SPIRITUAL FORMATION IN COMMUNITY

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SPIRITUAL FORMATION IN COMMUNITY

I want to focus first on leadership, but primarily on the leader’s character and integrity.  I am going to approach this form the perspective of missional leadership for that is the desired leadership about which I have chosen to learn and to which I have submitted myself.  I believe that missiology and spiritual formation play hand-in-hand.  For missiology by it natures requires a sense of contemplation, prayer, guidance, and commitment.  All of these are found as disciplines or via the disciplines.

Missional Leadership

 

A leader’s personal character is paramount to the missional church and to the apostolic leadership model!  Personal character can be summed up as self-identity, which refers to the leader’s nature, character, and behavior in the context of the congregation and its maturing and growing.  The leader must be well grounded in a deep spring of faith.  The leader must also have a strong commitment to be formed and shaped by the Spirit via cooperation with Him through the disciplines.  I believe that in the following aspects of missional leadership require a strong commitment to the spiritual disciplines and foster a strong relationship with them.  Through prayer and contemplation and self-examination that leader can have a good sense of where he is and who he is, but also where he must grow.

Missional leadership is primarily focused first on the individual leader’s growth, spiritual formation, and well-grounded foundation in Christ.  Romanuk and Roxburgh write, “Leaders either form or deform the emergence of the Spirit’s work among God’s people” (The Missional Leader: 126).  This is very important!  It is absolutely necessary that the leader be well-grounded, personally transformed by Christ’s blood, deified by the work of the Holy Spirit via Deification, and led from deep waters.  A leader must feel trusted by their people.  Being a leader in the context of Missiology requires a lot of maturity and character!  Leaders must base their lives around their values and beliefs and live those out, embodying them for themselves and the congregation.  Romanuk and Roxburgh write, “Character is a matter of personal habits, skills, and behaviors that engender confidence and credibility.  It also involves a leader’s motivation, values, and sense of life purpose.  Character requires self-knowledge and clear evidence that Jesus Christ is the center of the leader’s life, meaning, and call.  Character is the place where one’s deep hunger, personal identity, and calling merge to generate the confidence that allows people to trust a leader and agree to journey together in a new direction.  Such character is observed in four personal qualities: maturity, conflict management, personal courage, and trustworthiness and trusting” (The Missional Leader: 127).

Personal Maturity

Missional imagination cultivated in an environment of God’s people requires a self-aware, authentic, and present leader who understands the realities and concerns of those he leads.  A missional leader is personally mature has these three ingredients: being present to oneself and others, being authentic, and is being self-aware.

Conflict Management

Missional transformation is by nature going to put a leader into a very tension-filled aura filled with high-conflict.  The leader must be able to place the conflict within the confines of the changing environment and foster it in a very healthy way and not avoid it.  The leader must engage conflict so that the people will ask themselves questions about what God is doing among them as a faith community.  Engaging conflict helps all the community to think differently, name the conflict they are experiencing, and to find solutions to the conflict.

Personal Courage

            “Missional leadership is not for the faint-hearted.  It takes courage to do the right thing when it is neither easy nor comfortable and to accept the personal consequences of leading people out of familiar habits and patterns toward an alternative future,” write Romanuk and Roxburgh (The Missional Leader: 137).  Being a missional leader means one has to have the courage to stand up to public pressure, sacrifice popularity, and make tough decisions.  Romanuk and Roxburgh continue, “Personal courage is the capacity to go on a long journey in the same direction, even when few seem willing to follow. It means keeping to one’s core values, ideals, and sense of call, even if they have become unpopular” (The Missional Leader: 138).

Trustworthiness and Trusting

Without trust there is absolutely no way a missional transformation can take place!  In discontinuous change there is always a sense of insecurity.  If the leader does not have the trust of the people and the people the trust of the leader then there can be no missional change in difficult times.  One way to build this trust is to show that there is coherence between character and action.  Right beliefs and right thinking leads to right actions!  If there is disconnect there and those two are coherent and congruent then there is not trust and rightfully so!  This is where an emotional systems approach to your congregation is vital!  But it is even more vital to the leader that he or she have their core values and system in place and that they live and make decisions and perform actions out of those core values and beliefs.  Romanuk and Roxburgh state, “You live from a set of consistent values that do not zig and zag under outside influence.  People experience consistency in your leadership over an extended period of time.  Values and skills combine to give people trust in your leadership.  Trust is built as you demonstrate consistency in values, skills, and actions” (The Missional Leader: 139).

I think we have explored how the leader himself must be well-grounded and of upright character.  Let’s look at how a leader can implement a plan of spiritual formation in his community.

Spiritual Formation Plan

            I think the best chapter in Wilhoit’s book, “Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community,” to begin to implement a plan of spiritual formation would be in chapter 4, To Foster Receiving in Community.  This presupposes the need to receive a foundation, which Wilhoit addressed in chapter 3.  We of course must realize our own brokenness and sin as a community, but I find that we receive this in the fact that we are already a community.  Being in community helps to go and show how depraved we are and how often we make mistakes and fail.  It shows us how sinful we truly can be.  Wilhoit writes, “A sense of humble receptiveness on the part of the Christian community is so essential to true spiritual formation.  A receptive stance requires both corporate and individual humility and spiritual provision, which is available for those who humbly seek.  We must seek to promote an appropriate humility and brokenness on the part of God’s people, so that they are receptive to the Spirit’s work of formation and reformation in our lives” (Wilhoit: 81).

To have a sense of openness is absolutely vital to beginning spiritual formation with the practices and disciplines!  Wilhoit writes, “A true spiritual openness has at its core a personal brokenness that results in humility and a tender openness to God’s work in us” (Wilhoit: 82).  This is where we must begin.  We must be open with ourselves and with one another to see first the need that we are broken, but also open to the need to have the Spirit spiritually form us and mold us into the Divine Nature.  Our job as leaders is to help persuade our people that we in fact need change and repentance.  That we need spiritual formation and reformation.

It is upon this persuasion and this openness that a vision.  A vision provides hope that a real change is possible and that transformation can indeed take place as a ontological reality (Wilhoit: 82).  This vision is not just something that is emotional, but it must also guide us spiritually and morally.  It must set in place a view of things for us that motivate us to move forward spiritually.  This vision is also grounded in the fact that there is hope.  There is hope for our lives to be ontologically changed, shaped, molded, and conformed to reflect the Divine Nature and to be restored to the Divine Image.  The vision helps us to grasp that hope and restoration are possible with the blood of Jesus Christ.  Wilhoit says, “Vision is the wild card of spiritual formation…The ability to cast a vision of change and discipleship is a powerful means of grace.  I know of many people whose spiritual lives have been forever transformed through a vision-communicating speaker, who was able to call them to a different way of life by giving them a moral/spiritual vision” (Wilhoit: 83).  It is like a road map or a source of spiritual strength and exhortation.  We can realize that we can come to live differently and not be trapped in our old selves.

Richard Foster talks exclusively about how worship plays into our spiritual formation.  This is where I believe the Orthodox have a lot to share with other Christians.  Worship is the eschatological destiny of the Church and this should inform everything about our lives and what we believe and how we practice those beliefs.  The best place to look at how worship is would be the book of Revelations.  This is where much of the Divine Liturgy for the Orthodox takes its ques.  Worship centers on God!  And if worship is going to help shape us spiritually then it must center on God.  Wilhoit writes in his Corollary 7, “Worship filled with prayer and praise and opportunities for confession, repentance, receiving the sacraments, hearing and giving testimonies of God’s activity, and learning/challenging is the most important context of community formation” (Wilhoit: 86).  That was something that drew me to the Orthodox Church.  The worship is unlike anything I have ever witnessed on earth.  It is a worship that is God-centered and mysterious.  It is one in which all these things Wilhoit writes about are present.

If we want brokenness we must be broken.  “Communities marked by a constructive and pervasive sense of brokenness all have leaders who are broken and open people.  Some of these leaders are people who have genuinely been broken and seen the bottom through their own experiences” (Wilhoit: 87).  I believe this goes back to much of what missional leadership is about.  It takes a leader who is extremely self-aware and honest with himself and his people to be able to lead them into a place of being spiritually formed.  But often this first includes their being broken.  Wilhoit goes on to say, “Our message needs to have far more emphasis on the fact that we are all in this together: We all suffer from the same deadly disease of sin, and we are all in the same treatment facility. While there is progress, and while there is hope, there are also relapses, and there is an ongoing struggle.  Leaders in their teaching, preaching, and pastoral ministry need to be open about the reality of struggle and awareness of brokenness in their own life if they want to create a climate that supports authentic recognition of our brokenness” (Wilhoit: 87). Part of our jobs as leaders is to foster a place where this can happen.  We must provide places where brokenness can be exposed, so that it may be healed.  This allows for an atmosphere where brokenness leads to discipleship.

The disciplines are about the cooperation with God’s work in our lives.  Hence, they are indeed about submission.  Jesus invites us to love God and obey Him.  He also invites us to love one another and to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Out of this invent flows some more invites I want to address:

Jesus invites us to depend more and more on His grace.  We must come to the realization that all growth and transformation comes from the grace of Christ.  Wilhoit writes, “A curriculum for Christ likeness, which confirms Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, must lead us to see our brokenness and wretchedness and teach us where and how to receive the sustaining grace that God freely offers.

Jesus offers us the joy and freedom to practice the spiritual disciplines for they help to show us our hunger for God.  Through the disciplines we come into a place of God’s sustaining presence where we can be healed.  Wilhoit notes, “The disciplines are aimed at heart transformation and the growth of inner beauty” (Wilhoit: 93).  The joy and freedom to practice disciplines does not mean they deliver us from trouble or remove us from bad situations.  They are things we do to cooperate with God’s work in us.

Jesus invites us to practice discernment.  As leaders it is our job to be offering wisdom and the Godly perspective on situations that the Church or individuals are facing.  Wilhoit writes, “Churches should seek to build into their culture encouragement to turn to others for discernment in times of decision making so that they can receive wisdom from the body of Christ” (Wilhoit: 95).

Jesus invites us to pray.  Wilhoit says that, “Prayer is one of the most important acts of receiving.  In prayer we have direct interaction with God and the opportunity of receiving his care and grace, and naturally we put ourselves in a posture of receiving” (Wilhoit: 97).  The thing about liturgical churches is that the liturgy is basically one big prayer.  This is very important to all communal life.  And it is sad that many churches neglect this.  Some of the ways in which a church can cultivate this receiving in prayer is to hold prayer meetings, have prayer ministries, go on prayer retreats, hold special seasons of prayer, have prayer chains and emails, immerse themselves and others in prayer, give opportunities for practicing prayer, and finally by incorporate liturgical elements that focus strongly on communal prayer.

Jesus invites us to worship, to celebrate the sacraments, to use our bodies in prayer and worship, to use our money wisely, to repent and draw close to God and to Jesus.  These are all things that as a community involve being receptive.  Wilhoit closes the chapter by saying, “In our state of human brokenness and extreme need, the gospel brings grace to those who own their brokenness and seek repentance instead of building idols.  Repentance includes a vision for a change brought by humbly acknowledging sin and devoting oneself to investing in a life driven by the invitations of Jesus.  Jesus laid out a road map for those who could see that their idols were empty and who wanted to turn away to a different path” (Wilhoit: 102).  It is the receiving of this map that begins the path to spiritual formation for the individual and for the community.  It is this map that leads us to a new and better path together.

THE ORTHODOX PASTOR: A GUIDE TO PASTORAL THEOLOGY (A Book Review/Summary)

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THE ORTHODOX PASTOR: A GUIDE TO PASTORAL THEOLOGY

“There is nothing more awe-inspiring and more blessed than the service of pastorship.  Through earthly and heavenly shepherds the Lord feeds His flock of the believing, or of the not yet believing souls.  True pastorship is Christ’s life continuing in the world,” writes Archbishop John Shahovskoy in “The Orthodox Pastor: A Guide to Pastoral Theology”.  Father Stephen highly recommended I read this book for my internship.  It is a basic introduction to pastoral theology in the eyes of the sacramental priesthood of the Orthodox Church.  However, this book has ageless wisdom that any pastor charged with imparting “the one thing needful” to souls within his care.  Archbishop John shares such sage counsel in this practical and helpful guide to being the shepherd of a faith community.  I believe that beginning with the premise of pastorship being the continuing of Christ’s life in the world is a highly sacramental way to begin one’s pastorship journey!  We are the presence of Christ to our flock and to the world.  We offer his healing presence through our pastorship.  I think this is foundational to the work of a pastor

The beginning of the book addresses that there is but One Shepherd and One Pastorship and it is that of Christ Jesus’.  He says, “Only those who know the One Shepherd can be shepherds on earth or in heaven.”  To be a pastor of Christ showing His presence to the flock and to the world, one must know the Shepherd.  I think that it is a great way to begin this book!  We must work out our own salvation as pastors first and foremost.  We must learn via the disciplines to silent the craziness of our thoughts and minds and to enter into the place of the heart where our true selves lie.  It is there that we begin to know God and be known by Him.  We take this time to know our Shepherd and to be shepherded by Him.  We then can take this and give from our hearts to our flock.

Archbishop John writes, “Pastorship in the spirit of Christ is for the parish the pastorship of Christ Himself.” We must take on the spirit of Christ in our pastorship.  We must be like Christ the Good Shepherd in our thoughts, actions, and lives.  What does this look like?  Archbishop hints at it here: “A priest must know that growth is the work of the Divine grace, through sunshine, warmth, light, air, food, water, dew–and the task of the gardener-priest is merely to weed the plants in God’s garden and to water them with the waters of the sacraments.”  A job as pastors is to cultivate a garden, a garden that is as weed less as possible and is teaming with life with luscious plants that spring up from the ground.  We are after all nothing but fancy dirt and a saved soul.

Archbishop John also talks about what makes up evil pastorhood.  An evil pastor is one who does his own will instead of Christ’s.  An evil pastor follows the devil and not Christ.  He lays out some characteristics of evil pastorship: 1) Love of money and materialistic, 2) The pastor does it for pomp, show, and theatricality, 3) Fawning on the rich and the powerful.  A contemptuous attitude to poor and humble people, 4) The preaching of earthly values and attainments in the church and being absorbed in some side issue or work, 5) Seeking honor and glory for oneself, vanity, and 6) A lack of care for the human soul.  By contrast he says that a good pastor is one who is in the Shepherd’s fold.  A good pastor “is a spiritual architect—a builder of souls, constructing out of these souls the House of God—the communion of peace and love.” A good pastor “knows his farm, understands the processes of organic life and knows how to further them.  He looks at every plant and takes care of it.  His work is to prepare and till the soil, to sow seed, to water the plants, to weed, to graft good stock, to spray the vines, to protect the fruit from thieves and birds, to watch over its ripening and harvest it in due season…” A good pastor has a physician’s knowledge who can diagnose, apply treatment, prescribe and even make up the necessary medications.  “A good pastor is a warrior and a commander; a helmsman and a captain; a father, mother, brother, son, friend, servant; a carpenter, a polisher of precious stone, a gold seeker; a writer writing the Book of Life.  True pastors, like pure mirrors of the Sun of Righteousness, reflect for mankind the radiance of heaven and give warmth to the world.”

Archbishop John also speaks a word about pastors in regards to education, school, social life, apologetics, and preaching.  He says of preaching, “A sermon may be prepared beforehand, or it may not be. If it is to be stronger than a double-edged sword (carrying Truth on one edge, and cutting down falsehood on the other), it must first of all be prepared in prayer. If the Spirit of power is given from above, the sermon will be ‘a success’ (i.e. will convince, inspire, heal, liberate, help the building of the Kingdom of God). If the spirit is not given, the sermon will either distract or weary the listeners…

Sermons in church should not be unctuous, abounding in archaic words, and platitudes and no artificial rhetorical devices are necessary. The preacher’s words should be direct, simple, spiritually pure and have no ‘worldly’ taint about them…”  I believe that one critique we must make of expository approach is that it is so very easy to make the Bible the authority instead of a revelation and revealing of a higher Authority.  It is easy to make the sermon Bible-centered or text-centered.  I am all about expository preaching, but we must always remember to preach Christ and Him crucified.  Our preaching must be centered on Christ!  We must not supplant God the Word with the Word of God.  I think his advice to keep in prayer and to pray for the Spirit’s uprising in our sermon is absolutely vital to preaching well and with passion, conviction, and the Spirit of Christ!

I do not have time or space to comment fully on this wonderful little book that is just 120 pages.  I could not recommend this book enough!  It is a delightful book full of practical knowledge, sage advice, and godly wisdom.  I am very grateful that Father recommended this book to me and even loaned me his copy!

The Fifth Servant

beethovenConductingSarah Macintosh recently posted a blog entitled “Van Gogh and Christian Music“. I love these kind of blogs! An artist recognizing that something is wrong with contemporary Christian art and opening a dialogue about it…I’m there! Here are some quotes from her blog…

“Unfortunately, frequently, christian music drives me crazy. Instead of being pulled towards what the songs are attempting to reveal, oftentimes, I find myself hitting the mute button and frustration filling my chest.”

“Where is the great craft? Where is the great songwriting? What in the heck are they trying to say? What picture are they trying to paint?”

I share the same frustrations as Sarah. Here is my short response:

What should we expect when American Christianity has such a neatly packaged theology that pales in size and scope to what Scripture presents to us? Puppies in a basket and John 3:16 as N. D. Wilson

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“From the time I first became aware of Eastern Christianity via the Byzantine Catholic Church, and especially after the culmination of my search for the Truth led me and my wife to be baptized in the Orthodox Church, I have had a desire to spread the ancient Christian faith and to share everything I have learned with others. Orthodox Christianity provides the cure to the problems of mankind, and yet it is not well known in the West, something which I lament and which I am working to overcome in my own small way”

Triangle Orthodox

From the time I first became aware of Eastern Christianity via the Byzantine Catholic Church, and especially after the culmination of my search for the Truth led me and my wife to be baptized in the Orthodox Church, I have had a desire to spread the ancient Christian faith and to share everything I have learned with others. Orthodox Christianity provides the cure to the problems of mankind, and yet it is not well known in the West, something which I lament and which I am working to overcome in my own small way (but let the credit go to God, Who called and equipped me, and to my bishop Metropolitan Pavlos, in whose name I act).

Driving around North Carolina and Virginia, I would scope out places where Churches could be planted, monasteries built, and the Gospel preached. It was all very exciting to me, and over the years…

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A Request for Prayer

ImageI am under a lot of stress and anxiety for some reason this semester, and I’m in a big rut. I guess it’s the stress of interviewing for grad school coming up soon and not knowing what the future holds combined with graduation being around the corner and that fear, albeit irrational, of not making it. I usually do not allow anxiety to get to me, but this semester it’s been a rough start. I haven’t been full time for a year, so I guess that is throwing me off too.

I am behind in reading, and really dropped the ball on the rough draft for my research paper, in APA format, for Ab. Psych. I am behind in reading for a few classes too.

Please keep me in your prayers. I would appreciate all the prayers you could offer up for me, please, dear friends.

I will get back on track! I take school very seriously, but I am battling some serious burnout I do believe. I am ready to be done with undergrad, to have 3 weeks off after graduation, and to begin a new, exciting journey into grad work if accepted. I made it this far, so I know the Lord will carry me through, but I would appreciate your prayers.

Thank you, all.

Love Does Not Alter the Beloved, It Alters Itself II (A Challenge for Men)

media_47454_enThis is a condensed, or reworked, version of my blog from yesterday, and is written towards men to challenge them to be better husbands for the guys over at Blog of Manly.

“Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself.” -Soren Kierkegaard

On my right forearm, the lyrics to William Fitzsimmons’ song “Maybe Be Alright” are tattooed.  It says, “Love can last if you only let it grow…” I have tried to live my marriage in such a way that I do not hinder love, but let it grow, let it flourish.

I believe that way too often we do things that hinder love and hinder growth. I believe that Soren Kierkegaard is right on the money with his quote. I believe the number one thing we do that smothers love and growth in marriage is to try to alter the Beloved.

We do not stop to think about changing ourselves, but attempt to make the other person change in order to conform to our version of who they should be!

My wife and I were quick to rush into marriage and love.  We brought a lot of unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors into our marriage that caused us to spend the first year of our marriage in a 5 month therapy separation and several months of counseling.

I realized soon into my marriage that there had to be a death….the death of myself and my selfishness, my control issues. Steven Robinson wrote in his piece on Valentine’s Day, “Someone recently said of marriage that it is the only martyrdom in which you get to pick the instrument of your death. Of course it is not so much a physical death, though your physicality is a part of your sacrifice, but it is also the laying down of your ego, your self will, your time, your passions, your selfish desires… all the things that are ultimately harder to give up for the long haul than your physical life in a split second.”

Very early on in our marriage I was not letting love grow; I was smothering it. Very early on I tried to control my wife and to alter her, my Beloved.

By the grace of God, we made it through that hellish first year in tact and much stronger for it. Looking back in retrospect, I am grateful for having gone through it all.

As men, we should value honor, strength, integrity, and responsibility.  I want to challenge all the husbands out there reading to pause and do some self-evaluation. Perhaps this means going to therapy to work through your personal issues; having that extra set of eyes and ears is not something of which we should be ashamed.

Men, stop and inspect your actions and your fostering of love within your marriages. Are you smothering it or allowing it to grow? Are you attempting to alter your Beloved and conform her to your ideal version of her or are you respecting her personhood and beautiful identity in Christ?

My challenge to you as a fellow man and fellow husband is to alter your self. Humble yourself and work on you. Become the man God intended you to be. Die to your self, your ego, your pride, your need to be right, and need to control. Humble yourself before God and your wife.

Alter not your wives, but yourselves, and I can promise you that your marriage will be a much more healthier marriage. You alone control how you respond, react, live, and love within your marriage. The ball is in your court.