Discipleship in America, Part 6: The Church in Formation

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : February 9, 2006

In my last post, I suggested that the Christian life must focus more on reshaping Christian imagination before we can really received sacred information. This is where Christian disciplines and practices come in.  We need a structure, we need physicality. Otherwise we will end up with disembodied wisdom.  Everyone’s got disembodied wisdom these days.  As Joseph brought up in response to my last post, we live in a society where it is almost ok for one to spout something that doesn’t bear out in their own life.

Here are some basic practices and disciplines that, I believe, help reshape our imagination:

  • Experiencing the sacred in casual fellowship. We have forgotten that we are the Body of Christ.  Being together is a sacred thing.  We don’t need to have something programmed in order for something spiritual to be happeing.  When we’re together, it is a spiritual act.  When we learn to simply enjoy one another’s company, and understand that it is sacred, our imagination will begin to be reshaped, helping us to understand that relationship is the foundation of our faith, not a biproduct.
  • Listening in Prayer.  When I was new to the faith, I was told to submit my prayers to God and then just listen.  The assumption was that God would communicate directly to my Spirit in response to my prayers.  Sometimes I experienced that communication.  Often, I did not.  I don’t think this is a bad way to listen in prayer, but I believe that God wants us to pray much more often with others, and to instead of waiting to hear "a still small voice" in our spirits, we should be listening from "a still small voice" from our brother or sister in the prayer circle.  Our imagination needs to be reshaped so that we can hear the voice of God in the Body, not just in our own souls.
  • Embodying our Prayers. I am a big fan of prayer walking.  There are other forms of embodied prayer (Doug Pagitt has written a book on this).  I’ll limit my thoughts to prayer walking, since it is a discipline I thoroughly enjoy and know a thing or two about.  When I walk in the West Bank, praying as I walk, I am connecting my prayers with a place.  I give my prayers context.  Praying in this way reshapes my imagination so that I understand that my prayers are tied to a real place with real people.  It also forces me to associate faces with my prayers, so that they don’t stay abstract and unemotional. 
  • Serving people without an agenda.  When we only serve someone in the hopes of "hooking" them enough to "sell" them the Gospel, we are being dishonest.  Our gift of service stops being a gift and we enter into it with our hidden motives.  This sort of activity keeps us from understanding the Gospel as God’s gift.  When we can serve simply for the sake of serving, and can reckon it to be an act of worship in itself, our imagination can be reshaped to seeing grace in new ways.  We will understand that anytime we share love and life with another, we are participating in the Gospel.

These are just a few. I invite you to share any spiritual practices that have shaped your imagination. 

for further reading . . .

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3 Responses to “Discipleship in America, Part 6: The Church in Formation”

  1. James on February 9th, 2006 11:48 pm

    I recently experienced a graduate class in Christian Spiritual Formation, and we looked into ancient Christian practices of spiritual formation. We visited a Benedictine monastery and were introduced to Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading). This discipline is based on the idea that the Word of God is living and active (Heb. 4:12). It inolves reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation with the purpose of drawing near to God through His living Word and allowing Him to transform us more into the likeness of His Son.

    Another discipline that I am about to begin using is contemplative prayer using Anglican Prayer Beads as the means to focus my mind to prayer and to help prevent any distractions that creep in.

    In relation to both of those are the disciplines of solitude and silence, which I have found are more difficult than one would think. Even with no external noise or ‘busy-ness’ around, the mind has a difficult time entering into stillness, as our culture fills our heads with so much information and noise that it is hard to allow the mind to settle into silence and stillness.

    These are just a few that I am trying to employ in my walk as I seek to follow the Lord. One peice of wisdom I received regarding the disciplines is that rather than trying to do as many as possible it is better to start with a few, allow them to become a part of your life, and then try others.

  2. Van S on February 11th, 2006 2:49 pm

    Thanks James.

  3. on February 14th, 2006 4:50 pm

    Discipleship in America, Part 6

    Disembodied wisdom is wisdom without practice or place. And the North American church has a lot of it. Whether we know it or not, like it or not, we traffic in it. Thats Discipleship in America according to Mark Van …

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