Congregational Transformation

blocpic congregationaltransformationwordcloudI am working on Certificate of Spiritual Direction at Aquinas Institute of Theology and am writing a research paper on Spirituality and Congregational Transformation. In part, I am wondering what spiritual practices enable traditional church folk to become open to change in their congregation, and engage in relevant mission with Millenials, the “spiritual but not religious”, and others who are disenchanted with institutions in general and organized religion specifically. I interviewed two pastors who have led successful transformations in a congregation, and also worked as consultants to help others do the same.

Both consultants said that the lay leaders, as well as the pastor need to be engaged in their own spiritual practices on a daily basis. There are a whole variety of spiritual practices across denominations and cultures, but the most important ones include some form of the following:

• prayer
• living in the Word or Bible study
• living in community—like a small group—where honesty and vulnerability are expressed, and genuine love and active care for one another is experienced.

When the pastor is willing to be appropriately vulnerable in sermons and teaching about his or her own challenges, the lay leaders are more willing to do so in their small groups, committees and teams. This kind of heart-to-heart culture in a congregation is what fosters authentic community, which is the basis for a mission focused on sharing God’s love with others.

These spiritual practices and the genuine community that grows from them, help people realize that the church is not an institution, a building, a certain way of doing things, a power structure, a place where we consume services, or a place where we get what we want, but rather, the church’s purpose is to share the life-changing love of Jesus Christ in and with their community and the world.

When congregations are asked what they want in pastor, they usually list off skills: preaching, leading worship, pastoral visitation, teaching, administration, and so on, but they never mention spiritual practices or depth. After hearing this list of non-spiritual functions, one consultant then tells church boards that they are missing the most important question to ask a pastor or pastoral candidate: “What are you doing to deepen your relationship with Jesus, so you can help us do the same?” The board members’ response usually is, “isn’t that assumed?” And the answer is, “no!” Pastors spend a lot of time doing the tasks to keep the institution functioning rather than focusing on their own spiritual life and equipping the laity in deepening their relationship with Jesus.

It turns out that the only path of congregational transformation is the same as it is for personal transformation in the faith: spending time with Jesus in prayer, in Bible study, and in community so that we are continually drawn out of our self-focus into the love of God, and the mission of the Gospel to transform the world.

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Spiritual Spring Cleaning

blogpic spiritualspringcleaningIn her book, The Holy Spirit, Sr. Mary Ann Fatula of Ohio Dominican University writes, “We know that the Father’s perfect image or ‘icon’ is the Son (Colossians 1:15), and that the Son’s living ‘icon’ is the Spirit; but there is no other divine person who is the Spirit’s image. It is human persons filled with the Spirit who are the most brilliant icon revealing the Holy Spirit to the world.”

Have you ever thought of yourself as the living icon of the Holy Spirit? Jesus was limited in time and space to the first century, but the risen Christ transcends all time and space and eternity so that his living presence can fill the whole creation. As believers and followers of the risen Christ, our lives become the dwelling place, the guest house for the Holy Spirit to live and shine through us.

I have been wondering lately, what kind of host I have been to the Holy Spirit. Have I relegated her to a back room that is full of dust and dirt? Have I limited the Spirit to only one part of who I am rather than allowing the Spirit to take full possession of my life? Have I put forth my best effort to make sure that my life is a hospitable dwelling place for God? Maybe this is why Jesus was born in the hay among the stable animals—a stark reminder that none of us are too smelly and awful for God to live in and love us and transform us.

Perhaps prayer, meditation, journaling, Bible-reading, exercise and other forms of spiritual practice are for the Holy Spirit, the equivalent of house cleaning, preparing a lovely meal, and setting out the nicest towels for a houseguest. Where does my life need some sprucing up so that the Spirit may enter more fully? Am I willing to die to my ego and my preferred outcomes so that the Holy Spirit can shine brilliantly through me?

Perhaps this is what is really meant by the Aaronic blessing God spoke to Moses: “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord look upon you with favor and + give you peace” (Numbers 6:22-26). Perhaps way back then, Moses and Aaron understood that God’ presence not only shines on us, but through us. It’s like sunlight—we don’t look at the sun directly but we see it instead, in the light it shines all around us. We do not see the Holy Spirit’s light directly, but we see it reflected in the faces and lives of those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells fully.

I think it’s time for some thorough spiritual spring cleaning.

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Book Party & Signing This Thursday!

BookcoverFood! Friends! Fun!

Please join me this Thursday, April 20, 6-8 pm at The Novel Neighbor in Webster Groves, MO to celebrate my first book! 

Address: 7905 Big Bend Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63119 (here's a map)

We'll have snacks and drinks, I'll read a few essays, and sign books (bring one, or purchase one there!). 

If you can't come, you can click here to purchase a book for $14.95 on Amazon. If you'd like me to sign a book and mail it to you for $16, please leave a message for me here. If you have 3 minutes and can write a positive review here to help me out on Amazon, I would be eternally grateful!

Motherhood Calling makes a great gift for Mother's Day, May 14th! Please bring a friend or share the news!

Thank you so much for your interest in and support of my writing!

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A Good Friday Meditation

blogpic crucifixion sunsetA Meditation preached on Good Friday, April 14, 2017 based on the Passion of Jesus according to John 18-19 at Lutheran Church of the Atonement, Florissant, MO

Over the course of Jesus’ life and ministry, the disciple’s relationship with him deepens and changes—and so does ours. We always stand as sinner to our Savior, but as we follow Jesus in his mission, we also become a servant to our Master. As we hear the parables, we become a student of our Teacher, and as we learn to love others as he has loved us, we become a disciple to our Lord.

But as Jesus approaches his suffering and death, he deepens our relationship with him again. At the Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus says, I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

Now we become friends to Jesus. Jesus needs more than sinners, servants, students and disciples to enter the suffering that he faces. Jesus needs friends who will accompany him, who will love him, who will suffer with him, who will not betray, abandon or deny him. None of his first disciples could do this, except John. Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, all but John ran away.

Have you ever imagined that the disciples who fled in fear left an opening in the story for you to do what they could not? Have you ever imagined that Jesus calls you, “friend,” and asks you to enter his passion and fill the space vacated by the disciples? Have you ever imagined that the suffering you have endured in this life, opens up inside you, a bigger space of compassion so that you can be a friend to Jesus, so that you can be the one who stays by his side while he suffers and dies?

I invite you to imagine yourself inside the story as a friend who stays there with Jesus; a gift of sacred accompaniment. You may close your eyes and quiet your thoughts as you let your imagination take you to the hill outside of Jerusalem where Jesus and 2 criminals are crucified.

Crowds surround you as you make your way to the cross. The jeers and cheers have quieted down as death draws near. As you weave your way closer, you spot Jesus’ mother Mary, with Mary Magdalene, and Mary’s sister, standing at the foot of the cross with John. You make your way toward them so you can be there with Jesus, too. As you take your place beside them, the Mary’s and John nod their gratitude to you and squeeze your hand. They are so comforted that you had the courage and compassion to stay by Jesus until the end.

You look up at Jesus; his head is bowed. So many thoughts and questions are running through his mind: “Is this what happens when you love without limits? What should I have done differently? Just a few days ago I thought I heard Hosannas! Where are all of my friends? And, my Abba, my Father, where, oh where is he in all this agony?”

No answers come.

Jesus lifts up his head and sees you there with the women and John. You lock eyes and you see the relief flood over him as he realizes he’s not completely alone. He holds your gaze as if he’s soaking up your compassion and love. You remember that Jesus knows everything—all of your pain and sorrow, all of your goodness and joy, all of your temptation and sin. You feel flooded with his love. How can Jesus exude such love when he’s in so much pain? You also feel deep sorrow for his suffering.

It’s as if time stands still. As you hold his gaze, it looks like he’s about to say something. You step closer and lean in to hear what he says: what does Jesus say to you? What is Jesus saying to you as a friend who stays by his side?

You hold this message from Jesus in your heart. You will always remember what Jesus has done for you.

He saved all of us by not saving himself.

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Linda Anderson-Little

Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.

 

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