main cow pic


Welcoming everyone to the table

Filed under: Discipleship,God's movement,The Practice — 10:34 am

Like many of you, I’ve been increasingly brokenhearted by the pockets of Christianity that seek to expel anyone they don’t agree with. There are times to strongly disagree–and even part ways–but the impulse to expel the other doesn’t feel much like the Jesus we are trying to follow. (It feels much more like the religious leaders who tried to expel him.)

Our little community has been trying to put Christ’s teachings into practice and live out the grace and inclusion that he extended at nearly every turn. But what does this mean? And when does it devolve from radical grace into mushy, unthinking tolerance?

This spring, my friend and incredible Pentecostal preacher Jonathan Martin came to The Practice. His message “All Are Welcome at The Table” passionately appealed that our Eucharist table should be modeled after Jesus’ table of fellowship–which included and invited everyone. And the following communion liturgy threw the doors wide open to anyone and everyone who wants to come to the table. It was a very beautiful night.

The Table

The Table

This generated a ton of conversation from people of many perspectives. Some wondered if we were watering down the high calling of the table. Some were thrilled to discover such openness in a church. Some loved the impulse but wondered if we were overlooking important theological foundations. These were very, very interesting and helpful conversations.  And although we haven’t fully landed or fleshed it all out, here are three things we know…

•Inclusion is the not the goal.
•Being formed into Christlikeness
for the sake of the world is the goal.
•And everyone’s invited.

There is something very moving (to me) about these three statements, in this order. The invitation of Christ is not simply to be tolerated as we are, but to be swept into God’s ongoing work of Redemption. The invitation of Christ is not to become the arbiters of who’s in and who’s out, but to be swept into God’s ongoing work of Redemption. It’s a high calling that requires nothing less than dying to ourselves and being reborn as a new Creation in the name and way of Jesus. And everyone is invited.

How does this resonate with you? Thoughts? Reflections?



So what is The Practice, anyway?

Filed under: The Practice,willow — 4:14 pm

Hey friends. As you know, we started an experimental, practice-based, neo-liturgical community last year at Willow called The Practice. It’s been a huge challenge…and one of the best years of my whole life. Such a wonderful community and adventure.

Many of you have asked about it, and I usually stumble in the description, but Conversations Journal just published an interview that captures the spirit of The Practice well. We are still in the beginning of this journey–with SO MUCH to learn–but here’s a bit of the story so far….

Conversations Journal

Conversations Journal

CONVERSATIONS JOURNAL: Aaron, we wanted to interview you for many reasons—your depth of character, your integrative musical talents, your delight in the work of spiritual formation. But for the purposes of this article, we want to focus on the ways you have been integrating the formation of community and the practice of the spiritual disciplines, or, as this section is called, the classical spiritual exercises. Could you tell our readers a little bit about how you’ve been integrating those things? I’m thinking specifically of the launching of The Practice at Willow Creek Community Church. What is it, how did it come about, how is it going? (I like to jam as many questions into my first question as I can.)

AARON NIEQUIST: Wow, first of all, thanks so much for those incredibly kind words. I’m honored to be a part of this conversation. Over the last ten-plus years, I’ve been on a bit of a journey—both as a Christian and as a worship leader. And I’m coming to find that much of modern Christianity is wonderful and true and beautiful, but a little too thin. It is a profoundly helpful invitation into relationship with God, but doesn’t always address the deeper, more complex questions of life, doubt, and faith. And it doesn’t always help us move beyond beliefs into the “abundant life” that Jesus offers.

And so both in my personal walk with Christ, and as a worship leader in two different evangelical churches (Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Willow Creek in Chicago), some friends and I have been trying to learn from other Christian traditions and embrace a more formation-oriented, grounded, ecumenical, historical, robust way to follow Christ. Basically, instead of saying, “Our tradition has all we need,” we’ve been saying, “Our tradition is a wonderful part of the story, but we desperately need the wisdom and insight of our other brothers and sisters.”

In the summer of 2013, the Willow Creek leadership asked me if I’d want to explore what this might look like in a community. (Rather than just trying to force strange practices into our weekend worship sets! Ha.) And so after much prayer, conversation, and dreaming, we launched The Practice community on Sunday nights.

CJ: What do you mean by forcing strange practices into your weekend worship sets? I can guess, but I’m wondering how the classical spiritual exercises go from being “strange practices” in one context to an alluring draw to community and Christlikeness in another context? I’m guessing it’s not just by changing the service time from Sunday morning to Sunday nights! How did the Willow Creek community begin to embrace what you were bringing?

AN: One of the biggest things I’ve been learning is this: Whoever asks the question determines everything. So if the driving question is “How do we get the room fired up in the first thirty minutes of the service?” then the answer is never “corporate confession.” Right? However, if the question is “How do we help form people into Christlikeness?” then corporate confession would definitely be one of the answers.

And so the key to the whole Practice experiment has been that Willow Creek gave us the freedom to ask new questions. And new questions can change everything.”

Download the whole article here…

The Strange Practices of The Practice.

Grace and peace,



Why Everyone Should go to Praxis

Filed under: church,God's movement,The Practice — 8:33 am

Last year, my absolute favorite event of the year was The Praxis Conference.  Along with getting stretched (by learning from brilliant voices) and inspired (by meeting some fascinating people), those three days in Tulsa were deeply moving. Here’s why:  They showed me that I wasn’t alone.  In fact, I met people from all over the country and world who were asking and struggling with similar questions.  I can’t begin to tell you how moving and healing it was.

In exactly a month, Praxis is meeting again in Houston, and you should join us.  If you’re interested in the intersection of liturgy and the contemporary church, you should join us.  If you believe that the future of Christianity must be ecumenical rather than ghettoed, you should join us.  If you are an Evangelical and believe our tradition is wonderful but a bit too thin, you should join us.  If you love the music of The Brilliance, you should join us.

I can’t wait to attend and learn as much as possible.  And I’m really looking forward to participating. (Father Michael and I get to partner in a couple of sessions.)  Take a moment to look through the “What is Praxis?” page and check out the themes and speakers.  They are packing a ton of goodness into two days.

See you there?


This Week Only: Streaming Video for Free

Filed under: A New Liturgy,church,The Practice — 8:36 am
Fr Michael and Aaron

Fr Michael and Aaron

For this week only, we are streaming a 12 minute video interview of Fr Michael and me for free at Act3 Network.  I respect Fr Michael a ton, and we really enjoyed this conversation about spiritual direction, The Examen, and what happens when a Jesuit Priest shows up at Willow Creek Church.  Check it out…

Watch Video on Act3 Blog

Beyond the video, I am thrilled to introduce you to John Armstrong and his Act 3 Network.  For the last 30+ years, John has been a leading voice of mission-ecumenism:  the idea that unity among the whole church is central to spreading Christ’s kingdom to the ends of the earth.  I’ve honestly never met anyone doing more to intelligently and humbly build a bridge between Protestants and Catholics, and I’ve learned so much from him.  John is the real deal and has paid a huge personal price for giving his life to this work.

If you’re interested (and I really hope you are!), here are three ways to explore and learn more…

(1) Explore the Act3 Network website.  They tell the story and share great resources.

(2) Last week, ABC ran this story about John and Act 3. (They even included a couple clips of me. Ha!)  Here’s the show…

(3) Read John Armstrong’s incredible book: “Your Church is Too Small“.  Why unity in Christian mission is vital to the future of the church.


May we all become bridge-builders today in our thoughts, words, and actions.

Grace and peace,


Introducing the No 6: Examen trailer…

Filed under: A New Liturgy — 11:09 am

 from New Branch Films.


No 6: The Examen is here

Filed under: A New Liturgy — 10:34 pm

The day has come, friends, and we couldn’t possibly be more excited.  You can now pre-order A New Liturgy No 6: The Examen (Extended Edition) and get an immediate download of the 28 minute Examen liturgy…

No 6: The Examen (Extended Edition)


And then on 03.03.15, once you’ve had two weeks with this liturgy, we’ll ship you a CD with all the extras…

(1) Audio: An Abbreviated Examen – a ten minute, mostly instrumental version of the Examen.
(2) Audio: The Cross Meditation – a ten minute guided meditation on the Sign of the Cross
(3) Teaching: St Ignatius and The Examen – Fr Michael Sparough teaches the history of The Examen
(4) Teaching: The Five Steps of The Examen – Fr Michael Sparough teaches through The Examen
(5) Video: A conversation with Fr Michael Sparough and Aaron Niequist about The Examen, spiritual direction, and learning from other Christian traditions.

Aaron and Fr Michael interview

Aaron and Fr Michael interview


So may this New Liturgy of a very ancient practice help you create holy space wherever you find yourself.

Grace and Peace,


Three ways to begin exploring Liturgy

Filed under: A New Liturgy,church,worship — 3:56 pm

The traditional church had the form but lost the heart.
The modern church found the heart but lost the form.
Our invitation may be to anchor our hearts in the form,
and join God in the holy tension.

More and more people seem to be exploring the intersection of liturgy and modern Christianity. My evangelical friends often love the energy of our tradition but feel it’s a little too thin. And many of my mainline friends are deeply committed to their roots, but trying to breathe new life into the form.

It’s a really exciting time.

And while there are many people exploring this both/and path, here are three that really inspire me…

Brilliance / Packiam / Common Prayer

Brilliance / Packiam / Common Prayer

(1) The Brilliance. In my opinion, David Gungor and John Arndt are creating the best spiritual music on the planet right now. Their honest, beautiful, raw, and haunting albums provide a powerful soundtrack for Lent, Advent, and every season of life. Check out their newest project – “Brother” – which comes out next Tuesday.

(2) Glenn Packiam: Discover The Mystery of Faith.  Any time a worship leader asks me: “So what is liturgy all about? How do I move beyond singing into a more formational approach?”…I recommend Glenn’s book Discover The Mystery of Faith. It’s the most winsome, intelligent, and compelling invitation into this conversation I’ve ever seen. Especially for evangelicals. And his accompanying album The Mystery of Faith fleshes these ideas into powerful songs.

(3) Common Prayer (A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals).  This resource by Shane Claiborne and friends is a freight train of goodness. I’ve used it for my personal prayer many, many times, and it continues to influence how we approach Sunday nights at The Practice. Shane and I even got to lead the Willow Creek Community in one of the liturgies (watch video). Most of all, “Common Prayer” connects our inner prayer life with the outer world…inviting us all, over and over, to become contemplative activists.

What resources would you add to the list?  What are the other resources, artists, thinkers, and authors you have found helpful?


Two Liturgies for this season

Filed under: A New Liturgy — 9:18 pm

Next Tuesday (Feb 17th), we are launching A New Liturgy No 6: Examen at  You’ll be able to download the 28 minute liturgy immediately, and pre-order the full Examen Expanded Edition. We hope that it serves you well as we move into this season of Lent…and all year long.

The following day (Feb 18th) begins this season of introspection and fasting with Ash Wednesday. This is a day where many Christians around the world confess our sins before God and remember “from dust we are and dust we shall return.”

In preparation, we are giving away A New Liturgy No 3: Lord Have Mercy on NoiseTrade.  Maybe you happily belong to a modern church but want to also connect into something more historic. Or maybe you are deeply rooted in the high church tradition, but are looking for a fresh way to engage this deep season. May “Lord Have Mercy” be a bridge and a gift in some small way.  (Free until Feb 24th.  Available HERE after that.)

A couple ways you could use it…

(1) Personally.  Lent is such a great time to look inward and invite God to shine light into every dark corner.  Maybe you could set one hour aside each week to pray along with the “Lord Have Mercy” liturgy and see how God leads you to respond.

(2) Small group.  This may be a little intense, but might your small group be ready to engage this together? You could listen and pray through the first six tracks together, and then after the “Litany of Penitence”, pause the recording and spend some time sharing with each other. A question to start might be: “What is one area in your life that you most need God’s mercy right now?” And a second question: “How can we, as your community, help you receive this mercy?”

(3) Ash Wednesday Service.  If you would like to lead your community through this liturgy (or a modified version of it) on Ash Wednesday, you can Download the basic chord charts and string quartet parts. Feel free to use this in any way that would serve your church.



Announcing A New Liturgy No 6: The Examen

Filed under: A New Liturgy — 9:32 am

Hey friends. I am so excited to announce that A New Liturgy No 6: The Examen is coming on Feb 17th.

Liturgy6Cover shadow

The Story:  Last April, my spiritual director—Father Michael Sparough, SJ—guided our Practice community through the historic Christian practice of The Examen. The night was so powerful and unexplainably holy that we wanted to invite more people into the experience. So we turned the live recording of Fr Michael into a full New Liturgy—fleshing it out with an evocative musical score and three original songs. We hope it helps you connect with God in a deep and daily way.

Because this is such a powerful practice and Father Michael has been so gracious, we are offering
the liturgy in two forms…

(1) A New Liturgy No 6: The Examen – a digital download of the full 25 minute Examen liturgy.

(2) ANL No 6: The Examen Expanded Edition – a digital download and physical CD of the liturgy, plus a number of extras to help you go deeper with The Examen and deeper with God. We’re working really hard to make this expanded edition as robust and helpful as possible, so stay tuned!

You can stay up to date at and facebook/anewliturgy.

Really excited for you to experience this one, friends. Grace and peace!


The Beatles (part 2)

Filed under: creativity,music — 10:18 am
The Beatles

The Beatles

After re-immersing myself in The Beatles’ music, I’m feeling really inspired.  Continuing from last week’s The Beatles (part 1) post, and here are a few more random reflections…

(6) Everything I know about creating vocal harmonies is from The Beatles. First, they often added subtle, simple, gradually building harmony parts. Listen to Paul’s background singing on “The Ballad of John and Yoko“. He doesn’t even sing until half way through the song (the bridge)…adds only a couple words on verse 5…and then sings the whole verse 6. And it’s exactly what the song needs!  Second, the Beatles would often sing odd counter-melodies rather than the traditional harmony part. For example, listen to the chorus of “Yellow Submarine”. What a strange and wonderful harmony.  Finally, they often followed the “less is more principle”. Paul sang one single harmony line on “I’m So Tired”, and it was perfect.

(7) If I had to guess Enneagram types, I’d guess that John is a 1 (or 4), Paul is a classic 3, George is a 4 (or 9), and Ringo is a 7.

(8) As fruity as Paul could be, he did give us “Helter Skelter”, which is one of the most brutal Beatles songs ever. It doesn’t make up for the schmaltz of “Martha My Dear” or “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, but it is really heavy and quite awesome.

(9) Similarly, Lennon spent so much time keeping people arms length with humor and wordplay, but his moments of sincerity were devastatingly beautiful.  The tender and heartbreaking “Julia” (about his mom who died when he was young) will make you cry.

(10) Let me end with a controversial one.  Ready?  The Beatles songwriting is a bit overrated. This pains me to write. To be clear, I believe that Lennon/McCartney are one of the greatest songwriting teams in history, and many of their songs are absolutely, brilliantly, game-changing: “In My Life”, “Strawberry Fields”, “Something”, “Yesterday”, “I Am the Walrus”, etc.  The Beatles are why I wanted to be a songwriter!  HOWEVER, when you really look at it, even a superfan must admit that they had a ton of stinkers also. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, “Good Morning”, “Your Mother Should Know”, “Doctor Robert”. And the White Album is a clear example of one brilliant album spread over two records.

This is actually really encouraging to me. Whenever I think of the mythic Beatles, they become an almost fictional, inaccessible fairytale that has nothing to teach mere mortals like the rest of us. But when I remember that they were actually just four guys (extraordinarily talented, of course) who were capable of writing bad songs AND brilliant songs, then there is hope for the rest of us!

So friends, may we each each create something today. In whatever you do, find a way to breathe new life into it. Take a risk…reimagine the process…use a new tool…approach it from a new angle…or simply toss out the old and begin with a new, clean sheet of infinite possibility.  And let’s see what happens.

You may end up creating a stinker like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, of course. And it sure will be fruity. But who knows, you may stumble upon a “Hey Jude”…


Jumping into the New Year

Filed under: The Practice — 1:02 pm
Practice David room

the Chapel

Hey friends.  This Sunday night, our Practice community is diving into Practices for LIFE in the Now and Not Yet, and I’m so excited. Ridiculously excited. Nuclear-ly excited. (Annoyingly excited?) Regardless, can I tell you a bit about it?

For the next few months, we’re exploring two foundational questions: (1) What is the LIFE to the full that Jesus invites us into? (2) How can we actively align ourselves to it?  Or said simply: What is Jesus’ invitation and how do we say “yes”?  Read more here.

To do this, over the next five weeks, we’re immersing ourselves in the central prayer of the Christian faith: The Lord’s Prayer.  This Sunday night begins with a deep dive into “Our Father who art in Heaven”.  Read more here.

Holy Communion

Holy Communion

Personally, looking back, 2014 was one of the best years of my life. After a difficult and pretty dark couple years, this is no small thing.  Thanks be to God.  And much of the joy was getting to be a part of this Practice community. I love this tribe.  They are some of the most honest, humble, gutsy, sincere, intelligent, deep, and godly people I know…and it’s such an honor to be on this journey with them.

You are more than welcome to join us. Everyone is welcome.  The only requirement is a willingness to roll up our sleeves and humbly learn to put Jesus’ words into Practice. We’ve all been invited to live in God’s unforced rhythms of Grace. Will you join us?  This Sunday, 6PM, in the Willow Creek Chapel.

Grace and peace.

Table at the Center

the Table at the Center


The Beatles (part 1)

Filed under: creativity,music — 12:07 pm
The Beatles

The Beatles

The Beatles are my all-time favorite band who have influenced everything I write, sing, and play.  And recently, after a bit of a hiatus, I’ve been listening back through their albums and feel SO INSPIRED by the Beatles again.  Here a few random observations…

(1) McCartney’s bass makes a lot of good Lennon songs into great Beatles songs.  Whether it’s “Dear Prudence”, “Come Together”, or most of Sgt Pepper, Paul’s melodic, inventive bass parts carry many otherwise so-so songs.  (Really, take a moment to listen to “Dear Prudence” and imagine it with simple bass line.)

(2) Lennon sure loves tempo and time signature changes.  He jumps tempos in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, “Bungalo Bill”, “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, etc…and he loved to flip time signatures to drop/add a beat in “Good Morning”, “All You Need is Love”, “Don’t Let me Down”, etc.  Because John Lennon was both a creative genius and musically untrained, he was able to make these complicated changes seem deceptively simple.  My guess is that he was never thinking about tempo or time signatures at all…but simply following the muse.

(3) Ringo is wildly underrated.

(4) Everything is better with the clash of opposites. Like hot air meeting cold air creates tornados, Lennon’s cynical angst meeting McCartney’s cheery pop created the most important rock band of all time. Lennon (alone) gives you the rarely accessible art-rock-noise of “The Plastic Ono Band”, and McCartney (only) gives you cheesy, fruity, bubble gum like “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime” and “The Girl is Mine”. But the tension of BOTH changed the music world. One of my favorite examples is Paul’s line “It’s getting better all the time”, followed by Lennon’s line “It couldn’t get much worse”. So great.

(5) The Beatles never got too big to keep risking.  This is extremely rare and one of the keys to their musical revolution.  Many bands “discover their sound” and then spend the rest of their career re-hashing that same formula over and over…with diminishing returns.  But it’s a rare band that becomes wildly successful…AND KEEPS EXPLORING!  (U2 is another obvious example).  It reminds me of these brilliant words…

“It is common history of enterprises (band, companies, churches, etc) to begin in a state
of naive groping, stumble onto success, milk that success with a vengence and, in the process,
generate systems that arrogantly turn away from the source of their original success:  groping.”
<MacKenzie, Hairball>


Curious to hear your thoughts and reflections.  Where do you agree/disagree?  What would you add?

Part two (and probably Part three!) coming soon…


Practicing Advent

Filed under: The Practice — 3:30 pm



Things are so heavy in our world right now.  I find it both overwhelming and paralyzing.  The temptation (at least for me) is to get angry and cynical, or simply numb the pain with busyness and egg nog.  But there is a better way.

This is the great gift of ADVENT.

In December, as a Practice community, we are joining in the deep Christian tradition of ADVENTa season of deep longing, powerful hope, wise preparation, and unforced rhythms of Grace.  We’ll only gather twice, but both Sunday nights are shaping up to be pretty special…

Advent: December at The Practice

Christ’s invitation “to keep company with me and learn the unforced rhythms of Grace” is not just for us, but for the sake of the world.  For God so loves THE WORLD.  We learn to align our lives with Christ so that His love might fill us and overflow into everyone we meet.  We don’t ignore or deny the present pain – in fact, we are brokenhearted and work toward justice – but we know that death won’t have the last word.  O Come O Come Emmanuel!

Please feel free to join in any and every part of this journey.

Grace and peace,




Practicing Gratitude

Filed under: God's movement,quotes,The Practice — 7:09 am

A couple weeks ago, I got to share with The Practice why GRATITUDE may be the center of the center of following Christ.  In honor of Thanksgiving, here are those thoughts…

To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us.
And He has given us everything.  
Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.  Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God.  For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience.  And that is what makes all the difference.”  (Thomas Merton)

Jesus Christ is inviting every one of us into life to the full.  And Gratitude is the very center
of this kind of life.  Why?  Because God’s Love and Goodness is at the very center of Reality,
and Gratitude helps align us to what is most true.

N.T. Wright says “A sense of astonished gratitude is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience.”
Fr Ronald Rolheiser writes ”Sanctity has to do with gratitude. To be a saint is to be fueled by gratitude,
nothing more and nothing less.”

Meister Eckhart famously taught “If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

Gratitude aligns us with what is most true in the universe:  the Love and Abundance of God.


And together, we watched this devastatingly beautiful short film about Ed’s Story.  May it encourage and inspire you today.  Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Ed’s Story, Gratitude from Baas Creative on Vimeo.

Older Posts »