A Sample Guide for Discernment

In-Depth Examination

Group Conversation

Group Decision

Strategy and Plans

Like a GPS buried inside us, it is possible to get guidance and direction by stopping being busy, creating a space, and looking at what is coming up within us. It was only in reflection, looking back over the experience, that St. Ignatius was able to sort out what was genuine. Reflection is about helping people to tune into their inner world, harnessing the power of affectivity/feelings, and being creative and courageous actors. Reflection should be planned out ahead of time, bringing into mind what one hopes to accomplish, and how the time and content will be structured to that end. Reflection helps to ask the question of what potential pathways could be taken, what connections could be made, and what course of actions could be considered.

Process Guidelines

Plan the process
  • Context: what is the situation or reality under consideration?  What are the relevant issues?
  • Content: given the context, what format and focus questions will you use for the reflection?
Frame the process
  • Frame’ the reflection so it is coherent and meaningful. Consider using readings, prayers, to help the reflective process.
Focus the process
  • Tie the reflection to a particular question that draws on the wider theme under consideration.
Moving on  
  • While reflection can be a stand-alone Ignatian practice, it is often used as a key component for the Ignatian practices of Spiritual Conversation and Discernment. If done as part of a Spiritual Conversation, consider framing it as part of that process, details of which are found in the Discuss section


  • Start with Silence: Begin the reflection with a period of silence to become aware of God’s presence.
  • Open Peacefully: Open with a reading, poem, prayer, or meditation to introduce the personal reflection time.
  • Reflect Personally: Use a series of theme and context-relevant questions to guide the reflection process.
  • Close Carefully: Close in some way that allows you to meaningfully summarize what has taken place. Close with a prayer.
  • Journal Key Movements: Note down your thoughts, and feelings as this can help you focus, summarize, and recall these later.



Interested in more information about this process?  

Download the full guide containing detailed information on process guidelines, steps, and additional resources.


Do you wish to learn more in-depth about Reflection?   

Enroll in the Four Key Practices in Ignatian Spirituality Course, where through Lesson One – Ignatian Reflection, and the Consciousness Examen – you can gain a deeper understanding of this crucial Ignatian practice.


Spiritual conversation treats spiritual or practical topics, and it mainly concerns the quality of listening and the quality of speaking. Spiritual conversation is about paying attention to the spiritual movements both in oneself and in the other participants. It seeks to create an environment of trust and common discernment to seek how and where God is leading the group. It might be that the group concludes with a couple of common points, but it might be that the group moves into a process of communal discernment, for which spiritual conversation provides the information following reflection and sharing. 

Process Guidelines

For the facilitator
  • Identify a theme that is topical, or important and needs a group discussion.
  • Moving On: If you consider that an issue/question needs a group decision, consider moving on to the next step, which is Communal Discernment
For the participants
  • Listen with openness, without judgment.
  • Welcome what is said with gratitudeEach person is the expert on his or her own experience.
  • Express your reflections clearly, being mindful of your own thoughts and feelings as you speak.
  • Keep what is shared confidential.
  • Use “I” when speaking; do not use “we” or “you”.


Step 1: Welcome and brief introduction to the process (5 min)
  • Welcome the group and explain the process and guidelines for sharing. In the case of larger groups, smaller sharing groups of 4-6 people might be formed.
  • Briefly introduce the issue for discussion.
Step 2: Silent Prayer and Quiet Reflection (10-20 min)
  • At the start of the meeting, allow enough time for personal prayer and reflection on the issue/topic which will inform the sharing.
  • See details of the Reflection process and steps in the previous section.
Step 3: Three rounds of Conversation
  • First Round (2 minutes per participant)
    • Members share with the group what thoughts and spiritual movements they experienced during their personal reflection or prayer (intentional speaking).
  • Second Round (1 – 2 minutes per participant)
    • Members share (reflect) on what they heard when listening to the other participants in the First Round.
  • Third Round (2 minutes per participant)
    • The aim is to recognize the dominant spiritual movements of the group and to share a summary.
Step 4: Large group reflection and reporting back
  • All participants from the small groups return to the large group.
    • The facilitator encourages participants (or secretaries, if chosen) to report on what they have heard and how they feel the Spirit is leading the group to respond to the particular issue being discussed.
  • Short evaluation of how the discussion proceeded (5 minutes).



Interested in more information about this process?  

Download the full guide containing detailed information on process guidelines, steps, and additional resources.


Do you wish to learn more in-depth about Spiritual Conversation?   

Enroll in the Four Key Practices in Ignatian Spirituality Course, where through Lesson Two- Ignatian Spiritual Conversation – you can gain a deeper understanding of this crucial Ignatian practice.


A group will engage in the process of Communal Discernment when a true decision is to be made, that is, when a specific outcome is not predetermined or desired. In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola identifies three different ways (times) of arriving to a decision (or making an election). The First way (time) of arriving at a decision is when we have no doubt that we are doing the right thing, when our inner and out worlds converge around a decision. The Second way (time) to decision involves discernment of spirits, sifting through feelings and paying attention to our affectivity. The Third way (time) of discerning is where reason takes centre stage, considering the pros (advantages) and cons (disadvantages) for a decision. We must make sure that our motives are not influenced by self-centred desires but involves generosity and an outward reach/regard. The key element of communal discernment is the grace of consensus.

Process Guidelines

For the Facilitator

  • State, up-front, that an Ignatian communal discernment process is being used to make the decision, and review the steps.
  • Solicit opinions from all members of the group; share your opinion after others.
  • Foster an atmosphere that recognizes connectedness with transcendence beyond oneself.
  • Moving On: To implement the action(s) in an efficient and deliberate manner and consider moving to the “Act” stage and make this discernment part of a wider apostolic planning process.

For all Participants

  • Presume good intentions on the part of others. Pay close attention to people with viewpoints that differ from your own by ‘seeing through their eyes.’
  • Remember that Ignatian Communal Discernment is a perspective and a dynamic process not a set of rigid instructions; adaptation is to be expected based on situational circumstances.


Step 1: Preparing the group

  • Clarify the question or issue to be addressed. Establish group objectives and expectations.
  • Clarify the relevant authority who makes the final decision, the group, or a single person.

Step 2: Data gathering and reflection

  • Furnish participants with reliable and relevant information about the issue at hand.
  • Carry out some preliminary analysis to include examining the implications of the data, noting the significant or surprising points, observing recurrent themes, or making comparisons and projections. 
  • Provide participants with a summary of the key information and main insights from the analysis.
  • Allow adequate time for each person to reflect on and pray with these inputs (in the way described in the Reflect Stage

Step 3: Discussion and provisional decision

  • Use Spiritual Conversation (in the way described in the previous stage Discuss) for this step.
  • Share the fruits and the spiritual motions experienced during prayer and reflection during the “Data gathering and reflection”.
  • Seek the “pros” and “cons” for each of the options or alternatives considered.
  • As a group seek to reach consensus (perceive what moves the group as a group, beyond personal opinions.

Step 4: Decision and action

  • As a group prepare a decision proposal that testifies to an openness to different options.
  • Bring your decision proposal to the relevant authority (the group or a person) to take the final decision.
  • As a group propose concrete actions for the implementation of the decision.
  • Evaluation takes place after significant actions have already been implemented.

Apostolic planning, which is the next (final) stage Act, is an instrument for putting into action the fruits of discernment.



Still not sure on how to approach the discernment process?

Download the full guide containing detailed information on process guidelines, steps, and additional resources.


Do you wish to learn more in-depth about Discernment?   

Enroll in the Four Key Practices in Ignatian Spirituality Course, where through Lesson Three – Ignatian Discernment– you can gain a deeper understanding of this crucial Ignatian practice.


Apostolic planning is an instrument for putting into action the fruits of discernment, which includes reflection and discussion (spiritual conversation). Apostolic Planning supposes a long-term strategy (for example 10 years), mid-term (5 years) and short-term (2-3 years) periods to evaluate and reorient. A good plan is always flexible. If this tension between discernment and apostolic planning disappears, apostolic planning degenerates from being an instrument of the mission to becoming an end in itself. If this happens, it obliterates the meaning of what we are and called to do. Apostolic Planning is a way to improve the effectiveness of the mission. We can do more and do it better if we make the best use of our resources, especially of the human capacities of those who share the same mission, Jesuits and non-Jesuits. (Adapted from *Reflections of Fr General Arturo Sosa SJ on Apostolic Planning, 2017).

Process Guidelines

At this stage of Act, we assume that a discernment happened, and a decision was made and now it needs to be actioned. If a decision has not been reached, it is recommended that the group returns to the Discern Stage and goes through a process of communal discernment.

Before beginning this wider process, it is important to assess whether this is the right time for the institution/organization to enter the process of apostolic planning.

If this is the right time, consider the following:

  • Decide on process, timeline, and resources
  • Form a planning team to organize the whole process
  • Ensure that those with assigned roles will have available time to focus on the planning process
  • Explain the terms of participation, specific roles, and responsibilities

Be sure the time is right for effective apostolic planning:

  • When there is a crisis (desolation) in the organization/institution, it is important to build stability first.
  • When the leadership team needs to establish credibility, it is important to consider ways of building credibility before entering the process.
  • When most people are new in the organization or unfamiliar with the way of proceeding or unfamiliar with each other, it is key to focus on formation and community-building first.


Here follow eleven candidate Apostolic Planning steps for this “Act” stage. Please adapt the process to your context.

Where are we now?

1. Examen: We look at how God has been active in our world, in our mission, and in our activities.

2. Understanding our Mission: The mission acts as a compass. Without the compass, there may be an imbalance of influence from present routines, past achievements, pressing requests, pet projects or popular trends.

3. Research the Context:

    • Examine the internal strengths and weaknesses: With reference to our mission (the compass), in what ways have we been fruitful? In what ways have we not been fruitful?
    • Examine the external opportunities and threats: What other organizations are doing something relevant to these needs? Where are the gaps and opportunities?
Where do we want to be? 

4.  Analysis: Evaluation of the information collected. Note the significant points about the external and internal contexts. (You will have identified most of this information through Steps 2 and 3 of the Discernment process)

5. Choosing Apostolic Priorities: Apostolic priorities lie at the intersection of an organization’s enduring mission and the current realities of the external and internal contexts. These should be focused and not too general (time horizon: 5-10 years).

6. Specific Objectives: Specific objectives are the concrete things to be achieved to implement the apostolic priority. Without specific objectives and goals, apostolic priorities remain a distant dream.

How will we get there?

7. Plan of Action: Each objective should have a plan that details how it will be achieved. List the main actions after considering the What? Who? When? and How? questions.

8. Resources: We need to put resources in place in order to achieve the plan of action.

9. Monitoring: Build in procedures for monitoring and for modifying strategies based on changes in the external or internal environment.

10. Communication: Communication of the apostolic plan gets people on board and helps implementation.

11. Evaluation takes place after significant actions have already been implemented and when the group can have a clear idea of what is happening. It needs to happen at the right moment.


Interested in more information about this process?

Download the full guide containing detailed information on process guidelines, steps, and additional resources.


Do you wish to learn more in-depth about Apostolic Planning?

The resources on this page and in the Downloadable Guide follow the steps of Apostolic Planning proposed by the resources on the Program for Discerning Leadership page, which is sponsored by the General Curia of the Society of Jesus in Rome.

Go to the Apostolic Planning Page

Please share your experiences, resources and thoughts with our Global Community

Send Your News or StoryShare Your ResourcesJoin The Conversation