Discernment is one of those great churchy words that people know what it means, but have a hard time defining it. It’s also often one of those churchy words that gets used and abused.

There are times when discernment is just not an appropriate word to use. A better word is usually – decision.

And there are times when discernment is really the only word that makes sense to describe what you are attempting to do.

One definition I found is: The act or process of exhibiting keen insight and good judgment.

That’s not too bad. But it’s missing a couple of key elements – God and listening.

Maybe my definition of discernment would sound something like this: The act or process of listening to God and being aware of the Holy Spirit in order to gain keen insight and good judgement.

Pastors use the term discernment when they are considering a call to a congregation. And it’s a good fit for something like that. The call process is a job interview, but not. It’s much more. It’s the process in which a congregation and a pastor are discerning – listening to God, being aware of the Spirit. It is patient. It is not rushed. And often, it is ambiguous – taking paths that are unexpected. Sometimes a small phrase is said by someone in the process and it sparks something that lets a pastor and/or congregation know that this is right.

I believe that discernment happens in many ways for many people – they may not even realize it. I think some of the more common ways in which discernment is appropriate occurs for things like vocation and jobs, relationships, location, faith matters, etc. The summary version would be – at times when there is a significant change possible in someone’s life. Those are times of discernment. Those are times we should want to hear God and to be aware of the Spirit.

Discernment isn’t easy. Sometimes it isn’t even fun. Discernment can be disconcerting. It can also offer a sense of clarity – even just a small sense of clarity. Regardless, discernment draws us in closer to God. And that’s what makes it worthwhile.