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: 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…
Grace and peace,