Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

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Quotations I love: Richard Halverson on being sent

Wednesday December 14 2016

Quotations I love: Richard Halverson on being sent

“You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you there. Wherever you are, God has put you there. He has a purpose in your being there. Christ, who indwells in you, has something He wants to do through you, wherever you are. Believe this, and go in His grace, and love and power.”
—Rev. Dr. Richard C. Halverson’s Benediction, U.S. Senate Chaplain from 1981 to 1994

Imagine hearing this benediction every Sunday. How would it shape the way you go into your week? How would it change the way you view your circumstances?

I first heard these words a few years ago at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Seattle, where indeed the congregation hears this benediction many Sundays each year. I loved it so much I contacted the minister, Doug Kelly, to thank him for it, and he told me that he got it from Richard Halverson, a former Senate chaplain.

Why is this benediction so encouraging to me? The word “sent” is central to the Christian faith, but we often believe that missionaries are the sent ones, and the rest of us are stuck in our everyday lives. There are significant and especially holy Christians, we often believe, like Mother Teresa and people who really do make a big difference in the world, but the rest of us somehow less significant. Certainly, we may be trying to obey God where we are, but we can easily feel that our efforts are so small compared with people whose ministries really matter.

Halverson’s words affirm that every single person has been sent by God wherever they go and wherever they are. If we want to be a follower of Jesus, then we can be assured that wherever we are, God wants to do something through us. God, in fact, has put us in the place where we are and has a purpose in our being here.

These ideas are deeply rooted in the New Testament. In his prayer for his disciples in John 17, Jesus says, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (verse 18). On the day of the resurrection, when Jesus first gives the Holy Spirit to the disciples, he says very similar words (John 20:21).

The Latin word for “send” is “missio.” That’s the word we get “mission” from. Sadly, we have come to believe that some Christians have a mission – especially missionaries and people in paid Christian ministry – but the rest of us somehow live a different kind of life.

A favorite book that addresses these issues uses the word “sentness” in its title and throughout the book: Sentness: Six Postures of Missional Christians by Kim Hammond and Darren Chronshaw. They argue that all Christians are sent into the world like Jesus was.

The word “mission” gets us into trouble because it evokes missionaries and corporate mission statements. I love the word “sentness” to describe a profound reality for each and every Christian, no matter how insignificant we consider our work or everyday life to be.

Take my life, and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to Thee . . .
Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love . . .
Take  my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee . . .
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose. . . .
Take my self and I will be
ever, only, all for thee.
—Frances Ridley Havergal (1874)

(Next week: some Christmas thoughts. The week after that: five quotations about thankfulness, the last post in this series of quotations I love. Illustration by Dave Baab, the view east from Columbia Tower in downtown Seattle. Seattle is the city where God sent us for the most years of our life. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

This is the 15th post in a series on quotations I love. Here are the earlier posts: 
Secrets and compassion    
Four Quotations about attention            
Breton Fisherman’s Prayer  
Arnold Glasow on feeling at home with people  
A. W. Tozer on worship that illuminates work  
The Jerusalem Talmud on enjoying good things  
Thomas Aqinas on loving people we disagree with  

Paul Tournier on building good out of evil 
Thomas Merton on our transparent world  
Moving from intending to pray to actually praying  
Eugene Peterson on paying attention  
Regret and fear are thieves  
Rick Warren on love and disagreement  
Henri Nouwen on being beloved

The Role of Listening in Nurturing Christian Discipleship

Friday August 15 2014

The Role of Listening in Nurturing Christian Discipleship

Two years ago I was in the middle of writing my book on listening and I was stuck. I had written a good chapter on listening for the sake of mission. I had written three chapters on listening to God in communal discernment, in communal spiritual practices and through communal engagement with the Bible. I had written basic chapters on listening skills, why and how we listen, and obstacles to listening. I had one chapter left to write, focused on listening to each other within a congregation.

I had quite a few good stories to use in that one remaining chapter, but I didn’t have a central idea for the chapter. My stories and ideas felt scattered.

I set the book aside to go to an academic conference that I was not particularly excited about. The only thing I was anticipating was two keynote talks by Nancy Tatom Ammerman. She described her most recent research on spiritual patterns among people in various religions, and to my great delight she gave me the unifying idea for my troublesome chapter. In addition to helping with that chapter, her research helped me gain an entirely new perspective on the significance of listening in all forms of discipleship and spiritual formation.

Ammerman and her team of researchers interviewed dozens people in Boston and Atlanta about their spiritual convictions and practices. They sought out people with diverse religious commitments: Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, atheists, agnostics, New Age practitioners, etc. They found that the people who had the deepest spiritual commitment also had friends with whom they talked about the overlap between their spiritual commitment and their everyday lives, between the sacred and the secular, between the holy and the ordinary. Ammerman called these friends “spiritual compatriots.”

The research showed that people most often found these spiritual compatriots in three settings: congregations, the home and the workplace. The congregation has special significance, because congregations provide places for people to learn to talk about this overlap between God and daily life. People then brought that ability to talk about God’s role in everyday life into their homes, and they often found people at work with whom they could talk about it.

Ammerman said that the people who were the most comfortable talking about this overlap of the holy and the ordinary were the people who were the most involved in mission of various forms.

After listening to Ammerman, I spent a lot of time thinking about the places in congregations where people talk about the overlap between their faith and their daily life: small groups, men’s and women’s events, retreats, coffee hour, etc. Good sermons model ways to talk about this overlap. The key is to make space for people not just to chat and get to know each other, but to go deeper to the place where they are able to talk about where God is in their daily lives, how they feel called to follow Jesus in everyday life, where they feel the Holy Spirit’s guidance and empowering.

I began to think about pastoral care, which has often been viewed as a good and necessary thing, but somewhat separate from discipleship or mission. Often the major crises of life are the places where we see God at work most profoundly. Maybe God seems clearly present guiding the cancer patient to the right doctor or helping feuding siblings to get along at a funeral. Maybe God seems particularly absent in a crisis. Making room for people to talk about God’s presence and absence in big challenges, a major task of pastoral care, now seems to me to be integrally connected to Christian discipleship and mission.

Conversations where we can talk about the overlap between the Christian faith and daily life require good listening, drawing people out, and asking perceptive questions. We need to allow conversations to go on long enough for people to work their way around to the issue of where and how they experienced God in a particular situation. Because of Nancy Ammerman’s research (recounted in her book Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes: Finding Religion in Everyday Life) I saw the significance of listening in congregational life in a whole new light.

(If you'd like to receive an email alert when I add a new post to this blog, sign up over in the right hand column where it says "subscribe." This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog.)