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Q & A
Q&A: Getting back to Wesleyan practices Robin Russell, Oct 12, 2007
Bishop Robert Schnase
In 2004, Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase heard a colleague, Bishop Bruce Ough (West Ohio Area), talk about the need for a common language to describe the work of the church. The idea stuck with him; he began reworking the terms he’d heard and added a few others. By 2005, he was preaching and teaching the “Five Practices” in the Missouri Conference as a fresh way to focus on the Wesleyan ways of church life and spiritual development.
The principles grew into his book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (Abingdon Press, 2007). Other United Methodist conferences have picked up and at times modified the concepts for their own use. Bishop Schnase spoke recently by e-mail and phone with Managing Editor Robin Russell.
How do the Five Practices tie in with the Council of Bishops’ new emphasis on “Living the United Methodist Way”? “Living the United Methodist Way” is about how individuals walk out their journey of faith. The Five Practices are about how congregations shape and nurture that. There’s a lot of overlap. Living the United Methodist Way describes the personal disciplines—worship, the sacraments, learning in community, service and giving—that foster the growth in grace and in the knowledge and love of God that disciples seek as they mature in Christ.
The Five Practices express that the United Methodist Church helps make disciples of Jesus Christ principally through congregations that practice the basic elements of church life. We offer the gracious invitation and embrace of Christ through “radical hospitality” so that people are grafted into the body of Christ. Through authentic, “passionate worship,” God shapes souls, changes minds and transforms lives, creating a desire to grow in Christ. God’s spirit nurtures people in community and matures the spirit as we grow through “intentional faith development.” As we grow our in spiritual maturity, we discern God’s call to make a positive difference in the lives of others through “risk-taking mission and service.” And God inspires us to give of ourselves in “extravagant generosity” so that others can receive the love and grace that we have known.
What appealed to you about these Five Practices? I find the terms edgy, provocative and inviting. These practices are so crucial to the success of congregations that failure to perform them in an exemplary way leads to the deterioration of the church’s mission. Ignore any one of these tasks or perform them in a mediocre or inconsistent manner and the church will eventually turn in on itself and die away. The adjectives ratchet up the practices to exemplary. For instance, the dissonance between “radical” and “hospitality” invites people to think, “How are we doing with hospitality? Are we offering the kind of radical, extreme love we see in Christ?”
What exactly is “radical hospitality”? Radical hospitality is welcoming others as Christ has welcomed us. It is focusing on those outside our church with as much compassion and love as we focus on those within our congregation. It is hospitality that exceeds all expectation, an unexpected grace that people experience in every element of a church’s life. Members are outward-looking and have an invitational posture. Visitors feel like, “People really care about me here. People are interested in the well-being of me and my family. I feel the love of God in this congregation.”
What makes for “passionate worship”? Passionate worship connects people to God and to each other. It’s worship we enter with expectancy, opening ourselves to the power of God’s spirit to change our hearts and minds. It’s worship that is alive, profound, authentic, engaging. It can be traditional or contemporary—it takes many different expressions.
How can a congregation promote “intentional faith development”? Growing in grace and in the knowledge and love of God happens in community. We cannot learn forgiveness, grace, kindness, gentleness and patience by just reading a book. Churches foster faith development through small group life—Bible studies, classes, retreats. From Vacation Bible School to older-adult Sunday school classes, the church offers ways for people to deepen their faith and their knowledge and experience of God.
What does “risk-taking mission and service” look like? This is the service we offer that stretches us to love in the name of Christ and to serve others in ways we might not do if simply left to our own desires. It’s risky because it moves us out of our comfort zone and takes us to places and brings us to people we might not ordinarily encounter. Churches offer risk-taking mission and service through tutoring programs, VIM projects, cross-cultural exchanges, ministries in nursing homes and a multitude of other ministries.
How does a church show “extravagant generosity?” Churches show extravagant generosity by teaching, preaching and practicing the tithe and proportional giving. Such churches develop a culture of giving that helps people put their material wealth under the stewardship of God. They also give beyond their walls to make a difference in the community and around the world, rather than just spend money on their own programs.
How have United Methodist congregations used the Five Practices concepts, language or book? Churches have used the Five Practices as a tool for understanding their mission and making it more comprehensible and achievable. The book provides a common language that unifies us and intensifies our desire to serve Christ by strengthening the basic ministries of our churches. Pastors are preaching sermon series on the Five Practices, leading book studies and using the book for adult Sunday school lessons and as a foundation for leadership retreats, conversations and strategies. I’ve been thrilled and humbled by the wide diversity of congregations and pastors across the connection who have found the book helpful. The Five Practices are larger than the book, and I pray they become useful to the glory of God in ways none of us can imagine.
Other denominations—including Baptist, Lutheran and Disciples of Christ—are also picking up on the language. The Five Practices find their roots in the second chapter of Acts, in the way the church has done its work for generations, so it’s not a surprise that it’s larger than just the United Methodist notion. What I try to do in the book is tie them to distinctly Wesleyan notions because this is in our DNA as Wesleyan Methodists. But I’ve received positive comments from pastors and laypersons in churches large and small; urban, suburban and rural; United Methodist and other denominations; from about 25 states and a couple of foreign countries.
There’s a viral quality to the conversation about the book. People are talking across regional and theological boundaries. I find that deeply gratifying. The ideas are spreading through the Internet, from pastor to pastor and conference to conference in a way that is exciting. It’s getting people to think about how the church fulfills its mission.
Besides the book, what resources are available to help congregations use these concepts? FivePractices.org is a new Web site that invites sharing about how to teach and lead and preach using the concepts. The Web site has a sermon series on the Five Practices, study guides for Sunday school classes and leadership retreats, reading resources and “best practices” examples.
My blog on FivePractices.org continues the conversation about deepening these core practices. It’s a way to engage with pastors and laypersons about fruitfulness and excellence, about evangelism, worship, Christian education, mission and stewardship. And it keeps me fresh and focused on the ministry of local congregations.