Missing Practices

I led my first small group at my church nearly ten years ago. After assuming the title of Assistant Pastor of Discipleship and Small Groups (helpfully abbreviated APOD&SG), I started reading everything I could on small group ministry. I rarely found what I was looking for.

There was plenty to read and consider: recruiting and training leaders, practicing hospitality, writing discussion material, and easing through small group dynamics. I also learned how to develop our small groups without cannibalizing the church itself.

But the most popular materials never seemed to mention the practices of writing or prayer- practices that became necessary to do my pastoral work at all. I’m sure no one would say these practices were unimportant. They were apparently assumed. I suspected they weren’t mentioned because they weren’t practiced.

If we assume a ministry is attending to prayer without consistent instruction and practice we can create a kind of ecclesiastical Ponzi scheme. No real work is really being done in prayer. Why else don’t we have more to say about how these practices should shape our small group ministries? Pastoral work without prayer and writing is as useful as carpentry without tools.

Limited experience taught me that prayer opens my eyes to the presence and work of God. How else could I learn repentance and petition, confession and blessing? Prayer taught me that God had taken the initiative in every situation I entered. Rather than asking “what do I need to do to get things going,” I began to ask, “what is God doing here that I need to be aware of?”

“I can be a pastor who prays,” wrote Eugene Peterson in The Contemplative Pastor. Peterson was a lone voice in my wilderness:

I want to cultivate my relationship with God. I want all of life to be intimate—sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously—with the God who made, directs, and loves me. And I want to waken others to the nature and centrality of prayer. I want to be a person in this community to whom others can come without hesitation, without wondering if it is appropriate, to get direction in prayer and praying.

The Contemplative Pastor Page 29

In time, writing became a physical expression of my praying. Like prayer (at its best), writing clarifies and reflects meditation. “As I mused, the fire burned.”* Pen and paper now take on new energy as I consider the normal difficulties of ministry. We need more leaders in our church. How can I train the leaders we have? How will I handle this difficult conversation?

Small groups have great potential for helping the church in her task of spiritual formation. We all have a lot of work to do. As for me, I will write and pray.

BL

*Psalm 39:3, ESV

Don’t Be a Regular Guy

Yes, I know. It is possible to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use. My problem is: I’ve never met one of those people. And I suspect, if I met one, the problem would not be that his mind is full of the glories of heaven, but that his mind is empty and his mouth is full of platitudes.


~ John Piper, I Do Not Aspire to Be a Regular Guy

Suggestions

Let’s say you’d like for me (or anyone else) to hear your controversial position on [insert subject here]. I have a few suggestions:

  1. If it’s controversial, let’s shy away from links to Facebook posts.
  2. YouTube videos are fun, but not for settling a controversial problem (unless it’s a debate showing different perspectives). Get something in print, maybe?
  3. If you share an article or book, note what section or main idea I should consider.
  4. Work hard to be specific about the point you’re trying to make. It’s easier to evaluate a single well-defined problem than a barrel of confusion.
  5. If you’d like to spark my interest, make sure I don’t have to work harder than you to keep things going. This was your idea, remember?

On Living in a Pandemic- Borrowed Thoughts from CS Lewis

This is a guest post by my good friend Adam King. Adam King is a husband, father, student at Liberty University Divinity School, Army officer, ordained by Grace Bible Church, and is directing his life toward pastoral ministry. He likes spending time with family, coffee, good discussion with friends, books, and cooking.

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.” In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways.

We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty. This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

~C.S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

C.S. Lewis is often called a prophet. It is clear just from this passage alone that what gives Lewis the quality of a prophet is his understanding that “there is nothing new under the sun.” He recommends that we all read old books so that we do not make the same mistakes that our ancestors have made, and that two heads are better than one because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. Here the clear sea breeze of the past sweeps through and gives us a strong reminder for today.

Our situation in the coronavirus pandemic is not new, and in fact we all have an appointment with death, and since we all have that appointment, we should all be doing “sensible human things.” However, there is something to be reminded of in moments like these. Let this pandemic be a reminder that we are on a sinking ship, and if our hope is only in this life then we of all species are to be pitied most. I mean, that if there is nothing eternal outside this life, and we, having accidently become aware of our situation, are tempted to assign meaning to our truly meaningless life, then “eat and drink for tomorrow we die.”

I am a believer in a more hopeful answer.