IVP - Online Pulpit - July 2011 Archives

July 19, 2011

On Being Practitioner Guides

by Mark Scandrette

practicingOP.jpgI wrote Practicing the Way of Jesus to address the gap so many of us feel between how we want to live and how we actually live as followers of Christ. As leaders and teachers we long to see people experience the freedom and vibrancy of life in the kingdom of God, and we wrestle with how to best help them become well-formed disciples.

I think one of our temptations is to think that we can lead people to become well-formed disciples by merely teaching about the vision of the kingdom or preaching the need for embodied spiritual disciplines. But you and I cannot lead people to a place we’ve never been ourselves. In the documents of the early church, a leader was someone who “spoke the word of God” and modeled a “way of life” (Hebrews 13:7). In a community of practice, the credibility of a leader is dependent on their lived experience in practicing the commands of Jesus. I’m convinced that to really guide people in the Way of Jesus, we must become the message we proclaim.

It was deeply revealing for me to recognize that my knowledge of the Bible, my experience as a pastor and even my seminary education did so little to prepare me to lead others to do the things that Jesus did and taught. In the reality of the kingdom our credibility doesn’t come from how well we perform publicly but from our lived experiences practicing and teaching the Way. Good leaders are committed learners. We can commit ourselves to being humble students who dare to follow the instructions of the Rabbi in the details of our own lives—by taking on practices that help us become people who live without worry, fear, lust or greed and walk in the forgiveness, power and love that our master promises.

To become leaders of practice we may need to renegotiate our contract of leadership— from service provider to practitioner guide. We can begin to see ourselves not just as hosts, caregivers or communicators, but also as initiators and coaches who invite people into shared acts of obedience. This implies a shift in expectation from “giving people what they want” to inviting them to trust us as master apprentices who will challenge, train and guide in a manner similar to someone teaching you how to cook or drive or plan a sport—less like a college lecture-hall professor and more like a karate dojo sensei.

Not everyone is ready to participate in shared experiments and practices, and people should be free to self-select into this dynamic. My friend Alex leads a medium-sized suburban church. When he first recognized the power of practice for spiritual formation, his first impulse was to try to get the entire congregation to buy in. He taught about the reality of God’s kingdom on Sunday mornings and challenged the whole congregation to do specific experiments he came up with. Most people either ignored his attempts or were frustrated by trying to act alone. Eventually Alex changed his approach.

First, he invited a few trusted friends into a shared experiment. Then he invited the congregation to sign up for a short-term small group called Praxis, which would explore shared practices. As people from the Praxis group began sharing stories of life change, the idea spread throughout the whole congregation. A good place to begin is to simply ask, “What is one thing we can each commit to do, as an experiment, between now and the next time we meet to practice the way of Jesus?”

scandretteOP.jpgMark A. Scandrette is the founding director of ReImagine, a spiritual formation center based in San Francisco. He has extensive experience providing leadership in churches and community-based organizations and has been a minister, writer and spiritual teacher for twenty years.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 11:16 AM

July 8, 2011

Practical Theology Diversified

The communities in which our churches reside are becoming more diverse every day. Not just new families or young people, but more ethnicities, different languages and unique cultures. Mark Branson and Juan Martinez, authors of Churches, Cultures and Leadership, believe the Holy Spirit has called the church to embrace this new diversity, not just with community projects or special services, but as a practical theology of shared life:

“Moses left Egypt with a ‘mixed crowd,’ and the earliest followers of Jesus learned that the Holy Spirit was leading them to cross cultural borders. The scriptural narratives are loaded with references to the strangeness of strangers and the discomforts of participating in God’s love for the world. This book is about that strangeness, those discomforts. It is about God’s call on the church to love our neighbors, and we acknowledge that such love is a matter of grace and of work.

“Our focus is on churches in the United States and how we can be faithful to God’s call on our churches in this context. We live in a culturally diverse nation—and many of our cities and neighborhoods exhibit that cultural pluralism. Ethnic diversity is evident in the media, at shopping malls and in many schools. Such diversity is less evident in our churches, but it is growing. We wish to promote more attentiveness, wisdom and faithfulness concerning intercultural life in and among churches, and between churches and their neighbors.

“We have all been shaped in a historical context of prejudice and racism. We carry the influences of our environment in our minds and hearts; too often our actions, choices and words perpetuate ethnic biases. There are many prejudices, rooted in racism, built into our institutions. We believe that God’s love for the world is definitive in Jesus’ inauguration of God’s reign, and therefore we believe that the church’s identity and agency should be characterized by reconciliation. Such reconciliation, if it is defined and empowered by the gospel, must be personal, interpersonal, cultural and structural. When persons of different cultures share life, once we get beyond music and food, the complexities increase.

“We claim that ‘paying attention’ is important and difficult. Just as a competent painter, carpenter or teacher learns, over many years, how to attend&mdsh;how to train their senses and responses to their environment and their work—church leaders need to pay attention to cultural characteristics and the work of shaping intercultural life. And that is the purpose of our writing: to help men and women in our churches to see differently and to gain the skills and competencies needed for multicultural contexts. We want to encourage church leaders to create environments that make God’s reconciling initiatives apparent in church life and in our missional engagement with neighborhoods and cities.”

CCLOP.jpgExcerpt taken from Churches, Cultures and Leadership, an interdisciplinary approach that integrates biblical and theological study with the disciplines of sociology, cultural anthropology and communications, by Mark Lau Branson and Juan F. Martinez.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 11:00 AM