Engaging the Spiritual Disciplines
The first goal or milestone of Our Journey 2025 reads, “Cultivate practices of prayer and spiritual discipline, transforming our lives and communities by the power of the Holy Spirit.” If we’re honest, a directive to “practice spiritual disciplines” can feel a bit like the church equivalent of “eat more veggies.” Few would dispute that doing so would contribute to long-term health and well-being, but it still sounds unappetizing.
Reframing spiritual disciplines as “faith practices,” however, can help relieve the endeavor of its dull and unappetizing baggage. In addition, hearing stories from churches already exploring faith practices in their unique contexts can inspire us and remind us that these practices are life-giving and community-building.
Here are a few examples of Christian Reformed churches, members, and pastors who are already deepening their spiritual practices in transformative and life-giving ways.
One Church’s Year-Long Experiment
Granite Springs Church near Sacramento, Calif., has been encouraging members to grow through a deliberate focus on spiritual practices as they relate to the liturgical year. They are calling this emphasis “Deepening Practices.”
“(Deepening Practices) was really another step in something that we’d been doing for some time,” said Matt Timms, associate pastor of spiritual formation and administration at Granite Springs. “From a formation perspective, I’d say we have, as a church, been growing in our emphasis on practices and the rhythms of the church year, particularly over the last five to 10 years, as we recognize the grace that is found in regular rhythms.”
Timms said Deepening Practices emerged out of the work of a previous associate pastor, Sam Gutierrez. Looking at the liturgical year, Gutierrez started sketching out practices that could accompany each liturgical season.
“The idea was that for each season there would be a ‘church practice’ (typically Sunday worship), a piece of Scripture to memorize, and a home practice,” said Timms. “As part of this, we started doing house blessings during Epiphany, developed a Jesse Tree devotional for Advent, and a few other things.”
Timms said he calls Deepening Practices an “experiment” because some things caught on and others did not. The house blessings, for example, was a success that he particularly enjoyed.
“In our Northern California suburbs, having a pastor come to your house to pray and even chalk the door is not a typical experience, but it was such a gift to be invited into people’s space, to see eyes glisten as you prayed over their kitchen and living space and bedrooms, and to extend blessing in this way,” he said.
In total, he was able to visit and pray over the homes of 30 individuals or families in his congregation.
Granite Springs Church recently wrapped up their year of Deepening Practices, but the habits the congregation developed through the project still shape their ministry.
Faith Practices for People of All Ages
While the Our Journey 2025 ministry plan publicly launched in January 2021, Faith Formation Ministries has been releasing resources focusing on spiritual practices since September 2020. They have called this the Faith Practices Project, and many churches have already been using and adapting it to fit their unique contexts.
Nicole Rekman, children’s ministry director for First CRC in Sarnia, Ont., incorporated elements from the Faith Practices Project into hands-on, faith-forming activities families can do at home.
After perusing the Gratitude resources page from the Faith Practices Project, Rekman asked church members of all ages to drop off pumpkins that families with children could use as “Gratitude Pumpkins”—canvases of squash on which to write gratitude lists.
Those who dropped off pumpkins at the church left notes with their addresses so the families who received the pumpkins could respond and foster intergenerational relationships.
“I delivered the pumpkins with a Sharpie attached and a printed copy of the Faith Practices page. It was very well received!” Rekman said.
In addition, Rekman created “giving jar” and “giving tree” activities for families at her church to help them develop the spiritual discipline of gratitude.
“I see families being more intentional in their devotional time, using these activities as they provide concrete, relatable ways to incorporate them into daily life,” said Rekman. “Parents are thankful for meaningful ways to engage kids in faith-building practices.”
Elsewhere in Ontario, a youth group at Immanuel CRC in Hamilton also explored spiritual disciplines. The group discusses a specific faith practice during their socially distanced meet-ups and Zoom calls. Afterward, they invite the rest of the congregation to join them in exploring the practice through the church’s daily devotional episodes of the “Wilderness Wanderings” podcast.
Anthony Elenbaas, pastor of faith formation at Immanuel CRC, noted that engaging faith practices seems particularly necessary when much of life—work, school, church, and more—takes place virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Something about our faith cannot be digitally mediated but needs to be incarnate,” he said. “Faith practices ground us in time and space through acts of attention to God, the fully embodied others around us, and the incarnate work of Christ in our own embodied flesh. Something about that seems really important to our faith lives right now.”
Support for the Journey
Since July 2019, Faith Formation Ministries’ regional catalyzers have connected with at least 174 churches with the aim of equipping and encouraging them in their unique ministry contexts.
In addition to the coaching they provide on formation-related subjects such as discipleship and intergenerational worship, these catalyzers have also been gearing up to help churches explore faith practices. Catalyzers have been exploring the practices themselves, both personally and in experimental small groups.
Trudy Ash, regional catalyzer for the Midwest U.S. and member of Pease (Minn.) CRC, began a small group at her church to start exploring faith practices as a sort of “pilot project.” The group meets twice a month: once to go over resources for the practice, and once to share stories of how members have used them.
“My hope is that this project will be a way to get people to tell their stories, talk about their faith, and grow together in the daily part of experiencing God and intentionally doing things to grow closer to him,” said Ash. “I think that’s important for churches right now ... to stay connected on deep levels and in new, meaningful ways.”
As the variety of these stories show, there are many ways to explore faith practices. Even so, the words Our Journey 2025 remind us it’s something we’re doing together.
Other ministries of the Christian Reformed Church in North America also offer resources for learning and living out faith practices, including a podcast series about spiritual disciplines from Reframe Media, opportunities to practice justice and hospitality from the Office of Social Justice and World Renew, the “Deeper Journey” program of Resonate Global Mission, and more. Whether you explore the resources from these ministries on your own or contact one of Faith Formation Ministries’ regional catalyzers to support your church, you’re invited to be part of our denominational journey as we seek to “cultivate practices of prayer and spiritual discipline, transforming our lives and communities by the power of the Holy Spirit.”