by Shana Peachey Boshart
Conference Formation Minister
When we think of faith formation, we often think first of children and youth. But if Christian faith formation means we are becoming more like Jesus...well, that takes a lifetime!
How are you tending to your faith formation as an adult? What are the settings that form and nurture your faith now?
Certainly the Sunday worship service is one setting. We are shaped by the scriptures, sermon, singing and sharing. In Sunday School, we study the Bible and discuss how it applies to our lives. Perhaps you are also in a small group, or have other settings that nurture your growth in faith.
These are some of the patterns we’re accustomed to, but we are changing the way we do things in church, and in years to come, faith formation may look a bit different for us.
In Matthew 13:52, Jesus says to his disciples, “Therefore, every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Jesus is saying that those of us who are training for the kingdom of heaven will recognize that sometimes we find treasure in the new and sometimes we find treasure in what is old, or what we already know.
Living the Way of Jesus continually challenges us to discern the way forward. Sometimes the thing that helps us will be some entirely new practice or idea, and sometimes what we need the most is a habit or idea that has been around the church for a very long time—millennia, even.
What old ways are still working for you? What old ways need to be laid to rest?
In what new ways are you growing in faith? What new things are you or your congregation ready to try?
by Shana Peachey Boshart
Conference Formation Minister
If you teach baptism instruction classes, you are in luck! This week, I added a whole new page of resources and ideas at www.AnabaptistFaithFormation.org.
Check it out and contact me with your suggestions for improvements!
is the formation resource website of Central Plains.
What do you need?
by Joetta Schlabach, pastor
Faith Mennonite Church, MInneapolis
During 2016-2017 the Deacon Commission at Faith Mennonite Church in Minneapolis invited persons in the congregation to join in triads for spiritual support and growth. Ten triads were formed. Suggestions were provided for helping guide the experience, but each triad determined how often to meet and how they would structure their time together. Some met weekly; others bi-weekly or monthly. Here are comments received from those who participated:
"I felt more connected to the community; this was all new to me."
"The triad meetings were a time to deliberately talk about our faith/spiritual lives - or lack thereof - in an intentional way. The triad meetings deepened our faith lives. We shared our individual faith stories, and spent much of our subsequent meetings talking about prayer: what, how, why. We sometimes prayed for each other or concerns we brought to the group. We agreed that the triad struck a nice balance between checking in and getting to know each other AND focusing specifically on our individual/shared spiritual lives."
"Our triad usually read a scripture passage together and we often doodled with colored pencils as we talked. We always ended in prayer for one another and concerns for the world. We met by Skype when one of our group was in Tanzania for work. This felt like a life-line for all of us!"
Here is the handout that people received to guide their groups:
Triads for Spiritual Growth and Deepened Relationships
Each triad will decide how often to meet: This might be one-hour weekly meetings or longer bi-weekly or monthly meetings. Each triad may choose from among the following ideas, using one or a combination, or following an agenda of their own. We encourage each triad meeting to include a time of prayer for one another.
Click here for the latest post from Peter Wigginton and Delicia Bravo.
Below, Delicia and the new Journey International volunteers make diaper covers for refugee families.
by Matt Troyer-Miller
pastor, Wood River Mennonite Church, Wood River, Nebraska
Since I became a pastor, I have been involved in a number of interesting and surprising events. One of the more interesting events happened several years ago, when one of my neighbors asked if I would be willing to perform a house blessing for him. As I spoke with him further, it became clear that this was not going to be a typical house blessing. He described how two spirits would come into his house, and these spirits would scare his children. Even though I had never been involved in something like this, I recognized that this was chance to share the gospel with my neighbor. I didn’t want to dismiss his request out of hand, so I requested some time to pray about it.
During this time of prayer, I also began discerning the situation with trusted mentors. Some had personal experience with deliverance ministries; others did not. In the end, I agreed to organize a blessing service for my neighbor. If you are interested in the whole story, check out the new Spiritual Deliverance page at www.centralplainsmc.org.
With the story, you'll find a list of my “Top 5 Resources on Spiritual Deliverance.” In compiling this list, I tried to find resources that were practical, theologically sound, and compatible with an Anabaptist understanding of Scripture. I list several resources that I found helpful, and I have also included suggestions from other trusted Mennonite leaders and missionaries. If you are looking for a more in-depth bibliography, I’ve also shared Willard Swartley’s bibliography. Willard is a long time AMBS professor and church leader, and the bibliography is representative of a lifetime of reading on this topic.
Of course, this list is not comprehensive, and there may perhaps be other good resources out there. However, I hope that should you find yourself in a situation similar to mine, that this list can be a place for you to draw on the wisdom of other Christians who have spent a lifetime considering the implications of God’s victory over evil.
by David Boshart
Executive Conference Minister
Members of Central Plains Mennonite Conference have been living into a Covenant of Spiritual Practices since it was adopted one year ago. Our Annual Meeting in July provided an opportunity to check in and discover if our covenant was making any difference. Church history is replete with new initiatives that fail to produce substantive difference. Our delegates sent a clear message that a renewed commitment to spiritual practices is making a discernible difference in our local congregations and within the conference as a community.
The significance of this difference should not be underestimated. It is hard to remember a time when church members came together to report a change in the spiritual vitality of their congregations.
When asked what difference our covenant of spiritual practices is making, the delegates offered four measures of spiritual growth. I offer specific examples of each from the written comments from table groups.
Strengthened witness beyond their congregations
Delegates reported that an emphasis on spiritual practices has resulted in transformed attitudes toward prisoners. Members have seen reconciliation with others and healing of broken relationships. Some reported growth and connection to the wider community by moving church meetings outside the church building. Our members are thinking more intentionally about what we want our identity to be in the community.
Increased awareness that our spiritual practices are essential to Christian vitality
Focusing on spiritual practices raises our awareness of the Spirit’s presence in our midst. By fasting we are made more aware of the needs of others. We become refreshed in giving ourselves to the things we should be doing anyway. We are more aware that God is among us.
Strengthened sense of community within congregations and across our conference
The covenant of spiritual practices makes us more honest with each other about our spiritual lives. It is clearer for us to know how to handle our disagreements. When we practice our spiritual lives together, we build relationships together. We become more patient with each other as we walk together in spiritual practices. Spiritual practices help us “lean into each other” when we struggle. We are reminded that we – across our conference – have many things in common.
Increased confidence and competence in practicing the Christian life.
The covenant of spiritual practices gives us new eyes for Bible study, new energy for faith, new hope to have better answers to share with people who are turned off by Christianity. This emphasis has created greater understanding that transformation is more a process of God’s grace than what we do.
These are just some examples of all the ways our conference delegates expressed the difference our emphasis on spiritual practices is making.
As I reflect on this feedback, I wonder, what is needed to keep us moving farther on this same path?. Discernible transformation grows out of our understanding of God’s grace more than our grand designs. Maybe moving to the next level is as basic as keeping our focus on those things that bring us face-to-face with Jesus and doing those things together. Could that make all the difference?
by David Boshart
Executive Conference Minister
At our Annual Meeting this summer, we asked our delegates, “How do you see the Spirit at work transforming us to reflect God’s unqualified love for us?”
Delegates identified three primary ways that they come to see the Spirit’s transforming work: 1) testimony, 2) mindful reflection, and 3) communal discernment.
The first of these leads to the second two.
Testimony provides the opportunity for the community to hear and “test” the veracity of the Spirit at work. As testimonies are shared in the community we grow in mindful reflection of the Spirit’s movement at all times and in all places. As we listen to these stories, as a spiritual practice, we cultivate mindfulness toward the Spirit moving in each of our own lives. Growing mindfulness of the Spirit’s movement produces more testimony.
The accumulating testimonies provide the occasion for communal discernment. We consider the story we are hearing in light of the Biblical story. Have we seen the Spirit move in this way before? Communal discernment raises the question posed by one table group, “What is God working on here?” As we ponder this question, we become more careful listeners, more skilled in our detection of the Spirit’s movement.
Out of this process of shared testimonies, mindful reflection, communal discernment, as one group described this process, we start to connect the dots of seemingly unrelated events and “goodness emerges.” We start to change. Table groups said that as we listen to one another, we grow in empathy, walls come down, we become less rigid, we become more open-minded, and we become more grateful.
We come to understand the transforming work of the Holy Spirit through this cycle of shared testimony, mindful reflection, and communal discernment.
This process poses some important questions. If testimony is the best way to shine the light on the Spirit’s work in our lives, how much space do we create for testimony when the church is gathered? In what ways are we teaching or equipping people in our churches to listen deeply, to cultivate mindfulness about “what is God working on here?”
And, when in our community life do we pause to consider how we are becoming less rigid, more empathetic, more open-minded, more grateful--and ultimately--a greater reflection of God’s unqualified love for the world?
by David Boshart
At Central Plains Annual Meeting in June, I shared a meal with our speaker, Meghan Good. Meghan talked about how interesting it is to speak in all kinds of settings across the Mennonite Church and how different each context is. I couldn’t resist asking, “So, Meghan, given me the down and dirty analysis of what you see that is unique in our conference.”
Without hesitating she said, “It is very clear that these people really like each other and want to be together.” Then she added, “I also see signs that there is a spiritual hunger here that isn’t apparent everywhere I go.”
Music to a conference minister’s ears!!
One year after adopting “Being God’s Faithful People: A Covenant of Spiritual Practices,” we checked in with representatives of our congregations to hear about their experiences with our new way of thinking about our relationship.
We asked participants at table groups to tell a story of when they felt:
As participants began to tell their stories, the depth of the sharing was palpable in the room. Halfway through the allotted time, we observed one table holding hands in prayer. Here and there, tears were falling. People listened sensitively with compassion.
After this time of sharing, we asked participants, What deep longings for transformation do you hear from God through these stories? It wasn’t until reading the written feedback from these table groups, that I fully understood what Meghan was perceiving.
A new level of spiritual hunger is rising in our conference.
Participants expressed a deep longing to relinquish control so they could more fully experience God’s leading in their lives.
That is a remarkable contrast to the longings that we commonly associate with a society that worships individual freedom and self-determination. While they may not know how it comes to be, these people shared some pretty clear ideas of what it looks like when is spiritual transformation is happening. For example, they think their faith communities (local and regional) would be places marked by unity and compassion. They would also have a confidence that they can be trusted to discern God’s will together.
Our people are longing for these experiences in our life together.
Spiritual transformation is not something we can manufacture or program to happen. But we can cultivate certain behaviors that prepare us for transformation. These behaviors have less to do with programs and structures. They have more to do with orienting our hearts and paying attention to our spiritual hungers.
We orient our hearts to God’s leading through spiritual availability, stillness, mindfulness, being more than doing, presence more than program. Having surveyed unpredictable upheaval going on in the world, the Psalmist tells us to “be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
In the stillness and mindfulness, we give ourselves to important questions that our world will never pose for us. “What God is doing in this situation?” “What questions might Jesus be posing to us in this moment?” “How might the Spirit be calling us to give ourselves completely, in faith, to do what Jesus would do?”
However spiritual transformation comes about, as we cultivate practices that make us available to God’s presence in our lives,
we will grow in our ability to discern God’s will,
our life together will be marked by unity and compassion,
and the life we share will have us all looking more and more like Jesus.
May it be so!
Next week, I’ll share another reflection on what we heard from table groups at Annual Meeting 2017.
Central Plains Mennonite Conference
creates settings for our congregations and partners to grow in holistic witness to God's reconciling mission by developing leadership, encouraging fellowship and promoting lifelong discipleship.