Sunday, October 25, 2009

forming disciples today: conversations with Christian mission history

Today I started a 4 part sermon series, titled Turning points: key moments in Christian history

Today was the monastic movement, particularly Benedictine spirituality, and the implications for discipleship and mission. Since history is about people, I gave a brief introduction to three monks – Anthony, Clare and Benedict. Since history is about place, I looked at the world’s oldest, largest and most beautiful monasteries.

The sermon raised some significant questions for me in regard to church life today.

1. Forming disciples. Compare a monk, who prays 7 times a day, 7 days a week. That is 49 church services. Consider how much that shapes a person in the way of Jesus. In contrast, much church going is once a week at best. How much can we really expect to grow in our Christian faith, when many of us watch more TV than enter the Christian story? (Now I know that some of you have daily quiet times. But the challenge of the monastic life was how they committed themselves to grow together, not as individuals).

2. Transforming community. I showed a picture of a Celtic monastery, which functioned as a 7 day a week place of prayer, learning, healing and relating. And the mission question, is church really about a worship service that we drive to? How much can we really expect our neighbourhoods to change, as we drive to and fro once a week?

3. Faith for life. Since Benedict was about all of life – prayer and work – ora et labora, then his “rule” must surely have application outside a monastery. It occurred to me that our working days are filled with breaks. We eat 3 times a day, and stop for morning and afternoon tea. So could that be the start of a “local church rule”; in which we commit to pause for micro-prayer every time we hold a hot drink in our hands?

Taking the monks out of history began some pretty challenging after-church coffee conversations. I’d love some feedback on this from my wider blog audience.

I thought it might be of interest to some outside Opawa, so we had a first ever Opawa go – Steve on video, then very basic edit (top and tail) on iMovie, then upload on www. All very new. (coming) (I had lots of powerpoint, but not sure about copyright, so it’s just a straight talking head. Slightly longer than I normally preach, but it was a long weekend, so everyone is a bit more relaxed and there is often less in other parts of the service.)

It was a lot of fun preparing a “history” sermon and I got a stack of positive feedback, people really appreciating a different approach. Variety is spice of life and all that.

And for those who missed it from Friday, here was some of my reading in preparation:
– Mark Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity.)
Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way Of Love
The Rule of Benedict for Beginners: Spirituality for Daily Life
A Public Faith: From Constantine to the Medieval World, AD 312-600
Emerging Downunder
New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church
St Benedict for Today.

Posted by steve at 06:19 PM


  1. A great post with many good thoughts….i wish my church would hear about this stuff and be challenged by it.

    I am not a great fan of Luther but will be interested in your next sermon

    all the best


    Comment by rodney neill — October 28, 2009 @ 11:15 pm

  2. Thanks Steve –
    1/ it was great to be able to ‘catch up’ on your sermon, as i really wanted to hear this whole series – thanks for taking the time to get it where i could hear it
    2/ does make me think that our future plans for opawa have got to consider the needs of both the community of waltham and those who come to services equally – our example for the community is our blessing to the community
    3/ i may never have a coffee again without a prayer – i like 2have things i can do often – and so my car trip prayers may become coffee prayers
    4/ rules = patterns? Our concept of rules has really changed huh?
    5/ gotta be careful that we don’t get so hung up in making plans forward, that we don’t thank God for what he has blessed in the past (long time past and recent past)

    Thanks again!

    Comment by Robyn — October 30, 2009 @ 5:49 pm

  3. Steve, at the end of his important book, “After Virtue” moral philosopher, Alasdair MacIntyre talks about how we need to return to the Benedictines if we are to avoid a chaotic breakdown of what it even means to be a society.
    I have been profoundly shaped by ten years approximately in China from 1977-87. I have the results of society cannibalizing itself.
    I have a young abused Muslim woman living with me, A wonderful woman, extremely well educated. This has led me into being involved in a new community. I have come to see yet again how intelligent persons can be misshaped.
    Which brings me to the first 70 pages of Stanley Hauerwas ” Community of Character”. The church has been shaped by abstraction…I taught courses on Theological Method and Praxis. But communities are shaped by embodied practices that grow out of the story that shapes us. Practices by themselves don’t work. Abstract concepts by themselves don’t work. There must be these two things growing out of being incorporated into the life of a community.
    Meet an Alzheimer’s patient and we have an image of the church. Alzheimer’s patients have forgotten their narrative. They don’t know how to relate to those closest to them, nor how to inhabit their space. They do not know where they are, who those surrounding them are, what time it is etcetera etcetera. They become dependent on those around them rather than being shapers of others. The analogies go on and on. The evangelical world’s truncated understanding has shaped a community suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

    We are at a dangerous place unless we change.

    Comment by Mary fisher — July 11, 2013 @ 5:54 pm

  4. Thanks Mary. I’ll continue to play with your image of Alzheimers. My dad is suffering from this, and I don’t see him as mishapen, but as a human being who invites to care, and in so doing to truly be the image of God.


    Comment by steve — July 11, 2013 @ 6:31 pm

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