by Peter Hanson, Lead Pastor
Last spring, I suggested to Melodee Rossi, Director of Small Group Ministry, that we embark on an year-long All-Congregation Book Study. We had recently finished the All-Congregation Lenten study, and it was exciting to see and hear people sharing their stories of gathering in small groups around the same text. Why not build on that momentum and try on a newer and deeper commitment: a year-long book study in a number of different small groups at CtK. We put together a pilot group over the summer, equipping the folks in that group to serve as leaders in future groups throughout the year.
Since then, some of the people in the various groups (and some standing on the outside looking in) have asked why we decided to do an All-Congregation Book Study—and why we chose this particular book to read together. Here are the top three reasons: the first has to do with why a church-wide book study, the second and third with why this book.
First, an All-Congregation Book study seemed to us to be a fairly easy way to get a rather large portion of the congregation together in one faith formation activity. Beyond worship, there are few opportunities for a good number of people to unite around a shared activity. Forming small groups that could each meet at a different time and place allowed for people of different ages, with varied interests, and assorted availabilities to be involved. While the groups may not every check in with one another, folks from different groups who met up at other times (worship, choir, confirmation, etc) could share what they have learned, what they liked and what they didn’t like about the book. Beyond the handful of others in one’s own small group, people at Christ the King could have a shared set of topics to reflect on together, helping to deepen their faith and the practice of it. Tie-ins at worship, in the Herald and elsewhere could further reinforce connections as people at CtK grew in their walk with God.
Second, the structure of the book parallels the church year—and lends itself well to people committing to just a season or two or the whole year. The book starts with readings from the Old Testament meant to serve as a sort of renewed beginning to the study of the Bible. What better time to start anew than the kick-off of our fall programming year. The second section ties in with the seasons of Advent and Christmas, sharing prophecies of Christ’s coming, and stories of the birth of Jesus. The third quarter mirrors Lent and Easter and the fourth and final section begins with Pentecost and focuses on the unleashing of the Spirit in the world—imagining that Spirit stirring up our own lives and the life of our congregation and community. While there is some logic to this year-long story arc, there are also built-in entry and exit points, allowing folks to commit to one season of study, or to some but not all of the seasons, or to the entire year. Being sub-divided into four twelve-week sessions also allows for folks to imagine shifting to another group for another season, getting new insights on our walk of faith from different folks in the congregation.
Finally, the title itself holds a vision of a community of faith walking together toward a common future. Change is happening in each of our lives. Change is also happening in the Christ the King congregation, as well as in the community and world all around us. It can be hard to know at all times what is the most faithful response to the changes that happen to us, and how best to be intentional about creating the changes we wish to see individually and communally. Pastor McLaren challenges us to trust in Jesus and to follow his leading into the future. He encourages us to do so intentionally, not always knowing where we are going, but trusting God in Jesus Christ to lead us just the same. And, as the title suggests, the road on which we are walking as we live as disciples of Jesus is not always clear and obvious. Actually, the road we are walking following Jesus in this day and age does not yet exist. It is the very act of walking with Jesus that creates the road of discipleship. Be embracing the future that Christ holds firmly in his hands, he help create that future in the process.
I know that McLaren’s particular brand of theology and individual style of writing has been encouraging and affirming to some of the participants, and greatly challenging and perplexing to others. His is certainly not the be-all and end-all in unpacking and reflecting on Christian faith today. I know that there are things with which I disagree vehemently, others that make me say, “duh, that’s so obvious” and still others that open my eyes to a whole new way of considering God, the church, and my role as a follower. Just as we make the road by walking, we find Christ’s truth as we walk along that road, sharing our insights with one another, and discovering Christ among us.
For those who have started this journey, I encourage you to continue another season or two (or three!). For those who have not, I invite you to consider joining us on this walk—and help us construct this pathway as we go.