“A cloistered journey impoverishes your own soul,” asserts Philip Nation. Christian spiritual formation may best be practiced in community.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book, Life Together, became an immediate favorite. One of the compelling thoughts centered on his own experience entering a community with his own ideas as to how it should go. He quickly learned that his expectations were an imposition upon the already existing community. He described the need to shatter the wish dream. If not, rather than find the community a place to grow and flourish, the wish dream would endanger the community.
Most of my experience with spiritual disciplines and community came as a young person who learned the community expected me to read my bible, pray, give, and attend worship. These were never described as spiritual disciplines. They were community expectations. I recall the offering envelopes that contained the accountability record long before it became vogue to talk about accountability groups. In fact, I might argue that these little paper devices were the technological equivalent to the modern phone call that asked, “How are you doing spiritually?”
These reports were expected every week. Today I might consider them a community performance review. A person may measure their spiritual success according to the percentages assigned to each activity. If you are unfamiliar with this, it is true. One received so much for bringing their bible, attending Sunday School, giving, staying for worship, and of course, for being present. There was no such think as online attendance or online giving. Yes, it was the dark ages of accountability and technology.
Fast forward to a book my mother-in-law gave me that sat on the shelf for a while. Richard Foster’s, Celebration of Discipline, took up space in its old dust jacket. When interest picked up among Evangelicals I decided to read Foster’s book. I confess to thinking I had read about a revolution. Here was a young Southern Baptist pastor reading a Quaker about spiritual disciplines, some of which sounded quite, well, spiritual.
Willard Pressed It Home
Not a few years later another pastor gave me a copy of Dallas Willard’s, The Divine Conspiracy. I had learned from Foster’s book, maybe it was a later edition with updated introductory material, that Willard and Foster enjoyed a long friendship.
Willard explicates the Sermon on the Mount as he challenges what he calls, the gospel of sin management. If you are familiar with this book then you will know what I mean when you are left feeling that you have indeed been flying upside down following Jesus as it was given to you. If you have not read Willard, go do so now.
As he works to the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Willard pointed toward what he referred to as A Community of Prayerful Love. It was here that I first encountered the deep idea of Christian community. Something beyond the sort that kept you accountable via paper technology. This was long before reading Bonhoeffer’s little book.
Habits for Mission
Several months ago, after re-branding and launching the new podcast, my friend Marty Duren suggested I interview Philip Nation. Philip had just had his book on spiritual disciplines drop, Habits of Our Holiness: How the Spiritual Disciplines Grow Us Up, Draw Us Together, and Send Us Out.
You may be inclined to think this a simple re-hashing of the classic spiritual disciplines. It is not. Two things that set this discussion of the disciplines apart. First, Philip considers the greatest spiritual discipline is love. All of the classic disciplines are in service to developing a life of love, particularly for those who we often mark outside of our own boundaries to be loved. Second, Philip emphasizes the need for these disciplines to be practiced not as privatized religiosity but as community habits.
More In the Conversation
I learned that Philip, like me, had personal experiences that opened up his world beyond his own denominational tribe. He views it as do I, a gift. I discover that Willard to be a formative influence on Philip. And, I learned that we share and awareness that the difference between mission and missions is significant to how we work together in the Kingdom of God.
And, there is more but you will want to listen in.
Click the image of Philip’s book above and order your copy. If you would like to keep up with the ways that Philip continues to work out his thoughts on the subject, check out his website, www.philipnation.net.
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