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.

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.

Launching today: Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray with George Donigian

Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.
Soren Kierkegaard

Today we launch a wonderful new course on prayer, Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray, by Methodist pastor and author George Donigian. In this course, which offers highlights from George’s new book by the same name, we learn more about three prayers from three very

donigiandifferent sources: the full Serenity Prayer (the shorter version of which is familiar from 12-step programs), the Prayer of Dag Hammarksjold, and the Lord’s Prayer, taught to us by Jesus himself.

You’ll find George’s reasons for highlighting these three prayers interesting, and we think you’ll also find that incorporating them — for those same reasons — into your daily prayer life can enrich and deepen your relationship with God. This course is also available in For Groups format, and would make a wonderful devotion and discussion course for small groups.

For more on the course or to register, click here. To learn more about George’s book, click here. And check out George’s blog here.

ChurchNext For Groups

This week, we’re excited to roll out nine more courses in our For Groups format:

Finding God in Divorce with Carolyne Callhands
Being Single, Staying Faithful with Beth Knobbe
How to Live a Spirit-Filled Life with Alberto Cutie
Grieving Well with Andrew Gerns
Developing Christian Patience with Jeff Bullock
Introduction to Advent with Tim Schenck
Introduction to Epiphany with Sharon Pearson
Introduction to Lent with Maggi Dawn
Who Is Jesus? with Jason Fout
Jesus at 12 with Chris Stepien

Many of these are particularly suited for small group use: Grieving Well, with Andrew Gerns, is an ideal course around which to gather a small group of folks who have lost a loved one. Many parishes have support or ministry groups for widows or widowers, or parents who have lost children. Taking this course together, as part of a healthy journey through the grieving process, can offer dedicated, safe space and time to wrestle with questions, share wisdom, and offer the mutually-beneficial gift of holy presence with one another.

Beth Knobbe’s thoughtful and joyful approach to the single life, Being Single, Staying Faithful, is another course well-suited to small group gatherings. Those who live alone, from the very young to the very old, can benefit from sharing time together; the course offers a lot of wisdom simply on becoming comfortable being alone — wisdom that even those in relationships can use. Beth’s lectures help explore what it means to be alone without being lonely, and how aloneness can be a very special time in one’s life, even a special call from God.

Finding God in Divorce, with Carolyne Call, is another wonderful resource for a group of folks navigating a challenging time, one with which the themes of the above two courses also dovetail: Divorce is a time of grief, a time of (re)learning how to be alone; it’s also a time many people find a great need for the support of not only those who’ve “been there” but also those in their faith communities. Finding God in Divorce helps find the gifts and the redemption in what might feel like a very dark and discouraging time.

We at ChurchNext are glad to be able to offer resources like these for creating intimate, life-giving, and Spirit-filled communities, and we hope that these latest For Groups courses help you minister even more intentionally to particular groups within your congregation.

Instructor Highlight: Chris Stepien

There are precious few mentions of Jesus in the Bible that involve his childhood. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can learn from imagining what the child Jesus would have been like. Chris Stepien, author of Three Days: The Search for the Boy Messiah, has consulted stepienScripture, commentaries, and other authorities to piece together what life for the pre-teen Jesus would have been like.

As a journalist, in fact, Chris Stepien has spent his career asking tough questions and telling intriguing stories. His Amazon author profile tells the story:

He’s worked as a television producer-director and writer for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). From 1979 to 1987, while at WXYZ-TV, Detroit, he won six EMMY awards for documentaries, sports and celebrity specials, and children’s programming, as well as many other honors. Stepien left broadcasting to co-found Adventure, Inc., a successful Detroit-based video/film production company. He created award-winning communications for Fortune 500 companies like General Motors and Ford Motor Company for nearly nine years. Since 1996, Stepien has crafted marketing and advertising for global clients as writer-creative director and owner of Stepien Creative Services, Inc.

A lifelong metro Detroiter and Roman Catholic, Stepien attended parochial schools and was an altar boy. He and his wife, Ellen, have two adult sons, Alex and Mike. Chris and Ellen are Vincentians, active members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP). Stepien, a former SVdP conference president, is currently spiritual advisor to a group of Vincentians in Dearborn, Michigan. Their core mission is to respond to the needs of poor families in the surrounding community, visit them in their homes, and provide financial assistance, guidance, friendship, and hope.

Bible studies, spiritual exercises, and praying the rosary inspired the author to write this novel about young, preteen Jesus. Stepien relied on his humble love of God and his passion for visual storytelling to help him shape this account of the boy Messiah, and His Passover pilgrimage. His experiences serving the needy and children of alcoholics were very influential, as well.

So if you’re yearning to know and understand Jesus this Easter season, consider our course, either as an individual or in a small group. We’re grateful to offer the research and talents of Chris — and of all of our gifted instructors — as we seek to shape disciples, transform hearts, and share the Good News.

Making the Most of ChurchNext in Your Church

This is the first in a series offering ideas for ways to use ChurchNext in your congregation, to meet the needs of parishioners and to build strong faith communities.Bible-Reading-Group-Photo

Finding God in Divorce (also available in the For Groups format):  Does your congregation have a divorce support group?  Carolyne Call offers a wonderful way to begin working through the emotional and spiritual damage broken relationships can cause. If your church has a support group, you may want to take this course together, either by meeting as a small group to watch the videos and discuss them, or by offering the course in your church’s online school. Participants could be encouraged to keep a journal of their thoughts, experiences, and wisdom gained; they could use their journal, the course and its Takeaway as references to revisit in times of need. Perhaps participants could collect the wisdom they’ve gained and share it with others outside the church, or with new members of the divorce support group.

Newcomers: What about those folks who are new to your parish and new to the Episcopal Church overall? If you come from a non-liturgical background, you may feel overwhelmed and confused at times by the different aspects of Episcopal worship and theology. You might want to offer Introducing Episcopal Worship and The Episcopal Tradition (also available in the For Groups format). By adding the course to your online school, you offer newcomers or the curious — or even their friends — an opportunity to learn more about the Episcopal Church in a non-threatening way. Alternatively, you can offer a time and space for newcomers to meet as a group, watch the videos, and discuss them. Clergy can be on hand to answer other questions — because there are always many!

Parenting: Parents often long to take part in congregational programs and spiritual formation, but haven’t childcare, are overscheduled, or are simply strapped for time. Why not offer a spiritual parenting program at your church — one that is based online, so that parents can take courses on their own schedule and as needed? In addition, you might arrange — or encourage them to arrange — regular small group meetings, playdates, potluck get-togethers, and the like, where parents can meet, learn from, discuss with, and support each other. There’s nothing more powerful than moral support and strength in numbers, as any parent knows. Simply offering time to think, reflect, learn, and then enjoy fellowship and discussion, can make a world of difference as parents try to raise their children in the faith. Courses along these lines include Spiritual Roots of Loving Parenting; Handling Strong-Willed Children, and Start a Family Devotional Time. They may also want to review the vows they made at their children’s baptism (and their own), since the event itself can be a distant memory.

How have you been using ChurchNext courses to shape and inspire disciples? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below or on social media (#churchnext).

Making Sense of the Crucifixion

How do we make sense of the cross? What does the cross mean to you-

Theories of atonement, of the crucifixion and resurrection, abound. Our Making Sense of the Cross courses with David Lose can help you understand the ways that theologians and lay people have tried to make sense of the cross over the millennia. Because whatever we say and believe about the cross, we also say and believe about God. As we journey through Holy Week, it might pay to ponder these questions anew, either at home on your own, or with a small group.

And yet we also should remember David Lose’s injunction to view the cross not just as a sign or a theory, but as an experience: “What if the gospels aren’t just a record of the cross but an invitation to experience God?”  How do we experience Jesus through the troubling miracle of the crucifixion and resurrection? If we think of the cross this way, what can we learn about what we believe and why we go to church? Who is Jesus?

We would love to hear, in the comments below or in your own social media posts (use hashtag #churchnext), what new realizations about Jesus you have this week, or what old truths about the cross you are reminded of. And don’t forget to take part in The Big Class: A Simple Path to a Deeper Spiritual Life, which runs for free through Easter Day.

We pray that this Holy Week brings you a renewed sense of the closeness of God-with-us and of your own call to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.