How Do We Reshape Discipleship for the Future?

As I have written my article on What Shapes Spirituality for the Future, I have thought a lot about the implications for discipleship.  How do we reshape discipleship and spiritual formation classes in order to really prepare followers of Christ for the world of the future?

I love Jason Fowler’s words to us in a recent email about needing to create alternative communities that re-order life in the immersive presence of GOD through rhythms of life (spiritual disciplines) and common Holy Spirit fueled, JESUS-centric intentional Christian communities.  I think that he is right.  In the future there will be a growing need not for more slick church centred discipleship material but for ways to help young people (and older too) immerse themselves in the presence of God 24/7.

That is one of the reasons that I am so keen on helping followers of Jesus to re-imagine their faith in the context of their daily lives.  It is only when we are able to go into each day with the attitude that every activity undertaken and every experience entered into is an opportunity to learn about God and represent God that we will even have a hope of entering into the immersive presence of God.

A couple of other thoughts here:

  • We need more interactive discipleship materials that provide experience in the context of learning about God and God’s purposes for followers of Christ.
  • If you are getting ready for the season of Lent you may like to check out these materials that MSA produced last year for this very purpose.  Engaging in the experience of “giving up” which is the focus of Lent needs to have very practical aspects to it.
  • Walk to jerusalem is another great resource I have come across that makes the experience of Lent a very active experience
  • Journey to Mosaic is a multicultural ministry experience that is a powerful way to expose disciples of Christ to people from other cultures and perspectives.

These are obviously just some quick thoughts on this.  I would love to hear your perspectives.


Kseniva Simonova – Amazing Sand Drawing

Andy Raine from the Northumbria Community near Holy Island just sent me a link to this amazing video:

It shows Kseniya Simonova a Ukrainian artist who just won Ukraine’s version of “America’s Got Talent.” She uses a giant light box, dramatic music, imagination and “sand painting” skills to interpret Germany’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine during WWII.  The Great Patriotic War as it was called in the Ukraine resulted in 1 in 4 of the population being killed with 8 to 11 million deaths in a population of 42 million.

Can Christians Learn from Atheists

I am sure that some of you will think that I am a little behind the times in this post but as I have had several questions about the place of atheism in our understanding of Christianity I thought that I would add these links – even though they were both written in 2006. they talk about some of the best known atheists of our day.

Here an article by Albert Mohler who is the most popular religious blogger at the moment.   And another by our friend Andrew Jones (better known as Tall Skinny Kiwi)

Both of them are well worth a read and the people they talk about are well worth a read too.  Not because we expect to be converted.  But rather because we need to know why people struggle with understanding or believing in Christianity.

Religious Pluralism – How Will It Shape Christian Faith?

Well I have finally finished my article for the upcoming Seed Sampler on What Will Shape Our Spirituality in the Coming Decade? It has been an interesting and somewhat daunting challenge as I do believe that we are at a major pivotal point in Christian history – what Phyllis Tickle in her important book The Great Emergence, calls the 500 year rummage sale.

In the last couple of days I wrote posts on two important trends that I believe will shape Christian faith in the coming decade:

The third trend I want to talk about here is religious pluralism.  Muslims in Europe, Sikhs in the US, Christians in Africa.  It is not just the geographic centre of Christianity that is changing.  So is the geographical centre of all religions.

In the last four years, the Muslim population in Britain multiplied 10 times faster than the rest of society increasing from 500,000 to 2.4 million.  In the same period the number of Christians in the country fell by more than 2 million. (read the entire article).   There are now an estimated 1.5 million Hindus in the United States, prevalent in Texas, New Jersey, and Ohio.  Worldwide Islam, Bahai, Sikhism, and Hinduism are all growing faster than Christianity. (Read more)

Interfaith dialogue will become increasingly important in the future as we grapple with both the gifts and conflicts of our changing world religious profile.  This, of course is not new for followers of Christ in India, Indonesia, the Middle East and many other parts of the world where Christianity has always been one faith amongst many.

We will see a growing recognition amongst some Christians that God is to be found outside the boundaries of Christian faith as well as inside.  However it could also result in growing conflict and misunderstanding as fundamentalists in all religions retreat behind the barriers of what feels safe and secure.  According to the rabbis of old, one of the ways the creation continues is through spirited conversations in which we are in a disagreement – the highest form of discourse. ( Samir Selmanovic in Its really All About God)

Discipleship and spiritual practices in the future will need to help us rediscover this art teaching us to listen to the voices of those who believe very differently from us.  We need to help all followers of Christ identify where the spirit of God is at work outside as as well as inside faith communities.   We need Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists and others to stretch and remold our understanding of God and of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

If God is confined to our way of believing and understanding then we believe in a very small God.  The God who create the vast expanses of space, is too big for any of us to fully understand.  In fact when I look up at the stars in the heavens I am awed at the immensity of God and my own inability to comprehend.  We all see through a glass darkly and believe we have the corner on truth then I think we miss out on much of who God is and what God wants us to become.

I would love to hear from others who have discovered creative ways of relating to this and other trends that they feel will shape our faith in the future.  Part of what we do at Mustard Seed Associates is help to connect people to creative responses to the challenges of the future.  If you are involved in a creative response, or if you feel that there are other trends that are more impacting on the future we would love to know and be able to share your ideas.

What Will Shape Our Spirituality: Future Church #2

Yesterday’s post on What will shape our spirituality in the coming decade has sparked quite a bit of interest and as I have far more to say than can fit into my article for the upcoming MSA Seed Sampler I will share some more of my thoughts here.

Yesterday I talked about the impact of social media and how have moved from consumption to immersion.  Today I wanted to talk about the impact of the changing geographical centre of Christianity.  In 1900 80% of all Christians lived in Europe and North America, but by 2005 that had dropped to under 40% and by 2050 will probably fall below 30%.

In the next decade, this trend will have profound implications for theology and spiritual practices as voices from Latin America, Africa and Asia contribute their perspectives to a discussion that has been dominated by Western thought for a thousand years.  What many of us in Western cultures are oblivious to is that much of our theology has been shaped by a Eurocentric viewpoint that arises from the place of power and privilege that our cultures have held.  It does not have universal validity and is often shaped more by our positions of privilege than by the gospel message.  In a post colonial, post Eurocentric Christian world those of us from European backgrounds will need to become listeners and learners.  We will not only need to listen to voices from other cultures we will need to allow the theological perspectives of other cultures to shape our theology too, humbly seeking forgiveness for the wrongs of the past  and working for reconciliation and justice.

In Foolishness to the Greeks, Lesslie Newbigin states:

The fact that Jesus is much more than, much greater than our culture-bound vision of him, can only come home to us through the witness of those who see him through other eyes.

To fully understand Jesus and embrace the entire gospel message we will need to reinvent discipleship so that it to compels us to give up our positions of power and invites us into a journey together with sisters and brothers from around the world.  It should embrace our need to learn from believers in different cultures who emphasize distinct aspects of the gospel message based on questions that have arisen within their history and context.   Often their theologies have been shaped by the pain and suffering inflicted by Western colonialism and domination.  Liberation theology for example, grew out of a culture of oppression.  It places high value on not just individual repentance but on creation of a new community with structures that promise justice and wholeness for all.  In Africa and Asia there is strong emphasis on issues of poverty and racism, and Australian aboriginal theology grapples with concerns about displacement from their native lands.

God’s family is drawn from every culture and tribe  and nation.   In this coming decade we will need to recognize that all of us are on a journey together learning to understand and walk together in partnership with our sisters and brothers from around the world.  When we know we are all part of God’s family, we will willingly seek for understanding, reconciliation and new ways of sharing life so that we all become one as God intended.

What Shapes our Spirituality?

This week my main task is to complete the lead article for the MSA Seed Sampler on What Will Shape Our Spirituality in the Coming Decade?  It is a rather daunting task to narrow this down to a couple of trends as there are so many things that will shape both our spiritual practices and our theology in the coming years.  My read is that the most impacting of these will be

  1. The growing pressures on our time created by the 24/7 work week and our increasing involvement in online activities
  2. The coming of the majority church with our need to embrace theological perspectives from other cultures
  3. The growing religious pluralism of our Western societies and the need to engage in dialogue with those outside Christian faith.

Yesterday I was sent a link by Jason Fowler to this fascinating video trailer of an upcoming PBS Frontline series Digital nation.  It looks like a must see for all of us.

The opportunity these challenges present is sobering but exciting.  And as you think about your response I suggest you also reflect on these words from Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals a book I am re-reading presently as I think about the implications of our changing world

… even our most treasured rites are not simply inherited and repeated; rather they are always in the process of being created.  In fact they need to be recreated.  Each succeeding generation with its new stories and fresh challenges must weave together recent tales with those of one’s ancestors.  Furthermore, believers of each age must reckon with ritual newness that is born of the intersection of the ever-changing human narrative as it encounters the divine narrative. (p129)

As we engage the challenges of the coming decade our place is not to criticize or try to deny the changes that are coming.  Our task is to enable individuals and communities to fashion narratives that weave together divine and human stories into a single fabric

What is Prayer? More thoughts on praying for Haiti

This morning I drove Tom to the airport for a trip to Bluffton University.  Even though we are both morning people, a 6 am trip is still a struggle, made more acute by the fact that it disrupted my usual morning prayer time.  As I drove home I started thinking about the article I hope to get fleshed out today on What Will Shape Our Spiritual Practices In the Next Decade? As I thought about this I found myself meditating on the question What is Prayer? It seems a good question to contemplate as I realize what shapes our spirituality also shapes our prayers – both the way that we pray and what we pray for.

There are a myriad of books that have been written over the centuries about prayer and I am certainly no expert on the subject but I realize that it is easy for us to allow our prayer life to be shaped by influences that are not necessarily healthy, sometimes just because we don’t understand what prayer is all about.  Tragically in our busy 24/7 world, prayer is often seen as another form of busyness that we must schedule into our day.  The concept of unceasing prayer that Paul talks about is beyond our comprehension.

The situation in Haiti is one of the major influences shaping our prayers at the moment.  The prayers I have published here on my blog have been used in a number of church services and small group gatherings over the last week.  But many of us still are drowning in the images of the overwhelming devastation and suffering.  Relief workers too are finding it difficult to cope with the onslaught.  Deprived of sleep, subsisting on an inadequate diet, confronted by unimaginable horrors, some are already requiring trauma counselling and professional help.  Ironically some of the Haitians seem to be coping better because they have a deep connection to the God they know has not abandoned them.

Probably one of the most helpful books on prayer I have ever read is Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home The subtitle Finding the Heart’s True Home seems to say it all.  Prayer is not primarily about asking God to meet our own needs and the needs of the world.  Nor is it primarily about about confessing our sins and seeking God’s forgiveness.  And it is certainly not about to do lists and scheduled times of intercession, though all of these may be a part of our prayer life.

In Prayer: Finding the Heart’s true Home, Foster talks about three categories of prayer – Inward prayers that move us towards personal transformation, upward prayers that lead us towards deeper intimacy with God, and outward prayers that equip us for ministry into the world.  I think that as we prayer for Haiti we need to ensure that our response is at all these levels.  If we only focus on outward prayers of intercession we will quickly drain our energy or start trying to manipulate God into what we think would be the appropriate responses.  We may even become despondent because we see so little response.

Prayer is the language of love.  It is the intimate connection between us and the loving heart of God.  It is the place where we learn to listen and respond to the quiet whispers of God’s loving, caring voice.  Our prayers for Haiti should begin in this quiet space of upward intimate communion with God, where we touch and feel God’s heart for Haiti and its people.

In the process hopefully our hearts too will be changed as we move from upward to inward prayer, searching our own hearts to seek forgiveness for those things that have made us slow to respond in the past.  Perhaps there is unconfessed sin of greed or covetousness that makes us hold onto resources that God intends us to share.  Or there may be selfcentredness that makes us blind to needs beyond our own comfort.

So often in crisis situations we move immediately to outward prayers and responses.  We jump into action based on the extent of  need we are aware of, which often results in a quick but unsustained outpouring of assistance .  It is only when our responses come out of our connection to the heart of God who is busy making all things new, that we can be sustained in our outpouring of love, compassion and resources.

In the place of prayer we don’t just pray for the needs of Haiti, we connect to the heart of a God who aches for the pain and suffering of that land.  And we connect to the one who calls us to be hands and feet of compassion.

What If We Were in Charge of Jesus’ Publicity?

This hilarious video gives a wonderful idea of how Jesus parable of walking on the water might be reinterpreted (with commercials of course) by modern day marketers.

I felt that underneath the humour there was a sobering and unfortunately probably truthful message about consumerism and the gospel.

A Small Indulgence

One of the joys for me of the last couple of weeks is that I now have an assistant.  Cindy Todd, who last year finished an MBA at Eastern University is now working with me two days a week.  It is a huge relief not just to have someone to help with the daily details but also to help us brainstorm about the future in new ways so that we can develop new ways to help followers of Christ live into the kingdom of God.

Cindy is currently working as a volunteer, in spite of the fact that both she and her husband are unemployed and busily looking for work.  (Her husband Dennis is a construction worker.)  However Cindy would love to work towards making this a full time job.  So if you would love it if you would prayerfully consider joining Cindy’s support team.  You could do this by donating to MSA and designating it for Cindy.

Cindy is in the process of launching a new business – The Snohomish Soap Company to help the family income.  I just started using one of her soaps this morning – and would heartily recommend them if you want something wonderfully fragrant and indulgent (or even if you just want to support the MSA ministry in this way).

Building A Dream for the Future

Tonight we are hosting a brainstorming session.  We are building a futures’ watch group and dreaming about how we can equip followers of Jesus to imagine new ways to be a difference and make a difference in God’s world.  We don’t just want to help people come up with ideas about how to live into the future of God, we want to enable them to launch their new models.

Two scriptures came to mind as I was praying for our meeting – both of them very encouraging as we imagine the future that God is moving us towards:

Proverbs 24: 14 Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.

Jeremiah 29: 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

On a lighter note – Not surprisingly this video also came to mind as we were planning this afternoon.  I realize that many of you have already seen it but I think it is one of those videos that is always worth another look it is so inspiring even if it is just an add.