United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase, author of the best-selling Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations published by Abingdon Press in 2007, has a new book on a similar theme, Five Practices of Fruitful Living. Below is a portion of a recent Leading Ideas conversation with Bishop Schnase.
What made the original Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations so successful, with over 100,000 copies sold and now available in multiple languages?
Five Practices seems to have struck a resonant chord by drawing our attention to the essential activities and ministries that help a congregation fulfill its mission. So often, church leaders focus on things that are important but not essential to the mission. They spend a lot of time on administrative things, such as salaries or fixing the roof, which draw attention away from those essential things that must be done with excellence to achieve the purpose of the church. Also, there is something attractive and inviting — even edgy — about the words radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity. These adjectives invite us to wonder, “Are we doing our utmost and highest in offering the welcome of Christ? Or are we settling for mediocrity?” So it has raised the bar of excellence. Additionally, the book helps volunteers, pastors, and lay members see a direct connection between their work and the church’s mission. An usher, a greeter, or a team leader can see how what they do aligns with the purpose of the church.
The Five Practices of Fruitful Living applies the five practices to personal discipleship. The book addresses the ordinary person of faith who wants to be closer to Christ and deepen their connection to God.
As you were writing this new book, whom did you have in mind as the reader?
The new book applies the five practices to personal discipleship. The first person the book addresses is the ordinary person of faith who wants to be closer to Christ and deepen their connection to God. But the book is also intended for persons who are fairly new to the faith who are trying to figure out what it’s all about. Unlike most other devotional literature that starts with what you must believe, this approach is practice-based. It emphasizes what you are to do, those patterns of life that help us become what God would have us become.
What are some key differences about how an individual might apply these five practices as opposed to a congregation embodying them corporately?
Each of the practices in Fruitful Living relates to one of the congregational practices, but it took a slight shift of definition to bring each into the realm of personal faith. Take, for example, radical hospitality. The very first element of embracing and exploring the spiritual life is not going out and inviting somebody to church. Rather the first person you need to invite in and open the door to is God. The very first movement in the spiritual life is receptivity, putting ourselves in a posture of openness to the movement of the Spirit, deciding to say “yes” to God.
Do you have any reading on which one of these practices tends to be the most challenging for people?
Over 5,000 congregations have done in-depth work with the five practices. Some have used an exercise posting the five practices around the room and asking church leaders to go stand by the practice they feel most comfortable with, and then to stand by the practice they feel least comfortable about. It seems we are more at home with worship and small group life and even service projects than we are with inviting others to the spiritual life or with how we handle our money as part of our faith journey.
As you think about the challenges of the church today, is there one particular practice that is most needed by its leaders?
One of the more challenging ones is intentional faith development, the cultivation and deepening of spiritual life through learning in community. Church leaders so often focus on the forward motion on the horizontal plane that we forget the depth dimension, and we neglect our own spiritual lives. Jesus taught a way of life and invited people into a relationship with God that is vibrant, dynamic, and fruitful. God desires that we flourish in our spiritual lives. But the way to move from here to there is not short, simple, or easy. It requires a long-term commitment to developing those patterns of life that take us to a new place that God uses to re-create us. These practices are ways we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our own sanctification. They put us in the most advantageous place to be open to the Spirit of God and to God’s shaping.
Listen to an MP3 of Bishop Robert Schnase