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Retreat & Conversation for Pastors, Priests, and Worship Leaders



Hello pastor, priest, and worship leader friends…

If you are exploring the intersection of ancient practices with the modern world, please join us.
If you desire to live unforced rhythms of Grace and invite your church to do the same, please join us.
If you often feel alone on this journey and long to meet others asking similar questions, please join us.

On February 14-16, The Practice Team, Fr Michael Sparough SJ, and Jonathan Martin are hosting a small retreat & conversation for pastors, priests, and worship leaders who don’t just want to exhaust themselves building church programs, but who deeply desire to learn how to align their lives and communities with the eternal, redemptive rhythms of God. We’ll practice together (guided masterfully in a half day retreat by Fr Michael Sparough SJ), engage meaningful conversation (lead by The Practice Team), gather around the communion table (pastored by Jonathan Martin), and spend all of Tuesday morning dreaming about how to tangibly invite our church communities into these unforced rhythms of Grace.

The Story, Details, and Registration

Finally, if you need any more motivation, Chicago is BEAUTIFUL in February. (That is a lie.)

Grace and peace to you all,


Should worship be only about God and me?

Filed under: Discipleship,worship — 4:10 pm

I love the conversation that Missio Alliance — a network churches connecting around a theology and practice of mission — is curating these days for the sake of the world. They are thoughtful, diverse, bold, and completely committed to joining God’s mission of redeeming and restoring of all things. If you’re exploring the intersection of theology and mission, definitely check out their website and get connected.

the cross2

Today, I got to write for their blog and share something I’ve been thinking about for a long time: Should worship be only about God and me?  Here’s the post…

It recently occurred to me that 95% of modern worship music is about God or about me. We largely sing about who God is (“Good Good Father”), what God has done for me (“This is Amazing Grace”), and what I’m going to do for God (“The Stand”). I affirm all three of these postures as deeply good and necessary.

However, Jesus didn’t only teach about God and me. Much of Jesus’ teachings were about how we treat one another and how we treat “the other.” In fact, Jesus directly tied our love for God to our love for others, and directly linked God’s forgiveness for us with our forgiveness of others. (Matt 6:15) Notice how much of his most famous sermon (on the mount) explores how we treat those inside and outside of our community, rather than our own relationship with God. We find this all over the scriptures (the laws of Moses, Paul’s letters, etc). God seems intent on creating a holy people, not just billions of holy individuals. Much of what it means to follow God in the way of Christ has to do with how we treat each other.

Yet we come together each Sunday and sing individualistic songs to our personal God. We all stand facing the same way (rather than toward each other), dim the lights (so we’re not distracted by seeing each other), and have a deeply personal, one-on-one experience with our Creator…

Read the whole post here.



Too much Bono in the church?

Filed under: church,Discipleship,music,worship — 9:30 am

About ten years ago, I wrote a piece called “Everything I Know about Worship Leading I Learned from an Irish Rock Star“.  But after seeing U2 last week in Chicago, I no longer agree with what I wrote. Let me explain…

The concert was incredible. I’ve seen U2 over a dozen times, and the first half of last week’s show was one of my favorite performances yet. (The second half felt a little tired.)  Bono’s voice was in top form, and the journey they took us on was powerfully stunning. I loved it and am already looking forward to their next tour.

U2 Chicago 07.02.15

U2 – Chicago 07.02.15

But as I marveled at Bono’s ability to create such an epic worship experience, it occurred to me that this anthemic, euphoric, cathartic, euphoria is the perfect model for a traveling rock show, but a potentially unhelpful model for weekly church. And yet so many worship leaders–myself included–have been trying to emulate this mountaintop experience every Sunday morning for years: “Did people lift their hands in the air? Did they sing loudly? Did they have a deeply authentic emotional experience?”  These questions, learned from traveling rock stars, have come to define so much of the current Christian worship culture.

Why might this be a problem?

Disney World is a wonderful place to visit, but would be a strange place to live. And an extravagant, 12 course meal is great for an anniversary celebration, but would be impossible to replicate every night.
In the same way, I’m becoming convinced that the rock concert worship event is wonderful in small doses, but dangerous when it becomes normative. A few reflections…

First, mountaintop experiences are not the entirety of the Christian life. And if our worship mis-communicates that this is what everyone should be feeling all the time, we do a huge disservice to people who are currently in the valley or will be in the valley…which is everyone. There’s a reason the Psalms include celebration, lament, anger, joy, dancing, and doubt.

Second, a steady diet of rock concert worship doesn’t teach us how to engage 99.9% of real life, which is not spectacular or very entertaining, and often involves quiet, awkwardness, and less-than-spectacular people. Reality is gloriously diverse. A worship culture that doesn’t equip and propel us to find God in every moment of life is not a gift…and much too narrow to form well-balanced people.

Third, a pressure to be spectacular can be crushing to worship leaders, pastors, and everyone involved. Every Sunday can’t be the Super Bowl. And trying to create epic experiences every week often leads to burnout (everything needs to be bigger and better than last week) and eventual disappointment (no church has the resources of U2).  Check out Ian Cron’s words about this.

Fourth, if left unchecked, this form of worship can form shallow worshipers–because always getting what we want, like, and enjoy has unintended consequences that can keep us from certain depths. We often learn best when outside of our comfort zone. Furthermore, God often speaks in a whisper, and constant over-stimulation can actually distract us from what God is trying to say and do in the moment. Sometimes a simple and quiet space is the biggest gift we can offer.

U2 live

U2 live

So can worship leaders learn from Bono? Absolutely! We have SO much to learn from him that will benefit the church and world. But let’s also learn from poets and parish priests, therapists and theologians, praying grandparents and passionate 2nd grade teachers, spiritual directors and singers of the old spirituals. The Kingdom of God is infinitely high and wide and near and deep and mysterious and closer than the air we breathe. May our worship help us to humbly embrace it all.

Grace and peace,


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?



Learning to Be Peacemakers in Israel and Palestine

Filed under: Discipleship,Palestine / Israel — 1:57 pm
Lynne Hybels

Lynne Hybels

This Saturday morning was the first official Israel/Palestine “learning community” at Willow Creek. We set out 300 chairs, not knowing if people would come, and over 650 showed up. It was a stunning, powerful, fascinating, heartbreaking, and inspiring three hours.

I sat in the front row and pretty much choked back tears the whole morning.

Lynne Hybels began by sharing a bit of her journey into peacemaking. She read from the beatitudes and framed the whole conversation in terms of being “a common friend” to both sides. There are few people I know who live this out more fully. Lynne finished by gently yet prophetically declaring:  “It is possible to be Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine. In fact, I believe this is the only way to be Pro-Peace. And Pro-Jesus.”  Amen and amen.

Second, Todd Deatherage (co-founder of Telos Group and friend/mentor to many of us) did the impossible: he presented a dual-narrative history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in 60 minutes. It was brilliant. Like watching a master painter with his canvas. Or like watching Obi Wan explain the force to Luke! Obviously, Todd would be the first to say that he could only give a basic sketch in such a short amount of time – the actual conflict is SO complex – but with God’s grace he attempted to offer an honest story that honors both perspectives. Such a gift. At the end, he shared a few principles for peacemaking…

Todd Deatherage

Todd Deatherage

Robi and Bassam

Robi and Bassam

Finally, we heard from two peacemakers who have lived through the unthinkable. Robi Damelin (Israeli) and Bassam Aramin (Palestinian) both lost children to the conflict. Hearing their stories broke my heart, especially as a father, and yet their commitment to peace blew me away. When tragedy strikes, most people choose to either shut down or take revenge…which only prolongs the conflict. But Robi and Bassam have chosen the way of engagement, non-violence, and reconciliation. A couple quotes…

“Revenge is never an end to the violence, only a new beginning.”  (Bassam)

“Without a grassroots movement of reconciliation, there is no hope for peace. There may be a cease-fire, but not peace.” (Robi)

I highly, highly recommend checking out what they’re doing with The Parent’s Circle.


FYI, Willow recorded this whole morning, and they are deciding the best way to make the content available. I’ll keep you posted. You’ll definitely want to see this!


Saturday morning was like pouring jet fuel onto a fire that’s been burning in me for a long time. I want to be a peacemaker. I want to give my life to the things that Jesus gave his life to…although I’m not always sure what to do. But Saturday reminded of a wise mentor’s response to the question “What do you think Jesus would do if he walked into Jerusalem today?”

After hearing the question, the 85 year old man paused for a moment…with a very intense expression…and then whispered quietly…

“If Jesus walked into Jerusalem today, he’d do now what he did then:
care for the poor, speak truth to power, and get himself killed.”


Contemplation as the Path to Peacemaking

Filed under: Discipleship,Palestine / Israel,The Practice — 4:08 pm

We’re all friends, right?  If so, can I ask for a favor?  Please take an hour this week or next and listen to this teaching from Brian Zahnd…

“Contemplation and The Way of Peace”

In light of Gaza, Ukraine, and so much of the unrest in the world, Zahnd digs deep into the question of How can we actually follow Jesus into peacemaking?  Really?  Not just hippy-dippy idealism.  Not just angry activism. But how do we become the kinds of people who can tangibly love our enemies and choose The Way of Peace?



I don’t mean to overstate here, but learning this would change the world.  Or at the very least… if I can learn this, it will change my entire life.

As a side note, Brian has spent a lot of time in Israel and Palestine, and spends quite a bit of time telling stories:  being in a bunker with his friends in Gaza…in a rocket shelter with his friends in Sderot, Israel…and with many of his Jewish, Christian, and Muslim friends in the Holy Land. If you’re looking for a first-hand, both/and perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you may find this helpful.

Jesus said: “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  Friends, many of us would call ourselves children of God, but if we’re very honest, we have not yet become peacemakers in the way of Christ.  We Christians are often known primarily for the people/things we’re against.  But there’s a more beautiful Way.


Cynicism, Idealism, and Proximate Justice

Filed under: Discipleship,life,Palestine / Israel — 9:12 am
Proximate Justice

Proximate Justice

In my early 20s, I became a cynic. I gleefully excelled in the twisted art of poking holes and always finding the worst in things. (Oh what a joy I was to be around.) And after a couple years, I assumed that I must be a fundamentally pessimistic, negative person.

But over the last decade or so – through honest friendships, plenty of therapy, and God’s grace – the “thing beneath the thing” has been coming to light. As it turns out, I’m not a cynic at all.  Not even a “glass is half empty” person. But instead…

I’m a hopeless optimist who doesn’t know how to deal with disappointment.

I can see the epic beauty of what’s possible, and this fills me with life, passion, and hope. There’s always a glorious new idea to chase around the upcoming corner.  But when reality doesn’t live up to what’s in my head and heart, I am often crushed by the disappointment.

Are there any frustrated idealists out there? Raise your hand if you’ve been hiding under cynical armor.  I see that hand. Me too.

To be honest, the last two weeks of global events have been overwhelming and depressing.  Especially the devastation in Gaza. And even though I believe that every person on earth has been invited to join God in healing and restoring the world, lately I just want to give up. Things will NEVER be completely fixed, so why keep trying?

Thankfully, one of my heroes in peacemaking shared this stunningly brilliant article called “Making Peace with Proximate Justice” by Stephen Garber.  Here’s his point…

“What keeps us going is the possibility of proximate justice—of something rather than nothing—knowing ahead of time that it will never be everything on this side of the consummation. Francis Schaeffer called this the vision and hope of substantial healing, arguing that it was the antidote to the all-or-nothing syndrome that so afflicts us, whether in the most personal parts of life, as with marriage, or the most public, as with political engagement. I really hoped, I really tried, and it didn’t work—so I’m done. His words have been a great grace to me for a long time. A person can touch and feel something that is substantial; it is real, even if it is not everything—but it is not nothing, either.”

Are you as inflicted by “the all-or-nothing syndrome” as I am?  Either my job is everything I’ve ever dreamed it can be…or I want to quit. Either my marriage is like the movies every second…or I want to bail. Either I am single-handedly bringing peace to the Middle East…or what’s the point of even trying. Right?

Please take a moment to soak in the challenging and healing words from Stephen Garber below. He has given his life to both gut-wrenching honesty AND relentless hope…or as he says “I do not know of any challenge that is more difficult than to really know the world, and still choose to love it.” We can’t give up. Honesty and hope. Leaning in with eyes and hearts wide open…

“Making Peace with Proximate Justice” by Stephen Garber





The Practice: a few reflections after our first six weeks

Filed under: Discipleship,The Practice,worship — 12:05 pm
The Practice

The Practice

Hey everyone!  Thanks for all the questions and encouragement and interest in this holy experiment we’re calling The Practice.  The last few months have honestly been one of the best seasons of my life. Not easy, of course. And really overwhelming at times. But this is the kind of adventure I want to give my life to, and an incredible team to explore with. I’m just so thankful to God.

Now that the first six weeks are done, we’re getting ready to jump into a four week exploration of the practices that help us become people of action and contemplation. But before we move ahead, can I tell you about those first six weeks?  This is a bit of our story so far…

We began with our shared desire:  We long to be a tribe who doesn’t just believe things
about Jesus, but is willing to rearrange our lives to put his words into practice.
 In order for this to be true, we believe three things must be present at the end of our 18 month experiment: Vision, Practice, and Tribe.

(1) Vision. We must begin with a ravishing view of the Kingdom of God. What did Jesus teach and invite us into? What does it look like for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven? We need to start with the Big Story.
(2) Practice. What are practical, concrete actions that help me align with God’s Kingdom among us?  What are the disciplines and habits that I can choose to put me in the flow of Grace…so that God can do in me what I could never do othe
(3) Tribe. We can’t do this alone. We need to walk and practice together.

We’ve always known that a weekly service couldn’t accomplish this on it’s own. A two-hour gathering is only 1.2% of our time and can’t compete with how we spend the rest of the week. But a service “in service” of a community practicing the way of Jesus could be quite powerful. So with this in mind, our Sunday night gathering has become very important to the journey.

Meeting most Sunday nights, 7-9pm, we have tried to turn the Willow chapel into a holy living room.  Simple, reverent, and human.  We set up the chairs in the round because we desire to become a community, and placed the Eucharist table in the very center of the room because Christ is the very center of everything. It’s simple, of course, but hopefully the space preached louder than any words.

The vibe of the gathering was…

Read the full Story of our First Six Weeks


To all my pastor friends on Holy Week

Filed under: church,Discipleship,God's movement,leadership — 7:47 am

Hi pastor friends,

It is possible to work so hard helping a community connect with God, that we wind up disconnected from God. I’ve done this many times. And so in the middle of Holy Week – often the craziest time of the year for pastors – may I share these prophetically freeing words from Dallas Willard…

“The easy yoke is to lay aside your projects and mine and to take up God’s projects.  I will say that again.
Taking the easy yoke is to lay aside your projects or my projects, which are crushing…and this is
where leaders come under intolerable pressure. It is because they are carrying their projects; they have presumed to take God’s projects and make them their projects.

“The great temptation is to try to make it happen, whatever it is.  That’s where we need to step out of
our yoke and into Jesus’ yoke and let him carry the burden.  This is true as parents, this is true as pastors,
and in every way.  We feel like we have to make it happen, and that’s what we have to lay down. We don’t make it happen.  We turn it loose.  Whatever we are doing for the Lord, we let him carry through with it.
We do our best, but we don’t trust our best.”

(Dallas Willard, Living in Christ’s Presence)


Getting the tribe together for the first time

Filed under: church,Discipleship,The Practice,worship — 11:11 am
The first night

The first night

As you know, last Sunday was the first gathering of The Practice tribe.  To watch this holy experiment begin to live and breathe in the hearts and bodies of our community was really moving.  To me, as beautiful as it was to pray and worship and practice a “divine reading” of the scriptures together, the absolute highlight was communion. Wow. I can’t stop thinking about it and can’t wait for this coming Sunday.

Our prayer is that after 18 months, every one of us would have a Vision, a Practice, and a Tribe…

•A Vision of the Kingdom of God – the redemptive Movement of God on this earth and
His invitation for each of us to join Him.
•A set of Practices, or rule of life, that help us daily align with God’s Movement
•A Tribe of people who are walking and practicing together in Jesus name.

Vision / Practice / Tribe

To learn more and be a part of this journey, please visit us at PRACTICETRIBE.COM.

Every Monday morning, we will post the week’s Kingdom Practice on our blog. We believe that gathering
on Sunday nights is only helpful if it launches us to PRACTICE the way of Jesus for the rest of our week.
Sunday night is not the main event, but simply a springboard into where the actual
holy work happens: Our real lives.

So please practice with us!  This first week we’re diving into the ancient practice of Lectio Divina.  On our blog, you’ll find a short explanation, some simple coaching, and the specific texts we’ll all be engaging.  You don’t need to attend with us in order to practice with us.

Let’s learn the unforced rhythms of Grace.


Setting up for The Practice

Filed under: A New Liturgy,Discipleship,The Practice — 6:14 pm
The Chapel

The Willow Chapel

So excited.  We spent yesterday setting up the Willow chapel in preparation for our first gathering of The Practice this Sunday night.  I can’t possibly convey how much we’re looking forward to this new adventure.

Our goal for the chapel is to help it feel like a holy living room.  Simple, reverent, and human.  The chairs are set up in the round because we long to become a tribe together, and the Eucharist table is in the very center of the room because we know that Christ is the very center of everything.  It’s simple, but hopefully the room will preach louder than any words.

Becky and I even had the chance to run through some of the opening liturgy.  Friends, we can’t wait to dive into this with you.

T minus three days…


Solitude and Community

Filed under: Discipleship,God's movement — 10:45 am

Life Together

Life Together

On a retreat this weekend, we wrestled with these words…

“Let them who cannot be alone beware of community.  He will only do harm to himself and to the community… But the reverse is also true: Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.  Only as we are within the fellowship can we be alone, and only he that is alone can live in the fellowship.  Only in the fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship.  It is not as though the one preceded the other;  both begin at the same time, namely, with the call of Jesus Christ.”  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together)

Most of us lean strongly one way or the other, which is why these words are so challenging.  But even for me – an introvert who often seeks out solitude at the expense of deep connection with others – Bonhoeffer’s words ring true.  In terms of spiritual health, it really is both or neither.

What about you?  Where do you naturally lean and what would it look like to embrace both?

“Each by itself (solitude and community) has profound pitfalls and perils,” Bonhoeffer goes on to say.  “One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feeling, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.”


NT Wright’s advice for every Christian

Filed under: Discipleship,God's movement — 7:57 pm

Apparently, whenever someone asks NT Wright for advice about how to go deeper, he gives the same advice. Brilliant and so simple…

Scripture, prayer, the sacraments, and listening to the poor.  This resonates with me deeply, and yet is quite challenging.  The one thing I would add, however, is community.  None of us can do it alone.

I also love how Wright places these age-old practices squarely in the NEW thing God wants to do in and through us TODAY.  Such a hopeful and forward-looking embrace of our traditions.

Do his words connect with you?  Why or why not?


The Next Right Step

Filed under: church,Discipleship,God's movement — 2:38 pm

The last minute of this video is stunning in it’s simplicity and beauty.  (Starting at 4:57)

Apparently someone asked Dallas Willard “If a person wants to grow spiritually, where should they start? Read the bible? Go to church?”

Dallas’ answer was amazing:  “Do the next right thing you know you need to do.”  He explains…

“Doing the next right thing is what God wants you to do.  Now when you try that, you might wind up going to church, because you’re going to need some help.  Nothing will drive you into the Kingdom of God like trying to do the next right thing…because you will need help, and you will get it, because that’s where God is.”

First, I am struck by how much confidence Dallas has in God. He is confident that God is already working to help you know what you need to do. And he is confident that God will always give you the help you need, because that’s where God is.

These are stunning declarations of faith in the Goodness and present Grace of God. I wish I lived with that kind of faith.

Second, it makes me ask the obvious question: “What is the next right thing I know I need to do?” But rather than sharing mine, may I extend the question to you…

What is the next right thing you know you need to do?
And in the next seven days, will you take one step in that direction?

In this together,

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