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Archive for the ‘Faith Formation (Discipleship)’ Category

I recently had the opportunity to engage 33 pastors from five denominations in two events that featured intentional conversations about what I call the “dirty words” of the church: stewardship and evangelism. Martha Grace Reese, writing in Unbinding the Gospel, notes that a good many people have taken to calling evangelism the “e-word.” I heard recently that someone else had called stewardship the “f-word,” that is, finances. There is reluctance in the church to engage these topics. These conversations also revealed that there is hope, if we can address them not only from a “gathered church” perspective, but from the viewpoint of the “scattered church” as well.

To facilitate and report back on the conversations I used two similar worksheets, “Redefining Stewardship” and “Redefining Evangelism.” There were two columns on each worksheet; on the left participants were asked to define topic at hand “in institutional terms”; on the right they were asked to define each topic in “life in the world” terms. Based on one participant’s comment about the unfortunate pejorative connotation of “institutional”, and in keeping with the overall direction of my recent work, I’ve changed the left column to “in the church.” If you make it to the end of this report, you’ll find that I’ve changed it even further based on what I learned.

With each worksheet I asked participants to work alone on the left column for a few minutes to establish a baseline understanding of the topic. I told them that I expected they would write down legitimate, theologically valid definitions of stewardship/evangelism in the left column definition. I then told them they had permission to add jaded, stereotypical definitions as well. (more…)

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I preached an experimental sermon this past Sunday. And I got some amazing results. In fact, they were results that I never thought to anticipate.

Inspired by a book I had read (The Art of Curating Worship), a friend of mine who is a gifted leader of creative worship, and by a conversation with the staff member at our church who is responsible for crafting a new kind of worship service, I set out to experiment with a participatory sermon. I had my fair share of time to talk, but I involved the congregation in several ways.

The text was Mark 6:30–34, 53–56, the story of the disciples and Jesus responding to the needs of the crowds swarming around them. Inspired by another friend’s exploration of the Greek, I called attention to the different pronouns that Mark uses in the two halves of the reading. In fact, this was the first bit of participation (more…)

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What does it mean to follow Jesus in 2010?

On the church calendar, today is the lesser festival of Andrew, Apostle. According to John’s gospel, Andrew was one of the first disciples. John’s account (1:35-37, 40-42) is less than overwhelming:

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. … One of the two who heard John speak and followed [Jesus] was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

Is it just me, or does this passage concentrate more on Simon/Peter than it does on Andrew? Happy St. Andrew Day, everybody. <wink>

So what does it mean to follow Jesus in 2010?

Andrew, the other (unnamed) disciple, and Peter all dropped what they were doing and followed. What clues does this story offer for us about what it means to follow Jesus? (more…)

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At a recent continuing education event I stayed in a Catholic monastery and retreat house. The staff at the retreat house left a copy of Catholic Digest in each room. As I came and went, the title of the lead article kept catching my eye: Keeping Kids Catholic—Advice and Inspiration from Those Who Know (by Jon Philipps, June 2010).

At this point I need to confess my jaded expectation: that the article would be something along the lines of ten tips on how to apply the ruler and keep them loving you. For the first day or so, that prejudice kept me from reading the article. (more…)

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When our churches are schools of [spiritual] practice, they make—and change—history. Otherwise, they simply write history and argue about it, and of course, in so doing they tend to repeat it. (145)

It is probably an understatement to say that Brian McLaren is one of the most influential thinkers in the emergent/emerging church. With many books in circulation, he is certainly one of the more prolific. Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices is the introductory offering in “The Ancient Practice Series” by Thomas Nelson Publishers. As such, it doesn’t deal in depth with any one practice, but it paves the way for rest of the series by presenting the big-picture rationale for spiritual disciplines. In the words of one reviewer on Amazon.com, “If you want people to build a boat, don’t give them the plans, give them a love of the sea.” Finding Our Way Again succeeds in providing a foretaste of what it might be like to live in a faith community that is immersed in the spiritual practices.

In setting up the title’s use of the word ‘way,’ McLaren addresses the question about why bookstores sell more books on Buddhism than Christianity. (more…)

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Our society’s focus on youth has, in many cases, caused our faith communities to emphasize the religious formation of children and youth and to put the bulk of resources there, to the detriment of ministry to adults.1

So how is adult faith formation going in your congregation? Seriously, that’s not a rhetorical question; I’d really like to know what is happening (or not) in your setting. Has it taken a back seat to faith formation for children and youth?

When I began work at the Center, one of my first tasks was to conduct a needs assessment of the congregations in our area. Granted, what I did was qualitative—not quantitative—‘research’ (and I use that word lightly), but one of the things reported by leaders of the 106 churches I visited was that 3-5% of the worshiping population is active in Bible study and other adult education. Some of the more telling comments I heard included: (more…)

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Part four in a four-part series

“Most of us have let go of our childhood images of God, but we have not replaced them.”

With that opening, chapter four of A Praying Congregation undertakes the exploration of our foundational beliefs about God, since such beliefs greatly affect our understanding and expectations of prayer.

We will find it difficult to explore new ways to pray that deepen our relationship with God if we do not hold some image of God that calls us to intimacy. It is important to think through our understanding of God, drawing on Scripture, tradition, and modern theologians. However, thinking, reading and studying alone will not help us discover an image of God that is our own, if we do not trust the experience of God we discover through our prayer.

Reading this chapter, I was reminded of something Douglas John Hall says in The Cross in Our Context: “Is our foundational assumption [about God] that of power or of love? In homely terms, when we think ‘God,’ do we think the last word in sheer might, authority, supremacy, potency? Or do we think compassion, mercy, identification, grace, benevolence—agape?” (more…)

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