Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationBuy this book now »
Although interest in spiritual practices has grown in recent years, most of the books available address individuals who wish to try Christian disciplines such as fasting or fixed-hour prayer.
This book, by contrast, offers guidance and examples to Christian leaders as they seek ways to involve their congregations or small groups in spiritual practices.
In Joy Together, Lynne M. Baab describes six spiritual practices that congregations can attempt together:
- contemplative prayer
- lectio divina
- hospitality and
- Sabbath keeping.
She goes on to explore how these practices can help with congregational life and discernment and provides practical instructions for communicating with group members. Discussion questions are included at the end of each chapter so groups can delve into the topics more fully.
“In a world where happiness equals personal satisfaction or gratification it is lovely to come upon a book called Joy Together. The spiritual journey is not about hiking solo. It is a pilgrimage with others into prayer, hospitality, gratitude, Sabbath, etc. Lynne Baab's book offers communities of faith ways to engage in spiritual rhythms together. Those looking for ways to grow together with God will enjoy the personal and practical tack of Joy Together.”
Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, co-pastor Redeemer Community Church and author of The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook and Invitations From God.
“This is terrific! Lynne is a wise and gentle guide to a deeper and more peaceful life. You will be blessed if you don’t just read the book but do it, slowly.”
John Ortberg, author of Who is This Man? and The Me I Want to Be
“In Joy Together, Lynne Baab introduces six essential spiritual practices that can help congregations to spend time with Jesus, listen to what he is saying, be changed by him, and then speak and act in the world for him. Her insightful book provides practical and promising ways for groups to enter God's presence and be transformed.”
Henry G. Brinton, pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia and author of The Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality
“In her typically wise and inviting manner, Lynne Baab offers a distinctive approach to cultivating deeper spiritual lives in congregations by engaging ancient faith practices in fresh and timely ways. Her writing shimmers on every page. Her insights motivate. Her approach captures the deep joy of active Christian faith lived well with others in community.”
Allan Hugh Cole Jr., Academic Dean, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and editor of A Spiritual Life
“This is a book I’ve been waiting for because formation is as much ‘caught’ as ‘taught.’ Thankfully then, Baab shows how congregations and small groups can build community and help each other by engaging in practices together.”
Jan Johnson, author of Spiritual Disciplines Companion and Invitation to the Jesus Life
ReviewsAn enthusiastic review in Publisher's Weekly: "A welcome resource for 'developing a posture of receptivity' to God's blessings" »
Noting that "the new creation in Christ needs continual shaping," Baab, a Presbyterian minister, retreat leader and author (Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World) offers a comprehensive, practical and inspiring guide for church leaders seeking to explore and share the fruits of spiritual practices in congregational settings. Ten chapters delve into six disciplines: thankfulness, fasting, contemplative prayer, contemplative approaches to scripture, hospitality, and Sabbath-keeping, focusing on opportunities and benefits of communal engagement. Drawing from personal pastoral experience and offering examples from other clergy's efforts to involve congregations in communal fasting, breath prayers, guided meditations and more, Baab provides a helpful range of models and settings. The chapter "Are Spiritual Practices Legalistic?" thoughtfully engages critiques offered by John Wesley and contemporary theologian William Willimon, urging openness to surprises of the Holy Spirit. Sidebar quotations from contemporary and ancient theologians add insights, as do questions for reflection, discussion or journaling, and suggestions for further reading. Numerous adaptive challenges faced by congregations in recent decades (consumerism, multiculturalism, financial pressures), make this resource for "developing a posture of receptivity" to God's blessings timely and welcome.
(This review appeared in Publisher's Weekly.)
In our local church, AuburnLife, we are eager to cultivate an AuburnWay set of spiritual practices that sustain and shape the mission of God among us. It is one thing to adopt and learn practices for personal use, but more supportive and engaged with the life of the church when we adopt them together.
Lynne Baab points in helpful directions in Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation. An American Presbyterian minister who currently teaches practical theology at University of Otago in New Zealand, Baab has authored several books on church communication and spiritual practices.
Spiritual practices are anything that clear space in everyday life to help us make space for God. They should be simple and accessible, but are not necessarily easy and do take practice. Baab explores six that are particularly relevant for us in the affluent West. They will not be new to all readers, but Baab explains them drawing on interviews and stories of how churches use them. I am eager to explore with my church what each practice means, and in what ways we can practice them together. My aim is to foster a culture of being attentive to God, what God is doing, and how we can join in. It is ultimately a missional spirituality that we need.
Thankfulness invites us to get over (Psalm 106-style) amnesia about what God has done. A local church can foster thankfulness by starting prayer times with prayers of gratitude and dependence; having space for thanking God for people in our neighbourhoods or workplaces; or ending a service with an open-mic “What my faith means to me” spot.
Fasting is denying something for a time for a spiritual purpose; nurturing relationship with God or seeking answer to prayer or guidance (e.g. Isaiah 58:6-8; Acts 13:1-3). Fasting from food is not for people with an eating disorder, certain health conditions, children or older people, but fasting can focus on non-food items such as technology, TV or shopping. Some local churches find it helpful to set aside times for fasting, list what to pray for together, and journal what people hear.
3. Contemplative Prayer
Contemplative prayer makes our selves attentive to tune in with God. Some churches adopt the breath prayer; breathing out concerns and breathing in God’s care (cf. Acts 17:28). The examen prayer looks back on a period of time to consider where God has been present and to be thankful, and where we resisted God and to confess. Centering prayer involves extended silence and openness to God. It is reassuring to know we are likely to have other thoughts when praying contemplatively, but we can let them float past while we go deep with God.
4. Contemplative Approaches to Scripture
Contemplative approaches to reading can help us delight in Scripture (Psalm 1:1-3), and not so much take a passage apart as let it take us apart. Lectio divina is a contemplative way of sitting with Scripture and letting it speak to us in four stages: lectio (read slowly), meditatio (meditate on a phrase), oratio (pray in response), and contemplatio (rest and wait for God). Ignatian Gospel Contemplation invites people to imagine themselves into a Gospel story. People may share what they hear, but this is not forced nor are points debated.
Hospitality extends the warm welcome and inclusion we have experienced from a generous God. It can help us experience Jesus as we host and learn from strangers (Luke 24:32). This is especially true as we express hospitality with the marginalized and across cultures. It is paradigm changing to invite church people to see themselves not as guests and consumers, but as hosts whose role is to welcome and include others.
Sabbath is resting from work to celebrate relationship with God and others. Along with “Do not covet” it is among the easiest of the 10 commandments to ignore in our 24/7 culture, but promises perspective and frees us from compulsive activity:
“Sabbath is a day to relax into the reality that God created an abundant universe, richly provisioned and beautifully intricate, full of people that we care about and good gifts to enjoy. Keeping a Sabbath, week after week and year after year, helps us learn to rest in God’s goodness rather than think about what we imagine we are lacking.” (pp. 144-145)
Some churches host a “congregational Sabbath” weekend away with minimal planned activity to focus on rest, play and worship together.
These practices also help congregational discernment processes about what God is calling us to do and what is our unique contribution; i.e., how we can cooperate with God’s mission. As we are thankful we notice what brings energy and passion. Fasting and contemplative prayer and reading put aside our agendas and put us in a space to listen for God’s surprising voice – through young and old, member and newcomer. Hospitality creates space for listening to one another and the community. Sabbath beautifully slows us and opens up space for seeing new things. As individuals or as a church, spiritual practices are never about earning God’s approval, but creating the grace-filled space and receptivity for God to shape and guide us.
Joy Together is a warm, practical and accessible manual for introducing and developing spiritual practices in congregations which can lead to surprising new missional directions.
(This review originally appeared in Australian Pentecostal Studies.)
In Joy Together, Lynne Baab takes six spiritual practices (Thankfulness, Fasting, Contemplative Prayer, Contemplative Approaches to Scripture, Hospitality and Sabbath) and commends them to the reader as communal practices. 'Doing it with others makes the experience richer, deeper, easier' (51). Plus she writes in a communal sort of way, writing to people to find out what they do and then weaving their stories into the text to produce a book that is both personal and accessible. People like you and I are doing this stuff together and it is making a difference to their lives.
I like the way she frames the book culturally and theologically. These practices are placed in the context, again and again, of the affluent West (more generally) and the advertising industry (more specifically). For example, the role of communal fasting is seen against the backdrop of the excess of consumption. Then she also notes that this selection of practices all contain 'a significant component of listening'. This takes us out of the driving seat and builds what she calls receptivity, 'our willingness to let God initiate, to let God be God in whatever form that takes' (186). Again, an enormous challenge in an anthropocentric culture. And then two little statements near the end. Referring to the much overlooked truth of being in Christ and Christ being in us, she asserts that 'spiritual practices can make this (truth) clear and evident' (177). And not to be missed - 'spiritual practices provide one answer to a key question: what do we do after we receive grace in order to let grace shape us?' (182).
In suggesting how to manage distractions in contemplative prayer (74-77), she suggests seeing them to be like 'boats on a river'. They are there, but don't get on that boat yourself - just let it float down the river without you. The chapter on hospitality was my favourite:
Hospitality is not complicated or convoluted. It simply involves offering an honest and open welcome, often accompanied by food and drink, to the people who are nearby, people who are familiar and people not yet known. Hospitality is often about simple things freely given. (127)
Make sure you read through to the final three shorter chapters. One on the role which each practice can play in 'congregational discernment' - particularly with the art of reaching consensus. ('Ironically, both hospitality and fasting - eating and not eating, celebrating and abstaining - can play a role in the discernment process' (163)). Then there is a gentle, but strong, push-back on some comments by William Willimon which kinda denigrate spiritual practices as too often being a God-less way by which people live - 'attempts to live life on our own terms' (171). Then the closing chapter - 'Receptivity: the gift of spiritual practices' - to which I referred to above.
[As an aside, Lynne comes to mind with that comment from John Dickson about Hengel and Bauckham in the previous post. What I know of Lynne's ethos does bias me towards her logos and pathos! As I sit here writing this in her home country of the USA, I reflect on what a wonderful gift she (and Dave!) are to New Zealand. If you haven't met her, do place yourself within her orbit somehow and your life will be enriched.]
(This review was originally posted on Paul Windsor's blog, The Art of Unpacking.)
Allowing Grace to Shape Us
I recently picked up a book by my friend, Lynne Baab, a book about which I blogged several months ago. It’s called Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation. You can find it on Amazon and I think you can even get it for your Kindle reader. There are so many books out there on spiritual disciplines and spiritual practices, but what I’ve appreciated about Lynne’s book is how it instructs us on the value of practicing such disciplines together, rather than as individuals, in our own, private spiritual lives.
The chapter of the book that caught my attention today was one in which Lynne addresses the value of spiritual disciplines in general. She’s responding to a critique written by William Willimon several years ago in Christian Century. In this article, Willimon questions whether our current obsession with spiritual practices is really about us and our desire to manage and control our relationship with God. The danger, Willimon notes, is that we begin to think that we have to do something for God (ie engage in spiritual disciplines) before God will come near to us.
Lynne offers an alternative view of spiritual disciplines which are instructive to me, especially in light of the two challenges for this year that the senior pastor and I have been presenting through our current sermon series. We’ve encouraged our congregation to try the 10/10 challenge: daily spend 10 minutes reading the Bible and 10 minutes in prayer. We’ve also challenged the congregation to exercise the discipline of weekly worship with the people of God. A congregant doesn’t have to come to our worship service every single Saturday night or Sunday morning. Rather, what’s important to us is that people engage in the discipline of worship within the context of a community, no matter where they happen to be on a particular weekend.
I’ve encouraged these 3 disciplines (Scripture study, prayer, & worship) as a way for us to root ourselves more and more deeply in our identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom identity will inevitably make us look strange to the culture and society around us. So, we need these disciplines to remind us that we’re not alone in our weirdness and to encourage us to carry on in our odd Kingdom ways.
Still, I worry that by emphasizing the importance of these disciplines, I’m communicating that one must do these disciplines to please God. We walk a fuzzy line between grace and works, especially where spiritual practices are concerned. It’s easy for something that began in joy to turn to drudgery and from drudgery to the fear that we have to continue the practice “OR ELSE!”
Lynne offers several images of what spiritual practices can do for us, not in earning our way into God’s presence or pleasure, but in how these disciplines change us over time. She speaks of how spiritual disciplines help us (in the words of Adele Ahlberg Calhoun) “keep company with Jesus” (174). Jesus promises that he is with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. But, that doesn’t mean we’re always aware of that presence or power. Spiritual disciplines can help us turn our attention to Jesus, which consequently helps us cultivate our friendship with Jesus. Spiritual practices open us to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Even though transformation is not something we can make happen of our own will, we can still resist God’s transforming work in us. Spiritual disciplines help us become more like Jesus.
Here, however, is the question that has stayed with me, that has caught my imagination:
What do we do after we receive grace in order to let grace shape us?” (182)
Spiritual disciplines have the potential of allowing grace to shape us. Wow. What might a grace-shaped life look like? Would it enliven our spiritual lives and our worship? If grace is un-earned gift, how might a grace-shaped life change how we treat the people around us? Could it be that spiritual practices could actually help us as we’re boldly going as agents of God’s Kingdom in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and world?
This is where I need you, o Readers: I would love to hear your comments about what a grace-shaped life might look like. What does it mean to you to be shaped by grace?
(This review was originally posted on Rachel Young's blog, New Beginnings.)
As a pastor, I am always looking for ways to help my people experience more of God’s love and grace. Dr. Baab’s latest book, Joy Together, is a valuable pastoral tool for doing that.
Most often spiritual disciplines are presented for practice by individuals. However, Dr. Baab examines six spiritual disciplines (thankfulness, fasting, contemplative prayer, contemplative approaches to Scripture, hospitality, and Sabbath) and discusses what happens when they are practiced within a Christian community. We can certainly engage in each of these disciplines as individuals, but there are distinct advantages when we enter into them as groups of Christians. As she explains in the first chapter, “[S]piritual practices are richer—and usually easier—when we engage in them with others” (p. 3).
Dr. Baab examines what the Bible teaches about these six disciplines, but the strength of Joy Together is the breadth of her anecdotal research. She draws on interviews with dozens of people who have actually implemented these disciplines, and she also incorporates insights from many other faith traditions besides her own (Presbyterian). For example, I was quite fascinated by her reflections on the Eastern Orthodox approach to fasting (p. 49ff.). In addition, Dr. Baab also reflects on her own extensive experience to provide many practical suggestions for how one might facilitate these disciplines in other ways or in other contexts. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter can also be used to explore these disciplines more deeply.
I also greatly appreciate the personal nature of Dr. Baab’s writing. She lets us see into her own life, including her relationships with her husband and two sons, to show how she has worked to implement these disciplines over the years. We see her struggles as well as her successes. That provides a good reminder that, even when we fail to implement these disciplines perfectly, God can still use them to draw us – and our congregations – closer to himself.
Dr. Baab notes that spiritual disciplines such as the ones discussed in her book will influence the culture of a congregation, because they train us to listen to God and to follow his priorities. That is a worthy goal for those of us who are involved in Christian leadership, and her book can certainly help us make big strides towards that.