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The “Strange Practices” Of The Practice
How One Contemporary Community Follows Christ

An Interview with Aaron Niequist

Conversations Journal: Aaron, we wanted to interview you for many reasons—your depth of character, your integrative musical talents, your delight in the work of spiritual formation. But for the purposes of this article, we want to focus on the ways you have been integrating the formation of community and the practice of the spiritual disciplines, or, as this section is called, the classical spiritual exercises. Could you tell our readers a little bit about how you’ve been integrating those things? I’m thinking specifically of the launching of The Practice at Willow Creek Community Church. What is it, how did it come about, how is it going? (I like to jam as many questions into my first question as I can.)

Aaron Niequist: Wow, first of all, thanks so much for those incredibly kind words. I’m honored to be a part of this conversation.

Over the last ten-plus years, I’ve been on a bit of a journey—both as a Christian and as a worship leader. And I’m coming to find that much of modern Christianity is wonderful and true and beautiful, but a little too thin. It is a profoundly helpful invitation into relationship with God, but doesn’t always address the deeper, more complex questions of life, doubt, and faith. And it doesn’t always help us move beyond beliefs into the “abundant life” that Jesus offers.

And so both in my personal walk with Christ, and as a worship leader in two different evangelical churches (Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Willow Creek in Chicago), some friends and I have been trying to learn from other Christian traditions and embrace a more formation-oriented, grounded, ecumenical, historical, robust way to follow Christ. Basically, instead of saying, “Our tradition has all we need,” we’ve been saying, “Our tradition is a wonderful part of the story, but we desperately need the wisdom and insight of our other brothers and sisters.”

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The Grace of Mowing Grass
How Quiet Service To Community Became Real Life Together

By Jeff Crosby

Sanctuary.
“A safe place. A shrine. A setting for worship.”

To a refugee or a person fleeing violence or oppression, the word “sanctuary” captures a sense of hoped-for safety and provision.

To a birder, it’s a specially set-aside area on which a long-sought-after species just might be seen, even if at a distance.

To a person in a religious community, the word conjures up images of stained glass, icons, men and women in robes and vestments, sacred texts and hymn books in the backs of uncomfortable wooden seats.

But the seat of a John Deere lawn tractor? Can that be a sanctuary?

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Community As Theological Necessity

In October 2002, I planted Providence Community Church (providencecommunity.com) in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. From the outset I knew that I wanted this church to be different from much of what I had seen and experienced. I wanted it to reflect the type of community that I read about in the book of Acts, but had rarely experienced in the church. Mindful of the fact that I live in a very different time and culture than the one present in the book of Acts, I set out to shape a culture that would be driven by theological convictions on community rather than pragmatic approaches.

It took a lot of time and energy to accomplish this, but by God’s grace our church began to reflect the sort of churches that we were reading about in the New Testament. It was a slow and painful process that required us to rethink success. We gave up worrying about how many people attended on Sundays and became far more interested in the number of people sharing their lives, their food, and their homes with one another.

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Entering the Trinity
Living In The Circle of “Us”

Editor’s Note: An issue of Conversations on community would not be complete without a look at what John Ortberg calls “the ultimate small group”—the life of the Trinity. To be truly grounded in God, all our discussion, thought, and practice of community needs to spring out of our experience and understanding of what God-in-community is like.

There has been much written on the systematic theology of the Trinity, a philosophical and biblical understanding of the truth that God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Less writing exists on what an experience of the Trinity can be for the community of believers, even though God has eternally existed as community and call us into full-fledged community both with himself and with one another.

What does it mean to live in trinitarian ways as a people of God? What does participating in God’s community mean for us? What does it mean for the shape and form of our communities? To begin to answer these questions, we turned to the author of Experiencing the Trinity, Darrell Johnson.

* * *

Here is the good news: The living God is not a solitary God. The living God is not a lonely God. The living God is the Trinitarian God. From all eternity the living God has existed in community as Community; in fellowship as Fellowship; in relationship as Relationship. From all eternity the living God has existed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From all eternity the living God has been able to speak of himself as “we,” “us,” and “our.”

And here is the incredibly good, good news. We human beings were brought into being to participate with God in that us-ness. It is almost too good to be true! I was brought into being by the Trinity—and you were brought into being by the Trinity—to participate in the inner life of the Trinity. I was bought by the blood of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity—you were bought by the blood of the Second Person of the Trinity—to participate with him in his communion with the First and Third Persons of the Trinity. Because of the work of the Son on the cross, and because of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, you and I who say yes to Jesus as Savior and Lord are adopted by the Father into the Trinitarian Family. We become real sons and daughters in relationship with the only begotten Son. We enter into the Only Begotten’s relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. When we say yes, we come home.

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As For Me & My House
How Goes Your Walk?

I love walking. One of my favorite pictures of the Christian faith is walking together with one another and with Jesus. Often unrecognized, as on the road to Emmaus, Jesus joins us along our way home, listening to our stories, asking good questions, sharing life with us, helping us dig deeper into God’s Word, and renewing us in our journey together. One of the good questions our Lord asks is, “How goes your walk?” Over a century ago, the early founders of the Evangelical Covenant Church asked each other, “How goes your walk with Christ?” As a Covenant pastor, I love this question. My brothers and sisters within the Covenant Church ask me this same question today whenever we meet together for mutual support, because they are interested in how goes my journey of faith with Christ. This article explores walking together in Scripture, walking with children in nature, hiking in national parks, and a few ways to walk together as a local church.

To read the rest of this article, you can purchase the entire issue or just this article through our Journal Store.

The Grace of Mowing Grass
How Quiet Service To Community Became Real Life Together

Sanctuary.

“A safe place. A shrine. A setting for worship.”

To a refugee or a person fleeing violence or oppression, the word “sanctuary” captures a sense of hoped-for safety and provision.

To a birder, it’s a specially set-aside area on which a long-sought-after species just might be seen, even if at a distance.

To a person in a religious community, the word conjures up images of stained glass, icons, men and women in robes and vestments, sacred texts and hymn books in the backs of uncomfortable wooden seats.

But the seat of a John Deere lawn tractor? Can that be a sanctuary?

To read the rest of this article, you can purchase the entire issue or just this article through our Journal Store.

Avoiding the Trapdoor in Transformation

Although it was nine years ago, that Sunday morning is still vividly etched in my memory. A few years earlier my heart had been captivated by the life-giving understanding that God’s intention was that the lives of Jesus’ followers were to be deeply transformed into the likeness of Jesus himself. Since I had been a Christian for decades and seminary trained as well, you might wonder why it took so long for me to come to this realization. But that’s a story for another time. Having discovered the Father’s intention of transformation, I had given myself over to that process with great intentionality. I read books on the topic of spiritual formation and listened to gifted teachers whose lives evidenced that deep transformation was indeed possible. I began practicing a variety of spiritual disciplines, some familiar and some new, all with the desire to see the hidden recesses of my life touched and transformed by the love and character of Christ. After the process was under way in my own life, my Sunday sermons began to focus on topics related to spiritual formation. What could be more inviting than these amazing realities? People’s hearts were stirred, hope was ignited, everything was moving along nicely—until that one Sunday morning.

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Joy Changes Everything

Joy levels are like the temperature of an oven. We can choose our ingredients carefully, but the oven temperature will determine what our careful preparations will yield. Consider the effect of angry or joyful parents on family prayer and Bible reading. As joy increases so does the chance that transformation will go in a positive direction. Joy levels have huge effects on whether our efforts will be productive and lasting.

Why would a factor that powerful go unnoticed by most of the church?

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Meditations on Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s ‘The Wedding Dance’

Bruegel’s images of village life in sixteenth- century Holland may seem quaint, antique, and remote, but they speak eloquently of what it means to live well and flourish in a vulnerable, uncertain world. “The Wedding Dance” depicts a crowded village street where, it seems, a whole community has gathered to celebrate.

Weddings change things for everyone: Families are reorganized, property is redistributed, and the geography of old intimacies and friendships is remapped as the community makes space for a new household. Though wedding celebrations are among the most festive in our shared life, explicit moments of hope and happiness, they are also shadowed with losses remembered and impending, with awareness of fleeting time and mortality, and with sharpened loneliness for the solitary. Bruegel recognizes this ambiguous character of human celebration in figures like that of the orange-shirted watcher who stands to the right of the dancers, hands clasped behind him, gazing at a kissing couple, or the observer in black who stands in the left foreground watching from the shadows half-turned away.

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Children and Adults: Co-Pilgrims in this Life with God

We are born with open space, with the hunger to be in relationship with God. Right from the womb we search the eyes around us for connection. We cry to be held. We reach out to know that we are loved. And we are, right from the beginning. Even the fact that we came to be is proof enough that God desires for us to know him, to be loved and cared for by him. Children have a natural openness to God; Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Children arrive slippery and screaming and ready for relationship. Their interior space has not been filled with disappointment, pain, habitual sin, or any of the other junk that clogs up our ability to seek God with a pure heart. They are seeking and connecting. The toddler who sings in her bed before she goes to sleep and as soon as she wakes up is echoing the song sung to her. The boy who gently caresses the hurt family pet is echoing the gentle caresses of God. C. S. Lewis said we know God exists because we know that there is good in the world.

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