Think about all the books that have numbers in their titles—seven habits, five steps, twelve keys, three secrets. Ever wonder how the authors arrive at such a number? Life usually isnít as clear cut and nearly packaged as that, and most organizations and processes are extraordinarily complex. And yet there is a power in focusing on the increments, an effectiveness that derives by breaking down complex processes into manageable and understandable sequences. Reducing and sequencing helps us prioritize, and sometimes helps foster a common language, strategies, and outcomes.
I never imagined that I would write a book with a number in the title! Every writer who uses a number in the title faces a certain reality. There are never just three or five or seven or twelve of anything!
This leads to what I call ìlumping or splitting.î To get five or seven or three of anything, you either have to group some concepts, practices, and principles together (lumping) or separate out some things into more discrete parcels (splitting).
For instance, someone looked at the five practices on the cover of the book (and didnít read the book!) and commented, ìevidently he doesnít think prayer is essential for churches.î In fact, the book mentions prayer repeatedly, and includes both community prayer and personal devotion under Passionate Worship. I ìlumpedî personal and community prayer together.
Some United Methodist Conferences who are using the language of the Five Practices do not mention Extravagant Generosity as a separate and distinct practice. They consider generosity to be part of the maturing or sanctifying of the Christian spirit that happens in Intentional Faith Development, or part of the response of faith that comes with Risk-Taking Mission and Service. I ìsplitî Extravagant Generosity out because I think itís worthy of special note and often develops later in many Christian faith journeys. I also ìlumpedî justice ministries under Risk-Taking Mission and Service. I suppose someone could have lumped mission, service, justice ministries, and generosity under the sanctifying work of intentional faith development!
On the other hand, one could ìsplitî the practices into finer disciplines. Radical Hospitality could split into an element that focuses on outward invitation and initiative that might be distinct from the welcoming and receiving practices of a congregationís integration of new people who visit. There could even be an element specifically focused on personal faith sharing. And one could ìsplitî Intentional Faith Development into a zillion important practices, subdividing how we form faith in children, youth, newcomers, adults, through Bible studies in particular or through topical support groups. One could separate service directed to the upbuilding of the church from mission directed to those beyond the walls of the church. The book could have been Three Practices or Fifty Practices!
This is one of those subtle writer things, but thatís why the title of the book is not ìThe Five Practices ofÖ.î but ìFive Practices of Ö.î There are many more practices that make for congregational life. These are the five I think meet the requirements for Core Process, the basic activities that are so critical to the fulfillment of the mission of the church that failure to perform them in an exemplary way leads to the decline and deterioration of the congregation. And frankly, five is about the maximum number of anything someone can remember without writing things down!
Some conferences and congregations have ìlumped and splitî differently from how Iíve outlined the book, and thatís fine by me. Add or take away what you need to in order to help congregations learn and grow.
What do you think? Are you a ìlumperî or a ìsplitterî? If you were writing the book, what would be the number of practices you would lift up, and what would they be?
Grace and Peace,