While surfing the web, I came across some reflections about the Five Practices on a blog called ìCome to the Watersî by a United Methodist layman, John Meunier. I donít know John, but I found his thoughts helpful. He describes how the emphasis on practices ìputs the focus on things to do, not things to be.î In Wesleyan fashion, we trust that when we do the right things, we become a different church.
I also have come across a quote from Craig Dykstra on Christian practices. He focuses on personal acts of spiritual discipline. He says, ìChristian practices are not activities we do to make something spiritual happen in our lives. Nor are they duties we undertake to be obedient to God. Rather they are patterns of communal action that create openings in our lives where grace, mercy, and the presence of God may be made known to us. They are places where the power of God is experienced. In the end, these are not ultimately our practices but forms of participation in the practice of God.î
Wow! I think what Dykstra suggests about personal practices rings true also for practices of congregations. Practices shape us. Practices help us participate in Godís work. Practices are the ìdoings,î not just the good intentions, the thinking and theory and hoping and planning that occupy our minds and hearts. Practices (welcoming the stranger, authentic worship, learning in Christian community, serving others, giving of ourselves) put us in the most advantageous place to perceive and receive Godís activity and will for our lives. We become something new in Christ.
In fact, if any of the pastors reading this remember back to their seminary Greek studies, weíll remember that the Greek word for the Book of Acts is praxeis apostolon, or Acts of the Apostles. Praxeis is the Greek word from which we derive the English word practice. The Book of Acts is about the happenings and doings of the early church!
When we talk about marks, characteristics, or qualities of fruitful congregations, we too easily fall into a ìwe have it or we donítî mode of thinking, and so we believe that some church are hospitable and some arenít. Some are missional and some arenít. I find it more helpful to speak of practices which any congregation can adopt, change, develop, begin, or improve upon. If were not the kind of church we think God intends for us to become, we simply begin to act like it by adopting the practices until the practices help us become a new church.
What do you think? Are evangelism, hospitality, service ever really values for us until we actually practice them?
Grace and peace,