I couldn’t be happier to be in San Antonio. Early this spring I stumbled upon Renovare’s 2009 Spiritual Formation Conference. I cannot remember how my attention was drawn to this event or how I ended up at their website. I can only remember sending a short email to my wife, Molly, with the link and a question, “Do you think I should go to this?”
Her reply: “Yes.”
I arrived on Sunday and proceeded to check in at my hotel, the Wyndham St. Anthony, which is across the street from Travis Park and easily within walking distance of the Hyatt Regency and San Antonio’s Municipal Auditorium–the two primary centers of activity for this conference. The River Walk is nearby, which is a center of life in this city. Within the first hour of being present at this conference I knew that I had made a good decision. I’ll say more about this during my final thoughts.
Below you’ll find my observations, quotations, insights, and my own highlights. Others at this conference will, no doubt, have other moments they believe more worthy of mention. This conference intersects with my life at a time when the discourse I’m finding here is needed, and, thus, what I find edifying may be commonplace for others. These people here are a blessing, and I’m thankful for the gift I am being giving these few days.
Check In and a Conferencing Tip for Social Media Gurus
For those organizing a conference (or soon attending one), if you haven’t considered what I’m about to tell you, I’d recommend pulling a page from the Renovare’ playbook and incorporating this idea into your next event. What is it? Enabling conference participants to easily broadcast what social media networks they utilize.
As I checked in, I was asked if I used Facebook or Twitter. The answer: both. Registration had been going on for about three or four hours. I was the first person at that table to indicate I was fully wired (this should tell you something about where I fit demographically at this conference). The check-in volunteers, upon learning I used these tools, supplied me with two icon stickers to place on my name tag so that when I connect with others we can further our connection through social media. Renovare’ also had designated a hashtag for those using Twitter. The problem: the hashtag was included in a line of text that was cut from their sign. As a result, I’ve stuck with #renovare.
Jim Smith :: Following Jesus
The Renovare’ Conference includes additional learning opportunities, or workshops. If you’ve been to a conference you are accustomed to these. I chose “How to Make the Jesus Way My Way” with James Bryan (Jim) Smith. Jim is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Friends University and a member of a United Methodist Church in Wichita. Day one was undeniably a blessing. Here are a few quotes, funnies, insights, and observations from our first session:
- Based on the study of George Barna and Willow Creek’s Reveal study, we have concluded that the church is failing at discipleship. Most of us, very likely, did not need these studies to tell us this. However, the data is helpful, and commendable. We need to be truthful, but there is hope.
- “‘Hurry sickness’ is the #1 spiritual illness in our day.”
- Definition of discipleship: “The process of being formed in Christ. (Gal. 4:19).”
- “We know we are moving toward success when we see Christ-like behavior.”
- A disciple is someone who spends time in the presence of a master, you are “with someone to be like them.” ”You think like they think, do like they do.”
- “The A’s, B’s, and C’s” eclipse the D” <–Obstacle to discipleship: Attendance, Building, and Cash overtake Discipleship. Jim called ABC a “Fallen Power” and “Oppressive.” I agree.
- “Are you producing people who walk in step with Jesus?”
- “Why is it that church is the only place you have to come early to sit in the back?”
- Key question: “Does the gospel I preach naturally lead others to follow Jesus?”
- We need to change our understanding of success –> Making Disciples of Jesus Christ. We must “Enroll people into the University of Jesus.”
- We must preach what Jesus preached, teach what he taught, “The Kingdom of God is available to you now.”
- We must fall in love with a God who is “Good, Trustworthy, Love, Holy, and Self Sacrificing.”
- We must work to build bigger Christians, not bigger churches.
- “We live at the mercy of our ideas.” –Dallas Willard
- We must precede the imperative with the indicative, telling people their status in Christ (the way things are). The imperative follows–telling people what we must do. Read Ephesians as an illustration of this.
- Your life is hidden in Christ with God. (Col. 3:1) You are safe and secure in the Kingdom.
- “We are people in whom Christ dwells and delights.” Try that on as a core narrative, vs. “God loves you when you are good, and is upset with you when you are bad.”
There was more, but that is what I retained, wrote down, and dwelled with as I entered my evening. Good stuff.
Counting Your Blessings
Among the exercises Jim asked us to complete, one was counting our blessings. He asked for ten. He told us that in the Apprentice curriculum, which he has brought to life alongside a team of others, they begin with fifty, move to one hundred, and then go on and on. Here is my list of ten:
- Ryan Fitzhugh
- The Conards
- Good Books
- Vacations and Accompanying Memories
Try it. Grab a piece of paper. Name ten. Then keep going.
As I approached the steps of Municipal Auditorium I was greeted by the sound of a cowboy quartet singing “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” These gentlemen were decked in full cowboy attire–hats, chaps, blue jeans, boots, and some sweet mustache action. What do you get when you combine an upright bass, guitar, fiddle, and some great vocals playing a classic open range tune? That’s right. The feeling that I’m at home.
After entering the auditorium I received a double pleasure, as a large mariachi group navigated their way through the performance hall. If I felt I was at home hearing cowboy music, the emotional impulses I experienced moved north and became knowledge–I didn’t feel I was home, I knew I was home–and I was glad.
Singing in Spanish, Singing the Hymns
Renovare’ has arranged for local church musicians/bands to be present during the General Sessions, and I appreciate this. Instead of bringing in a headliner musician, we get to hear from partner churches in this area. The music thus far has been very good. Last night we sang a portion of “Open the Eyes of My Heart” in Spanish, which quickly brought to mind Rev. 7:9-10. I was also blessed in singing “Jesus Paid it All.”
Eugene Peterson and The Jesus Way
During our first general session we heard from Eugene Peterson, presenting on “The Jesus Way.” Here are a few things I jotted down:
- “Using language on the Jesus way requires that we join the conversation.”
- “Idolatry is without doubt the most popular religion in town.”
- “You can’t hurry the mature life in Christ.”
- “There are no steroids in matters of holiness.”
- “Spiritual formation cannot be accomplished by mass marketing.”
- Paraphrase: You can’t rush a pregnancy, you must nurture it–just as Christ is born in us.
Peterson’s talk was great. If you haven’t read The Jesus Way, check it out. It would be worth exploring Peterson’s comparison of the adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin, and their quest for the North Pole to the spiritual climate of today.
Praying the 23rd Psalm
As a spiritual exercise, those in my workshop (around 185 people) were instructed to pray the words of Psalm 23 as we fell asleep. I have worked at memorizing this Psalm, and after a couple of minutes of review was able to recite the text word perfect. As I prayed the Psalm, I felt my heart expand in love for God and truly took joy in knowing that Christ was present. Good stuff.
Some Final Thoughts
For the past five years I’ve been formed by the writings of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. Truthfully, I’ve been formed by Christ in them. Their writings have been a blessing to me, have helped me reach a greater understanding of life as a disciple of Jesus, and encouraged me. I’m so glad to be here–the others who are leading at this conference have been a blessing to me as well.
In the coming days I plan to add more to my blog in terms of reflection. I have jotted down ideas to write about ministry and my calling, the state of my soul over the last four years, and what it means to journey through desert, wasteland, pause at an oasis, and then become confused when reaching a large body of living water. The last two weeks I believe God has been at work in my life, teaching me in radical new ways and awakening affections in me that I have not felt for some time. I also have a desire to name some of the deficiencies I perceive in my own community, and partner with those I walk with to bring about something new and life giving in Christ.
That’s all for now! I’m about to head home, write more tonight, and bring you more in the morning!