The Way of Discernment

by Mark Buchanan

discernmentI’m a pastor by the grace and prankishness of God.

I grew up pagan. My father was a thundering atheist and my mother a chaser of all things eastern: swamis, yogis, gurus. Dad was the “mocker” described in Proverbs, mom “the fool.” I figured out what to do in any given situation by a combination of hard, spare logic (my dad) or mystical humbug (my mom). When I was 15, for instance, my mother talked me out of 50 hard-earned dollars to have my horoscope read by a “professional.” What I received in turn was 12 pages of vague tripe, full of dark warning, bright promise, and gushing flattery. There was not one clear specific—do this, not that; go here, not there—among the whole lot.

At 21 I met Jesus. At 29 I became a pastor.

I had the wrong education—a bachelor’s degree in fine art with a major in writing, a master’s in interdisciplinary studies, with a major in American literature. I had virtually no training—a brief stint as a volunteer helper in youth ministry. I had never sat on a church board or committee. I still thought most Christians were, not just saints, but saintly.

I had, in short, no way of figuring out what to do or how to do it. That was 23 years ago.

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I learned virtually everything on the job—preaching, counseling, team-building, strategizing, budgeting, vision-casting, peace-making. There was no trial run for any of this. I had to acquire every skill needed for pastoring as I went, in real time, in the public eye. Nothing was rehearsal.

What’s been the one thing needed? What’s been the sine qua non, the irreplaceable necessity without which all the other skills, traits, and gifts add up to zilch?


Figuring out what to do and how to do it in any given situation…


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