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Continually transformed for mission

October 18, 2010 05:43 PM

By Pastor Dan Ward


Natural Church Development (NCD) is a tool used to assess the strengths and weaknesses of congregations, based on eight characteristics. Lutheran churches typically score low in the area of "passionate spirituality."


"Passionate spirituality is 100% total and complete commitment to God" was one definition I heard during a visit to a congregation experienced in Natural Church Development (NCD). Through a generous sabbatical grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., I sought to better understand the depths of "passionate spirituality" in practice. The theme of my time was "Exploring Personal, Regional and Global Dimensions of Passionate Spirituality."


On the application for my sabbatical grant, my definition of passionate spirituality was similar but even more distinct: "Passionate spirituality is the way Christians actively live out their faith with commitment, fire and enthusiasm, freely sharing it with others." Through my sabbatical journeys from June 7 through September 6, I was blessed to have received experiences that strongly affirmed this second definition in eye-opening, renewing, and life-changing ways.


Personally, I encountered a faith community firmly grounded and committed to passionate spirituality through the Holy Cross Monastery located in West Park, New York. Working with a spiritual director, I participated in the daily life within the beautiful setting of this Episcopal Benedictine monastic order. I spent four days in June and four days in the closing week of my leave, deepening spiritual discernments through selected readings, and the daily cycle of worship, prayer, meditation, and dialogue.


Regionally, Zion Lutheran Church in Rahway, New Jersey and Upper Dublin Lutheran Church in Ambler, Pennsylvania offered wonderful hospitality upon my arrival and responses to questions during my four-day visits. Both of these congregations had completed three full cycles of NCD surveys and responses. We identified challenges and opportunities in addressing and initiating viable group activities that are meant to deepen and engage passionate spiritual living. From pastors and lay leaders alike, I received honest and inspiring assessments, heard ongoing struggles and undying hopes as they wrestled with this often elusive goal.


Globally, my wife, Susan, and I encountered passionate spirituality firsthand, daily lived and expressed among amazing, deeply committed Lutherans in the North Western Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. Passionate spirituality among these brothers and sisters might be defined as anticipating, seeing and receiving 100% of God’s complete commitment to fulfill Jesus’ mission of saving love. The Holy Spirit graces one’s way of faithful living. Daily, they receive God’s abundance of blessings and overflowing opportunities to serve in Jesus’ name in the midst of limited resources.


Now, back at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Poughkeepsie, worship is increasingly becoming the focal point of deepening our passionate spirituality through steps promoted in Jonathan Linman's book, Holy Conversations, and Craig Nessan's Beyond Maintenance to Mission. All congregational leaders have been given copies of Nessan’s book to share the vision for mission. Together, we will be striving to enhance our worship life through incorporating suggestions from Holy Conversations, modifying our worship schedule to allow for missional interactions with newcomers and existing members, re-shaping our third worship service, and exploring achievable ways of engaging more people in smaller group discussions around God's Word for upcoming Sundays.


This sabbatical has provided new experiences of how God continually transforms the baptized in Christ for mission when the faith community centers itself in Christ Jesus in and through our worship life together.



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