VITAL CONGREGATIONS INITIATIVE

Churchwide Study on the Seven Marks of Vital Congregations

Week 7: Ecclesial Health

Ecclesial Health is about: 1) Why we gather as a church community and 2) How we practice being church together. It is about whether our mission, vision and values match up with the ways we live together. It requires continual attentiveness, awareness and assessment in asking “Are we who we say we are?” And more importantly, “Are we who God is calling us to be?” Prayer and discernment are
at the heart of Ecclesial health! There are several factors to Ecclesial health: prayerful discernment, decision-making process, health of pastors, stewardship of budget and resources, clarity in mission and ministries. Ecclesial Health is about

the people of God having a clear purpose; all people are stakeholders invested in being a part of this community of faith. There are shared core values, a clear
mission and commitment and loyalty to the life we gather in as church. Yet they also know that this is a living faith. So they dare to dream and understand that change is inevitable. With Ecclesial Health, there is joy and gratitude in coming together; people, not programs or properties are valued. People gather and are sent to be Christ’s Church.

Scripture: Matthew 15:1–9

Background

In Matthew 15:1–9, Jesus is approached by the religious leaders of his day. These leaders are the “gatekeepers” in religious society and they are not happy that Jesus’ disciples are blatantly cavalier with the rules. Jesus quickly subverts their intentions by turning the tables. It seems the religious establishment is at fault for their traditions. Congregational cultures and habits can be deeply ingrained and all but impossible to change. The Pharisees might have been the first to say, “that’s how we have always done it.” Whatever “it” represents, the church can never rest on traditions that draw us away from our calling to discipleship. Ecclesial health is a way for us to identify the “sacred cows” in congregational life that are not healthy or life-giving. 
In verse 6, Jesus states his primary opposition to the Pharisees’ leadership. They are keeping practices that do not serve God’s purpose. Jesus rightly identifies many of their practices as self-serving instead. The practice Jesus cites here is called “Korban,” a way to bend the rules. By using this custom of Korban, children could abandon their obligation to family to gain stature in the religious organization. The Pharisees concern over unwashed hands is wallpapering over traditions that do great harm to people.
In quoting the prophet Isaiah, he links his present age with that of their ancestors. In other words, this is nothing new. People (including us) have a propensity for circumventing rules or justifying traditions that help or serve our needs. Jesus calls on the religious establishment to look carefully at customs and traditions and make changes when they do not serve God’s purpose.
The scribes’ and Pharisees’ piety is no doubt sincere, but also competitive, exclusive, self-serving and ultimately destructive of relationships and community. Jesus, in contrast, emphasizes the relational character of true piety and devotion…Jesus does not disdain the law or tradition. Rather, he is concerned with defining the criteria by which we evaluate the integrity of our interpretation of the law and the legitimacy of our traditions. Tradition can be used to demarcate status and to build walls between people. —Stan Saunders

Suggested Engagement Opportunities to Further Explore

• Multi-generational conversations about practices and culture of the congregation.
• Study the Great Ends of the Church in a sermon series or Bible study.
• Seek out other congregations to consider their best practices.
• Congregational conversation about what they value about the congregation.

 

Reflect

1. What does ecclesial health look like in our text?
2. How often is change stifled by historical practice?
3. How might we realign our practices to what we believe?
4. Name the “sacred cows” in the congregational life.
5. What is at stake when traditions of a congregation cause harm to the ministry of Christ?

Additional Resources

• Heifetz, Ronald, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009.
• Gunderson, Gary. Boundary Leaders: Leadership Skills for People of Faith. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004
• Steinke, Peter L. Healthy Congregations: A System Approach. Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute,1996
• Steinke, Peter L. How Your Church Family Works: Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems. Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute,1993
• Steinke, Peter L. Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What. Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute, 2006

Additional Videos

• MidAmericaRegionUUA –Anxious Times https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPA8vSO71Bo
• The rarest commodity is leadership without ego: Bob Davids at TEDxESCP https://youtu.be/_QkUQkn7dS0?list=PLvd0jP3hpcyMxI6GC3hDBzDLM9NVFDQJs

Week 6: Caring Relationships

Caring relationships seem an easy mark of vitality. We all want a place to belong and people who care about us. Many congregations would argue: “this is why we come together; we welcome and care for each other.” Yet, caring relationships in Christ require true agape love; a sacrificial, self-emptying, perfect love. Although we are imperfect, it is about striving to see all people the way Christ sees them; not from judgments or preconceived perceptions. It is about walking with others, responding to their needs, desiring their well-being. It is about walking with people in tragedy and rejoicing in their triumphs. Caring relationships are about allowing people to be real in their stories, without hiding or holding

back, and loving every imperfect part of them. Church should be the one place where the God who already knows encounters our honest confession and allows us to give testimony. It should be the place where conflicts are confronted, crucial conversations of forgiveness and reconciliation are had and people of God are transformed by agape-love. Caring relationships are about vulnerability and trust, about meeting all people of God where they are and sharing our One Savior, Jesus Christ. Caring relationships don’t come through hospitality and welcoming committees, but through but through a carefully cultivated environment that is genuine and sincere in being the household of God.

Scripture: Galatians 6:1–10

Background

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (v. 2).
If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit (v. 8).
So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith (v. 10).
He never felt as if he had a place to belong, a place where he was accepted. For 20 years, life circumstances had left him homeless. Yet life had not left Steven bitter. On the contrary, Steven quoted the Word of God in all things. He walked through the breakfast line in the basement of the church every single morning and would greet you with a resounding testimony to the glory of God and the blessed assurance of a new day now dawning. Every day, as he came in off of the streets, he testified to the new day’s opportunity to praise God.
Steven’s friendly demeanor and constant affirmation of the Lord made him an easy relationship for the youth of the church. As the youth began to worship with the homeless community in the sanctuary on Sunday evenings and to dine around table fellowship afterwards, there was an evident shift, a sort of softening about Steven that began to intrigue me. After one Sunday evening worship service, Steven approached me to say a simple phrase: “You’ve done a good thing, Rev.” What initially threw me in this exchange was that Steven’s disposition was more somber and serious. “What’s going on with you,” I asked? “Rev,” he said shaking his head, struggling to collect words. “I’ve been coming into the basement of this church for 20 years for y’all to serve me breakfast. And I’ve been grateful. Lord knows I’ve been grateful. But you know this is the first time I’ve ever been invited and feel welcomed to come into God’s house, into the sanctuary of this building, and worship!?”
Caring relationships. Whenever we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith, because we reap what we sow. It is the most simple and significant of commands, “to love the Lord your God, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet it is, in truth, the most difficult thing to live into. Christ’s true and perfect agape-love is when the Spirit of Christ dwelling within me meets the Spirit of Christ in you, regardless of all else.

Suggested Engagement Opportunities to Further Explore

• Engage and expand in interracial, multicultural, intergenerational, and economic conversations
• Explore “good” and “right” in Caring Relationships in civic arenas: prisons, hospitals, schools
• Find ways to nurture caring relationships for all ages, in the church, accountability, and a platform to air grievances and pray together.
• Have congregation sow neighborhood seeds of caring relationships throughout the week.
• Create a prayer and response ministry where all ages can identify those in need of a caring relationship.

Reflect

1. How does your church sow and nurture caring relationships?
2. How does the church equip and empower you to see opportunities for caring relationship in Christ?
3. Name a time when you have experienced Christ’s agape-love? Did it happen in the church?
4. What prevents, hinders, blinds us from opportunities for true caring relationships?

Additional Resources

• Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (New York, NY: HarperCollins, Publishers, 1954).
• Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).
• Pablo Polischuk. http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200703/200703_048_hlthchr.cfm. The Healthy Church: A Commitment to Loving-Caring Relationships. (Assemblies of God Journal)
• Sara Miles. Take This Bread (New York, NY. Ballantine Books, 2007).

Additional Videos

• https://youtu.be/9pgTG5-C_qs Different is Good. David Walker (TED Talk)
• https://youtu.be/cfW_2tzusyI Amazing Physics Teacher
• https://youtu.be/4z7gDsSKUmU How to Change the World (Kid President)
• https://youtu.be/q0qD2K2RWkc I Am Not Black, You Are Not White
• https://youtu.be/oACYWh5UKsQ Community Chaplain Training—Building Caring Relationships
• https://youtu.be/zcruIov45bI Happiness Is Helping Others
• https://youtu.be/eL_ofpwicsc Maya Angelou—Human Family

Week 5: Spirit-Inspired Worship

Spirit-inspired worship is a gift of God’s wonder! Six days we labor and toil, and on this Holy Sabbath day we get to come into the presence of God; we get to encounter the awesome mystery of the God who longs to be known in relationship with us. We worship, because through prayer and supplication, through the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments celebrated, through the songs of praise and passing of peace—God meets us there. Worship is our lifeline to the Holy God. Our worship should be active participation into the living relationship with the triune 

God; thus, all should feel welcome and have a place. Worship should challenge, teach, transform, convict and call us into deeper relationship with God and one another, not gratify our comforts and entertain our desires. Worship is an encounter with God that we understand and do not understand. It is an act filled with mystery and awe, but in worship
we have the opportunity to express our deepest desires to God and listen for God’s voice. In worship, we also experience the call to serve and be in mission.

Scripture: Hebrews 4:9—5:10

Background

The writer of Hebrews uses thematic language in order to inform the reader that we have “a great high priest,” one who is sympathetic, in whom we find rest on the Holy Day of Sabbath. The writer wants believers to hold fast to confession, because Jesus himself was tempted in every way and yet was sinless. This affirmation of the priestly nature of Christ explains why we, who are sinners, can approach the throne of our Savior. Christ fully understands the nature of our humanity, and in loving sympathy, Christ bids us to come and worship. It is an active call to obedience, just as Christ was obedient to the will of God in suffering death on a cross. “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (v. 16). 
Too often our worship can become about us—our wants, our preference of style, our comfort in not being exposed, our way of going through the motions with little thought to the traditions. Yet, Spirit-inspired worship calls us into the presence of the “great high priest,” the one who suffered in obedience so that we might find rest, receive mercy and cling to grace. Spirit-Inspired worship holds fast to the truth that when we come into God’s presence, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (v. 13). Spirit-Inspired worship exposes us, brings us to our knees in confession, and offers us freedom and rest in the Savior’s arms. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (vv. 7–9). It is Jesus Christ who lives and allows us the freedom to come into God’s presence in Spirit-Inspired worship.

Suggestions for Engagement Opportunities

• Try to employ the senses during worship: we are good at hearing and speaking; what about touch and smell or seeing using visuals?
• Do a pulpit exchange with a minister of a different denomination. Invite them to observe how the worship of your church is Spirit-filled and challenge yourself to see the Spirit in their worship.
Then exchange ideas!
• Form an Arts Committee for your worship space—how can the arts enrich our worship?
• Get outside your four walls! Change up your worship setting to explore how space speaks to our worship.
• Encourage your worship committee to watch other worship services that might be online. Encourage your youth and young people to bring back worship ideas from Montreat and youth
retreats, camps, conferences, etc.
• DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRY NEW THINGS!

Reflect

1. Recall the first-time Christ became Good News for your life? Who told or shared with you?
2. What does Intentional Authentic Evangelism require of us? What does it look like in our daily lives?
3. What stops us from sharing the Good News with people we are in relationship with?
4. Think of the daily needs of people you are in relationship with. How could they benefit from the Good News?
5. How does your church community equip and empower you to practice Authentic Evangelism?

Additional Resources

• Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000)
• Rob Bell, What We Talk About When We Talk About God (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2013)
• Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015
• Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of New Spiritual  Awakening (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2012)
• Rebecca Wilson, James Naughton, Speaking Faithfully: Communications as Evangelism in a Noisy World (Morehouse Publishing, 2012)

Additional Videos

• TED Talks https://www.ted.com/talks/manoush_zomorodi_how_boredom_can_lead_to_your_most_brilliant_ideas (can our boredom on evangelism spark new ideas?)
• Adam Hamilton, CATCH: A Churchwide Program for Invitational Evangelism (series)
• Samuel Wells, Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2004).
• https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxKGGven9_U Skit Guys (humorous)
• https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT70cA-7qMk&t=64s John Crist (humorous)

Week 4: Empower Servant Leadership

All people of God, in the image of Christ, are given fruit of the Spirit and spiritual gifts meant for building up the church. In this way, we are all called to serve the Lord, to do our part in membership of the body of Christ. Every part is necessary. Every part is valuable, and every voice is important. Every person should be equipped, nurtured and supported to use their gifts to glorify God, through servant leadership; not just cliques of powerful people or continual burnout of the same leaders. In keeping 

with true Discipleship Formation, churches are called to help all members to be empowered to use their gifts in servant leadership. And God calls and equips some for the particular task of pastoral ministry, which
must be cultivated, nurtured and trained. Ministry can never be about a single pastor, but it is about identifying, equipping and empowering those servant leaders God puts in our midst.

Scripture: John 13:1–20

Background

Jesus, knowing that his hour had come to “depart out of this world to the Father,” gathers with the disciples around table fellowship in this ultimate act of love. This narrative of Jesus begins “the Book of Glory” (chps. 13–21) leading to the crucifixion. Christ, as teacher and Savior, leads by example in this symbolic act of washing the feet of his beloved disciples. This memorable act of service is one of equality, one where there is no social status among the company, and our Savior is humbled in service. Gerard Sloyan writes, “Being bathed by Jesus means being symbolically taken into the event of the cross. It is likewise a model of service for the disciples.” In this event, we see that we must be washed clean by our Savior, and in turn, we are sent out to do the very same.

This is the call for the people of God to practice Empowering Servant Leadership. Yet it is a rite of those who believe, who witness and testify to the final hours of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Notice, John begins this “Book of Glory” by stating that “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (v. 1). Jesus showed great love to the end, to the ultimate expression of washing the feet of the disciples whom Christ loved. We remember that the table was prepared and the invitation extended to the Savior who bids us come, but John’s Gospel message reminds us that the Savior is also the servant, leading by this ultimate example of love. For all who are in Christ, who have been created in the image of Christ and cleansed by the blood of our Savior, we are empowered and gifted by the same Spirit that was in Jesus to be Servant Leaders. It is not just in some, but all who are beloved disciples to the very end.

Suggested Engagement Opportunities to Further Explore:

• Sit around the outside of a children’s swimming pool and take turns washing each other’s feet
• Look for opportunities to volunteer “behind the scenes” in an attempt to embody service
• Read your congregational mission statement and ask what leadership might be helpful
• Begin a collection of soaps, shampoos and towels to give away
• Plan a churchwide supper before your next Maundy Thursday service to break bread together
• Identify and name servant leaders you know–write them a thank-you letter

Reflect

1. What does it mean that Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, even Judas and Peter, as one of His final hours?
2. Can you name your spiritual gifts? How do you use them for servant leadership to the glory of Christ?
3. Recall a time when someone exercised servant leadership in a way that inspired you?
4. How does your church cultivate, nurture, and support servant leadership?
5. What gets in the way of all disciples using their spiritual gifts for servant leadership?

Additional Resources

• Janet O. Hagberg, Real Power: Stages of Personal Power in Organizations (Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company, 2003).
• Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: a Journey into The Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness (Mahwah, NY: Paulist Press, 1991).
• James H. Cone, Martin & Malcolm & America: a Dream or a Nightmare (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999).
• N. Graham Standish, Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence and Power (Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2005).
• Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading (Boston, MA: Havard Business Review Press, 2002).

Additional Videos

• Simon Sinek–Why good leaders make you feel safe (TED talk) https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_why_good_leaders_make_you_feel_safe
• Orkidstudio – EMPOWERMENT (Nakuru Project in Kenya) https://vimeo.com/113384190
• Ken Blanchard–Servant Leadership (London Business Forum) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctZHSa4Qhd4
• Theocademy–Being Leaders (Ordered Ministry series) https://www.youtube.com/watch?ime_continue=275&v=VlCZ4qownvI

Week 3: Outward Incarnational Focus

If Discipleship Formation is about learning/understanding/living the Good News, and Authentic Evangelism is about intentionally sharing the Good News in relationships, then Outward Incarnation is about not limiting where and to whom we share the Good News. Outward Incarnational Focus is about being the gathered community of Christ sent out! We go not because we have a strategy for new membership; we go because we have a Savior who commanded us to be on God’s mission. We go because God’s saving love in Christ, cannot be inwardly contained in our buildings when we live with neighbors in need and a hurting world. The Good News is meant to transform and transcend. The church is meant to be a

beacon of Christ’s grace, justice, freedom, and love. Outward incarnational focus means we daily take up our cross and follow to the marginalized of society, the poor among us, the suffering and sick, the stranger and enemy, the down-trodden and “the least of these.” We do not just focus on bringing similar or like-minded people inside to assimilate to our way of doing things; nor do we just go to people and places that are familiar and comfortable. Outward Incarnational focus, requires an emboldened faith, that goes because Christ is already present, and calls us to join.

Scripture: Matthew 25:31–46

Background

In Matthew 25:31–46, we find the apocalyptic parable of sheep and goats. This portion comes at the end of Matthew’s eschatological movement and one of the last of Jesus’ great sermons. In this reading, the Son of Man answers the people who wonder what actions in their lives have given glory to God, while others are shown where they let opportunities pass by them. The feature that both groups share is unawareness. Neither the sheep nor the goats are aware that “the least of these” in need or distress is a proxy for the Son of Man. In both instances, the Son of Man does not identify with the groups but with the one needing care. The sheep are not rewarded for being nice to the sheep nor are the goats punished for their inattention to the other goats. The praise or condemnation is only in response to their approach with the “other.”

The “other” is given as one who needs. The hungry need food, the thirsty need water, the stranger needs welcome, the naked need clothing, the sick need care, and the imprisoned need visiting. (vv.35 and 36) Jesus invites us to imagine his presence in these needs and enables us to be the one who meets these needs. And the list does not end here. Our communities have their own many and varied needs. Jesus is wrapped intimately in those needs as well. The congregation not only has the gifts needed to meet these needs but it must use them if we are to glimpse Christ in our community.

Disciples who engage this story honestly are likely to find themselves caught somewhere between the sheep and the goats. This parable is not meant to grant certainty to any of Jesus’ disciples, but to make us watchful, attending carefully, faithfully, and creatively to Christ’s presence among the least of our brothers and sisters. Anything other than this ambivalent, risky, and uncertain existence is likely to yield something other than the full realization of God’s empire of the heavens. God’s empire belongs not to the self-proclaimed righteous ones, but to those who continually hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, which leads not to certainty but to the cross. —Stan Saunders

Suggested Engagement Opportunities to Further Explore:

Sit around the outside of a children’s swimming pool and take turns washing each other’s feet
• Look for opportunities to volunteer “behind the scenes” in an attempt to embody service
• Read your congregational mission statement and ask what leadership might be helpful
• Begin a collection of soaps, shampoos and towels to give away
• Plan a churchwide supper before your next Maundy Thursday service to break bread together
• Identify and name servant leaders you know–write them a thank-you letter

Reflect

 1. How does this reading inform our discussion on Outward Incarnation?
2. In what practices have we extended care for the other?
3. In what ways are we blind to or ignore the needs of others?
4. What needs would we add to the list that Jesus gives in the parable?
5. What practices can your congregation put in place to keep awareness and attentive to the needs around you?

Additional Resources

● Pohl, Christine. Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1999.
● Pohl, Christine. Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain us. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 2012.
● Koenig, John. New Testament Hospitality: Partnership with Strangers as Promise and Mission. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.
● Gerrish, B. A. Grace and Gratitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.
● Jones, Gregory L. “Eucharistic Hospitality: Welcoming the Stranger into the Household of God,” The Reformed Journal 39 no 3 (March 1989): 12–17

Additional Videos

● Hospitality dreams: Ben Justus at TEDxCornellU https://youtu.be/_QkUQkn7dS0
● Radical Hospitality for the REST of Us https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ-ztamQa5Q
● Embrace Radical Hospitality | Grace Rodriguez | TEDxSantoDomingo https://youtu.be/BoIrb7CdPgQ
● Amy Oden – Hospitality in the Christian Tradition https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkEnqgF6oFo

 

Week 2: Intentional Authentic Evangelism

Evangelism is simply sharing the Good News. It is authentic, and it is intentional, not merely expressions
of kindness or good moral ethics. We all have Good News to share in our lives; it is a part of our
identity. And when we share this news, it is with intentionality and with people with whom we have
relationships. We don’t have to be trained to share the good news of a new job, baby or puppy! We
simply share what is beautiful and dear to us. Therefore, evangelism must be connected to lifelong
Christian Formation. It is through intentional spiritual practices in the faith community that we meld
God’s story with our story and we share that story with people in our daily lives.

Scripture: John 4:1–41

Background

Jesus is leaving Judea for Galilee, because the Pharisees are jealous of Jesus’ success in those who were coming to believe. In order to get to Galilee, Jesus goes through Samaria. The hatred and violence between the Jews and the Samaritans were heightened during this time, as Jews were being attacked traveling to and from Jerusalem for the temple feasts. In fact, the violence made travelers take a different, more popular route, but Jesus went with his disciples into Samaria.

Jesus, who is tired, comes upon this Samaritan woman drawing water in the midday heat. Here the themes unfold: the living water (vv. 7–15); spiritual worship (vv. 16–24); and Jesus’ self-disclosure as the Messiah (vv. 25–26)

Note that Christ first comes close; he draws people into conversation and relationship. He meets them for who they are, right where they are, and genuinely talks with them. No pamphlet, no immediate call to repentance, no hellfire scare tactics, just a real conversation.

This story identifies two basic necessities to humanity: water and food. John gives us a glimpse of a tired Christ in human flesh who sits in the heat of the day and asks for water. As Jesus enters a relationship with this woman, she experiences God offering a drink of water that will satisfy her thirst forever. There is nothing—not the threat of violence amid these two peoples, not the story of this woman’s life, not the heat of day or the fact Jesus has not eaten, nothing—that will stop Christ from meeting this woman with good news. In fact, when the disciples try to get him to eat, Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest?” But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may rejoice together (vv. 34–36). Meanwhile, many in the city of Samaria came to believe, because of what the woman shared with them.

Suggested Engagement Opportunities to Further Explore:

• Sit around the outside of a children’s swimming pool and take turns washing each other’s feet
• Look for opportunities to volunteer “behind the scenes” in an attempt to embody service
• Read your congregational mission statement and ask what leadership might be helpful
• Begin a collection of soaps, shampoos and towels to give away
• Plan a churchwide supper before your next Maundy Thursday service to break bread together
• Identify and name servant leaders you know–write them a thank-you letter

Reflect

1. Recall the first-time Christ became Good News for your life? Who told or shared with you?
2. What does Intentional Authentic Evangelism require of us? What does it look like in our daily lives?
3. What stops us from sharing the Good News with people we are in relationship with?
4. Think of the daily needs of people you are in relationship with. How could they benefit from the Good News?
5. How does your church community equip and empower you to practice Authentic Evangelism?

Additional Resources

• Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000)
• Rob Bell, What We Talk About When We Talk About God (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2013)
• Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015
• Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of New Spiritual Awakening (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2012)
• Rebecca Wilson, James Naughton, Speaking Faithfully: Communications as Evangelism in a Noisy World (Morehouse Publishing, 2012)

Additional Videos

* The Skit Guys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxKGGven9_U
• TED Talks https://www.ted.com/talks/manoush_zomorodi_how_boredom_can_lead_to_your_most_brilliant_ideas (can our boredom on evangelism spark new ideas?)
• Adam Hamilton, CATCH: A Churchwide Program for Invitational Evangelism (series) 
• Samuel Wells, Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2004).
• https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxKGGven9_U Skit Guys (humorous)
• https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT70cA-7qMk&t=64s John Crist (humorous)

Week 1: Lifelong Discipleship

Lifelong Discipleship Formation is about daily life. It’s about how we claim and proclaim our
identity as followers of Christ. It’s about how we practice our faith; how we grow in faith, cherish
faith, and share faith in the world. Beyond mere words, how do people know we are disciples of
Jesus Christ? No matter the age, it’s about daily seeking and living in relationship with the living
God. We are called to be righteous, to seek justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.
Thus, Lifelong Discipleship Formation is about how we live into that right relationship with God,
with all God’s people, and all of creation. It’s about growing in the community of God’s grace,
the church, and interpreting faith in our everyday life; confronting brokenness and sinfulness
when we fall short of the glory of God and shining a bold light of Christ for all to see. Lifelong
Discipleship Formation requires an awakened and engaged commitment to God, and to all people
whom Christ loves. It is about the call to daily take up our cross and follow Christ.

Scripture: Acts 2:42-47

Background

Acts 2:42-47 is Luke’s depiction of the primitive communal life together. It focuses on four key ideas: 1) The apostolic teaching; 2) Fellowship “koinonia”—a group of companions who shared in a common life; 3) Breaking of bread in their homes—a central pledge and symbol of common life and common faith; table fellowship; “In their homes” is differentiated from the “apostolic teaching” to note that discipleship formation happens inside and outside the “temple” life together; 4) Devoting themselves to prayer devotional life finds expression in family gatherings and daily community. 

Verse 43 depicts the communal life together and the assurance of God’s presence through “many wonders and signs. “Notice the idea that “awe came upon everyone.” The notion of “awe” or “fear” is a testament to miracles within the Old Testament; It is characteristic of the reverence attributed to God’s power. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.” Psalm 111:10. This communal gathering, the revelation attributed in apostolic teaching, prayer, breaking bread together, and fellowship, are all attributed to the fact that God shows up in Spirit and in truth. God reveals God’s self in relationship to God and to one another. This communal life seeks wisdom and understanding, and God is present there. Thus, “All who believed were together and had all things in common” (v. 44). 

Luke emphasizes the daily routine of the community, whereby daily needs were being met, people gathered in the temple, broke bread in homes and praised God with glad and generous hearts. And daily God was there, adding to those whom God gathered. 

As one views modern congregations, many with their hectic round of activities—yoga, ceramics, daycare—one suspects that socialization is being substituted for the gospel, warm-hearted busyness is being offered in lieu of Spirit-empowered community. One wonders if the church needs to reflect again that when all is said and done, “one thing is needful,” namely to embody, in the church’s unique way, the peculiarity of the call to devote ourselves “to the apostles’ teaching” and fellowship, to breaking of the bread and the prayers.

–William H. Willimon

Suggested Engagement Opportunities to Further Explore:

• Sit around the outside of a children’s swimming pool and take turns washing each other’s feet

• Look for opportunities to volunteer “behind the scenes” in an attempt to embody service

• Read your congregational mission statement and ask what leadership might be helpful

• Begin a collection of soaps, shampoos and towels to give away

• Plan a churchwide supper before your next Maundy Thursday service to break bread together

• Identify and name servant leaders you know–write them a thank-you letter

Reflect

1.     What is necessary for Lifelong Discipleship Formation to take root?

2.     What leaves us skeptical, fearful, unwilling?

3.     What would need to change in our communal life? Our home life? Our daily life?

4.     Name how your church community helps to nurture and equip you for Lifelong Discipleship.

5.     Name a pivotal time when you grew or were challenged as a disciple in your church.

Additional Resources

·       James W. Fowler, Stages of faith: The Psychology of Human development and the Quest for Meaning (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1978).

·       Maria Harris, Fashion Me a People: Curriculum in the Church (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1989).

·       Parker J. Palmer, To know as We are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1993).

·       Richard Robert Osmer, Teaching for Faith: A Guide for Teachers of Adult Classes (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992).

·       Robert Schnase, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2007).

·       Samuel Wells, Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2004).

Additional Videos

·       Theocademy—Update Your Faith System (Foundations series) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OAk17hxRz8&t=2s

·       Bible Studies for Life—Discipleship Doesn’t Happen by Accident https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ooSmpG0HRg

·       Bellevue Christian Church Discipleship   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTBBuirYxNo

·       Bernie Dunlap—The Lifelong Learner (TED talk)  https://www.ted.com/talks/ben_dunlap_talks_about_a_passionate_life