Church vitality: Nurturing the strong heartbeat of God within us




By David and Joan Young

Nurturing the strong heartbeat of God within us. This came through vibrantly at Annual Conference this year through the Nigerian witness, the invitation of Roger Nishioka to have God’s heartbeat live strongly in us, and the insight of Standing Committee about the hope for church vitality.

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Through the Conference webcasts, we heard the heartfelt faith of our Nigerian sisters and their joy-filled singing; Dr. Samuel Dali’s testimony of faith; the beat of drums as we sang, “Someone’s crying Lord.... Someone’s praying Lord.”

All this inspires us! What an invitation to renew vitality! The inspiration of this Annual Conference leads us to share how we have discovered this heartbeat of God can be strengthened in the church.

In our 11 years of service in church renewal, four areas stand out to strengthen the heartbeat of God: 1) personal spiritual disciplines, 2) corporate spiritual formation, 3) a mission oriented life, and 4) the Springs Academy for Pastors, with a group walking alongside from the congregation to provide training in a spiritually oriented, servant led congregational vitality.

Spiritual disciplines

Practicing spiritual disciplines, beginning with scripture reading and prayer, strengthens the strong heartbeat of God.  The age old practice for Brethren is to read a scripture of the day and follow its guidance. In John 4, the spiritual thirst leads the woman at the well to meet Christ and discover life-- giving water.  By coming to the well daily, individuals and the entire church enter spiritual disciplines. Using a folder with daily scripture, that can be coordinated with the pastor’s message, the whole church spends time in scripture and is guided by a text that day.  The folder looks like a bulletin, with theme, a guide for prayer, and commitment form which lists other spiritual disciplines which they can practice. Readings can be from the lectionary and the Brethren bulletin, or a book of the Bible, or another choice. 

Each of us can discover a prayer pattern that helps us strengthen the heartbeat of God within us. The weekly practice above, I find, impacts our daily practice.  We set the disciplines folder out with our Bible in the evening and awaken to feel God’s invitation to “come by here” and read a vital word for the day.  And let that word lift us that day.  And we remember it at a moment when we meet that situation to which it speaks.   Done with regularity, within a few weeks we can see the change.   We become more aware of the promptings of God about us, those little nudges to do this and not that.  We feel God’s guidance in all aspects of life.  Inner strength and resilience grows.  In the face of desolation, we take the next step doing the next right thing.  We can feel the comfort and help from God. Resources, including Richard Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul, can be part of our discipline and widen our horizons of prayer.

Corporate spiritual formation

A second way of developing the heartbeat of God is corporate spiritual formation.  There is real power when spiritual disciplines are done corporately by an entire church.  In response to a need for renewed spiritual vitality, at Hatfield Church we made a bulletin like folder with texts and invited people to collectively enter scripture reading and prayer.  This was launched on Easter Sunday morning.   Most everyone came forward to commit and lay their folder insert at the foot of the cross!   And next Sunday, the entire Easter group returned!    Using Celebration of Discipline, The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster, churches can have Sunday School classes youth through adult to learn about all the disciplines.  Jean Moyer has written a wonderful series of lessons for children on the disciplines.   For the Springs folders, Vince Cable writes Bible study questions for individual and small group Bible study.

Corporate spiritual formation happens as the body is transformed and feels the spirit of God at work.   In this process the congregation is asking, “Where is God leading our church?”   Like in spiritual direction, persons discern a key Biblical text that guides them corporately.   While it can take some time to discover a passage, it is amazing how the process pulls people together and gives them real focus in where God is calling.   In the interpretative DVD at the head of our website you see how Sugar Grove, a small congregation, got real energy by looking at the little boy who brought his lunch and how it was multiplied by Jesus, and so for them.  And I remember from back in my early teaching days, a church who had seen former glory days, discerned “Blessed to be a Blessing” from Abraham’s journey.  Pleasant Hill in Johnstown discerned their passage as the four men who let the sick man down through the roof to meet Jesus.  Now they are sending visitation teams out on a trolley so they may feel the presence of Jesus.  All these received a united sense of God’s mission and were corporately formed as a church.    

Implementing our mission

A third way of strengthening the heartbeat of God is by entering into mission with one’s personal life and in a congregation.   There is one step in discerning a vision, but so much a part of transformation comes by taking another step and then the next in one’s ministry.  Implementing our own personal mission makes our lives intentional day by day.  After meeting Christ daily and receiving Living Water, like the woman at the well, we can go to our home town and point others to Jesus.  Continually we hear of people whose lives are being changed in one way or another in the renewal work.  When people are called forth to be a part of implementation of a renewal plan in their local church, they can be amazed that someone sees something in them, and they feel stretched to grow.  Calling others brings people to a new level of their discipleship.  As a gift of God, the Apostle Paul says in II Cor. 4:16, we are renewed day by day. 

In Springs of Living Water, we have seen a lot of ministries come to life, a renewed women’s ministry within one church.   Another church reached out to invite people raising worship attendance from the low 40’s to mid 60’s.   In another church, youth learned servant leadership and served dinner for the church board, which led the board to call them to be assistant Sunday School teachers and then asked them to lead worship.  The spiritual disciplines folders are used in three prisons.   A church going on a mission trip is using the servant leadership disciplines folder to bond together and to be servants in their project. These stories, small and large, just keep growing.   New people start attending.  Is it because God sends people to renewing churches or that churches vibrating with new life attract newcomers?   Being in mission invites us to discipleship, and the heartbeat of God grows stronger in us.

The Springs Academy for Pastors

A fourth powerful place to strengthen the heartbeat of God is through the Springs Academy for Pastors and Ministers.   As we got into the training of renewal teams out in districts, the need arose to have training for pastors, like my teaching intensives in seminaries.  But with churches spread out, how would we do this?  After taking three academies on servant leadership over the phone from the Greenleaf Center, I wondered about this model of 5 two hour sessions over a 12 week period.   Why not fulfill Joan’s dream to have pastors spread over the country be linked participating in spiritual disciplines together and having a thorough course in church renewal?    So the Springs Academy was born.  With detailed syllabus and people from the church walking along, pastors enter wonderful discussions.   One said, “Taking part in the Springs Academy has been a refreshing journey in my own spiritual formation, and it has given me new energy, new perspective, and new direction in the work of the pastorate.”   And pastors and people feel they have a path to know what to do in their context of ministry.

Strengthening the heartbeat of God in pastors and a group walking along happens in the Springs Academies.  Both the foundations and advanced academies use a spiritual disciplines folder.  The foundations class has scriptures on 12 classic spiritual disciplines of Richard Foster while reading Celebration of Discipline.  This class then has a thorough course on church renewal using our book Springs of Living Water, Christ-centered Church Renewal.  In preparation for ministry in his seminary in Finkenwald, Dietrich Bonhoeffer had his Ordinands read a daily text, meditate upon it and have it guide them, which reportedly came from the Pietists! Then the advanced Springs academy has a disciplines folder on servant leadership and reads Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together on Christian community.  This course on implementation uses our book Servant Leadership for Church Renewal, Shepherds by the Living Springs and has the new training DVD on servant leadership.  Other special topics are Master Preaching, Dialogue and Discernment with a DVD, and New Member Ministry.  In both academies pastors gain renewed spiritual energy and learn how to lead renewal in partnership with their church.  Pastors and people are eager to enter a path of renewal in their church and know the first steps.

From Romans 12: “Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.”  Brethren are a renewal movement, and in this very moment we are led with other Christians to be like the early church in joy and vitality.   We pray for courage and strength to have the heartbeat of God grow strong in us and for our churches to be vibrant, pulsating, faithful disciples, the alive Body of Christ.

-- David and Joan Young lead the Springs of Living Water initiative for church renewal. Contact davidyoung@churchrenewalservant.org or go to www.churchrenewalservant.org .

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