Leadership Seminar 2013

Discernment:    Hearing God’s Desires in a Changing World

Dates:                Held February 1-3, 2013

Location:           Lowville Mennonite Church, 7705 Ridge Road, Lowville NY

Invited:              Leadership Teams from congregations, church plants, and affiliated groups.
                           (Pastors, elders, teams, councils…)

Leadership Seminar 2013

Seminar Summary by Anne Siegrist

“How do we as a church discern in a fresh way what God is saying and doing? How do we make decisions about our life together?”

Marcus Smucker, who holds a PhD in Religion and Psychology, and who is a former pastor and current professor, as well as a certified pastoral counselor and spiritual director, guided our thinking about discernment during the 2013 Leadership Seminar held February 1 and 2 at Lowville Mennonite Church.

“The word ‘discernment’,” said Marcus, “literally means to separate, decide or distinguish between two things. Spiritual discernment is the ability to discriminate between good and not good – that which is of God and draws us closer to God and that which does not. Discernment for the church belongs to the church,” he said.

Friday evening we listened to several people read John 9, the story of Jesus healing the blind man. Marcus noted that discernment begins when we are in touch with our blindness and are willing to cry out, “My teacher, I want to see.”

Those familiar with the blind man were eager to define sin. In today’s church we also want to define sin. Instead of focusing on who has done wrong, we need to be willing to allow God to bring us to a “fresh place”, a place where our eyes are opened to what God is doing.

On Saturday morning we focused on Acts 15, a time of conflict in the early church.

“People in difficult times always had conflict,” said Marcus. “If we want to be the people of God, we need to take time to work through issues. Once in a while there are issues that deserve time.”

Saturday afternoon we read Colossians 3:12-17. Discernment for the church belongs to the church. We should be transformed by the renewing of our minds so we will be able to test what God’s will is.

How do the people of God determine God’s will? Discernment is not magic. There are three ways for God’s people to make decisions or to discern, said Marcus: the democratic method, which often means the minority is unhappy; consensus, which is not always possible; and spiritual discernment, which is what the church should strive for.

We continued our afternoon activities by listening to three accounts of the church at work. Dawson Grau, director of the Mennonite Heritage Farm, described the beginnings of the farm and some of the current activities.

Sonya Stauffer Kurtz, conference moderator, told about the beginning of ministry at Fort Drum. Paul Schambach talked about the response of Mennonite Disaster Service after the damage from Hurricane Sandy.

“Discernment is an ever-increasing capacity to ‘see’ or discern the works of God in the midst of the human situation, so that we can align ourselves with whatever it is that God is doing,” says Marcus. “In our rapidly changing world with influences from television and the internet it is critical that we remain open to God’s guidance.”

Terry Zehr, associate conference minister, was our moderator for the seminar. The Marvin Zehr band accompanied our time of worship Friday evening and a group of volunteers led worship on Saturday.

Members of the Lowville Mennonite Church were our gracious hosts for the weekend and provided us with delicious meals and snacks.


Guest Speaker:     Marcus Smucker

Marcus holds a PhD in Religion and Psychology. He is a former pastor and current professor, who is also a certified pastoral counselor and  spiritual director. Marcus has consulted with congregations for 35 years (including New York Mennonite Conference) and in an adjunct professor at Eastern Mennonite Seminary and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. As a congregational consultant, he works in the areas of mediation, training in conflict resolution, spiritual formation and group facilitation. Marcus brings a pastors heart and deep spiritual insight to his passionate commitment to the
church.