Prayers You’ll Want to Pray

This Sunday, we’ll be launching Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray with George Donigian, a delightful and helpful course based on George’s latest book of the same name. In the course and in the book, George speaks about The Lord’s Prayer, the Serenity Prayer, and the Prayer of Dag Hammarskjold, offering them as wonderful examples of challenging, faith-enriching conversation with God. George is a United Methodist pastor in Greenville, South Carolina. His writing builds upon his Armenian heritage, his literary and theological and musical interests and influences, and his perspective on culture and faith.

dagOn his blog, George explains why he wrote the book:

“When I worked in book publishing, one day I found myself considering the different experiences of worship I had during travels. For ten years I spent at least one week a month away from home. No matter where or what kind of worship—whether in South Africa or the US or Germany or Armenia, in interdenominational gatherings or whatever church I visited—we prayed the Lord’s Prayer. It seemed to me that we overlook the Lord’s Prayer as a prayer for unity. It is a prayer common to all Christians and it was given by Jesus in response to a request from his disciples to teach them to pray. So I started reflecting more on that idea and the book grew from that musing.

“My editor describes the book for 20-40-year-olds. I certainly tried to address questions I hear from adults in this age group, especially those in my family. And that’s why I also write a little about my background and experiences. For example, four teenagers attacked me one morning while I was preparing to go running and I got beaten badly. I write about this in the Diplomat’s Prayer. How do you express gratitude or pray, ‘For all that has been—Thanks!’ after that kind of situation? Suddenly a prayer that seems easy becomes a challenge.

“… I’ve heard from 80-year-olds who thanked me for saying what they’d felt intuitively, but had not found in other books. And I’ve heard from those who go across the spectrum of adulthood who have found the book offers them a new sense of the rhythm of daily prayer.”

One of the “three prayers you’ll want to pray” is The Serenity Prayer, familiar to most from 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. George quotes the full version of the prayer and explains why:

“The full version grounds us in the present, reminding us to take life in the same way that Jesus approached life—one day at a time—and without projecting problems into the future or the past. When you read the full version, it’s easy to understand the importance of the prayer to various 12-Step groups.

“But you know the importance of Reinhold Niebuhr, who gave us the Serenity Prayer. Niebuhr taught at seminary when he wrote the prayer, but he began as a pastor in urban ministry. Detroit was a boom town when he was there. I see a number of parallels between Niebuhr’s time and our own and write about that, and these parallels connect all of us more closely with the Serenity Prayer. One of Niebuhr’s other books—based on journals kept during those years in Detroit—is titled Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic. Delightful title and it gives some insight into the character of Niebuhr. And he learned to take it one day at a time.”

We’re excited to offer this sneak peek at George’s book, which is full of wisdom and inspiration for enriching your daily prayer life. Click here to read more from George.

What Is God Calling Us To Do?

What is a blessed church? It is a church uniquely grounded in a relationship with God that allows blessings to flow through it. It is a church with a vibrant sense of faith, hope, and love. It is a church that embraces the sacred and that is not afraid to serve God in its own way. Pastor and author N. Graham Standish describes how a church that is open to God’s purpose, presence, and power can claim God’s blessing.

Standish shares the story of Calvin Presbyterian Church in Zelienople, Pennsylvania, and its journey to become a spiritually deep congregation, one that is inwardly and outwardly healthy: spiritually, psychologically, physically, and relationally. Becoming a blessed church will help you discern God’s purpose and the path God is calling your congregation to walk. This book will help you find Christ in your midst and become aware of the many ways the blessings of God’s Spirit flow through your congregation.

Our latest course, Deepening the Spirituality of Your Congregation with Graham Standish, launches today, for both individuals and For Groups. Graham’s book, Becoming a Blessed Church (from which the above is taken), chronicles his own parish’s journey in re-placing God at the grahamcenter of all leadership, vision creation, and meetings. In Graham’s understanding, most mainline churches have come to run themselves solely as businesses, with majority-rules votes taken during meetings — and not as actively prayerful places of discernment (at least, outside worship services). He contends that a church whose leadership focuses primarily on functionality — rather than prayerful study and group discernment — is one whose decisions are made according to the will of the leaders, and perhaps not of God.

What does he mean by this? Well, consider how your church’s governing body makes decisions: if you ask, “All in favor, say ‘Aye'” and not, “All who feel that this is God’s will, say ‘Aye'” you may have slipped into the “functional” track. Sometimes those two questions can yield the same answer, but often, the first kind of question helps church leadership forget that God is in charge and that its role is to discern God’s will. It makes “secret deists” who nod politely toward God in their opening and closing prayers, but ask God to step aside for the majority of the meeting and the decision- and plan-making.

Graham’s church has tried some radical rethinking of leadership and visioning, and the results are striking. Church leaders pray more, read and study more, grow in their faith more deeply and deliberately, and this has led to a stronger and more spiritually-grounded congregation overall.

Take Graham’s course, Deepening the Spirituality of Your Congregation — and see if the way your church leadership operates could use a little rethinking. We’d be interested to hear your comments on our Facebook page. We commend this course especially to clergy and lay leaders of churches.

To learn more about Graham and to make use of his free resources, click here.

Becoming Blessed

When it comes to our own, individual spiritual lives, most of us wouldn’t say we want “business as usual” or “to just do what we’ve always done;” nor would we express a desire to treat our souls like businesses or corporations. Why then do we settle into those habits in our churches? Why do we run committees and leadership boards and vestries as businesses, with only rules of order and theories and practices? We may tend to pray at the beginning of a meeting and again at the end, to nod to God and then ask God to step aside while we create 5-year plans and budgets, but maybe it shouldn’t be this way.graham

What if we shook things up, and started spending more time praying and learning and discerning together? What if we truly invited God into every moment of our church leadership meetings? To not just say we want to do God’s will, but to actively and patiently seek it?

If you find these questions even a bit provocative or inspiring, our latest course will be of great interest. This Sunday, we launch Deepening the Spirituality of Your Congregation with Graham Standish. Graham knows what he’s talking about because his Presbyterian parish in Pennsylvania has put this mode of prayerful church governance into practice, and has seen the fruits of it firsthand. Letting go of a fixation on process and “getting business done,” as well as making room for earnest, patient, thorough prayer throughout the duration of meetings, has deepened the spirituality of his parishioners, says Graham, enriched the intimacy of their relationships as children of God, and renewed the health of his congregation. He offers practical tips on how to do what may seem impractical when running a church — because the grace of God is likewise richly impractical.

Graham’s course, based on his book, Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence, and Power, launches Sunday in both individual and For Groups format. For more information on Graham, visit his website here.

Articulating the Via Media

Embracing the mystery requires great (1)

This week, we’re pleased to launch The Episcopal Way, with Stephanie Spellers and Eric Law. If you’ve ever wondered about what makes the Episcopal Church unique, this course is a great place to start, as it’s a foretaste of a project seeking to rearticulate the beliefs and practices of the Episcopal Church. As Spellers says in the first lesson, about every 20 years the Episcopal Church commits to reexamining and defining itself as a church, as part of the Episcopal commitment to the “three-legged stool” of scripture, tradition, and reason, on which Episcopal liturgy and practice are based.

We commend this course to lifelong Episcopalians as well, since we live in a fast-paced and ever-changing culture, in which we need to feel comfortable articulating and sharing our faith tradition. Stephanie and Eric offer a working definition of “the Episcopal Way” as well as some engaging insight on why the Episcopal Church is especially relevant and life-giving in this day and age.

You may also want to take this course in a small group setting, either among newcomers to the church or those in leadership. Either way, you’ll enjoy and appreciate Eric and Stephanie’s engaging, insightful, and interesting discussions, as you think more deeply about this rich faith tradition — and its future.

The Earth Is Charged with the Grandeur of God*

gardening

This week we launched our latest course, Spirituality and Gardening, with Christine Sine. In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of interest in “getting back to the earth,” in literally returning to our roots, in conservation and organic gardening, in growing our own food. This, of course, isn’t really a new thing, merely a revival of interest in an age-old awareness of our spiritual connection to God’s creation.

Celtic Christianity has long been known for its teachings on this subject. As John Philip Newell writes, “What is it we have forgotten about ourselves and one another? In the Celtic tradition, the Garden of Eden is not a place in space and time from which we are separated. It is the deepest dimension of our being from which we live in a type of exile. It is our place of origin or genesis in God. Eden is home, but we live far removed from it. And yet in the Genesis account, the Garden is not destroyed. Rather Adam and Eve become fugitives from the place of their deepest identity. It is a picture of humanity living in exile.”

Our souls are only too aware of this sense of exile, of loss — even when we pretend not to know it. The periodic resurgence of a need to return to the earth, to reconnect with the natural world, reminds us of this. Indeed, since the Industrial Revolution, the West has seen periods of renewed interest in the natural world, and a sense that it is only within God’s creation can we find rest and wholeness.

We commend Christine Sine’s course, Spirituality and Gardening, to you. We believe it will bring fresh insight and wisdom on spirituality, on connecting with Creation, on your relationship with God.

Does your parish have an organization or group dedicated to gardening or the natural world? This would be a wonderful discussion or retreat starter for you. (As would Becca Stevens’, of Thistle Farms, course, A Simple Path to a Deeper Spiritual Life.)

We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments or on Facebook. May the glory of Creation remind you of the glory of your own soul.

* from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem,”God’s Grandeur

All Things Bright and Beautiful

The purple-headed mountain,
The river running by,
The sunset, and the morning,
That brightens up the sky;

The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.

The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
We gather every day;–

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.  

~Cecil Francis Alexander

We are excited to launch, just in time for Spring, Christine Sine’s wonderful course, Spirituality and Gardening. Christine is a teacher, retreat leader, and author, an expert in the intersection of spirituality and gardening.sine

With the explosion of interest in gardening and “getting back to the earth” that has occurred in the last decade, we see clearly our eternal and recurring need to connect with our origins in and from the dust of the earth. Christine walks us through the theology of gardens and tending growing things; of God as the ultimate gardener; the use of garden imagery in the Bible and what it can teach us; and the ways we as living things need nurturing, pruning, and watering. Whether you consider yourself a Green Thumb or not, this course has much wisdom to offer about our souls and their need for God’s Creation (and re-creation).

This course would make a wonderful small group offering as well, especially if you have a gardening or outdoor club! Click here for this course in For Groups format.

Among her many gifts and callings, Christine Sine is an author, teacher, spiritual retreat leader. You can learn more about her here.

Continuing to Shape Small Groups of Disciples

This week, we launch the following courses in our For Groups format:hands cross

Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray with George Donigan
Lessons in Belonging with Erin Lane
Introduction to Church History with Eric Williams
How to Share Your Faith with John Bowen
Making Sense of the Cross, Parts 1, 2, and 3 with David Lose
Crisis Communications with Meredith Gould

Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray offers an engaging encounter with three different prayers that Methodist Pastor George Donigan says can help us focus and enrich our prayer lives: The Lord’s Prayer, the Prayer of Dag Hammarskjold, and the Serenity Prayer. This course would be ideal for a small group centered around prayer or spirituality, or a ministry within your congregation that meets regularly. Alternatively, you might offer this course for a small group of seekers or newcomers.

Erin Lane’s Lessons in Belonging is a wonderful course that gets people thinking and talking about why membership in a faith community matters. It’s an ideal course to offer visitors and newcomers, or groups of young adults who are feeling the urge to return to regular church attendance. And Erin’s book, Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment-Phobe, is a thought-provoking supplement to this course.

Those seeking to learn more about our church’s history might enjoy taking Eric Williams’s Introduction to Church History, which surveys the highs, lows, and important milestones from Jesus’ day to our own. It’s a wonderful overview of our church’s rich history as well as a great refresher for seasoned students. This course would complement an Inquirers Class or Confirmation Series as well.

As we continue to shape disciples within our faith communities, offering John Bowen’s How to Share Your Faith can help folks better understand the Gospel we have to share, why sharing our faith is critical to our lives and the lives of others, how to invite someone to church, getting over fears and frustrations that come with faith sharing, and how to help your church become an evangelizing community. Why not offer this course to the various ministry groups within your church, from Eucharistic Visitors to Greeters and Hospitality Hosts, to youth groups and adult formation groups? This is a course that can benefit everyone who wants to spread the Good News they’ve learned but may not be sure how to go about doing so in a life-giving and encouraging way.

David Lose’s excellent series, Making Sense of the Cross, can help Christians wrestle with the big questions and mysteries around Jesus’ crucifixion, the very “crux” of the Christian faith. This series is an ideal one for those who seek a deeper understanding of what we mean when we think, pray, and speak about the cross. David presents a complex subject in a very smart but accessible format. Each of the three parts can be used independently, or as a series, perhaps in a fall Adult Formation program.

Finally, Meredith Gould offers a course that should be required learning for all in church leadership: Crisis Communications helps anticipate and plan for minor and major events and catastrophes that can plague any organization. It’s better to be prepared with appropriate ways to respond to these situations rather than reacting in fear and ignorance after the fact. We encourage you to share this course with your clergy and lay leaders so that, in moments of crisis, they can effectively and healthily care for their communities, and be a source of strength, reassurance, and peace for those watching events unfold.

We continue to give thanks for all of you who are using these courses to enrich your formation offerings and shape disciples — and we’d love to hear how you’re using ChurchNext For Groups!  Visit us on Facebook and share your story!