launching today: Everyday Spiritual Practices with Keith Anderson

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It doesn’t have to be complicated: simply taking time each morning and evening to connect with God, to reflect on one’s day, to offer thanks and prayer, are everyday spiritual practices that help us recenter, andersonrefocus, and become more aware of the presence of God in our lives. Such seemingly mundane activities as washing dishes or changing a diaper can be performed with presence and intention, and can also draw us closer to God. Everyday spiritual practices bring peace, contentment, and a sense of gratitude. It’s that simple.

In our latest course, Everyday Spiritual Practices, Lutheran pastor Keith Anderson reminds us of the myriad ways we can incorporate small practices into our daily lives in order to bring us closer to Emmanuel, the God that is–always–with us. This is a wonderful course, one that will appeal to anyone seeking a deeper sense of peace and trust. It’s also great for your small group — whether busy parents, empty-nesters, women’s or men’s groups, or youth. Keith can offer wisdom about the how’s and why’s of spiritual practices, and how they can fit into — and enrich — anyone’s life, at any stage of life, every day. Click here for more information or to register.

The Reverend Keith Anderson is a pastor at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church near Philadelphia, author of The Digital Cathedral: Networked Ministry in a Wireless World (Morehouse, 2015), and co-author with Elizabeth Drescher of Click2Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Morehouse 2012). Keith is co-editor with Elizabeth Drescher of The Narthex, an online magazine about the changing contours of American Christianity and serves on the editorial committee for Odyssey Network’s ON Scripture lectionary commentary series. An expert on digital ministry and sought after speaker and writer, his work on religion, new media, and popular culture has  appeared on The Huffington PostReligion Dispatches, Day 1, and The New Media Project.

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Online Learning — and Spiritual Growth

Online learning is a huge blessing to those who otherwise might not be able to attend classes or take part in education programs, whether because of geographical or financial limitations, or family responsibilities and scheduling conflicts.

And yet studies find that, while people enroll in online education courses and programs, they very often do not complete them. In a study of online education in Africa, one student pointed out that  “[i]n a regular class you have a teacher who is in front of you who makes you concentrate. With the online environment, you have to have discipline, make your own timetable to listen to the lectures, and submit the assignments online.”

It’s like joining a gym: you have the best of intentions, but oftentimes without a personal trainer there to motivate you and hold you accountable, you tend to let it slide. The same goes for learning online  — and spiritual growth in general.

Think about it: that’s precisely why we need church: for the community of people on similar journeys, who hold each other accountable, and who motivate, inspire, challenge, and teach each other. As the Rev. Frank Wade says in our course, The Episcopal Tradition, “By ourselves, we begin to worship ourselves.” Sure, he says, “you can worship God by taking a walk in the park — but does the God you meet in the park ever tell you anything you don’t want to hear?”

So online learning (or a gym membership) is only as good as the person invested in it. And the same is true of spiritual formation. If we want to grow in faith, we must commit to it and keep “showing up.” Faith communities are great in that they can help pull us back in when we stray, but at the end of the day, no one can make our journey for us.

What seems to work best for many people is a combination of online and in-person activities. ChurchNext offers several ways to meet this need: individuals in a parish can take a course on their own schedule but then meet regularly, or at the end of a prescribed time period, to discuss and think further about the course content. For example, your church can make a course available for, say, three weeks; parishioners can take the course at their leisure during that time period, and then meet as a group for coffee or dinner to share and discuss. Alternatively, small groups can use the For Groups version of a course to meet regularly, watch a video presentation, and then discuss it together.

How do you learn best? What fosters your spiritual growth? We’d love to hear it in the comments.

animate: Practices 3 launches today

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The third and final part of the animate: Practices series in conjunction with Augsburg Fortress launches today, and it’s another great one: this time, we’re led by scholars, authors, and pastors Shane Claiborne, Enuma Okoro, and Doug Pagitt in re-animating our engagements with three seemingly-mundane concepts: money, service, and community.

Shane offers his own experiences and learning on how we as Christians are called to think of and use money (and stuff and other resources), how the Bible can make us feel at odds with the world around us as well as offering us freedom and peace from this oddness. Sharing what we have and emphasizing a gospel of enough are practices that are both biblically-mandated and spiritually life-giving.

Likewise, Enuma Okoro reminds us that service isn’t something that just happens “out there” in third-world countries or in desperate hardships or labor; it’s also something we’re called to every day, in ordinary and small ways. Making ourselves available to each other and seeing the image of God in each other are what service is all about.

Finally, Doug Pagitt tells about his experiences with community as a transformative practice of mutual growth. He invites us to re-think what we expect or do when we welcome newcomers into our midst.

All three of these presenters offer thought-provoking talks on vital practices for the Christian life, and help breathe new energy into our faiths. Click here to learn more about this third course or to register.

We’re proud to partner with Augsburg Fortress in presenting some of the animate series as ChurchNext courses. The  series is unique in that it not only tackles some of the big questions of our faith, like “Is God real?” and “Is there such a thing as too much Bible?” but it does so not in order to teach a certain lesson or to impart fixed wisdom, but to challenge assumptions, spark conversation and dialogue, and encourage wrestling with the deep questions of our souls.

Shane is a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia.  He is the author of several books including Jesus for President and Becoming Our Prayers.

Enuma is a writer, speaker, communications consultant and an award-winning author of four non-fiction books.  A graduate of Duke Divinity School, Enuma also served as the Director for the Center for Theological Writing at Duke Divinity Law School.

Doug is associated with the emerging church movement and is founding pastor of Solomon’s Porch in South Minneapolis. He is the author of several books including Body PrayerChurch Re-imagined, and Flipped.

2 Years In

Happy Birthdayto us!

This week marks our second anniversary — and we’re both grateful for what has gone on for the past two years and excited for what’s to come. We started with a simple mission: to shape disciples by making the most of online learning technology. The Church has a strong history of using the latest technologies and communication media to spread the Gospel — just think of the printing press and television, and the ways they’ve enabled folks to learn and grow in ways unfathomable to earlier generations.

Over the past two years we’ve launched over 100 courses of rich and engaging content on everything from parenting to grief to Scripture and Church history; marriage and relationships to theology and world religions; liturgy and worship to divorce and social justice. And most of our courses are now available in our alternative “For Groups” format, designed for small group use.

We love hearing all the ways that dioceses, churches, and individuals are using ChurchNext to learn, to build community, and to engage in fruitful conversation and spiritual formation. ChurchNext helps connect folks who can’t make it to services on a Sunday; it offers people a new way to grapple with the issues that concern us all; to ask the big questions and reanimate their faith lives; and to feel educated and empowered as they further the mission of the Gospel in this world.

We’ve offered several “massive, open, online courses” (MOOCs) free to the world, allowing thousands of people from dozens of countries to engage in learning and discussion with seekers far and wide, taught by such luminaries as Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry, activist Cornel West, and Thistle Farms founder Becca Stevens.

We’ve enjoyed the partnership and support of several organizations and companies with similar missions, such as seminaries, churches, non-profits, and Christian publishing houses. We’ve loved meeting folks face to face at conferences and conventions.

And some parishes and dioceses have made use of their subscriptions and of the ChurchNext online learning platform technology to create their own courses and offerings, supplementing such programs as pre-baptism and confirmation education, catechumenate and new-member ministry, and church management and governance trainings.

We thank God daily for the blessings that have come out of ChurchNext already and for the wonderful ways God is using online learning to change lives. We’re excited about our new look coming in August, new courses in the pipeline, new partnerships and ways of reaching people all over the world.

Thanks for being part of our lives over the past two years — we can’t wait to see what God has in store next.

Second of 3 animate: Practices launches today

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The second in the animate: Practices series launches today. We’re proud to partner with Augsburg Fortress in presenting some of the animate series as ChurchNext courses. The  series is unique in that it not only tackles some of the big questions of our faith, like “Is God real?” and “Is there such a thing as too much Bible?” but it does so not in order to teach a certain lesson or to impart fixed wisdom, but to challenge assumptions, spark conversation and dialogue, and encourage wrestling with the deep questions of our souls.

In this latest course, pastor Mike Slaughter and author-theologian Phyllis Tickle encourage us to take a second look at our assumptions about and definitions of both “worship” and “sacraments.” Both Mike and Phyllis remind us that these terms mean different things to different people, and that they have become in many ways slippery and changeable terms in our minds. And yet both of these words are crucial to the origins and future of our spiritual lives. Worship is a practice by which we connect with God and within a community of people on the same path; the sacraments can tell us a great deal about both what we believe we’re saying to God and what God may be saying to us as we participate in worship and sacred rites.

Check this course out — it’s a wonderful thought- and conversation-starter on some topics we may rarely consider. Click here for more information or to register.

mikeMike Slaughter, lead pastor at Ginghamsburg Church, is in his fourth decade as the chief dreamer of Ginghamsburg Church and the spiritual entrepreneur of ministry marketplace innovations. His life-long passion to reach the lost and set the oppressed free has now made him a tireless and leading advocate for the children, women and men of Darfur, Sudan, named by the U.N. as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. Mike’s call to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted will challenge attendees to wrestle with God and their God-destinies.

Phyllis Tickle, founding editor of the Religion Department of PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, thephyllis international journal of the book industry, is frequently quoted in print sources, electronic media, and innumerable blogs and web sites.  Tickle is an authority on religion in America and a much sought after lecturer on the subject. In addition to lectures and numerous essays, articles, and interviews, Tickle is the author of over three dozen books on religion and spirituality.Phyllis Tickle, founding editor of the Religion Department of PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, the international journal of the book industry, is frequently quoted in print sources, electronic 

 

Instructor profile: Anne Kitch

If you have children or grandchildren, if you teach children, if you’re interested in children’s spiritual formation, you’ll want to get to know the Rev. Canon Anne Kitch (if you haven’t already). We’ve been fortunate to have Anne present several ChurchNext courses; she’s an inspiring preacher, author, priest, and expert in Christian education. kitch

Her book The Anglican Family Prayer Book is a highly-praised and wonderful resource for those in the Episcopal tradition. As a parent herself, Anne knows that children’s faith begins in the home and that home is perhaps the best and most natural place for us grown-ups to teach children about God — and to worship and pray with them. Anne calls this book “a sacred book, a recipe book, a traveler’s guide, and a tool kit.” She emphasizes the importance of modeling an active prayer life with our children, and this book offers easy and everyday ways to incorporate faith practices into your home life. As we know, children are always watching and learning from us, so if we seek to encourage their lives of faith, Anne’s wisdom is absolutely invaluable. She shares some tidbits of this book in her ChurchNext course, Start a Family Devotional Time; this would be a wonderful class for a parents’ or MOPS small group. (One of the great things about ChurchNext courses is that you can take a course after the kids are in bed, on your own schedule, without even having to get a babysitter!)

Anne has also written some wonderful resources on baptism, both baptism for adults and for children. We commend to you her books, Preparing for Baptism in the Episcopal Church; Water of Baptism, Water for Life: An Activity Book; and Taking the Plunge: Baptism and Parenting. Since baptism is arguably the most important day of your life, preparing for it, whether it’s your own or your child’s — is both vital and fruitful. Along with her published works, we commend to you these ChurchNext courses, as either primers or refreshers on baptism:

Introducing Christian Baptism
Adult Baptism in the Episcopal Church
Preparing for Infants’ and Children’s Baptism in the Episcopal Church

Check out also Anne’s other wonderful books for children and families:

Bless This Way
Bless This Day: Toddler Prayers
What We Do in Church: An Anglican Child’s Activity Book
What We Do in Advent: An Anglican Kids’ Activity Book
What We Do in Lent: A Child’s Activity Book
One Little Church Mouse

We’re grateful to have wonderful priests and authors like Anne in the ChurchNext family, helping folks think about, learn about, and enrich children’s lives of faith.

Latest course: animate: Practices 1 with Brian McLaren and Sara Miles

Another fabulous course from Augsburg Fortress and Sparkhouse’s animate series launches animatetoday, called animate: Practices 1. We’re proud to partner with Augsburg Fortress in presenting some of the animate series as ChurchNext courses. The  series is unique in that it not only tackles some of the big questions of our faith, like “Is God real?” and “Is there such a thing as too much Bible?” but it does so not in order to teach a certain lesson or to impart fixed wisdom, but to challenge assumptions, spark conversation and dialogue, and encourage wrestling with the deep questions of our souls.

In this course, Practices 1, Brian McLaren explores the idea of prayer, admitting that he used to think of prayer as something onerous, a duty he was bound to perform and to perform “correctly” — and yet he has come to see the Lord’s Prayer as something simple, something active, something that reanimates our faith and our ability to live faithfully in this broken world. He breaks it down into four “moves” that can help us re-see the prayer given to us by Jesus himself.

Sara Miles tackles the idea of food and eating, noting that it’s (literally) a weighty topic in our society: poor people must think constantly about their next meal, and those with plenty find themselves also obsessed with food — how “pure” it is, whether it can save or kill, where it came from, who’s eating it. Sara challenges us to rethink our relationship with food, doing so with Jesus’ messy, unorthodox, and life-giving lens on the gift and blessing of sharing a meal. After all, she says, the Lord’s supper is for everyone, cannot be bought, and is never eaten alone.

We’re excited to share these talks with you and pray that they may help reanimate your faith and spark conversation in your small groups. Click here for more information or to register.

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders.

Sara Miles is the founder and director of The Food Pantry , and serves as Director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Her books include Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising the Dead and Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion. She speaks, preaches and leads workshops around the country, and her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, and on National Public Radio.