Thursday, September 22, 2011

Continuing the conversation: an exercise in paying attention

At North Valley Friends Church, we are beginning a year long sermon series on discipleship, focusing on the book of Mark. Concurrently, a new Wednesday evening class for adults, called “Continuing the Conversation,” is starting up. The intent of the class is to instill in us the disciplines and dispositions to become better at listening and discerning what God is saying as we gather for worship on Sunday morning.

As I prepared for last Sunday’s time of worship, I found helpful the instructions that the class facilitator sent to us.  The process he suggested to us is as follows: 

1.      Participate in worship service, take notes.
2.      Later in the day on Sunday, spend a few minutes reflecting on the meaning of the service and pray for guidance in application.
3.      Between Sunday and Wednesday, write a brief reflection paper.  Use the following prompts as a guide.
a.       What were key themes that were present in the service?
b.      Do you sense a continuous flow during the meeting,
c.       How did you feel and what were you thinking during the time?
d.      What confusion or lack of clarity did you take away from the service?
e.       What are you prompted to do as a result of the sermon?
f.       What passages of scripture come to mind, what can you read to extend the learning about this service?
4.      Engage others in conversation on Wednesday night.  Make commitment for continued reflection and application.  Explore scripture passages and other related readings
5.      Write one more follow-up prior to next Sunday’s service ( a brief journal entry or two).
6.      Notice, reflect, pray and report.

My reflections from Sunday morning
I went to church primed and ready to receive. I prayed that God would help me not be so focused on this process and on how I would respond on Wednesday evening that I would neglect to worship.

It helps that I attend the early unprogrammed meeting, which becomes not only a preparation for programmed worship, but a worship experience in itself. The gathering word came from a quote by Carolyn Stephens about God who communicates: “The one cornerstone of belief upon which the Society of Friends is built is the conviction that God does indeed communicate with each one of the spirits he has made, in a direct and living inbreathing of some measure of the breath of his own life; that he never leaves himself without a witness in the heart as well as in the surroundings of man; and that in order clearly to hear the divine voice thus speaking to us we need to be still….”

Several people spoke into the silence, one about an atheistic scientist who found Christ through research on the human genome project, the other a personal story about seeing a deer in a small forest in the middle of Newberg. I felt awe and gratitude before the fact that God communicates with us in so many ways.

So many aspects of programmed worship spoke to me. The words of the songs became prayer: “Knowing you, Jesus, there is no greater thing;” “Oh draw me, Lord, and I’ll run after you;” “We have decided to follow Jesus.” During the baby dedication, I had the strong sense of the community vowing to follow Jesus in the care and discipleship of our children. I felt his pleasure and was moved by the seriousness of this commitment.

Lynn preached on several passages from Mark 1 and 2, and the parts that stood out to me concerned Jesus’ calling of the disciples. “Follow me.” Here are some of the points I noted down about the call to follow and our response:
--Jesus calls his disciples into a community of followers.
--We don’t necessarily get to choose our companions on this journey.
--Jesus initiates the call.
--He calls ordinary people.
--Worse (or better) than that, he calls sinners, traitors and sick/wounded people.
--The call to follow in the Jesus way is integral, involving all of our life.
--The decision to follow is made over and over again.

And mixed in with these formal elements of worship were the greetings, conversations, warm connections with my fellow followers. This, too, is worship.

Now, several days later, what is lingering and growing is the voice of Jesus throughout the day, inviting: “Follow me.”  On Monday, as I communicated with the students in my online class, as I interacted by email and phone with other members of the administrative team, as I prepared for the writers group and, later that evening, led a meeting of the elders and pastors, this invitation accompanied me. I had a very real sense of following Jesus in each endeavor.

This continues and has become a profound and deeply encouraging experience. I know what Jesus is saying to me through the Sunday worship. Now I broaden the question: What is he saying to us as a community?


  1. So glad I logged on this morning. What an awe-inspiring process and resulting call. Thank you. I have 3 new lectures in this weekend's course. I will follow Jesus as I finish preparing and as I seek to share what I've been given through being attentive over the years--studying included. Someday soon I want to engage your "internal" focus, the spirit in everyone--a potentially dangerous focus in an age of individualistic self-focused spirituality. But now I need to prepare....

  2. Thanks again for your comments. I enjoy this contact.