It’s the beginning of a new year, and, like many of you, I am wondering how to grow both my own faith and that of those I disciple over the coming months.
Sometimes I think we get it all wrong. We want to tell people how to live without really asking them about their lives. We unwittingly add to their pressures rather than help reduce them, and in the process we make the journey towards God more complicated than it needs to be.
To start the year off, I want to share a few lessons I’ve learned over the last ten years that have helped me grow closer to God in discipling.
It has been about ten years since I started asking people the question, “What makes you feel close to God?” The surprising responses have helped me realize that our traditional ways of doing discipleship just don’t work for many.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that we all encounter God much more powerfully when we walk through the forest or talk to a friend than we do when reading the Bible. Parents see God reflected in the faces of their children, and aid workers see God in the pain and the suffering of the destitute and the homeless. Others encounter God in the midst of ‘lostness,’ when they feel far away from friends, family and God—the dark night of the soul that the medieval mystic St. John of the Cross talks about.
Helping our congregations identify the everyday actions and encounters that draw them into the presence of God and nourish their faith should be a priority for us. Forest Church is one new movement that has taken this seriously. They have developed some powerful tools for helping participants strengthen their faith through interacting with nature. What forums could you create in your church where participants have the freedom to ask faith-changing questions?
One size does not fit all. I found many of the Bible study plans offered to me as a young Christian boring, but I persevered because I thought they were the only possible ways to explore the Bible. Now I know there are many possibilities—some intellectual, some contemplative, some experiential. All of them have equal validity.
It’s the same with spiritual disciplines. There are many ways to pray, worship and practice our faith. Some of these (prayer stations, for example) provide inspirational and experiential approaches that we can bring to our worship services. Others, such as the exercises encouraged by Sybil MacBeth in Praying in Color, or writing poetry, knitting, whittling, or the meditative archery taught by Angie Fadel, show an emerging world of creative, experiential practices we should encourage our congregations to explore and experiment with.
Such avenues provide rich opportunities for all of us to express our faith in ways that appeal to our personalities, nurture our spirits and strengthen our faith perspectives. What inspirational new forms of spiritual disciplines might you explore with your congregation?
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I love to journal and have been delighted in the last few years to discover new and creative ways to practice this spiritual discipline. Journaling is no longer just about writing.
There are art journals of various kinds including scrapbook journals, nature journals, collage journals and even Bible journals. You can prayer journal the labyrinth, doodle, write music, create maps, take photos, paint on rocks or plant gardens that map your journey.
There’s an infinite variety of journaling forms that we can encourage people to experiment with. How might you explore them with your congregation?
Have Some Fun
According to The Atlantic, “unscheduled, unsupervised, [sic] playtime is one of the most valuable educational opportunities we give our children. It is fertile ground; the place where children strengthen social bonds, build emotional maturity, develop cognitive skills, and shore up their physical health.” I suspect it has the same benefits for adults, though fewer studies that support my assumption have been conducted.
A few years ago, Volkswagen started a program called “the fun theory.” In it the automakers “explore new ways to get people to do things that are good for them or for the environment. For example, it is noted that more people opt to take escalators than stairs even though stairs are much more healthy. So in Sweden, a team was hired to transform a staircase (next to an escalator) into a piano so that when people took a step, a note was triggered that would make a sound. The result was astounding. By making it fun, a ton more people took the stairs versus the escalator” (courtesy of veryfunnyvideos.org).
It’s not just church picnics that provide opportunities for fun together. Painting murals at church, having community cookouts, or hosting neighbourhood game nights can create fun environments in which to explore faith. What fun projects might you encourage in your church in order to nourish people’s faith?
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Share Your Disciple Making Creativity
Our God is a God of infinite creativity. Prayerfully consider the tools shared above and other creative ideas you have for strengthening the spiritual life of your congregation. Don’t forget to share your ideas.
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