Jul 07

Suburban Apprentice

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Several years ago, I listened to a presentation at Asbury Seminary in Orlando.  The school was about an hour away from my home – a quaint, yet comfortable little place on the east coast of Florida.  I was working towards a Master of Divinity degree. 

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Several years ago, I listened to a presentation at Asbury Seminary in Orlando.  The school was about an hour away from my home – a quaint, yet comfortable little place on the east coast of Florida.  I was working towards a Master of Divinity degree.  One of my professors was pleased to announce that the seminary would soon be establishing a “School of Urban Ministry.”  He explained the timeline and the reason for this new initiative.  Since Orlando is a fairly large city (especially compared to Asbury’s main campus in Wilmore, KY), there would be some tremendous opportunities for ministry.  My professor also said the School of Urban Ministry would be a terrific way for people to get solid training before heading off to participate in urban ministry throughout the country.

While the initiative is without question important if not necessary, I couldn’t help but get a little uneasy in my seat.  It had nothing to do with the seminary’s lukewarm coffee that was offered, either.  My mind was racing because I thought there was a large portion of our country’s population that was being overlooked.  Shortly after the professor left the classroom, I leaned over and told a classmate what I was thinking.  I said, “The seminary also needs to establish a School of Suburban Ministry.” My classmate gave me an odd look.  She wasn’t sure if I was serious or joking.  But I was dead serious.

I’ve visited several big, urban cities all over the country.  Sometimes it was on business.  Other times it was for pleasure.  I’ve also participated in inner city mission trips.  No matter the purpose for my visit, it was always very easy to spot the need.  Whether it was a run-down church with an eviction notice on the front doors or a homeless person on the corner with a cardboard sign in hand, you didn’t have to travel far into the city to see a source of pain or suffering.

Things are different in suburbia, a place removed from the city with neighborhoods full of manicured lawns and lovely patio furniture.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy living in the suburbs.  But there are some real challenges too.  Having lived in suburbia all my life, I have learned that the needs of my neighbors are easily hidden in the shrubs that help shape the landscaping.  Much of this, in my opinion, is done on purpose.  Suburbanites are supposed to have their act together.  So it’s not easy for people to reveal their “warts” when everyone else around them seems to have it so good.  News flash – we all have warts!

There has been a bit of a paradigm shift in neighborhoods over time.  Fifty years ago, people who lived in suburban neighborhoods knew each other.  They spent time out front talking about their lives, and sharing a cup of sugar or a few eggs for a recipe.  It was also easy to connect with each other because houses were designed differently.  Think about it.  Front porches were much bigger back then.  People placed an emphasis on being available for their neighbors, therefore they spent more time on the front porch.  In the 21st Century, our time and our money is spent on the back porch, where it’s harder to connect with our neighbors.  Contributing to the isolation is the habit of opening the garage door, pulling the car in, then promptly closing the garage door.  Our isolation has also bled into other areas of suburban life.

As a father of two young kids, I spend a lot of my time in the evenings at the soccer fields or in the dance studio or in a gymnasium.  It would be easier for me to find a seat and surf my social media accounts or return work emails.  By doing that, I would get to avoid everyone else.  After all, so many other parents are doing the same thing.  That’s life in the suburbs.  But the suburbs are my mission field – and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to connect with someone who might be suffering or going through a trial.  So I look people in the eyes, and ask about their day.  Some people are guarded with their answers.  Others are ready to unload a burden that’s weighing them down.  Financial stress, parental issues, relationship problems, spiritual crises – they are more prevalent than we realize.  Our neighborhoods and communities need us to be the hands and feet of Christ in the midst of our everyday lives.

In Knowing Christ Today, Dallas Willard speaks to this when he says,

“The ‘love’ Jesus lived and taught is not limited to compassion for the suffering and the downtrodden.  Those were simple and obvious cases of love, to be sure: obvious because the needs of such people were so glaring, and because they were not the usual objects of love for ordinary people in ordinary life.  They tended to be passed by.  Helping people in dire need was recognized as a ‘big deal,’ something to make a show of, and as a praiseworthy thing for extraordinary people to do – rather as we today would describe someone as a ‘philanthropist.’  Unfortunately, people are not thought to be philanthropists because they are kind and thoughtful and on the lookout for the good of those around them and serve them.  But when Jesus spoke of love as the principle of life as it ought to be, he is referring mainly to the posture of benefiting others in the ordinary relations of ordinary life.” 1

Our calling as suburban apprentices of Jesus is to help re-shape the narratives that form and cause harm to our neighbors.  Going out of your way to connect with the people around us may seem radical to this world.  But these practices are ordinary to Jesus because they flow of out of who he is.  So consider yourself an ordinary radical – someone who loves and cares for people – in the midst of your everyday life.  Whether they readily realize it or not, it matters to them and it matters to God, and it will make a difference in the Kingdom.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What does your everyday, ordinary life look like?
  2. Do the comforts and isolation of the suburbs prevent you from connecting with neighbors? How?
  3. What are some tangible ways you can show love to those in your community?

Bibliography

  1. Willard, Dallas. Knowing Christ Today. Harper One, New York, 2009, p.88.

John Carroll oversees the Apprentice Experience, a two-year certification experience in Christian Spiritual Formation for clergy and laity.  With a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary, John brings a unique blend of experience (11 years in corporate recruiting, 4 years in the local church) to the Apprentice Institute.  He is happily married to his wife, Amber, and together they have two children, Aidan and Amelia. In his free time, John enjoys reading, watching football and spending time with family and friends.

For more information about the Apprentice Experience, contact John at john.carroll@apprenticeinstitute.org.


The Apprentice Gathering 2015 – An Apprentice Institute event in partnership with Renovaré.  Gather with us as we learn about The Joy of Kingdom Living.  For more information visit www.apprenticegathering.org 

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Jul 03

An Unhurried Life: A Resource from Alan Fadling

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Here’s a great resource from Alan Fadling (author of An Unhurried Life). Alan will be leading an all day intensive session–“An Unhurried Leader”–on Thursday of the National  Conference and workshops on Friday and Saturday. Dallas Willard famously quipped the most important thing in spiritual formation is “to ruthlessly

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Here’s a great resource from Alan Fadling (author of An Unhurried Life). Alan will be leading an all day intensive session–“An Unhurried Leader”–on Thursday of the National  Conference and workshops on Friday and Saturday.

Dallas Willard famously quipped the most important thing in spiritual formation is “to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Alan Fadling discusses that teaching and much more about slowing down in this video.

If you’ve got a long drive or some extra time, check out the whole video.

If you can’t watch the whole thing, there are notable quotes and timestamps below.

“I am a recovering speed addict….By that I mean the pace of my own heart. I am still in recovery. I do not write as one who has reached the mountaintop and seen the vision and now park in the oasis of unhurried.” (Time: 5:23)

“What I have begun to believe and what lies at the heart of this book is that I follow an unhurried Savior.” (6:54)

“Jesus has all of the time you need for you.” (7:32)

“When we come with our concerns, when we come with our worries, when we come for whatever reason we come, we have Jesus’ full attention. He is an unhurried Savior. Isn’t that amazing? That makes you feel special.” (8:12)

“If we are followers of an unhurried Savior, what might that do to our lives?” (8:54)

“Can you imagine being able to live a life in the following of an unhurried savior that was actually unhurried and fruitful? Unhurried and fruitful are not two different islands to choose. Unhurried and productive are not two different places to visit. Fruitfulness in our lives comes from a place of rootedness.” (10:18)

“The Christian life can become any number of things other than a life lived abiding in Jesus together in community to bless the world. It can become a long list of meetings I attend. It can become the feeling like longer I’m a Christian the longer the to-do list gets.” (14:22)

“I found myself in the weird position at times of pursuing the work of God to escape the face of God. I got busier and busier and busier with stuff I was doing for God, so much so, that I didn’t have any time to listen to him, to just relate to him as a son. To just enjoy the relationship that I had available with God through him, through Jesus.”  (15:08)

“Jesus is far more interested in who I’m becoming, and I tend to be more interested in what I’m doing.” (16:32)

“Love does not work very well in a hurry.” (18:05)

“Loving relationships flourish in unhurried time.” (18:46)

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” – Dallas Willard (20:00)

“There is no need greater for me than communion with the Father through the Son by the Spirit. There is nothing more nourishing, nothing more life-giving than that relationship.” (29:03)

“Authority and splendor, I think, are at the heart at a lot of the temptations we find ourselves falling to.” (30:25)

“Temptation is trying to grab for myself something the Father already wants to give me as a gift.” (30:52)

“An unhurried life realizes that all I will ever need, I experience and receive from a generous Father who doesn’t skimp, who doesn’t hold back good things, but wants us to learn that good things are little good, and that big Good, capital G good is found in communion with God.” (32:35)

“Culturally, ‘slow’ equals ‘bad’. Unhurried, no different. Just bad. Fast. Look that word up. Mostly positive, zippy, happy definitions.” (40:27)

“When I look at Jesus, the longer I watch him in the Gospels, the more I see that he is modeling for me how his unhurried way would help me, for example, to identify and resist the temptations that cross my path.” (41:32)

About the good Samaritan story: “It is a beautiful picture of unhurried love.” (44:45)

“The great commandment is not ‘get more things done’ but that has been my working great commandment for many years. And many of those things are things I was doing for God, so what’s wrong with that? The great commandment, we all know, is to love God with all of our energies, all of our capacities, all of our mind and heart and soul and strength. That’s the great commandment. It hasn’t changed.” (45:46)

Thanks to Alan for making this resource available. Thanks also to Kalika Jaeckel for compiling the quotes.

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Jun 24

How’s Your Fountain Working?

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Close your eyes and imagine a water fountain. Maybe it’s one you’ve seen before, maybe it’s your own imaginative creation. How does the water look? Sound? Fall? Taste? Feel? What emotions rise up in you while looking at it? What kind of fountain did you

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Close your eyes and imagine a water fountain. Maybe it’s one you’ve seen before, maybe it’s your own imaginative creation.

How does the water look? Sound? Fall? Taste? Feel?

What emotions rise up in you while looking at it?

What kind of fountain did you imagine? One you’d seen before on a vacation? Or one you might see everyday (a drinking fountain)?

Was it beautiful to see the water cascading across the picture of your mind? Was it refreshing to have the cool water satisfy your parched mouth?

Water fountains can be beautiful. Water seems to dance and shoot in unexpected places and at unexpected times.

Water fountains can be fun. Children love to play and splash in the water.

Water fountains can be peaceful. A slow, steady fountain can be a great background for silence and meditation.

Water fountains can be refreshing. Nothing is better than a long cold drink from a water fountain on a hot summer day.

In all this beauty, fun, peace, and refreshment, I would guess not many of you imagined the driving factor behind those experiences: the lowly pump.

The pump is that forgotten, but essential piece that makes the whole fountain work.

Without the pump a fountain would just be a big pool, or a flat surface.

Without the pump, you’ll still be thirsty.

And water pumps, like anything else in life, require maintenance. Don’t care for the pump? Don’t expect a water show.

No one goes to a fountain to look at the pump (except the person charged to maintain it).

You look at the result of the pump’s work and enjoy it; thankful for its presence and function, even if you never actually realize it.

Which is kind of like spiritual formation and mission. In this with-God life journey, your spiritual formation is the pump.

No one sees your time in solitude and silence, lectio divina, prayer, secret acts of service, tithing, charitable giving, fasting, the list could go on. Those are all behind the scenes.

What people will see is the beauty of a life bent toward mission. Not in an annual mission trip kind of way, but in a regular openness and responsiveness to the call of God in your daily life. The nudges and pulls that are easy to miss when we’re overly busy or rushing from place to place.

220px-Jet_pump--wikimedia commons

The lowly pump

The hard work of creating margin and slowing down (pump maintenance) frees you up to listen to those moments when the fountain can burst forth in all its splendor.

It’s easy to want to run out and transform the world into a better place (fountain). But unless your pump is properly maintained, that fountain won’t keep working for long. It will sputter and try to work, but finally sit dry. And pump maintenance isn’t exactly glamorous work.

But the opposite is true, too. The best maintained pump in the world isn’t much good, unless the fountain is on and running. It’s just a nice museum piece, or relic.

The best fountains have both things working together constantly. Without one, it’s just not a fountain.

So how are you at pump maintenance? Are you overly focused on the appearance of the fountain? Have you been maintaining the pump well and need to turn the fountain on already?

If you want to improve your pump maintenance so the whole fountain works better, our 2014 National Conference: Formation for Mission is a great opportunity.

**Featured Image Photo Credit: Biblioteca de Arte-Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian via photopin cc

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Jun 17

Defining Spiritual Formation: For the Sake of Self and Others (Part 7 of 7)

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This is the final post of the series: “Defining Spiritual Formation.” This is the most complete definition I have come up with for Christian spiritual formation: “Christian spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, through a relationship of intimacy with

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This is the final post of the series: “Defining Spiritual Formation.”

This is the most complete definition I have come up with for Christian spiritual formation:

“Christian spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, through a relationship of intimacy with God, by the power of the Spirit, in order to live a good and beautiful life of faith, hope, love, joy, and peace—a life that will be a blessing to oneself and to others and will glorify God now and for all eternity.”

In contrast to Dr. Mulholland’s definition, I have added some elements I believe are important.  In Part III of this series I explained that I included the second and third clauses (“through a relationship of intimacy with God”, “by the power of the Spirit”) because they explain the how of formation.

This final installment will focus on the rest of this definition.

Mulholland’s excellent and concise definition concludes, “for the sake of others.”  I have come to believe that Christian spiritual formation is first and foremost about the formation of ourselves, which is missing from his definition.  Being conformed to the image of Christ, as is clear from the previous section of this series, makes us peculiar people, people whose lives are defined by perichoresis and kenosis (humility, service and submission).  This will lead to an altogether liberating kind of life, first for ourselves, and then for the sake of others.

We sometimes think focusing on ourselves is selfish. The Christian life, we believe, is not about ourselves but about others.  Perhaps this is the reason Dr. Mulholland left it out.  Or perhaps he left it out because he assumes that if we are conformed to the image of Christ that will, in itself, be a blessing to us, and thus did not need to include it.

But I include it in my definition because I think it is crucial for several reasons.

1) It is the natural order.  Jesus spoke often about the importance of the inner life, and how it leads to the outer life.  Leaven works its way invisibly through the loaf; the inside of the cup being clean is more important than the outside being clean; a good tree bears good fruit, a bad tree bears bad fruit, etc.

2) The main thing we get out of life is the person we become.  Christian spiritual formation is essentially character formation.

  • Am I person who tells the truth, or one whose word cannot be relied upon?
  • Am I person whose heart is pure, or am I prone to impurity?
  • Does anger flow out of me, or does contentment rule?
  • Do I naturally bless people, or curse?

If you know me well, you will likely be able to answer those questions.  Deception, impurity, anger and condemnation are character defects; they are naturally destructive of human life.  If I am successfully being conformed to the image of Christ  these kinds of traits will die a slow death.  And that will be a great blessing to me, first and foremost.

3)  Far from being selfish or narcissistic, being conformed to the image of Jesus will entail dying to oneself.  This is the great paradox of Christian spiritual formation (and Christianity in general):  we must die to live.  The old self, the one driven by desires for success and power and pleasure, is put to death.  The new self, which is being renewed through knowledge of the image of its Creator (Col. 3:10) emerges in the process of kenosis.  To become a person who naturally tells the truth, or blesses those who curse them, will involve a kind of dying, dying to an old set of narratives that are, in fact, self-centered.

To be conformed to the image of Christ will ultimately mean we become people of faith, hope, love, joy and peace.  This is the life we are designed for.  If we attain these virtues we will become the best version of ourselves, and it will be a blessing to us.  But it will also be a great blessing to those around us.

Jesus was himself sinless, pure, and selfless.  He was whole on the inside.  To be conformed to his image means we will become inwardly whole as well.  Jesus was also outwardly focused on the needs of others.  This, too, will become our focus as we become like him.

Our formation is certainly for ourselves, but ultimately for the sake of others.  Our formation in Christ’s image is a blessing to us, but it is also a blessing to everyone we meet. 

The world, as Richard Foster wrote, is in desperate need of deep people, people who give off the aroma of Christ, people who listen not merely to reply but to understand, people who see with eyes of compassion and with their hands offer help when needed, people who stand for what is right even when opposed, people who give all they have even when it means they have little, people who are not interested in their own glory, but are interested only in the glory of God and wellness of others.  These are the people who always have, and always will, change the world for good.

May the grace and peace of our Lord be with you in all that you do.

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May 28

3 Beliefs that Will Free You Up For More

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This post is adapted from the introduction to Mark Scandrette’s latest book, FREE: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most (IVP 2013). Mark will be leading an intensive called Invitation to Simplicity at the Apprentice Conference this fall. Register today! We live in

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This post is adapted from the introduction to Mark Scandrette’s latest book, FREE: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most (IVP 2013). Mark will be leading an intensive called Invitation to Simplicity at the Apprentice Conference this fall. Register today!

We live in one of the wealthiest economies on earth. Yet many of us feel crunched for time, stressed in our finances or perplexed about what makes life meaningful. Our culture is driven by a sense of scarcity, fear and an unquenchable quest for more. If we don’t make conscious choices to resist these impulses, the force of a materialistic and consumeristic society will make most of our decisions for us. The scripts we’ve inherited about material prosperity are wearing us out, robbing our joy and destroying the planet.

If you are reading this, you are very likely in the top 5-10 percent of global wealth. As people living in postindustrialized countries we must wrestle with our contribution to the crisis of global inequity and ecological destruction. The 12 percent of us who live in Western Europe and North America are responsible for 60 percent of global private consumption. We should be haunted by estimates that it would take four to seven earths to sustain us if everyone on the planet had the same ecological footprint as the average American.

Our overconsumption is largely fueled by a debt-based public and private economy. The current US national debt is estimated at $16 trillion. As of September 2012 the average American household was $6,772 in debt, with the average indebted household owing $15,328 to creditors. If we feel strapped in one of the wealthiest and most stable economies in the world, what about the nearly three billion people on earth who are living on less than $2 a day?city view from plane

Our challenge is to pursue a standard of living that can be shared by all. To love our neighbor as ourselves we have to consider how our individual actions affect our sister across the street and our brother on another continent. We might not be able to fully grasp the scope of the problem or offer a complete solution, but we can wrestle with the weight of our relative privilege and disproportionate consumption. For the sake of our global neighbors, the planet and future generations we’ve got to find a way to be less wasteful and consumptive, discovering a more sustainable version of the American Dream.

We can be encouraged by the growing awareness among people of faith that the gospel of Jesus is holistic and touches every aspect of our lives. We see Christians of every variety desiring a life of faith that includes being a good neighbor, valuing relationships, cultivating an inner life, caring about people affected by poverty and consciously becoming better stewards of creation.

However, this good vision for the church will remain largely unrealized unless practical realities and competencies are addressed. Many of us are too busy or distracted to sustain a life of compassionate engagement. We live lives of hurry, worry and striving, finding little satisfaction in our manic work and recreational activities.

Instead of being free to create beauty, nurture relationships and seek the greater good, many of us feel stuck in lives dictated by the need to pay bills or maintain a certain (often consumptive) standard of living. We can’t have it all—the prevailing level of consumption, a life of deeper meaning and relationships and global equity and sustainability. To realize these good dreams we must adjust our values and practices and seek creative solutions.

Few things in life shape us more than our choices about how we earn, spend, save and invest. Most of us will spend a third of our lives at income-producing jobs. How we choose to manage those earnings largely determines whether we are free to serve the greater good. Yet, rarely have religious communities, in particular, done well at addressing money and work as areas for discipleship—other than the occasional sermon about giving.

Perhaps we unconsciously tend to separate money and work from the center of our spiritual lives, making an artificial and unhelpful distinction between what is spiritual and what is temporal, and thereby less important. In a holistic understanding of the gospel every part of life is sacred and integral to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. This means we must learn to talk more honestly and openly about the details of our financial lives as an essential aspect of Christian discipleship.

The gospel invites us into a life of radical contentment, generosity, gratitude, trust and simplicity. We can reimagine our assumptions about time, money and material possessions to pursue a life of greater freedom, leveraging our time and resources toward what matters most.

Three core beliefs can shape how we connect formation and mission with our time and money choices:

1. We were created with a purpose, to seek the greater good of God’s loving reign. Human beings long for a deeper sense of purpose. According to Jesus, we “are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), created to do and bring good to this world (Ephesians 2:10). The wisdom of this teaching encourages us to stretch beyond the mundane
concerns of our lives to be animated by a calling to be agents of healing and restoration.

2. We have enough. The ancient voices of Scripture affirm that we live in a world of abundance, where the Creator provides all that we need. “You [God] . . . satisfy the desires of every living thing”(Psalm 145:16). Rain falls and sun shines on the earth, producing the goods that sustain us. We are invited to celebrate this abundance with thanks, to trust God for what we need, to be content with what we have and to share with those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and lonely.

3. We can make intentional choices about how we spend our time and money. We’ve been given incredible power to imagine, learn, grow and choose how we want to live. Living well requires vision, self-awareness, discipline and the development of practical skills. As those created just “a little lower than angels and crowned . . . with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5), we can make choices to become more content and free to spend our time and resources on what matters most. We think that to make life-giving changes that last, we need a source of energy and love greater than our own. The promise of the gospel of life is that if we do what we can, God will help us do what we cannot under our own strength (Philippians 2:12-13).

We can choose to pursue meaning, value people, engage the world’s needs and move toward a rate of consumption that is more globally sustainable and equitable. We can be free to spend our time and money on what matters most.

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