Steps To Develop A Contemplative Dimension To Church Life - Sacred Structures by Jim Baker
In recent posts we explored the differences between contemplative and evangelical streams of Christianity. Here are several ideas that I think every church can reflect on, and hopefully, implement — as steps the congregation can take to foster a contemplative dimension to their community life. This will not happen overnight (among other things, we have our cultural bias against silence and contemplation to overcome) and will never draw large crowds. Think of it this way: contemplative prayer is like tithing. A small number of people will do most of it, and only a minority will make it a significant priority in their lives. But everyone is invited to do it and is encouraged to it. If a church begins to implement even some of these initiatives, I humbly believe that God will bless their efforts.
- Cultivate contemplative leaders in the church. Ideally, this begins with the pastor and staff. If the pastor is not involved, he at least has to be supportive. Historically, Christian seminaries do very little to foster contemplation among its students. That’s changing for the better in many locations, but we still have a long way to go. So not every pastor or staff has the formation to be a contemplative leader. And of course, lay leaders who are drawn to provide leadership in contemplative practices need formation as well. So, this won’t happen overnight — but I would encourage pastors and dedicated lay leaders who recognize the need to foster contemplation in the congregation to turn to organizations like Contemplative Outreach, Patheos, Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, Talbot Institute for Spiritual Formation, and Spiritual Directors International or others to receive training for providing spiritual guidance for both individuals and groups.
- Promote the names and contact information of trained leaders who can offer one-on-one guidance and instruction in contemplative practices. These people may be called Spiritual Directors, Spiritual Companions, or Spiritual guides for those who want individual discipling in contemplative ways.
- Create a dedicated space for silent prayer in the church. Designate a chapel or simple prayer room adorned with sacred art such as paintings and sculptures, prayer books, prayer candles, and prayer guides. Its very existence communicates to the congregation that contemplative prayer is a priority for the church.
- Offer guided contemplative prayer opportunities during worship services. Maybe it doesn’t have to be every single week, but from time to time allow one or more of your congregation’s contemplative leaders to invite people to practice silent prayer in the pews or come to the front and kneel, on Sunday mornings, with guidance.
- Offer regular times of silence in congregational worship services and meetings. Build in 2-3 minutes of silence after the scripture reading and/or the sermon, before the congregational prayer, during the offering or after Communion. Encourage your church leadership to take time (two to three minutes) at the beginning of every committee or congregational meetings for silence. Make it a part of your church’s culture
- Offer instruction in contemplative prayer. This could be through guided prayer during worship services or as a part of small group curriculum.
- Start a contemplative prayer group. Gather those who are interested in contemplative spirituality to meet regularly to pray, share practices, and determine ways to interject a contemplative dimension into church life.
- Establish a relationship with a local Christian retreat center, monastery, or convent. Make the effort to find a center near you that is devoted to Christian silence and prayer. Get to know the people there and make it easy for the members of your congregation to know about it, and how to visit it.
- Sponsor an annual retreat devoted to silent prayer. Once a year partner with your local convent, monastery or retreat house and sponsor a retreat that is dedicated to silence, prayer, and contemplation.
- Other ideas:
- Once a year on a weekend set up prayer stations around the church with each station having prayer prompts such as religious paintings, icons or sculptures, or written prayer instructions.
- Offer a contemplative Lord’s Supper Service on Good Friday that incorporates silence except for Scripture posted on the screens. Multiple communion tables around the worship center with staff dispensing the elements to individuals who come to a table when they are ready to receive the elements.
- Provide outlines and area locations for personal Spiritual Retreat Days.
- Introduce written contemplative spiritual practices such as, Praying Scripture, Lectio Divina, The Daily Office and The Examining Prayer and Imaginative Meditation by St. Ignatius.
- Place in the church library books by contemplative authors like Brother Lawrence’s “Practicing the Presence of God.”
- Read a contemplative prayer and practices book together as a small group or a congregation, such as Tony Jones’ “The Sacred Way.”
- Use the Spiritual Pathways assessment as a way to introduce the contemplative pathway.
Posted on February 7, 2023