As you read this, I have just returned from Germany for a few brief days to lead a meeting of the Extended Cabinets of Germany, Eurasia, Central and Southern Europe, and Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Areas of the United Methodist Church in discussions about the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (or should I say, Funf Praktiken Fruchtbarer Gemeinden). This is an historic first-ever gathering of the extended cabinets of these four Episcopal areas representing more than a dozen languages and covering all of Europe, the Baltics, and Eurasia. What a great privilege! The Bishops of these areas decided that the five practices were as relevant for their contexts and congregations as for the American congregations that are described in the book. In fact, one person is seeking to translate the book into Russian (with contextual examples from Russian United Methodism) for the use of pastors and laity in their conferences.
Why do the five practices strike a chord with such diverse congregations? In the U.S., United Methodist churches are preaching sermon series, doing book studies, and offering planning retreats on the Five Practices in more than forty states and in congregations of enormously diverse theological backgrounds. Iíve led discussions with pastors from predominantly Anglo congregations and also Iíve had all day sessions with pastors from predominantly African-American congregations. Iíve taught and preached the Five Practices in small churches and large, rural, urban, and suburban. Bishops from Africa have talked to me about the usefulness of the book with their superintendents. A woman who leads congregational development for a denomination in Australia uses the book. And there are Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, non-denominational and AME churches that use the book.
I think it boils down to this: the book simply reminds us to repeat the basic practices that have marked fruitful congregational life since the stories of the formation of the church in the second chapter of Acts. Invite and welcome in the name of Christ; worship God with glad and generous hearts; study Godís word with others; do good, relieve suffering, and seek justice, and give generously as you have received from the bounteous grace of God. There is nothing new, and the practices are just as essential for starting a first century congregation in Jerusalem as they are for growing a church in Frankfort or Maputo or Lima or Houston. Whatís new in the book is the adjectives, and how they remind us to exceed all expectations, to offer our utmost and highest, to live our vocation as Christ practiced his ministry, a ministry that was radical, passionate, intentional, risk-taking, and extravagant.
One final thought: The German word that translates ìFruitfulî in the title of the book is ìFruchtbarer,î or literally, fruit-bearing. How cool! Somehow I really like the nuances of that word better than ìfruitful.î What we seek in the name of Christ are ìfruit-bearingî congregations, and ìfruit-bearingî lives.
Yours in Christ,