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Abandoning Willow Creek? Try a Dojo! | W. David Phillips

Abandoning Willow Creek? Try a Dojo!

Practicing the Ways of Jesus: Life Together is the Kingdom of LoveIn a previous post, I reviewed a book by Co-pastors Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken, of Oak Hills Church in California. They had grown their church using the Willow Creek model of ministry, but found that they were seeing people formed into consumers, not followers of Jesus. So they abandoned the Willow Creek model and developed their own way of doing church, one focused on spiritual formation.

In their book, they discussed a series of retreats they would take members of their church on that focused on one specific spiritual discipline. They also noted that their small groups were now formed around helping people deal with destructive behaviors in their lives. This is one of the few areas of their transition I wished they had gone into more.

Enter the Dojo
I recently received from a new book InterVarsity Press to review. The book is Practicing the Ways of Jesus: Life Together is the Kingdom of Love by Mark Scandrette. Mark is the founding director of ReIMAGINE, a collective that invites people into integrative spiritual experiments and practices, (with an emphasis on creativity, community building and social action).

Mark wrote Practicing the Ways of Jesus” to help address the disparity we often feel between how we want to live and how we actually live as followers of Jesus. It’s based on10 years of experience leading groups in integrative practices.”

The book provides the practical theological framework that might be found in Oak Hill’s small group, “a practical approach to spiritual formation that is serious about Scripture, action-focused, communal, experiential, and connected to real world challenges and opportunities.”

Scandrette draws from the Japanese term dojo, which means “place of the way” and is used to describe a school or practice space for marital arts or meditation. “Theoretically, a dojo could be created for any skill or discipline…The important distinction is an active learning environment, where participation is invited and expected.”

The first half of the book explores the biblical framework for his formative practice dojo. He also explores the how and why of forming these communities of participation and the experiences and experiments that go on.

The experiences and experiments are meant to help people deal with issues of brokenness in people’s lives, what he calls “experiments in truth” where self-awareness is explored and questions that explore destructive behaviors are dealt with. Experiments also focus around how to be a disciple. Scandrette discovered that Jesus often focused on five areas of discipleship: identity, purpose, security, community, and freedom and peace. Those themes were also mirrored in the apostolic letters of the New Testament and reflected in the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples. So he and his team developed experiments and experiences that focus on those five areas of life.

The second half of the book provide an in-depth look at some of the experiments the reImagine communities have journeyed on together. Scandrette provides one or two practices from each of the five areas listed above.

As I read this book, I kept thinking to myself, this a great resource to consider as people try to transition from a seeker-oriented, attractional model to one that helps form people into followers of Jesus.

Also, as I read this book I kept thinking about the influence of Dallas Willard. Willard’s teaching triggered a transition at Oak Hills. Willard was very influential in Scandrette’s thinking as well.

I really would encourage you to read this book. It is a nice bit of practical theology for those who are concerned about helping
“new disciples to obey all the commands I [Jesus] have given you.” It invites you to help people practice behavior as part of the spiritual formation process, not sit and listen to someone express beliefs that should be followed. It describes how you can teach the scriptures related to behavior and practice while at the same time help people actually put practices in place that make a difference in a person’s life and in the community as well.

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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