Recently I have been listening to some folks who are getting close to finishing up The Journey and are considering moving along our pathway into the next process A Way of Life. And as I listen to them sort this decision out, I keep on thinking about psychologist Henry Cloud’s words in his book Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality. I thought I would share the extended quote. Cloud writes,
For someone to grow, there has to be a connection to outside sources of energy. Who is pushing you to grow? Who is supporting you to grow? Who is pushing you past the level at which you already are? Where is the encouragement coming from?
The number one reason for lack of growth in people’s lives, I have observed, is the absence of joining forces outside themselves who push them to grow. Instead, they keep telling themselves that they will somehow, by willpower or commitment, make themselves grow. That never works.
But if they enlist a coach, join a group, get a counselor, a community of growth, or some outside push, then the growth begins to happen. It is the coach pushing us to greater heights, the sales manager motivating you to something you can’t do, the Weight Watchers group motivating you to try a new course. On the other hand, if it is all self-motivation, then decay, decline, and dying take over, especially when we hit the stuck places where more is required that we don’t have. But, if there is fuel from the outside, we are pushed further that we are able.
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.”
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…
This is an excerpt from session one of A Way of Life. It bears repeating for me, and maybe for you, too.
There is a story of a five-year-old boy and his mother, who every night put him to bed. She came into his room to talk to him, and to tuck him in, and to pray with him. Some nights they sang together – “Jesus loves me, this I know . . .” or “The B-I-B-L-E! Yes, that’s the book for me” or “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine . . .” or any other of those many early songs he never remembered actually learning, but always somehow seemed to know.
One night while they sang, Mother began to harmonize with the melody of the song. As the boy stuck to the familiar tune, he could hear and feel the movement of her notes weave beautifully with his. Her voice added depth and breadth and beauty to this simple song. The song felt larger, more beautiful.
“What are you doing?” he asked her.
“I am singing the harmony,” she replied.
Harmony. He had never heard that word before. They continued singing. Mother harmonizing, now deepening, now widening, now filling in, her voice dancing lovingly around his. It was beautiful.
Then she said, “Now you try! You be the harmony.”
So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you
not only the gospel of God but also our own selves,
because you have become very dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:8
Regent College’s James Houston once commented that within the evangelical Christian world we have spiritual maps and mapmakers, ad nausea, when what we really need is a few mountain guides who have been there before us on the journey. Walking with Others is for those who have ears to hear what Houston is noticing in the church. Developmental theories and maps serve a vital purpose, but what we desperately need more of today are wise men and women who have the humility, courage, and patience to walk faithfully alongside others, helping them explore the real places in their lives that the map may describe.
So much of what passes for discipleship and leadership development today lacks interpersonal investment, life upon life. Simply telling others to grow up into Christ will not cut it, no matter how articulately or creatively or loudly we state it. The journey toward growth and maturity must be shared and explored from the inside out.
There are a lot of Toms in my family. My father’s name is Tom, my pop-pop was a Tom, and even my middle name is Thomas. I also have a Tom for a second cousin. But there was only one Uncle Tom in my world growing up. He was my dad’s uncle, one of my grandma’s four brothers.
Uncle Tom was quite a humorous character. In our family, the stories abound. He was the sort of person who when told not to touch the chocolate fudge cooling in the kitchen was known not just to brush aside such cautions by taking a finger full but he was known to take the whole tray with him to work. As a butcher he was known to cause a couple of unsuspecting women to all but pass out by his sharp chop of the cleaver followed by yelling and writhing as if he just chopped off a finger or two.
“Promotion & Recruitment” is my title at VantagePoint3. To be completely honest, when I first started in this role, I very strongly disliked (bordering on hated) my title. I was fine with the “Promotion” part. It was the “Recruitment” part of my title that I did not like. One part of my role is connecting with new pastors and churches and inviting them to partner with us. Technically, that is the definition of “Recruitment.” However, who wants to talk to a “recruiter”? I felt as though that title had a negative stigma attached to it. A “recruiter” is someone who wants something from you…you meet with a recruiter to “sign your life away.” I often wondered how big of a hindrance that title would be…how big of a barrier it would be to beginning a conversation.
In the last couple of months I’ve developed a new passion for both the “Promotion” & the “Recruitment” parts of my title. I have a desire to reverse the negative stigma associated with the word “recruiter.”
“The Journey has changed the way I think about my role as pastor.
I have a greater boldness about my mission and calling.”
In a recent coaching call with our Sioux Falls The Journey Facilitator Retreat crew, we heard great testimonies of the impact already being felt and seen within Journey groups across South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota. At a point in the conversation when the facilitators were talking about how the process was impacting them, the above quote is how one of the pastors replied.
I took the opportunity to talk with that pastor and I asked him if he would be willing to answer a few questions and share about his experience implementing The Journey in his church for the first time…
(…not really sure how I “drew” Holy Week for the blog post…)
On Palm Sunday, my pastor voiced something that I have also always felt. He talked about how he always feels a little weird celebrating Holy Week…we, essentially, celebrate the brutal torture of our Savior. I know, we actually celebrate the resurrection of our Savior and all that means. However, leading up to the resurrection is the brutal torture and death of Jesus. I have also felt a little weird celebrating Holy Week. Easter Sunday (Victory Sunday), yes…the rest of the week, however, is such a bizarre turn of events from Palm Sunday to Good Friday.
For each of the last few years during Holy Week, I read something I wrote on Good Friday the Easter after God turned my eyes toward this new path I am on…
Good Friday – 2011
Thank You for today, Father.
Thank You for what you did for us today.
Thank You for the [Maundy-Thursday] service last night…
Thank You for working in my heart last night.
I have always had a hard time accepting your love and forgiveness…
thinking that I didn’t deserve it.
I still know that I don’t deserve it,
but I understood last night,
how much you really do love me.
I’ve talked it before.
I even preached it at Camp J last summer.
But, now I am learning to accept it for myself.
Every year for Easter, we are running…
and the whole week is a little crazy.
Every year I lose sight of You.
Saturday comes and I had forgotten
about the sacrifice You made the day before.
I never want to take that for granted.
Recently I have been asked something like this a number of times by people completing THE JOURNEY: “Rob, what is A WAY OF LIFE and why should I be a part of it?” I begin by saying this process is for the person who feels something like this:
So I have said “yes” to Jesus, “I’m in,” “I have been grabbed by him,” but how will I remain faithful to him? What spiritual practices and disciplines and relationships will help me sustain a way of life faithful to Jesus my whole life long?
Building on the experience of THE JOURNEY, A WAY OF LIFE invites participants (again in community with fellow travelers) to: (1) a fuller understanding and practice of a life attentive to God (2) a deeper and more confident sense of God unique calling in their lives, and (3) a way of structuring and ordering their lives toward a life long apprenticeship with Jesus.
Our A WAY OF LIFE webpage offers a more comprehensive description, including a downloadable overview document, a sample introductory session to Stage 1: Friendship with God, and a short video conversation unpacking it’s rationale.
Tom Sine’s words sum up so much of the heart of what we are trying to provide in this process: “The God who has always been a part of our stories invites us to become much more a part of God’s story, and to see what will happen.” So let’s walk together as a group and see what will happen.
We are hearing great things out there from the 400-some folks in the process this year. For those of you who are currently participating in or facilitating A WAY OF LIFE how would you respond if posed that question — “What is A WAY OF LIFE and why should I participate in it?” I would love to hear your comments.