This past week I spent eleven hours one day with a film crew and an editor from the United Methodist Publishing House taping seven segments of about 7 minutes each on the Five Practices. These will form part of a packet of resources to assist local churches in moving the language of the practices beyond the pastor and the leadership and into the hearts, minds and homes of congregational team leaders, volunteers, members and visitors of a congregation. There will be a five-week book of daily readings so that all the households of the church can read, pray and grow together, and there will be suggestions for a sermon series and leadership strategy meetings and a culminating and celebrating event. There will also be screen images to supplement the sermon series, hints and helps on communication, and tons of ideas about how to deepen the practices in various church settings. With a few weeks of prep and communication, a church will then spend six weeks focused on the mission of the church, assessing their current ministries, and praying and planning together for how to deepen and extend the practices. Iím excited about the prospects of this project.
The desired outcome for churches using the program will be:
- church-wide, in-depth conversation and commitment about the mission of the
church, helping people understand the ìwhyî of church life which is the source of real motivation and passion for ministry.
- wide-spread, practical clarity about how the people and programs of the church fit into the mission of the church
- a unifying common language about the tasks of Christian discipleship
- a conversation that pushes deeper, shifts culture, reshapes attitudes from maintenance to mission, from inward to outward, from ìwhatís in it for me?î to ìhow can I help?î
- personal and congregational commitments to new ministry initiatives
- full-church participation in reading, praying, recommitting to ministry
- a reinvigorated sense of purpose and sense of connection to God and to the ministry of Jesus Christ.
The program will be ready for order at annual conference sessions, and ready to deliver to congregations after August 1 of 2008.
Most of my blogs focus on congregational life, sometimes with some reflections on the larger connection. Only seldom do I focus on the book itself, ìFive Practices of Fruitful Congregations.î I hope this doesnít sound self-indulgent, but the work on the filming caused me to reflect again on why the book has been so well-received and so widely embraced.
Here are a bunch of reasons I hear from people:
- the book is lay accessible, and laity are inviting their pastors to use it, and pressing pastors with new ideas generated by their reading of it.
- the book is helpful to pastors in their attempts to help people understand the mission of the church and to stimulate new ministry initiatives.
- language is powerful and inviting, and the power of a common language carries the ideas of the book throughout a congregation.
- the book does not promote a short-term fix, a formula, or suggest quick or technical change, but rather reminds people of the basic and non-negotiable building blocks of Christian ministry.
- the book helps people draw the connections between the principles and theology of our faith and the actual practice of ministry.
- the book provides a new and positive focal point for church life, causing people to focus on ministry that is more energizing and purposeful rather than just on the same old business, finances, and internal discussions.
- the book lends a definite outward focus to church life and purpose
- that itís written by a bishop seems a hopeful sign to many United Methodists, assuring many that itís not just pastors, laity, or consultants who understand the importance and dynamics of local church ministry.
- the book distinctly focuses on fruitfulness, results, impact, and the difference our ministry makes in the lives of people for the purposes of ChristÖthis shifts congregations away from a focus on ìinputs,î all the things, time, money and effort we put into our work.
- the book lifts the goal of church life from mediocrity and adequacy to excellence in ministry.
- the practices ring true for pastors and congregations with conservative theological leanings as well as more moderate and liberal faith expressions.
- the new language offers a fresh perspective on standard congregational tasks, such as evangelism, worship, Christian education, mission and stewardship.
- the adjectives are edgy, provocative, inviting, challenging, creating a dissonance that invites us to evaluate and assess our own ministries and stretching us in new ways.
- bishops are inviting district superintendents to read the book and DSís are inviting bishops to read the book; DSís are asking pastors to read the book and pastors are encouraging their DSís to read it; laity are asking clergy to read it and pastors as asking their laity to read itÖ.and so the movement is going bottom to top as well as top to bottom!
- bloggers are talking about it, almost unanimously in positive terms. Most bloggers are talking about their churches and ministries because of the book rather than just about the book!
- Cokesbury is lifting it up but also Amazon ranked it as #3 book in their Ministry subcategory last week, so it has UM support as well as good use by non-United Methodist churches.
- the book is honest about the trends in the UMC and the aspects of our ministry that need deep change, without blaming or scapegoating, and without ignoring, or denying the hard truths.
- the book is hopeful, demonstrating that churches of all sizes and ages can repeat and deepen and extend these basic practicesÖ.the book doesnít give up on any church, and does not suggest that some churches have what it takes and some donít.
But the most important reason I think the book has been found so helpful, useful, and effective is how it addresses the core purpose of the church.
How does the United Methodist Church make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? We fulfill our purpose through congregations that are vibrant, growing, and fruitful, and who perform and repeat these practices in exemplary waysóradical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosityójust as our forebears did in the second chapter of Acts, and in early Methodism, and in every generation since. There are the ways the church invites, changes, matures, and equips people for the ministry of Jesus Christóby the grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, I think that is why the book is doing well.
What do you think? Why do you suppose this simple book is being used and talked about and recommended in so many varied congregations and settings?
Yours in Christ,