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Next Steps Frequently Asked Questions

In June 2022, the synod of the Christian Reformed Church made a series of consequential decisions about the denomination’s teaching (and the confessional status of the church’s teaching) on human sexuality and same-sex marriage. In this season after synod’s decisions, you may be wondering how those decisions will impact you and your church. 

Our Anxious Moment

Many are feeling some anxiety about what Synod’s decisions may or may not mean for them or their congregation. Yet no two individuals and no two congregations are feeling that anxiety in exactly the same way or with exactly the same dynamics or consequences. 

At some churches, though most people may basically agree with Synod’s decisions, they are feeling overwhelmed by the practical and pastoral challenge of living into this vision well. 

At other churches, the decisions of Synod may feel like an imposition. Now, members and ministry leaders are asking whether they can remain a part of a congregation with which they might disagree on this issue. 

In these and more churches, leaders are wondering how much difference in belief with each other or with our denomination we can live with, and how, practically, we can live with that difference. 

Our Naturally Unhelpful Reactions

When faced with anxiety in our churches, most of our natural reactions prove quite unhelpful. We are tempted to run away, shut down, or pick a fight. We begin to see the world in simplistic, black/white, good/bad terms. We feel like we have to pick a side, and we feel like there are only two sides. We start attributing all kinds of negative motivations to those with whom we disagree. Our capacity for creativity is diminished. Our willingness to love fades. 

As leaders in anxious times, we vacillate between avoiding the issues and hoping they go away on the one hand or trying to control people and outcomes on the other hand. We are eager to relieve the tension and we are tempted to cut corners to do so. We wonder if the right, good or true ends might justify some less-than-Christ-like means

And so, right when we most need the trust of our congregations, we act in ways that corrode trust. Maybe we rush the decision-making process along, without considering the consequences of those decisions. Maybe we hush important voices: we don’t listen deeply or well to the voices we most need to hear. We are not attentive to God’s voice and we are not intentional about hearing the voice of others affected by our decision. Meanwhile, we may start cutting corners in the decision-making process itself. The process may becomes mush: it is unclear who has the authority to decide; it is unclear when, how, or if people will have the opportunity to speak into the discernment. It is unclear what the decision even means. 

The impact of rush, hush and mush on a congregation is to diminish trust and sow confusion and frustration, even among those who basically agree with whatever decision is ultimately made. 

A Better Way? 

What if it didn’t need to be this way? 

What if the anxiety and conflict of this moment were not a distraction from your church’s witness and discipleship, but what if they were actually an opportunity for making better disciples and offering a more winsome witness to the world? After all, aren’t most of the instructions we have about Christian life together written in the form of letters to first-century congregations experiencing conflicts and tension of their own? 

What if God knew that it would be hard to “bear with one another” and “submit to one another” and “be kind and compassionate to one another.” What if those commands were not for after the conflict subsided and the differences disappeared but for during the conflict and while the differences persisted? 

What if God used challenging seasons like these to deepen our dependence on him and build up our capacity to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus?” 

What if there were a way to love each other well even if we still come to the conclusion that we cannot stay together as we once were? 

What if we could hear not just the most strident and polarized voices but also all the voices in between?

What if we acted as though God’s voice really was the voice we most needed to hear and follow?

An Alternative Way Forward

In Ephesians 4, Paul pleads with the church to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Maybe it is unrealistic to expect us to make every effort. But can we make some effort? Is this, perhaps, the season for making an effort?

Next Steps Discernment cannot make your differences and disagreements magically go away. It cannot guarantee you’ll stay together; it cannot ensure a happy outcome. But this process does give you a chance to make an effort: to lean into the challenge of this moment in a way that is oriented to Christ and insistent on exhibiting Christlike love and humility.

Next Steps Discernment provides a series of structured, facilitated listening circles for church members and church leaders to listen deeply to one another as the council discerns what, if any, next steps God is inviting the church to consider. During this season of discernment, your church will be sustained by ongoing spiritual disciplines as well as repeated prompts to love one another through listening and good process. 

In preparation, a group of members and leaders from your church will be trained to facilitate listening circles and to apply the principles of fair process to any discernment and decision-making process. 

In the first stage, trained facilitators from your church will convene Our Reality Check Listening Circles, to provide a quick sense for the council of what the main issues are in your church. 

In the second stage, the council will identify and communicate the themes and issues they believe warrant deeper engagement and insight from the congregation while also laying out the details of the discernment and decision-making process. 

In the third stage, trained facilitators will convene another series of two or three Going Deeper Listening Circles. In these circles, participants will engage with the themes and issues identified as priorities by the council, listening to one another and offering insight to the council.  

In the fourth stage, the council will take the congregation’s insights into consideration as they determine and communicate what, if any, next steps are warranted. 

In the fifth stage, the congregation will offer a worshipful response: giving thanks to God for God’s faithfulness in the process; lamenting the ways the process highlighted our shortcomings and sins; and confessing the ways we hurt one another before and during the process. 

From start to finish, a congregation could complete this process in three months. However, it is meant to be adaptable. Some congregations will shorten the process, some will lengthen it. But the process (and its training) will give the council the tools it needs to set up a meaningful and helpful discernment process well-suited to the needs of your congregation. 

The goal of this resource is to help you hold together grace and truth as you discern and decide next steps.


Training and Support

Your leaders (both facilitators and council) will receive training to adapt this resource to your context and to facilitate the listening circles at the heart of the discernment. Through Pastor Church Resources (PCR), your leaders will also have access to ongoing support as they seek to adapt and use the tools and practices in this resource. 

Flexible Practices

Every context is unique. The questions, answers, and consequences of discernment vary from place to place. This resource offers a discernment pathway that many churches can follow yet provides flexibility to adapt and modify the pathway to fit the needs of your community. The practices and listening circles are flexible enough to be used by many groups simultaneously across a congregation or by a single small group helping a few people discern their own next steps. 

Prayers, Scripture, and Spiritual Disciplines

Christian Reformed churches are accustomed to relying on prayer, Scripture, and other disciplines, such as fasting and study when making weighty decisions. But in the heat of an anxious time of discernment, these practices are easily forgotten. This resource will encourage your church to lean into spiritual disciplines intended to form people in Christlikeness even as you make weighty decisions. Good discernment requires deep soul work, not just careful thinking. 

Listening Circles

A listening circle is a way to structure a meeting so that participants are invited to speak to significant issues. The emphasis in a circle is on listening to and being heard by one another rather than debating. Instead of only hearing the strongest and most strident voices, a listening circle invites the participation of everyone: both the more and less strident, both the clearly convicted and the less certain. In this way, a listening circle equalizes voices across the ranges of volume and conviction, allowing many to be and feel heard. Further, when used as part of a discernment process, listening circles have the potential to get a clearer sense of the “pulse” of the congregation’s heartbeat while also helping participants grow in trust and love for one another by giving each other the gift of deep listening. 

A Fairer Process

Listening circles can be part of a larger effort to add intentionality to the discernment and decision-making process for your church. This resource provides numerous prompts for church leaders to communicate clearly with their congregation about the process, its participants, and its timeline. It will help you slow down while you listen deeply and well to God and to one another. By being clear, intentional, and explicit about the way the decision is made and the role everyone has in the process, a council helps build confidence in the final decision even among those who would not have personally preferred the chosen outcome. 


There are no shortcuts to good group discernment and decision making. This resource assumes that it takes time and effort for a group to discern God’s will. Fortunately, it is often through that time, effort, and even struggle (Genesis 32:28) that God’s best work is done to shape and form us and our communities into Christlikeness. 

Pain-free Solutions

We expect that following this approach will increase trust and help the council and church make decisions in God-honoring ways. But this process will not make substantive differences and disagreements magically go away. This process may make those differences more tolerable or less threatening, but this process cannot resolve every point of tension. 

A Substitute for the Spirit’s Work or for Christian Character

We recommend the practices in this resource because we have seen how they seem to help individuals and groups cooperate with the Holy Spirit to understand and build community with one another. Leaning into these practices provides ample opportunity to rely on the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23), to clothe yourself in Christlikeness (Colossians 3:12–15), and to bear with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2). In other words, these practices help you act Christianly while discerning together. But these tools and resources are only as fruitful as a church and its leaders are reliant on the Spirit of God to work. This resource is meant to facilitate the working out of faith, hope, and love, but it cannot generate any fruit on its own. Only the Spirit of God can. If you see any fruit from this process, it will be because of the work of Christ in your midst, not because the tools were so clever or well designed. 

To receive the full resource, including the detailed guide for councils, the complete listening circle script, and adaptations for particular types of discernment, sign up to be trained here. Those who sign up will receive a full PDF of the resource by August 31, 2022, with training dates available as early as September 7, 2022. 

What Is Included In The Training?

The three-hour, interactive virtual training includes: 

  • an introduction to the principles underlying this resource,
  • instruction and practice in facilitating listening circles, and 
  • advice for adapting the resource to each discernment and each context. 

Who Should Receive This Training?

Because this resource must be adapted for each context and because the issues addressed in the course of this discernment can be controversial, we require anyone using this resource to receive training. This includes anyone who will facilitate a listening circle and at least two representatives of a council using this resource for congregational discernment. 

What If I’m Already Trained In Challenging Conversations?

If you are part of the team or the council overseeing the discernment, the training is required. If your only part in this process is facilitating a listening circle, and you have been trained in the Challenging Conversations Toolkit and have experience leading Challenging Conversations listening circles, you are not required (but are still encouraged) to participate in the training. 

What Does It Cost?

Through ministry shares, training is available at a subsidized rate of $35 USD per participant. If the cost of training is an obstacle to your participation, contact [email protected] for further-subsidized rates.

Is This Resource Only For Discernment Related To Synod And Human Sexuality?

This resource was originally designed to meet the unique needs of churches in the season after Synod 2022. However, the discernment process is highly adaptable and Pastor Church Resources would be happy to help your church adapt this process for other types of discernment. 

You can view a sample of the resource. The full resource will be available to all who register for the facilitator training. The sample and full resource is available in Word or Google Doc format upon request to [email protected].