What are the key attributes of Joining God in Shaping Our Future?
We believe the single most important question facing our congregations today is, “How do we go on a journey together to discern what God is up to in our neighborhoods and join God there?” This core question is meant to guide us on our journey. Five core practices offer us direction on this journey:
- Listening – to God in scripture, in one another, in our neighbors and in ourselves
- Discerning – learning what God is up to in our local communities
- Experimenting – testing out how to connect with neighbors in new ways
- Evaluating – reflecting on our efforts, the implications of what we have learned
- Living into a new future – deciding on the next steps we need to take
As we engage these core practices in a continuous cycle – always returning to listening, the key practice, to start anew – we find ourselves living into the core question of “How do we go on a journey together to discern what God is up to in our neighborhoods and join God there?”
The great news is that the only possible outcome of following the core practices is learning – learning new ways to be the church in our time and in our neighborhoods.
Why has Joining God in Shaping Our Future become a central initiative of the Diocese of Newark?
Statistics from sources like the Pew Research Center show a troubling and ongoing decline in all mainline churches. A 2014 Pew study showed that only 45% of Americans raised in a mainline denomination continue to identify with it as adults. These figures point to what Bishop Beckwith called a “trajectory of challenge and decline marked by the closing of churches, aging congregations, fewer full time clergy….” But there is another trajectory; one the Bishop says is “calling us out of churches and into the world – to see what God is up to. And to join God there.” Joining God in Shaping Our Future seeks to move beyond the quest for new and better programs promising to somehow “save” the church. We believe the best way forward is for the church to go out into the places where we live, work, play and worship, and join God who is already at work there.
How will this help us to build our membership? To increase our pledging members in particular?
Joining God in Shaping Our Future (and the broader Missional Church movement) involves a fundamental shift in the way we think about church. This new way of thinking is not so much concerned about bringing people in as it is going out – in much the same way as Jesus himself did in his own ministry. Joining God in Shaping Our Future is about being the church in the world, discovering how God is at work in the places where we live, work, play and worship. By listening, discerning, experimenting and evaluating, we will follow the Spirit’s leading into the new future that God has in store for us.
What is the practice of Dwelling in the Word?
Dwelling in the Word is an updated version of an ancient Christian practice called lectio divina or divine reading. One does not need theological training to engage in “Dwelling.”
“Dwelling” is often practiced at the beginning of a regular meeting (such as a vestry meeting). The scriptural text is read aloud twice, by both a male and a female voice. Then the group breaks into pairs to discuss what captured each of their attention, and how they feel God may be nudging them through the text. Once back together in the larger group, each person shares the insights of their partner.
By “Dwelling” in the same passage of Scripture over a period of time we enable the text to speak to us in new and exciting ways and allow God to shape us, as a group and individually.
You can learn more about Dwelling in the Word, and find resources, at dioceseofnewark.org/joining-god/dwelling-word.
Why do we focus on Dwelling on the text Luke 10:1-12? Why is it so important to the Joining God in Shaping Our Future initiative?
In Luke 10 1-12 Jesus calls seventy of his followers to go out in pairs before him bringing peace and relying only on the hospitality of others. We also learn that Jesus followers are to go before him into “every town and place” – that is, out into the towns and villages beyond their own community of faith. There is an element of risk: the seventy are to move beyond the familiarity of their usual travel amenities and customs, carrying with them “no sandals, no bags, no purses.”
This passage illustrates the willingness to move beyond our familiar surroundings, to risk moving outside our comfort zones, to find God at work in places we might never have expected and there perhaps to find ourselves Joining God in Shaping Our Future.
Joining God in Shaping Our Future seems to focus on “neighborhood.” People come from all over to worship at our church. Why is our immediate neighborhood so important?
The most important issues are really not those of geography or of determining if the neighborhood is primarily where the church is situated or where its members live, work and play. The neighborhood is all these! Of greater importance is the need to go out among people we don’t know and to places we’ve never been before. Joining God in Shaping Our Future affirms and celebrates the realization that God is at work in the “ordinariness” of life.
What is the hoped-for outcome of Joining God in Shaping Our Future?
The hope is that Joining God in Shaping Our Future will assist us in living into the future to which we believe God is calling us as a church and as individual followers of Christ. Life in the 21st century has become extremely complex, not just in the church but in education, politics, industry and business. The old ways of doing things are no longer working. As Bishop Beckwith has said, “Business as usual is no longer an option.”
This is more than a new marketing strategy for church growth and it does not ask us to embrace immediate change in the way we do things. This is an opportunity to rediscover our selves as a people sent by God – as disciples and not simply members.