As we continue our conversations around Shared Practices within congregational rhythms, we interview two of our churches who are on this journey. The first, Southside Community Church, has been incorporating and growing in these practices for many years. The second, The Forge Church, began an internal culture shift five years ago that includes incorporating rhythms of shared practices and intentional discipleship for the formation and shaping of a community of believers both within and beyond the Sunday worship service.
As you read this post and the next interview, please note that we are not marketing a product, method or program but rather exploring a pattern–a template if you will. You will find both of these churches’ experiences involve creating environments of learning, reshaping and rethinking as we discover the most meaningful and fruitful ways of being a whole and holistic community together within our contexts and micro-cultures.
That’s a fancy way of saying it takes a lot of hard work, grace, prayer and repentance all along the journey, but the fruit along the way is sweet, inviting and encouraging.
~ Shannon and Cailey
CBWC: What was Southside’s experience of developing shared practices?
Cam Roxburgh, Team Lead at Southside Community Church: Almost twenty years ago, the Elders of Southside went away on a prayer retreat. We had come through the first 8 years of our history and had so many different sayings, logos and formulas. It was hard to keep track of all that we were trying to articulate. It became very clear to us on this retreat that God was asking us to simplify all of these things. So we prayed and talked, and talked and prayed.
By the end of our retreat it was clear to us that the form He was calling us to live by was not new at all; rather, it was renewed.
We began to understand that by focusing on loving God with our hearts, mind and strength, and loving our neighbours as we loved one another, we were actually bearing witness to the very nature and action of God.
CBWC Church Planting: What Shared Practices do you focus on and why?
Cam: Since that retreat 20 years ago we have focused our attention and efforts on growing into people who really do love God, each other, and neighbour with everything. At times, we may adjust the specifics of a shared practice in order to grow more deeply in a particular facet, but here are some of the ways that plays out practically at present:
- Sabbath: Loving God with all our strength really comes down to trusting Him with our time, talent, treasure, and even our bodies. The Sabbath is one way in which we can say to the world, “Jesus is Lord. I am under His leadership, for He has offered a better way to live.” It is not that we come to the end of the week and are exhausted so need to unplug, but rather that we recognize who He is and determine to bear witness to him with our whole life. So from sundown Saturday until sundown Sunday, we seek to cease work and commerce, engage in hospitality and time around the table, spend time “recreating” in creation, and gather for worship, prayer and studying the Scriptures.
- Gathering together: One way we prove our love for one another is that we have covenanted to gather together on a regular basis: all ages on Sundays in congregations, adults Wednesday in small groups (Mission Groups), youth on Thursdays in their small groups, and monthly with discipleship partners. Gathering together is crucial for our growth as His people.
- Scripture and Study Guides: We seek to love God with all our mind, growing in the knowledge of God and His Kingdom. We share in the practice of daily Scripture study. The core tool for this practice is the study guide, which leads us through personal daily Scripture study and application that also correlates to the sermons on Sunday and our discussion time in Mission Groups.
- Morning and Evening Prayer: On any given day, whether gathered together, in our own homes, or away on a work trip, we are growing in loving God with our hearts through the practice of morning and evening prayer. Often, prompts in our study guides will help us in the morning to look ahead to the day and ask the Lord for provision and opportunities to share His love, and in the evening to bring confession and thanksgiving as we reflect on our action and God’s action.
- Hospitality: Christ is inviting us to an abundant life in and through Him, for the sake of the world. We do not ask the question of “who is my neighbour?” but rather “am I a neighbour?” Therefore, we seek to love our neighbours with justice and compassion, practicing hospitality and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. But I’ve got to confess that we have a long way to go in this area. We’re learning to be hospitable in our own homes, and also as congregations in neighbourhoods to become a people of welcome.
CBWC: Have you seen fruit of your intentionality in shared practices?
Cam: A big area of fruit for us is people being able to point to where they have seen God at work in the world and in their lives. This practice is crucial for evangelism in our context.
Eugene Peterson’s phrase “a long obedience in the same direction” also comes to mind. As these shared practices continue to shape us over the long haul, the Holy Spirit uses them to begin changing our defaults from kingdom of the world mindsets to Kingdom of God mindsets. I have seen countless examples in our people of those small shifts:
- from tight-fisted to generous
- from snap, individualistic decision making to Spirit-led, Scripture informed corporate discernment
- from hurried and harried to trusting God with each hour and day
- from anxious to thankful
And I could go on. This pathway of walking in step with each other and the Lord is not easy, but more and more I am convinced that it produces the abundant life that Christ promises, not just for us but for our neighbours, cities, nation and the world.
CBWC: What advice would you give churches who are considering taking a step towards a culture of intentional shared practice and life together?
Cam: There are several things I could add.
- Start: I think far too often we are trying to make it perfect and therefore get stuck. So, just start. Get leaders together, pray and act. I really believe God will keep us in line with what He wants when we are seeking to follow Him.
- Listen: give opportunity for the people of the church to articulate what they are hearing. There are several exercises that are helpful for this. Doing a timeline of where you have seen God work in the history of the church is one helpful exercise.
- Feel free to ask: we started Forge Canada (not to be confused with The Forge Church, which you will hear about in a coming post) out of questions like this. As CBWC, we are a family of churches, so if I/we can ever be of help, I am very happy to start with a chat on the phone. We have helped many hundreds of churches along this road and would be delighted to spend time listening to what God is saying to your church and to be an encouragement along the way.
As per usual, we look forward to further conversation with you and your church as we continue watching God at work and joining Him in His work wherever we live, work, play and pray! ~Shannon and Cailey