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I think most people engaged in congregational leadership know we are NOT going back to church as it was before the pandemic. That version of church doesn’t exist anymore. A protracted COVID-19 season of disruption invites us to re-imagine church—not in order to survive but to thrive.

Sure, some congregations will exert super-human effort to return their churches to pre-pandemic form. This longing for homeostasis (the known) is natural, but a deep desire to “get back to normal” mostly yields nostalgia (looking back). While it is good to celebrate our rich heritage, looking back prevents considering new possibilities, dreaming new dreams, and reflecting on what must change in order to realize God’s ideals for the church.

When I began working on the congregational studies Nurturing Faith in Community, we had no idea how long the pandemic would last, how long we would not gather in person, how divisive the presidential election would be, and how the storming of the Capitol would devastate our national psyche. Challenges within the pre-pandemic church demanded attention; these lessons ask questions that deserve serious reflection as we contemplate what’s next for the church. Questions posed confront pre-pandemic assumptions about God’s mission for the church and the scorecard most congregations used to determine faithfulness. Thoughtful conversations about current practices that are out of alignment with God’s vision for the church are invited. Post-pandemic, my prayer is that our inability to “go back to normal” frees us to look ahead and see with God’s eyes.

At the encouragement of Michael Cheuk, CBFVA’s Moderator, I shaped the Nurturing Faith in Community sessions around specific congregational needs. These needs have been amplified during the pandemic. Many congregations are scrambling to “figure-out the post-pandemic church.” This series can play a major role in helping your church address its current reality.

Session 1 – How Did We Get Here?

Congregational Need Addressed:

It’s easy for congregations to get comfortable with patterned ways of being and doing church. These patterned ways of being, seeing, and doing can block serious reflection about a congregation’s faithfulness to God’s mission in the world. This session takes us on a journey to rediscover the imperative of discipleship that encourages the Jesus Way.

Session 2 – Programmed Faith vs. Faith Nurtured in Community

Congregational Need Addressed:

Patterns of educating for faith that emerged in the 1950’s and 1960’s are no longer effective. In this session, we engage in truth-telling about weaknesses in our approach to nurturing faith today and begin looking at a more holistic understanding of forming faith.

Session 3 – The Nature of Faith and Formation

Congregational Need Addressed:

Thoughtful conversation about the nature of the faith we seek to form is essential. The call of this session is to appropriate fresh understanding of what it means to “form faith in Jesus for the sake of the world.”

Session 4 – Centrality of Jesus to Faith Formation

Congregational Need Addressed:

Jesus came to show us how to live. Jesus’ life and ministry as revealed in the Gospels show us what was important to him: unconditional love for all, concern for the marginalized, serving people, being available, breaking down barriers that separate people, spending time nourishing relationship with God, and confronting injustices. Christ-followers today need a Jesus’ worldview.

Session 5 – Spiritual Practices that Nurture Holistic Faith

Congregational Need Addressed:

To become a disciple of Jesus means to see for oneself the values that energized the life of Jesus of Nazareth, to struggle with them, until, by the grace of God, they become our own. This requires commitment to an ongoing and disciplined enrichment of our relationship to God, the affirmation of human need and worth, the desire to serve life out of love rather that power and reward, and a deep identification with the poor and hungry. Christians today need to rediscover something people of all faiths have known for a long time—you must practice the faith. One can’t simply move from “believing” to actuating faith in the world without spiritual practices that free us from our own desires (and those of the culture) in order to fully embrace the Jesus way.

Session 6 – Beloved Community and Transformation

Congregational Need Addressed:

This community resource has been building toward Session 6. CBF’s goal is to collaborate with God and one another to grow beloved community, to cultivate compassion, and become agents of reconciliation in the world. These actions take our focus off what divides and separates us and leads to the transformation of God’s world!

My Invitation to You

As I issue the invitation, a moment of honesty is required. To work through these sessions will be hard work. To say otherwise is dishonest. When I’ve shared these ideas with clergy and congregations, I frequently hear, “Terry, I agree with everything you are saying about formation and transformation, but the changes required are scary for folks in the pew.” For sure, these sessions reveal the limitations of simply promoting a particular set of beliefs in order to adopt patterns more congruent with the life and teachings of Jesus. We must release old understandings in order to embrace God’s ideals. The ego hates change more than anything; we are often content to “hunker down” and simply survive. Transformation is disorienting, but the rewards lead to faithful alignment of our wills with God’s will, non-dualistic thinking, and beloved community!

That said, I invite you on a journey of discovery. Release your preconceived notions, listen for Spirit’s voice, and say “YES” to the more authentic and faithful Jesus Way.

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