A Reflection on the Desiring the Kingdom Conference

tyndale chapelWhen I was in seminary, my professor had us read James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom as part of our course on Spiritual Formation. This book, as I have posted previously, would have a profound influence not only on my personal faith journey but also on my hesitant and wobbly first steps into college teaching. But just because I found it incredibly insightful (or may I say “thick”?), many of the students struggled with the book, and asked questions like:

 

 

Why read this?

Is this just an attempt to convert us to Anglicanism?

Why isn’t it more practical?

What is the relevance of endless conversations about liturgy for low-church evangelicals?

What does this have to do with the nuts and bolts of life in the trenches of every day pastoral ministry?

conference programThis week I have been privileged to sit in a three-day conference devoted to exploring the practical outworking, as we considered the question: what does this discussion of thick practices, secular vs. cultural liturgies, and humans being primarily creatures of worship and creatures of desire, mean for Christian formation in our churches?

Together with people from a variety of academic, pastoral and lay backgrounds, we gathered at Tyndale University College for the Desiring the Kingdom conference. James K.A. Smith led us through a variety of plenary sessions where he explained his premise in non-academic, accessible language. And we had a variety of breakout workshops that attempted to look at the practical implications and methods of incorporating these ideas about human flourishing and formation into the various ministries.

We have people working with children’s ministry; youth ministry; catechesis; seniors’ ministry; worship; and intercessory ministries.

We had lifelong Anglicans who are asking what role does the Book of Common Prayer have in the 21st century, especially in reaching disenfranchised cradle Anglicans who have walked away from the church and want nothing to do with what they perceive to be “lifeless, repetitive, empty and rote” liturgy.

We had evangelicals, both on and off the Canterbury trail, who are drawn to the richness of liturgy but who are unsure how to incorporate it and/or prevent it from becoming “lifeless, repetitive, empty and rote.”

We had teachers and pastors who are trying to figure out how to teach the faith to unchurched or dechurched people (and let’s face it, even most of the Christians in our pews are more like dechurched people given how little Scripture and theology they know).

We had people from dioceses where there hasn’t been active, intentional children’s ministry in their churches for years and now they are ill-equipped to teach children the Gospel.

We had people who are raising children and have thought that it was primarily the church’s job to teach their kids about Christianity, and have no resources for beginning to incorporate formation and teaching in their homes.

And I’m participating as both a PhD student, with an eye to how this applies to an educational context, and as a layperson (training to become a licensed lay reader), wanting to serve my church in the areas of catechesis and worship.

The message, the examples, and the strategies that have been offered in this gathering of Christians boil down to this: Christianity has something to offer to a broken and hurting world. It may not be flashy. It may not be “relevant” in the way that culture shallowly defines it. It may not be pretty. It may not be easy. But, the practices of Christian formation, of gospeling, of praying, of gathering as a community to worship, of practicing hospitality, of reading Scripture, of discipleship and teaching, offer a vision of the world and of humanity that the world is desperately seeking.

And, there are people, brothers and sisters in Christ, who are willing to serve, to minister, and to lean into these thick practices so as to participate with the Holy Spirit in pulling back the curtain and allowing the world to glimpse the amazing event of God revealed in Christ.

If you’d like to a peek at some of the discussions, check out #DesKingdomConf.

 

 

 

Pastoral Advice: Helping a Young Family

“We’ve been going to this church for a year, and we really like it,” said the husband. “The service is great, the people are great.”

“There’s just one small problem,” said the wife, “and we don’t know what to do about it.”

“This church has a small Sunday school for kids 3 and older. For kids under three there is no nursery (it’s not just that they don’t have a staffed nursery, they don’t have a physical nursery space at all). There is a cry room at the back of the church, that is 8-by-8 and doubles as a staging and storing area for all the Sunday morning supplies for the service (communion elements, candle sticks etc). It’s a tiny makeshift space that is designed for short visits. For the last year, one of us has been in the cry room every Sunday with our oldest child who is too young for Sunday school, and too active to sit through the service.” The husband explained.

“And usually that someone was me,” smiled the wife. “What makes it worse is that part of the staging area has a sink, and the cupboard under the sink has cleaning supplies; the cupboard doesn’t have a lock on it, so guess where the little kids like to go get into mischief?”

“Our oldest child is just turned two, so it’s one more year in the cry room. And we’ve just had our second child, so by the time the oldest is ready for Sunday School, the younger will be no longer at the ‘sleep through the service stage’ and will need to be in the cry room.”

“So we’re looking at three more years of one of us being in the cry room for the majority of the service; and longer if we decide to have more kids!” Said the wife.

“And as soon as there is more than one or two kids in the cry room, it gets awfully crowded. It’s such a tiny space. Yes, they do pipe the service in over a speaker in the cry room, but over the noise of the toddlers it’s really hard to hear and follow along.”

The wife’s smile faded, “You know, by the time we get ourselves to church, and one of us settles into the cry room, it feels like it would have been easier to just stay home. Pull up a video of a sermon on the internet, throw in a worship CD and do church at home. What’s the point of going to church if I just end up sitting in the cry room every week?”

“We don’t want to have a consumer, church-shopping mentality, really we don’t,” said the husband, “but is it time to start looking for another church, one that has more child-friendly options?

*****

Okay Cheese-Wearers, what advice would you give this young family?