September 5, 2018

The Way of Love

At the General Convention of the Episcopal Church this summer, our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry announced a new project called, "The Way of Love." This project has been presented as an invitation to simple practices that nurture a "Jesus-centered life." There are 7 practices:

  1. Turn: Pause, listen and choose to follow Jesus
  2. Learn: Reflect on Scripture, especially on Jesus' life and teaching
  3. Pray: Dwell intentionally with God
  4. Worship: Gather in community to thank, praise, and dwell with God
  5. Bless: Share faith, unselfishly give and serve
  6. Go: Cross boundaries, listen deeply and live like Jesus
  7. Rest: Receive the gift of God's grace, peace and restoration
During General Convention, I mentioned on the Priest Pulse podcast that I was excited about this announcement and its potential to be a tool for starting new communities. After the mini-episode was released, someone asked me why I thought this was useful for starting communities. Making that comment for a podcast was more instinctual. I hadn't thought it out much and I didn't get much time to explain in a brief hallway conversation. But I've been mulling this over since then, so here are some of my thoughts.

One reason why I like this is its simplicity. It offers a basic, action-oriented pattern to follow. Anyone can do this. The second reason why I like this is related; it engenders discipleship. This approach does not require a semester long course on each discipline. In a video for "The Way of Love" Bishop Curry teaches how to practice each of these in just a few words. The discipleship through this will happen as these are practiced. The third reason why I like this is that they seem culturally appropriate for our current era. What I mean by this is that these practices exude a Christ-centered "contemplative action" approach. Considering the increasing popularity of practices such as meditation for health and performance, it seems appropriate to approach these as practices that can be taught to others that are spiritually hungry.

The most counter-cultural aspect of this model is its focus on Jesus. The image appears to begin with "Learn" which would make sense to Episcopalians since this tends to be an over-educated tribe. Yet, when Bishop Curry describes this model (see video linked to above), he starts with "Turn." The whole model hinges on a Christological center. Whether speaking of person-to-person discipleship or starting new faith communities, the Way of Christ, the life and teachings of Jesus are the critical component. I'm going to work on that being assumed. So, let's get more specific about how this is useful for starting a new community.

In my mind, there are three stages for making this useful for starting a new community that after cycling through and beginning a community, become the rhythms of that faith community: pre-engagement, engagement, gathering.

Stage 1: Pre-engagement
Before engaging the context a small group of people are going start a new faith community within, they begin gathering around 4 practices:

Turn, learn, pray and worship.

An assumption: there are no lone rangers. We should also go into mission together. There are so many reasons why. Jesus sent people out together. In some contexts, its for safety. And there's always accountability in numbers. Nevertheless, whether 2 or 12 or however many you start with, your small group of people planning to start a new faith community ought to gather around and regularly engage these 4 practices. They are critical components for getting your "launch team," "core group," or whatever this is called in your tradition to having the necessary center to what a faith community is. It's easy to get sucked into new ideas, tools, promotion, etc. These practices will appropriately anchor your conversation and planning.

Stage 2: Engagement
Rooted in the 4 initial practices will inform how you will go into a context and seek to bless it. They shape how engage others. This stage has two simple practices: Bless and Go. These are shaped by the previous stage. This ensures that you go into your ministry context as a community, rather than as individuals and with an imagination of what a new faith community will look and feel like (because you have already begun experiencing it in some fashion). Additionally, there is no bait and switch in starting a new community this way. It is about genuinely befriending and blessing neighbors. This engenders trust which is so critical in an era where there is increasing public examples why not to Christian communities.

Stage 3: Gathering
That's right, there's only one more practice in Bishop Curry's model. What if rest was your first invitation into Christian community? Second only to the Jesus-centeredness of this model, rest may be the most counter-cultural aspect of this model. We do not participate in a culture that believes in Scripture-rooted understanding of rest. Certainly leisure but not rest. What if your first manner of gathering people into new community was through an invitation into a Sabbath-informed way of collective rest and restoration? What would that look like in your context? Would it be respite for underpaid and overworked neighbors or single moms? Would it be a lavish Shabbat/family-styled meal where people are encouraged to linger? Would it be planting trees, nature walks ... the one thing I would say is that it should not be decided upon before the first two stages, which will plug you into whatever God is up to and what your neighbors long for.

4 ... 2 ... 1 ... Repeat.

What do you think about this? What would you change? Would you try this out?

I'll write in more detail about each of the practices in further posts.

Further reading: Michael Frost encourages 5 practices in his book Surprise the World with some similarity.

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