lives of those whom God has placed in their lives. As we actively practice our inward disciplines, and we pray for those in our life, the Lord may call us to seek out someone who He wishes to guide through us. This does not require us to have any special abilities (as God gives us His spiritual gifts, each having their own gift through which He works) or requiring any special education. It just requires you to be who you are in Christ. When called to guide another, God is using you because of something unique in you that He has placed there for His purposes. This is also the case when it comes to group decisions involving your local congregation. God needs you to be involved in such decisions so that His Spirit can be more easily discerned, and so that no man may boast that he brought about what God’s hand did.
While there is our role for giving guidance, there is also our responsibility to seek guidance from the corporate body of Christ. We must be open and honest with our local community of believers, placing our trust in them as they place their trust in God as you should. While the Lord certainly works within each one of us to guide us through prayer, visions, dreams, and open communication with us, He also works through those who are involved in our lives. So just as we are to guide others when called by God to do so, so must we seek guidance from others both when called to do so, and when we feel uncertain. Even those who are mature in their Spiritual walk with Christ need to seek help from others in discerning God’s guidance. Just as the Spirit of God’s presence becomes dramatically more clear in Corporate Worship, so too does it in matters of seeking the Lord’s Guidance through the corporate body.
Where is Corporate Guidance in the Bible?
When understanding Spiritual Guidance as a discipline, much can be gathered from the Bible in the way God acts through the whole body of believers. While God acted through Abraham as an individual, it was through Abraham that God guided his tribe. In freeing the people of Israel from their slavery to the Egyptians, God moved the whole nation through Moses. In Exodus 20, the people come to Moses after seeing the awesome presence of God to “Let not God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exod. 20:19). So, God started the use of Prophets to give guidance from God to the whole body of Believers. The Judges become the one’s through which God acts to guide His people once they turn away from Him, only to cry out to Him for help. Many people miss the message of Judges, where the whole body of Israel served God as a people, obeying His laws and flourishing (when they would actually do so, of course). They had no king, no distinct prophet during such times. Each tribe joined together to keep each other on the righteous path of God, until that generation would come to turn away.
This eventually turns to the times of the Kings, where the people ceased to look to judges and prophets for their spiritual guidance. The line of the Kings ended quickly in their proper directing of the people. The prophets then become outcasts. After many centuries, we come to the deliverance of humanity through the coming of Christ. With Jesus’ arrival, God calls out to His people to return to coming together in seeking God. “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:19). This provides us with God’s teaching that in order to more clearly discern His Will, believers must come together, honestly seeking Him. When this is done, each person can be sure that what has come to them is not of their own creation, but is of the Spirit. We see examples of this throughout the Acts of the Apostles (Acts). “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection.” (Acts 4:32, 33).
In Acts 15, we see one of the best examples of both the corporate gathering for spiritual guidance on an issue, and the individual’s impact on guiding the group. This is where a group of believers in Antioch had started teaching the need for circumcision for all who would be Christians. Paul saw this for the problem that it was. Elders and the apostles gathered together in what is known as the “Jerusalem Council,” to seek out God’s guidance on this subject. There was much debate and honest seeking of discernment on a course of action. Then we see the impact of Peter’s experience with the Centurion Cornelius. After His testimony to the group, they reached a spirit guided unanimous decision “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28).
So How do I “do” Guidance as a Discipline?
The first example comes in how to seek spiritual guidance. It is a rather obvious one, and involves times of uncertainty in making a spiritual decision. While it is valuable to seek guidance in various matters of life, from choosing a school to an occupation and the like, this pertains to matters of spiritual importance more than anything. These are subjects that impact your spiritual life and your relationships with others in Christ. While prayer and meditation on the subject is valuable, we may reach points where due to things in our life or simple weariness, we cannot come to clear discernment of God’s Will. Go out and seek assistance from other believers. Do not go and simply ask them the question and have them give you a quick answer. Ask them to also pray and meditate on this issue separately, while you do so as well. Perhaps asking them to join you in a three day fast consisting of much prayer and study would be applicable. The important point here is to allow time for careful, prayerful consideration from other believers regarding the matter. After a time, ask to meet with each of them individually to learn what they have been guided to provide as an answer to you. This may take a few attempts until there emerges a consensus among those whom you have reached out to, but do not accept only partial agreement as an actionable decision.
The next involves the practice of calling together a dedicated group of believers to concentrate on a particular question for a period of time. These calls are intended to impact an individual through the careful prayer and meditation on the subject pertaining to that person. These are frequently utilized in local congregations when it comes to sending individuals on missions around the world. While the resulting discernment has significant impact on the individual about which the group is gathered, what that individual ends up doing leads to an impact on the body of Christ as a whole.
The next form is through the guidance of a “Spiritual Director.” Richard Foster covers this in greater detail in his book, Celebration of Discipline. The concept is much “in-sync” with the roles of the prophets of old. However, the chief difference is that this person is a dedicated spiritual guide whose purpose is to only speak that which God has told him to speak, regarding personal matters to individuals. This is not someone who has been “appointed” or planted into their position based on some ecclesiastical authority. It is simply a close friend (in terms of the relationship one feels with the “director”) and a person of great spiritual discipline and maturity (in terms of “qualifications”). Their purpose is not on the immediate, material realities, but on the deeper, spiritual truths that are apparent and underlining the physical manifestations of what requires discernment. While providing guidance to a person regarding how they maintain their machine shop may seem material at first, the advisor is guiding that person in what comprises their whole life, providing guidance in how to use it for God’s greater purposes.
Some Dangers to Watch Out For.
When discussing the subject of Corporate Guidance, we have to make sure that we are clear on a few things. The greatest concern present is the danger of manipulation. When we look to an individual for guidance, it is always a risk that pride in the new feeling of power over another may allow room for manipulation of others to come about. Individuals who are looked to for leadership in guiding the group must not be smothered out because of this risk, however. A balance must be maintained, where the leader is a servant leader in the following of Christ, always willing to listen to the community of believers. This does not mute out his role as the leader, and he must be allowed to lead. There must be careful checks and balances set into place, and as members of the body of Christ, we must always place the Kingdom Authority above all else. If truly led by the Holy Spirit to guide, the actions and words of the leader will never contradict or be counter to scripture. This is yet another reason why Corporate participation of every believer is of such great importance. To prevent corruption and to ensure that it is the Holy Spirit leading the Church every believer must be actively involved. Not just corporately, but individually in the conduct of the Spiritual Disciplines.