Voices in Christian Formation: Scot McKnight

Voices in Christian Formation is a series of posts to help introduce some of the contemporary authors and speakers we can learn from as it pertains to our Christian formation. The posts focus on critical components of our Christian formation and provide a short bibliography to investigate each topic further.

Scot McKnight is a leading voice in the theological world as it pertains to the life of Christ, the New Testament and the early church. He is a professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, a prolific blogger at Jesus Creed and the author of more than twenty books. As someone who has followed Dr. McKnight since being a seminary student in his class, I have noticed a theme emerging in much of his writing: Christian formation according to Jesus.

This theme is evident in his book Jesus Creed and also in the title I would like to highlight, One.Life. I recommend One.Life as a dynamic resource to walk through with your youth staff, and as a source to develop a series for young people in revealing a deeper, vital and practical discipleship.

McKnight writes, “I want to sketch in One.Life how Jesus understood what we call ‘the Christian life.’ If we were to ask Jesus our question – What is a Christian? – what would he say?”  (p. 17)

Throughout One.Life, Scot takes a sweeping look at our everyday lives—our relationships, vocation, sexuality, church, justice and more—all through the lens of Jesus’s call to follow him. The book is a challenge to move beyond piety built on rules and faith built on intellectual assent to engage our whole lives to the radical and immense vision of Jesus’s call for us to join together in seeing “God’s dream for the world come true” (p. 28).

Have you given thought to what Christian formation would look like through the eyes of Jesus?

Does it raise your pulse to think about working with others to see “God’s dream for the world come true”?

McKnight’s Must Reads:


At the Close of the Day

A long tradition of the Christian faith is making prayer the final act before retiring to bed. This practice goes back to the third century in the writings of Clement of Alexandria and St. Cyprian. The practice was formalized in the nightly office of Compline by St. Benedict in the sixth century. Compline was a way for Christians to gather to offer common prayers, psalms and a benediction before departing in silence to retire to bed.

Recently I evaluated how poorly I closed my day—falling asleep to ESPN or late-night talk shows rather than intentionally closing my day with this long-held Christian tradition. I need the reflection, the historic words and the peace that accompany prayer as I close my days. Instead I’ve settled for trivia, jokes and poking fun at celebrities and politicians.

I determined to change my course and return to practicing a form of prayer that helps me declare a benediction at the close of each day. A benediction (Latin for “speaking well of”) is a form of prayer and blessing that acknowledges our God for the many ways we have witnessed our Maker and Molder’s fingerprints in our midst (James 1:17). A ritual I try to practice these days looks like this:

  • Review my day, answering, Where did I see the fingerprints of God today?
  • Prayer of Thanksgiving.
  • The nunc dimittis (Luke 2:29-32)
  • Benediction*

*A Sample Benediction:

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. 

(Psalm 67:1-4)

How are you closing your days, these days?

 

[Photo credit: jakebouma]


Voices In Christian Formation: Richard Foster

Voices in Christian Formation is a post series to help introduce some of the contemporary authors and speakers we can learn from as it pertains to our Christian formation. The series will focus on critical components of our Christian formation and provide a short bibliography to investigate the topic further.

Richard Foster is a prominent Protestant voice in the area of Christian formation. His book Celebration of Discipline, more than thirty years old now, was an instant classic on the topic of Christian formation and continues to introduce people to helpful Christian exercises. Foster continues to write, and we will consider one of his more recent books today, Sanctuary of the Soul.

Foster writes, “Oh, let me tell you how much God desires our presence. How much God longs to hear from us. How much God yearns to communicate with us… From the human side of this equation it is meditative prayer that ushers us into this divine-human fellowship” (p. 15).

He continues to explore meditative prayer: “In meditative prayer we are…learning to sink down into the light and life of Christ and becoming comfortable in this posture. We experience the perpetual presence of the Lord not just as theological dogma but as radiant reality” (p. 25).

He then admits, “The tradition of meditation is long and profound all through the life of the church. But today serious teaching and practice from a Christian perspective is minuscule, if present at all” (p. 60).

Throughout the rest of this work, he explores meditative prayer through three basic approaches:

  1. Being present where you are
  2. Beholding the Lord
  3. Inward attentiveness

Are we learning about this kind of prayer to aid our relationship with God and our ability to join him in mission in our world?

Are we growing in our devotion and connection with the living God in our everyday lives?

Might exploring the practice of meditative prayer be helpful in this endeavor?

You can explore this topic further:

Other Resources:



Personal Retreat 4: How We Approach a Personal Retreat

  • Personal Retreat Part 1 Here
  • Personal Retreat Part 2 Here
  • Personal Retreat Part 3 Here

In attempting something new or different, we often focus on the what and why and fail to look at an important question: How? How do we approach something in respect to our motives, intentions, and attitudes? This manner of how is something we don’t want to overlook or minimize in approaching a personal retreat.

Intention: This not a planning retreat or a study time. A personal retreat is about being with God. We need to carry this intention with us to and throughout the retreat. When distractions come, we need to dismiss them, jot them down, or confess them and return to our intention.

Essentials: Take only what is needed; this is not time to pack for a variety of circumstances. A Bible, prayer book, and journal are often all that is needed. Each additional item you take has the potential of leading you astray from your clear intention.

Solitude: For this day, make arrangements to unplug from your mobile device and social media and sequester yourself with God.

Personal: This is called a personal retreat because that is what it is all about. This day is for you to be with the One who has called you. This is not a day to move toward how you might teach or share some new insight. Resist the urge to move into the role of teacher or preacher.

Carry it Home: Spend this uninterrupted time with God and trust that as you grow in increasing awareness of God, you will carry this attentiveness into your daily life.


Personal Retreat 3: A Day Alone with God

  • Read Personal Retreat Part 1: Here
  • Read Personal Retreat Part 2: Here

During my early years in ministry, I often wanted to go on a personal retreat day, but one of the reasons it was pushed out of my schedule was the simple question, What do I do for a day alone with God? I could see that I needed to get away to refocus my awareness, tune up my alertness, and become more attentive to God, but I lacked the experience of actually spending eight or more hours alone for that purpose. Out of desperation, I finally took the plunge, and after a couple of times on retreat, by trial and error, I came up with a schedule you can modify that might be helpful for you.

A few tips:

  • Take it slow; be conscious of your pace as you begin and end each element.
  • Allow for 30-45 minutes for each element and then pause before jumping to the next element.
  • Remember, it isn’t about finishing or following the entire schedule; it’s about being with God

9am-Noon

  • Pray – Dedicate the time to be with God.
  • Read – Open the Scripture and spend some time reading it aloud, slowly and reflectively.
  • Listen – Become present to the presence of God.
  • Wait – Trust that God will reveal what we need.

Noon-2pm

  • Lunch – Listen to a book on tape or sermon as you eat.
  • Rest – Relax, nap, be.
  • Enjoy – Count your blessings or listen to a worship recording.

2-4pm

  • Pray – Spend some time praying about your concerns and/or with a prayer book.
  • Reflect – End your time journaling about your day. After reflecting, distill your day to a paragraph or less.

Personal Retreat 2: What’s the Plan?

Read Personal Retreat Part 1: Here

In our previous post, we looked at why we need to take time away to spend a day with God. Breaking out of our routines and busyness is crucial to our personal Christian formation. Equally important as breaking our daily patterns is having a plan and clear intentions guiding what we do while on retreat.

What do you do on a personal retreat?

  • Solitude: A personal retreat is time for us to be alone with God. (Luke 5:16)
  • Listening: It often takes breaking through numerous distractions of focusing on the past or the future to tune in and listen for God in the present moment. (John 10:1-4)
  • Waiting: Waiting can be demonstrated by resisting action and waiting on God’s direction, prompting, provision, or answer. (Psalm 27:13-14)
  • Praying: Taking time to write out our prayers and read them back to God or use of a prayer book can help us approach God and submit to God’s will. (Luke 22:42)
  • Resting: Take time to relax. Sit in the woods and watch the birds, watch the sun rise or set, take a nap in a hammock or on a porch swing, etc. (Mark 6:31)
  • Enjoying: Worship God and enjoy his presence. Engage in an act of worship. (Psalm 37:4)
  • Reflecting: Look back at the various impressions, words, and promptings that have come up throughout your time. Reflect on what God might be showing you through this time on retreat.

 

[Photo credit: synergybyjasmine]


The Personal Retreat 1: Why?

During the first week of work at my first youth ministry job, I received an invitation to join the senior pastor on a personal retreat. I accepted without reservation. It was a glorious time spent reading the introduction to Piper’s Desiring God at Great Falls State Park on the cliffs overlooking the Potomac River. I got off to a great start in ministry, but it would be six years before I hit the point where I was in desperate need of time away with God.

Over the ensuing six years, I became increasingly busy with a wide range of spiritual and religious activities. I was in a perpetual cycle of preparation, and sermon delivery, program execution, and meeting agendas. I wasn’t neglecting my spiritual development; I read about God, talked about God, wrote about God, sang songs about God, and prayed to God, but there was no time when I simply broke away to be with God.

The RPMs in my life were revving so high, it was nearly impossible for me to be still and quiet, that I might hear God’s voice. My life was well described by T.S. Eliot, who wrote: “We are distracted from our distractions by more distractions.” A life of such busyness keeps us from being able to attend to necessary things like listening to our hearts, our emotions, and our God.

Many of us become satisfied with praying on the go, five minutes of quiet devotions, listening to Christian music, and a hearing a sermon a week. We thereby convince ourselves we are keeping connected with God. If we are honest with ourselves, down deep, we fear we are far from abiding and being with God.

This lack of abiding and being at home with God in the realized presence of God is the reason most of us need to take personal retreats. Dare to make the leap of setting aside a day or two to go away from your routines and regular schedules and devote time to being with God. A retreat like this allows us to find wholeness, focus, and re-prioritization.

 

[Photo credit: delphwynd]


A Creed to Claim

An idea I strongly agree with and hope gains traction from Kenda Creasy Dean’s book Almost Christian is that one of the finest gifts the church can bequeath young people is a creed to claim. A creed is a clear, succinct summary of a group’s beliefs. I grew up in a tradition that, every week, had the congregation stand and recite the Apostles’ Creed, or Nicene Creed. I believe it served me well to have that baseline of what it was that my church held as important. I came to adopt that creed as my own as a fifteen-year-old.

These days, it isn’t often that I find a church that takes time to stand as a body and recite a creed. In many of our North American liturgies, the confession of faith or recitation of a creed has been jettisoned. Regardless of whether it is part of our public worship, are we helping young people be exposed to, memorize, and come to value the historic creeds of our common Christian faith? Are our young people conversant in the creeds?

Many of the creeds have a narrative approach, telling the story of the central figure of our faith, Jesus Christ. A great place to start in exposing young people to creeds is in the New Testament. Many believe one of the oldest Christian creeds is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. A combination of teaching this passage, reciting it together during times of worship, and returning to it as an example of a succinct traditional statement of our common Christian faith is one approach to helping your students find a creed to claim. You might also find it helpful to expose your young people to the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed.

Are the young people in your church receiving the gift of a creed to claim? What are some ways you have found helpful in giving the teens in your church a creed to claim?

 

[Photo credit: lwr]