A colleague from another conference told me about a District Superintendent who has focused his teaching and leading on the Five Practices as he has conducted charge conferences, district training events, and pastoral evaluations. To sharpen the self-reflection of congregational leaders, the Superintendent uses the book of Revelation, and in particular, the stories of the seven churches. (I should confess that when I consider leading charge conferences or discussing the Five Practices, the Revelation of John is not the first scriptural book that comes to mind as a useful tool!)
In the book of Revelation, John includes a lengthy passage addressed to seven churches, commending some and correcting others. The letter affirms service, patient endurance, courage, faithfulness, aliveness, sacrifice, and passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ. The letter also tells the truth about lukewarm commitment, poverty of spirit, waning love, lost focus, conflict, and division. The churches are invited and encouraged to come back, turn around, and return to their former passion and mission. Each of the seven churches is addressed personally in ways that are contextual, authentic, and tailored to its own circumstances. The tone is both pastoral and prophetic, positive and critical, encouraging and honest, building up communities while also holding them accountable.
After reminding congregational leaders of the letter to the seven churches, the Superintendent then invites them to consider a question: Suppose your congregation received such a letter. What would the letter say? What characteristics, spiritual qualities, practices, and ministries would be commended, worthy of praise, affirmed, and celebrated? And what characteristics, spiritual qualities, practices, and ministries of your congregation would be prophetically challenged, called into account, pierced by the spirit of truth? What truth would you be asked to confront? How would your congregation be invited to change?
The exercise stimulates self-discernment on the part of congregational leaders, and provokes truth-telling about key practices and core identity issues of the community. Imagine congregational leaders each writing a letter with the commending and confessional quality of those addressed to the seven churches. There is nothing mean-spirited, accusative, or hurting in the letters, but they do reshape perceptions and mission. How are we doing as a congregation? Are we passionate or complacent, eager or lukewarm, focused on ministry or distracted by non-essentials, self-preoccupied or outward focused, in love with God or consumed by conflict, serving the poor or ignoring the community beyond our doors? Is our work radical, passionate, intentional, risk-taking, and extravagant in the manner of Jesus’ ministry? Is it fruitful? What is commendable and what needs reshaping?
Yours in Christ,
P.S. We’ve added a new section to the website this week called “Five Practices Presenters” that includes people whom I have worked with on the Five Practices and who make themselves available to teach, preach, or speak on the practices as their schedules allow. To read about them, click on “Five Practices Presenters” in the left-hand column.