Monthly Archives: February 2009

Is it well with your soul?

emotionally-healthy-spirituality-peter-scazzero-hardcover-cover-art1If we do not possess an interior spiritual life with God that is rich and meaningful, can we effectively nurture the faith of others? Do we have a balance between “doing” and “being” in our lives – are we balancing activity and contemplation? If we are emotionally unhealthy and are in a state of partial attention, if we are on auto pilot spiritually, if we are constantly exhausted and frazzled, can we expect to be able to present an authentic and attractive faith?

This past weekend I had the opportunity to hear Peter Scazzero, pastor of New Life Fellowship in Queens, New York speak to a group of pastors at a retreat. Peter strongly believes that it is impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.  He suggests that we need to go back into our negative generational family patterns and deal with who we are, before we can go forward spiritually and become emotionally healthy Christians. Additionally, he suggests that in order to deal with our current culture of narcissism, speed, and fragmentation, we need a greater emphasis on contemplative spirituality. In his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality he lists the following characteristics of living contemplatively:

  • awakening and surrendering to God’s love in any and every situation;
  • positioning ourselves to hear God and remember his presence in all we do;
  • communing with God, allowing him to fully indwell the depth of our being;
  • practicing silence, solitude, and a life of unceasing prayer;
  • understanding our earthly life as a journey of transformation toward ever increasing union with God;
  • finding the true essence of who we are in God;
  • loving others out of a life of love for God;
  • developing a balanced, harmonious rhythm of life that enables us to be aware of the sacred in all of life;
  • adapting historic practices of spirituality that are applicable today;
  • allowing our Christian lives to be shaped by the rhythms of the Christian calendar rather than the culture; and
  • living in committed community that passionately loves Jesus above all else.

Through uniting emotional health and contemplative spirituality, Scazzero suggests that we can be given three gifts that allow us to better participate in the redemptive and transformative power of Jesus Christ in today’s world. These gifts are:

  1. Slowing down (paying attention to God, being with him, loving God and others well)
  2. Anchoring in God’s love (moving our understanding of God’s unconditional love from head to heart and hands, increasing our awareness of his love who heals us, anchoring our self-esteem in Christ, rather than self)
  3. Breaking free from illusions (such as acknowledging our brokenness, recognizing idols in our lives, acknowledging how we attach ourselves to accomplishments, things, or people’s approval, changing generational family patterns)

contemplationThe story of Daniel is an instructive one for us as adults, and for the youth whom we nurture in faith. Daniel was encouraged by those around him to assimilate into the dominant, God-denying culture of Babylon and had no support system to help him resist. Scazzero points out that Daniel knew he needed a plan to orient his life around loving God and follow that plan each day so that he could worship and draw close to God. Are we doing the same for ourselves and helping kids to learn this way of life also? It is clear that we cannot give what we do not live. Is it well with your soul?

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High School Worship Team/Calvin Worship Institute Symposium reflections

(Recently you received the February Christian School Teacher that referenced the opportunity that worship teams from CSI high schools had to attend the recent Calvin Institute of Worship Symposium. Thanks to Gale Tien, from our CSI office, who shares this report of the day’s activities.)

On January 23, 2009, I had the privilege to participate in the Calvin College Symposium on Worship.  My role was to be an observer at the day-long gathering of nearly 25 Christian High School Worship/Chapel Committees.  This group of nearly 150 students, teachers, and administrators from across North America, was brought together to discuss the role of worship in Christian high schools and to explore best practices in this area.  It was inspiring to see more than one hundred high school students gathered to discuss and explore the role of worship in Christian high schools.  It was a blessing to hear so many of these students express their love for Jesus and their desire for their classmates to come to love Jesus more dearly.

The day began in corporate worship with the larger group of symposium attendees.  The Fine Arts Center on the Campus was nearly filled with people from around the globe.  The multi-age, multi-denominational, multi-ethnic, multi-race, multi-worship style group and the worship that occurred set a beautiful tone for the remainder of the day.  My prayer is that the high school students, some of whom were at times critical of their church worship experiences, gained a sense of how wonderful multi-generational worship can be.  A consistent “thread” of their criticism related to worship with older people who don’t share the same taste in music or worship style.  I pray that an added blessing for the high school students was the multi-cultural element of the opening worship.

(I feel I should add a bit of confession, lest it seem that the high school students were the only ones who learned and grew from the time of corporate worship.  When the main speaker, Craig Barnes began talking, I noticed someone “talking” in a low voice in the row behind me.  I began to feel my blood pressure rise as I anticipated having to deal with this distraction during Barnes’ comments.  When I turned to give a disapproving “look” at the person who was talking, I realized it was an interpreter who was translating for a number of non-English speaking attendees.  A wave of guilt caused me to sheepishly turn back around when I realized that what was taking place was a wonderful situation similar to what is described in Acts 2.  I offered a “bullet prayer” asking God to forgive me for my myopia.  I felt God’s forgiveness immediately and returned to experiencing a wonderful day.)

Following the corporate worship, the high school students, teachers, and administrators moved into a separate time to consider the role of worship in a Christian high school.

Ron Rienstra set an excellent context for the remainder of the day.  He did a remarkable job of presenting substantive and theoretical ideas in a way that the group could digest and process these ideas.  Ron provided so many wonderful ideas and thoughts.  (I felt like I was being asked to “take a sip out of fire hydrant”.)  I thought one of Ron’s greatest contributions to the day was the challenge to “find the fine line” between acknowledging the need for passion and emotion in worship, but not allowing worship to only be passion and emotion.  I loved the quote that Ron referenced that “God does not always ‘move’ us . . . and all that ‘moves’ us is not always from God.”  I also appreciated exploring the concept that worship includes three aspects; all of life, what happens on Sunday morning, and the intimate sense of God’s presence.  I strongly agreed with his comment/quote about how people who report that Sunday worship is uninspiring often come to realize that the problem is not with their Sunday worship.  Rather, there is no connection between their “Sunday worship” and their “all of life” worship.  It was great to hear and see that the young people at my table understood and embraced Ron’s presentation on the Complexity of Worship.

Following Ron Rienstra’s presentation, Jack Postma and Sharon Veltema of Unity Christian High School in Hudsonville, Michigan, presented the role and implementation of chapel/worship at Unity Christian High School.  Chapel/worship plays a large and frequent role at the school.  Jack and Sharon described the history and progression of the plan, the philosophical foundation for worship at Unity, as well as practical advice for the other schools.

Following a “networking” lunch, which afforded attendees the opportunity to discuss and dialogue with other participants, the group moved into the afternoon session.  The teachers and administrators gathered to discuss topics pertinent to high school leaders.  The students participated in a rotation of three workshops.  The topics were: Music and High School Worship, The Spoken Word (Prayers and Scripture Reading) and High School Worship, and The Visual Arts (Dance, Drama, and Use of Media) and High School Worship.  The workshops were led by Calvin College students who are Worship Apprentices.  Each sectional included a discussion of the philosophy and role of each area, as well as practical advice about implementing each of the areas.  I was very impressed with the sincerity and maturity of the Calvin College Worship Apprentices.

Following this rotation of worships, the entire group; students, teachers, and administrators, gathered for a closing session, led by Bob Keeley.  This closing session served the dual purpose of putting “closure” on some of the topics of the day but also allowed for some new thoughts and “next time” topics to be introduced.  The most significant “next time” topic in my opinion (and a consensus expressed in the group discussion also) is to explore the role and interaction between the church and school regarding worship.

I left the symposium inspired and thankful.  I was inspired to see the passion and fervor of the high school students and the adults that accompanied the students.  It was so wonderful to see the students’ love for the Lord and desire to include expanded worship in their school.  I was thankful for the work of John Witvliet, Bob Keeley, and the Worship Institute staff among others, who organized the gathering. I strongly commend the organizers of the day and would urge that there be a “next meeting”.  I would suggest if at all possible it be a “cohort” type gathering and bring back as many of the young people who were at this first meeting to hear how the day impacted them and influenced worship at their school.  Along with these returning students, new students should also be encouraged to join.

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Redemptive Leadership: Nurturing Faith in Community

ties-stex(Thanks to Dr. Bruce Hekman, Adjunct Professor of Education at Calvin College for contributing this post.)

At a workshop I attended a couple of years ago a speaker asked, “What was Jesus’ main message?” Lots of answers come to mind: the good news that Jesus has come to provide forgiveness for our sin, enabling a renewed relationship with God. While that’s true, that actually isn’t the most common message in the gospels. Jesus most often spoke of the new kingdom he was bringing into existence. “The kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15) “…strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (Matt. 6:33) “Jesus went through Galilee…preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness.” (Matt. 4:23) In the first three gospels there are at least 114 references to the “kingdom of God,” including the Lord’s Prayer, in which we corporately pray that “…your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6: 9, 10).

This kingdom prayer is a call to redemptive leadership, to making things down here the way they are up there. Donovan Graham says, “Redemption through Christ restores our relationship with God and empowers us to once again fulfill our calling in creation as he intended. The distortions of the fall still plague us, but we are no longer bound or ruled by them. We are called to live according to the truth, and living redemptively means living by that truth.” (Teaching Redemptively, p. xiv.”)

Redemptive leadership holds up a biblically-based vision of what schools ought to be. That vision is most visible in the relationships among all members of a school community. School leaders play a major role in establishing the culture of a school, that set of often unarticulated “rules” about the way things are done. The culture of a school, its context, is a deeply influential dimension of the content of schooling for all those who participate in it. When asked what we remember most vividly about our own school experience, we most often call to mind a relationship—usually positive, but not always—that has influenced us long after we’ve forgotten what we were studying. School culture is our corporate witness of the new life we have in Jesus as a faith community.

Redemptive leadership is intentional about creating a school culture that is a community of grace.

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