Scripture & Prayer in the Missional Church
I had to write a short essay on my the following question for my class. “How does a missional approach change the way you view spiritual formation?” Here is my answer. I would love to hear your feedback.
If a general definition of being missional is that the church is “a sign, witness and foretaste to the Kingdom” than we can assume that it should most impact how we read our bible and pray in our local church contexts. In the past, my understanding of my spiritual formation was pretty much a very individualized thing. It was all about my individual prayer habits and my individual bible reading habits. Sure, other people were part of this on some level but for t he most part it was billed as an individual thing. The major way other Christians played into these practices were in some kind of accountability group.
I would propose however, that if we are going to be “missional” we must have a more communal understanding of how we read our bibles and pray. Two assumptions lead into this. First, we see in the book of John that as Jesus has been sent into the world, so he sends us into the world (John 17:18). As we are sent, Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit to lead us as a community (John 14:26-27, 15:26-27). It is the Holy Spirit that goes before and works in us as we seek to be a community for the sake of the world. The second assumption is that the biblical narrative is the defining authority for how we are to live together as the people of God. The biblical narrative gives us the trajectory of where this world is going. Lesslie Newbigin in his book the Open Secret does a great job of reminding us that we cannot separate our spiritual lives from world history. The bible gives us an understanding of where this earth is headed and what God is doing in it.
First, if we believe that the Holy Spirit is the one who is guiding us in our witness to the world, we must be very careful and diligent to be sure to listen to and discern the Spirit together as a community. However, as I stated earlier this is rarely the experience of churches. Again, we are most often listening to the Spirit for God’s will in our own lives. Very rarely, in my experience at least, are we listening to the call of the Spirit on our community. We must find ways to listen to the Spirit together (as well as individuals) if we are going to truly be led by the Holy Spirit. If we don’t listen, how can we hear? In my opinion we must explore and experiment with communal prayer habits and practices that allow us to listen to the Spirit together as a community.
Second, if we believe that the narrative of Scripture gives us the trajectory for the future of the world and our role in it, we must be continually shaped by the scriptures together as a community. Again, in my experience, we are not continually in practices and habits that allow this either. Perhaps we do a little better at this because we are all usually hearing the same sermon each week. However, one could probably do a little research and prove my assumption that most Christians rarely, if ever, think together about a sermon once Sunday morning is over and the football game begins.
So, what are we to do? How do be a sign, witness and foretaste of the Kingdom if we are not unified on two of the most important practices of the Christian faith (I know that these are not the only two, but I tend to think that they are a great place to start!).
I personally think that the answers to these questions are extremely contextual and will look different in each situation. So, I can share what we are experimenting with in our community (www.thewellpa.com) and some other thoughts I have that we have yet to try. Our approach is actually rather simple. But, I believe that it has had a profound impact on how we live together as the local people of God.
The first thing we do is we publish a scripture reading schedule each week in the Sunday bulletin. Each week this includes the sermon text for the upcoming Sunday, a psalm for each day of the week and text for the month (usually a few chapters or a shorter book of the bible). We have found that most people do want to read their Bibles but don’t know where to start. This simple tool gives them a place to go each week and it happens to be a place that the rest of their community is reading as well. We then have a scripture reading small group that meets on Sunday mornings at 9:45am to discuss the sermon text for that day. We also encourage our small groups to read these texts together and others who are meeting together for discipleship to do the same. It has been really neat to see how people are even able to have conversations around these texts. I feel this has been a pretty good effort at getting us to be shaped together by the narrative of scripture together. The last thing we do for scripture reading is that at our quarterly church meeting we give people opportunity to share how the texts we have been reading have been challenging them and shaping them.
Praying together has been a more difficult thing because of our suburban, disconnected, individualized context. It’s simply not practical to have a weekly prayer meeting in the mornings because it would require people to extend their commute from 1 hour to even more. So, we make efforts to be praying the same things, even when we are separated. We are trying to publish a weekly prayer list (though, this is not always easy to get out!) One of the members of our congregation compiled a book of 31 written prayers from church history and our community. We passed these out and people could read one for each day of the month.
These are just a few efforts we have made. I look forward to hearing your responses, critiques and even your suggestions on other ideas.