Last fall, Mike Breen offered a course-corrective 2 part blog post called “Why the Missional Church will Fail.” The post provoked a fair bit of conversation within missional church circles about the tendency to overlook discipleship in our enthusiasm for engaging with our neighbors. Mike writes:
While the ‘missional’ conversation is imbued with the energy and vitality that comes with kingdom work, it seems to be missing some of the hallmark reality that those of us who have lived it over time have come to expect: Mission is messy. It’s humbling. There’s often no glory in it. It’s for the long haul. And it’s completely unsustainable without discipleship.
Discipleship, as Mike goes on to describe it, involves an ongoing process of growing into the character and competency of Jesus Christ. In discipleship we become progressively more and more like Jesus, integrating more fully who we are with how we live so that we live as Jesus would if he were us.
The question that follows from this emphasis is “how do we cultivate discipleship?”
Last week, I met with an elder in our congregation in part to hear about his recent trip to St. Gregory’s in Three Rivers, Michigan. He spent the better part of a week there, participating in the rhythms and routines of their monastic life. Daily rituals of prayers, silence, chanted Psalms, and rest, shaped his time with the Brothers and provided a framework for his research and writing. Our conversation started me thinking about what it might look like to cultivate discipleship through some of these intentional monastic rhythms on a congregation-wide level.
For a handful of people in our congregation, the monastic patterns and rhythms make sense. We have one member in our community who is about to become a lay oblate. There are a few others, like the elder I met with last week, who have rhythms of retreats into the monastic communities or who practice some rhythm of the daily office. But for the most part, we are unfamiliar with the accents and movements of discipleship nurtured through monastic rhythms.
Over the past year, we have invited our congregation into a rhythm of daily scripture readings. Each reading is loosely connected to the sermon theme from the previous Sunday. A few people have talked about how this rhythm has encouraged them to engage scripture more intentionally as a family. But I wonder how to introduce some of the other monastic rhythms into the life of the congregation.
A friend posted a link on Facebook last week to an article about a revival of monastic rhythms among young people. The article highlights a weekend gathering in Chicago facilitated by leaders of the Taize community. I am intrigued. Perhaps there is a pendulum swing here as people look for a form of discipleship that engages them with more than knowledge of doctrine or of wrote memorization of scripture verses (often detached from their biblical context). To borrow a farming analogy, every few years crops need to be rotated in order to maintain the right balance of nutrients in the soil. Perhaps, every generation or two the forms of discipleship need to be rotated in order for the church to receive all the nutrients it needs. Could it be that the renewed interest in monasticism among young people is part of the Spirit’s work to provide some aspect of discipleship that the church (at least in North America) needs in order to flourish?
In some ways, I am wondering how to bring these two conversations together. How do we bring a missional church conversation together with a conversation on a the revival of monasticism as a means of cultivating discipleship? The conversations and work around fresh expressions (Anglican church) and new monasticism more broadly are helping us see how these two conversations can come together. But most of these communities are relatively small in number. As someone who is pastoring a congregation of 200+ people, I am left wondering how these two conversations can form us on a congregation-wide level? Is there a way to cultivate an environment that nurtures a missional identity with monastic/new monastic rhythms of discipleship from within an established congregation of our size? What do you think? Can it be done? Is anyone bringing these conversations together in larger scale communities (150+)?