In Ephesians 4:11-13, we read, "And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the Body of Christ."
You may be familiar with the charge to ordained Christian ministers to preach the Gospel, administer the sacraments, and equip the saints. The first two are usually taken very seriously while the third is more tricky and hard to pin down.
The dictionary meaning for "equipping" is "to supply with intellectual, emotional, or spiritual essentials." It is derived from an old French term which means "to put to sea, to embark." The challenge of "equipping the saints" in 2014 requires that we embark on a bold and adventuresome journey in the "sea" of our contemporary culture.
Welcome our captain: the bestselling author, speaker, activist, and public theologian Brian McLaren. He has created an astonishing 52-week curriculum written for use in Christian communities. Mustering all the seriousness and sensitivity that we have come to expect of him, McLaren takes us on a personal guided tour of the Bible organized around readings of the traditional church year. The goal is spiritual formation, reorientation, and activation. The author's readings are multidimensional gems that shed light on the Bible, Jesus, faith, community, Spirit, desire, unity and diversity, stewardship, God in the end, and much more. These readings enlighten and inspire us to forge a fresh path of faith and social engagement, to toss out old lethargic ways and bad habits, and to walk the talk of the kingdom of God.
In We Make The Road by Walking the author addresses a universal need:
"The quest for aliveness explains so much of what we do. It's why readers read and travelers travel. It's why lovers love and thinkers think, why dancers dance and moviegoers watch. In the quest for aliveness, chefs cook, foodies eat, farmers till, drummers riff, fly fishers cast, runners run, and photographers shoot.
"The quest for aliveness is the best thing about religion, I think. It's what we're hoping for when we pray. It's why we gather, celebrate, eat, abstain, attend, practice, sing, and contemplate. When people say, 'I am spiritual,' what they mean, I think, is simple: I'm seeking aliveness.' "
McLaren hits the mark with this emphasis. He recommends the formation of small learning circles to mine the meanings in this 52-week curriculum which is divided into four parts:
• Alive in the Story of Creation
• Alive in the Adventure of Jesus
• Alive in a Global Uprising
• Alive in the Spirit of God
A major focus here is everyday spirituality — bringing it alive in our being and doing, in our jobs and in our dreams, in the local and the global, in the communal and the inner work we do. McLaren salutes the movements of the Spirit in the Biblical stories and in the stories of our lives.
Best of all, the readings and the curriculum have been designed in such a way as to encourage conversation, which as archetypal psychologist James Hillman has pointed out is different than talk:
"Not just any talk is conversation, not any talk raises consciousness. A subject can be talked to death, a person talked to sleep. Good conversation has an edge: it opens your eyes to something, quickens your ears. And good conversation reverberates: it keeps on talking in your mind later in the day; the next day, you find yourself still conversing with what was said. That reverberation afterwards is the very raising of your consciousness: your mind's been moved. You are at another level with your reflections." (from We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy--And the World's Getting Worse)
You can have that kind of conversation around this astonishing book. McLaren describes it as "a resource for this emerging movement in service of aliveness." It can be used by a variety of groups and in multiple settings as "a people's seminary or" a movement school" for equipping the saints. You can find additional materials at www.brianmclaren.net including commentary on each chapter, Scripture references, suggestions for using the book, and more.
We are longtime believers in study circles and small group discussions. In the 1980s, we published a newsletter for "Living Room Learning." We were recently discussing how this seems to be the right time to get back to this form of spiritual literacy. More and more people we have been in touch with lately have made a commitment to inner work and have learned that this experience is enriched and deepened by conversation with others. They are also interested in self-understanding, personal growth, and connection with the natural world. For them and others, we recommend McLaren's We Make the Road by Walking!