In my senior year of college, I had a memorable God moment. Some friends and I were up late one night planning our post-graduation trip. During the meeting my mentor, Greg, came in. He listened to our conversation and inserted helpful questions to guide us in a difficult decision about whether to challenge someone to grow, or allow that person to make a safe choice. We ended the meeting after midnight, satisfied with our hard work.
Then after the meeting, Greg invited me to stay and talk. "That conversation wasn't really about the person you were discussing. It was about YOU. Let's talk about your staff assignment with InterVarsity after graduation," he said.
Greg shared his convictions for making decisions for growth rather than safety. He asked me how I was discerning my next steps. During our conversation, I began to see that for the sake of my growth, God was calling me to serve on a new and very different campus rather than staying at my alma mater as InterVarsity staff. Though that evening was twenty-five years ago, I can almost taste the tears of fear and joy streaming down my face as I recognized a clear invitation from God. I'm glad that Greg stayed even later to collect that God moment.
What Greg did for me during that late-night conversation is to debrief and interpret, just like we do in the discipleship cycle. Debriefing and interpreting are perhaps the most artful elements of the discipleship cycle.
A good debrief is like panning for gold. I learned gold-panning as a kid in Colorado. You capture sand and water in a pan the size of a large pie tin, then swirl so that the dense material sinks to the bottom and the lighter stuff spills over the sides. If you become skilled and if you are lucky enough to have gold in the pan, you find only little bits of gold at the end. It requires skill and technique, and a little bit of art to swirl and observe correctly.
In a good debrief, we help someone observe their own experience and learning, swirling the senses and details around as we look for signs of what God is doing on a deeper level. Then we can let the other stuff spill over the side and focus on the deepest parts. That's what Greg did with me that night twenty-five years ago. He allowed the sand and water to go over the edge of the pan, and focused on the gold nugget of what God was saying to me.
How do we learn to pan for God moments in debrief?
First, we just need to practice swirling the pan. This level of debrief involves basic inductive questions. These questions teach us to draw out someone's experience. With practice, the questions come naturally and we become naturally curious about someone's experiences, learning and growth.
But, as with panning for gold, the art is in the second level as we learn to discern the God moment, synthesize it for someone, and invite them into transformation.
I have found the following three steps to be a helpful guide:
- Discern the God moment. Where are the places of dissonance, exuberance, fear, and tears? Prayerfully ask questions to bring more clarity.
- Synthesize the God moment. Bring together what you are learning from discernment questions, context, and prayer. Highlight what you see God doing.
- Invite them into transformation. This could be exhortation, affirmation, prayer or further action.
As with any art, practice makes perfect. Let's become great at the art of the God moment!