During our VP3 Webinar: Barriers to Spiritual Growth on Wednesday, I was struck by the panelists’ and audience’s interest in discussing busyness as a chief barrier to maturity in our faith communities. I found myself later in the afternoon returning to the question, what does a busy pace do that so frustrates our maturity?
It seems the relationship of busyness to Christian maturity boils down to the issues of attention and distraction. On the whole, we certainly are busy, busy people. We have meetings to attend, dinners to prepare, children to pick up, papers to finish, vacations to plan, projects to complete, things to maintain and repair, sermons to preach, houses to clean, lunch appointments to keep, on and on. Life presses in on us and, perhaps instinctively, we do all we can to press back. Many good things and important things stack up, and we busy ourselves with such things. In time, these many things shape our schedules and even our consciousnesses into a form that is ill suited to an attentive life.
When it comes to our capacities for a pace that is life giving, people reflect a wide range of differences. Some people move more deliberately and slowly, others simply move faster due to a variety of factors including stage of life or capability or temperament. So there is not a one-size-fits-all prescribed or preferred pace.
What we must pay close attention to, though, is the interrelationship between our pace and our attentiveness. The great danger in all of this is that the pace of our lives squeezes out critical human concerns (e.g. community well being, job effectiveness, parenting children, a flourishing inner life, a God consciousness, kingdom-responsibility). Whether we are Christians or not, we are all vulnerable to living a way of life that fails to pay attention to the most important things in life. A rushed or hurried or frenetic pace most often blurs our attention and causes us to overlook all sorts of things and people.
“People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun for us.”
“A waiting person is a patient person. The word ‘patience’ means the willingness to stay where we are and live it out to the fullest in the belief that something is hidden there and will manifest itself to you.”
Henri J. M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Waiting
After cutting up an apple for my kids one afternoon, my son Davy, then 3 years old, asked if he could have the seeds. I put the seeds in his small hand and walked him to the back door. I watched him as he picked up a toy watering can and took maybe two small steps off the patio into the yard. He bent over moved some dirt, laid the seeds down, covered them and watered the spot. He then stood there watching and waiting. After what I know was less than a minute, I saw his small shoulders drop down with disappointment. He turned and walked away, coming back to the door. As I was opening the door for him, he looked up and said to me, “Mom, those seeds were broken.”
Our son started teaching me lessons on waiting from the Lord before he was even born. We learned in my 30th week of pregnancy that something wasn’t right with Davy’s stomach and that raised a few red flags and several tests. We waited 6 long weeks to find out if he was going to be ok. The last 2 weeks of that waiting were the worst because they became haunted by the phrase “we are not sure yet if he will even survive.”
Through the prayer and support of family and friends we felt surprisingly more and more at peace during those six weeks. We found ourselves holding onto a seed of hope, a promise from God that it was simply going to be ok. Not a promise that our baby boy was going to be ok, but that whatever the outcome, God was promising us it was going to be ok.
Like many of you, I’ve worked through The Journey a few times with groups of wonderful people. I’m in my fifth go round, still learning, still working through my personal journey, this time with a new group of friends.
Today I read something I’ve read before (at least four times, anyway), and it spoke to me again. These are Frederick Buechner’s words in the session titled, “Participating in God’s General Call.”
“The church is always more than a school…
but the church cannot be less than a school.”
Historian Jaroslav Pelikan included these critical words on the first page of his five-volume history of Christian doctrine. Around VantagePoint3 circles, we would tweak Pelikan’s language a little bit by saying—the church is always more than a learning community, but the church must never be less than a learning community. We are formed to worship, to fellowship, to be sent out into the world in Jesus’ name—all essential tasks of the church. But we must recognize that the church is also essentially a place of ongoing education. From the crib to the grave, a church community must be a place where we learn to make sense of our lives and of the world, where we explore with a fresh imagination what our lives could really become, where we learn together to follow Jesus and his way of life in the world. The church is always more than a learning community, but never less.
Sadly it seems that many adults are simply surviving, hoping to get by with what they already know; learning is for children and teenagers, or so they think. There is often very little expectation of further movement and development in their adult lives. We desperately need communities whose life together challenges such notions; we need churches where the cultivation of a lifelong learning posture is Discipleship 101.
A learning posture of the heart and the mind does not discriminate between Sunday morning sermons and Tuesday night dishwashing, between classroom lectures and dinner table conversation, between sunsets and supermarkets. It is a cultivated paying attention, which operates within the everydayness and everywhereness of life. And when practiced over the long haul it is what the ancients called the way of wisdom. Or as Christian educator Steve Garber states, “we understand that the deepest lessons are not learned in text books, but instead are discovered as learning meets life.”
I have a hunch that as a reader of this blog you lead adults and care about their ongoing development. With my “Practical Pam” hat firmly on, let me encourage you with my top three non-negotiable adult learning tips. You will notice similarities between them.
I challenge you to identify an upcoming adult meeting, small group, or important gathering, thinking about how to integrate these strategies as you lead.
1. Ask and Include.
Resist the urge to be the answer-man/woman. There is so much more to be gained by asking and including participants’ input before you begin, when you gather, and all along the way. “Why did you choose to come? What expectations do you have? What will make this a good use of your time? What do you hope for?”
In the process of including others through our questions we gain so much more than answers. We demonstrate our ability to listen, earn respect, observe, build enthusiasm, show that we are in this together, and create a warm, safe, trusting environment.
2. The power of dialogue.
A couple of statements we repeat around VP3 are, “conversation creates culture” and “the answers are in the room.” Both mandate a way of being together that put a priority on contribution from everyone, through a process of questions, reflection and generous conversational space.
Things were very different just 500 years ago. The Bible was available in Latin – ordinary people like you and me did not have access to the Scriptures.
That didn’t seem right to William Tyndale. We all recognize his name – the man who defied the King of England to translate the Scriptures into English. His efforts changed England and changed the world.
But do you recognize the name Humphrey Monmouth? I didn’t until I recently read the book, “Gospel Patrons,” by John Rinehart.
Monmouth supported William Tyndale – his life and his work – and his zeal to get the Bible into the hands of people like you and me. The activities of Monmouth and Tyndale were illegal and eventually both were imprisoned. Tyndale was hanged and burned at the stake. God used their passion and sacrifice to change the course of history and the Church. Today, we can thank these two faithful visionary men every time we open our Bibles.
Think about the life change God brought about through your time in The Journey. What if that “change” was replicated in even more lives and churches across North America? What if more church attenders became even more dedicated followers of Jesus, considering first His way instead of our own? What could be the strength of God’s Church in Canada and the US if that happened?
Intentionally walking with others, helping them grow deeper in their faith, becomes transformative when we make space to notice others particularly. For it is in the conditions of lives shared, honored, noticed, and enjoyed—that is, friendship—that something of the Spirit’s nurturing grace is imparted to us and through us to others. This noticing involves expecting God to work in the lives of those around us. In A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson points out that we must cultivate a sense of expectancy when it comes to helping our community mature and grow. Peterson writes,
An important question we all need to be asking ourselves is, “How deeply rooted am I with God?”
How blessed is the man
Who does not walk in the counsel
of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates
day and night.
He will be like a tree
Firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
From my perspective, there can (basically) be three possibilities. Since this is about being “deeply rooted,” lets look at trees as the example…
I have a friend who recently completed The Journey. She grew up in church and has a strong legacy of faith. Yet in the midst of The Journey, something happened – she began to see things from a new vantage point . . .
Just this week I grabbed a swanky paintbrush along with trendy milk paint and moved mountains on my outdoor patio. This life-changing milk paint requires no furniture prepping, no matter what foundational shape it is in. With each stroke and glide of the brush, the foamy and runny paint covered nicely and adequately over the dark, unfinished wood coating my Adirondack chairs. I was enthralled at how nicely the paint set, leaving no streaks or drips behind.
As a hurried, restless, somewhat overscheduled woman who would typically prefer to purchase a prefinished furniture piece, I was surrendering my past ways of laziness and stepping into a delightful journey of DIY initiatives. The tedious hours spent painting and creating stirred something in my soul to come up for some air and bask in the glory of completing a project.
Short thought this time…
A few weeks ago I was leading two Facilitator Retreats; one in Olympia, Washington and two days later in Warwick, New York. I found myself emphasizing to both groups of pastors and lay-leaders the importance of caring for themselves,
“Taking care of yourself is not selfish. In fact, as a person who is leading others, it is one of the least selfish things you can do because you cannot care for others well if you have not taken proper care of yourself. Not for very long, at least.”
It didn’t hit me the first time I said it. It took me hearing myself say it to others a second time before I stopped myself and I took notice. Then, when I got home from that week of two Facilitator Retreats, my pastor preached on Psalm 90:12. Two days later, during our VP3 Team Meeting, Pam’s focusing thought revolved around Psalm 90:12…
I think God is reminding me to pay attention to something. I guess I better take my own advice and clear some space so I can better perceive what He is saying!
Perhaps you do too…