Deepening Our Discipleship – Focus on Spiritual Formation

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Deepening Our Discipleship – Focus on Spiritual Formation

The Transformed by the Spirit initiative is helping change the outlook of American Baptist congregations.  Through this emphasis congregations are being urged to more fully engage their communities and the world for the sake of the gospel.  However, a church which is outwardly focused in mission can only be sustained by a strengthening of the discipleship of its members.   Just as a tree can only grow as far as its root system will sustain it, so a congregation can actively engage in outward mission only as far as their rootedness in Christ will permit.

The focus statement adopted by American Baptists several years ago twinned these two aspects of Christian life and ministry.

American Baptist Churches are Healthy Missional Churches
that Nurture Devoted Disciples of Jesus Christ
who Live their Lives in Mission and ministry
for the Healing of the World
through the Love of God.

Vibrant Christian communities engage in personal and corporate spiritual disciplines which invite one into a deeper experience of Christ as devoted disciples.  Vibrant Christian communities engage the world as the hands and feet of Christ for the sake of its healing.

As ABC enters the second two year cycle with Transformed by the Spirit, ABCUSA is introducing another initiative in spiritual formation that is essential to sustain the outward missional efforts of our congregations.  This initiative will focus on four areas of emphasis:

  1. Rhythms of the Spirit retreats in four locales
  2. Identification and networking of American Baptists trained or training to be spiritual directors
  3. Two pilgrimage experiences – a June 2014 pilgrimage to the week-long community program in Taize, France especially geared towards young adults, and a 2015 pilgrimage to be announced
  4. The dissemination and creation of resources related to worship, spiritual practices and discipleship

1.  Across the spectrum of the Christian church there is a reawakening to the importance of spiritual practices in the formation of disciples.  Baptists in general share in the pietistic traditions which have emphasized personal devotions with prayer and the study of scripture.  However, many people today who have not grown up in that tradition, and even those who have but are wanting to go deeper in their encounter with God in Christ are asking like the first disciples, “teach me to pray.”  They are seeking a rhythm to their life that allows for growth in the Spirit.

In August, 2013, ABCUSA in partnership with Green Lake had a spiritual retreat for American Baptists which was called, Rhythms of the Spirit.  The retreat included worship, silence, spiritual direction, reflection on scripture, and different forms of prayer.

We will be holding four Rhythms of the Spirit retreats over the next two years:

  1. July 28-August 1, 2014 – Green Lake, WI
  2. November 3-7, 2014 – Redwood Glen Conference Center, CA
  3. August 2015 – TBA
  4. November 2015 – TBA

2.  We are aware of more and more American Baptists who are expressing their vocation of Christian ministry in serving as spiritual directors.  This is a new phenomenon in ABC life and to date ABCUSA has not sought to identify and network those involved in this growing ministry specialty.  We believe that within the next two years ABCUSA needs to focus on this emerging area of ministry as a growing resource for spiritual life within the ABC family.  Over the next two years, Rev. Brad Berglund will work to create a network of American Baptists who have been or are being trained in spiritual direction.  Much like the ABCUSA-initiated biennial gatherings of ABC-related theologians has been well received as an expression of the denomination’s interest and concern for its theologians, so, too, we believe that this effort will signal the denomination’s awareness of this expression of Christian vocation and will offer important support to American Baptists in this ministry path.  This effort will be sustained through a website dedicated to those in this specialty.  We hope to glean through this effort information about the type and source of training American Baptists are receiving as well as providing a network for mutual support and professional growth.  The Rhythms of the Spirit retreats will be promoted among them as an opportunity for face-to-face collegial relationships.

3.  An ancient form of spiritual practice that is being reappropriated by the Protestant tradition is the practice of pilgrimage.  One definition of pilgrimage is as follows:

A pilgrimage is a ritual journey with a hallowed purpose. Every step along the way has meaning. The pilgrim knows that life giving challenges will emerge. A pilgrimage is not a vacation; it is a transformational journey during which significant change takes place. New insights are given. Deeper understanding is attained. New and old places in the heart are visited. Blessings are received and healing takes place. On return from the pilgrimage, life is seen with different eyes. Nothing will ever be quite the same again. – Macrina Wiederkehr, Behold Your Life, p. 11

ABCUSA will offer two pilgrimages in the two year period.  The first will be a pilgrimage in June 2014 to the Taize community in France that would be especially directed toward young adults, but would be open to everyone.  Taize is a spiritual community founded by Brother Roger that has inspired millions around the world through their worship resources and their common life and witness.  The time there will be spent in worship, prayer, and reflection upon the practice of the spiritual life. Click here for a brochure about this pilgrimage adventure.

The second pilgrimage, scheduled for 2015, will be within the United States and will be announced soon.

4.  Worship and Spiritual Life Resources are prevalent but there are few that are ABC-related.  Over the next two years our goal is to identify and encourage American Baptists who are gifted in worship liturgy and teaching about spiritual formation and practices to develop resources that can be used by American Baptist congregations and individuals.  The website that we will build will offer these resources to American Baptists and others for their use.  We are projecting a quarterly presentation of such resources.  This two-year initiative will identify and cultivate American Baptists who are publishable in this field and offer resources needed by our congregations.

This effort will be managed, coordinated and developed by the Rev. Brad Berglund.  Brad is well known in ABC circles for his gifted worship leadership.  Brad is also a sought after speaker and retreat leader on the topics of worship and the spiritual life.  In addition, Brad and his wife Rita, have developed a ministry of pilgrimage that is seasoned and has hosted more than 500 participants in the past 10 years. One resource that has already been completed by Brad is a 12 week Bible Journeys curriculum on worship coming in November 2014 – February 2015.