Reimaging Spiritual Formation Needs Community: A Week in the Life of an Experimental Church


An insider's look into the spiritual lives of four members of an emerging church during one week's worth of experiences in an experimental church. This insider's view takes place at Solomon's Porch, a unique congregation led by emerging church pastor--and author of this book--Doug Pagitt. The stories are told from the first person point of view, and Doug rounds things out with overarching perspectives in each chapter. The four narrators boldly and honestly share the inner workings of their hearts and souls as ...
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An insider's look into the spiritual lives of four members of an emerging church during one week's worth of experiences in an experimental church. This insider's view takes place at Solomon's Porch, a unique congregation led by emerging church pastor--and author of this book--Doug Pagitt. The stories are told from the first person point of view, and Doug rounds things out with overarching perspectives in each chapter. The four narrators boldly and honestly share the inner workings of their hearts and souls as they experience spiritual triumphs and failures in the context of the church's activities and their own lives as well.
Reimagining Spiritual Formation goes beyond the lofty, theoretical notions of spiritual formation to reveal the nitty-gritty of how spiritual development works in the real world. Rather than attempting to prescribe what others should do, the book describes actual experiences and events, letting readers draw their own conclusions.

Author Biography: Doug Pagitt is senior pastor of Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Formerly he was director of the Young Leader Networks for Leadership Network as well as a staff pastor at Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Doug is also a senior fellow of Emergent and serves on the emergentYS board.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780310256878
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Publication date: 1/23/2004
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 7.34 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 0.48 (d)

Table of Contents

Prologue: The Story of the Book 11
Introduction to the Journals 15
We Dream of a Church Where... 17
Ch. 1 A New Approach for a New Age 19
Ch. 2 An Uncertain Future 37
Ch. 3 Spiritual Formation Through Worship (Sunday) 49
Ch. 4 Spiritual Formation Through Physicality (Monday) 67
Ch. 5 Spiritual Formation Through Dialogue (Tuesday) 85
Ch. 6 Spiritual Formation Through Hospitality (Wednesday) 101
Ch. 7 Spiritual Formation Through Belief (Thursday) 113
Ch. 8 Spiritual Formation Through Creativity (Friday) 127
Ch. 9 Spiritual Formation Through Service (Saturday) 143
Ch. 10 Experimentation and the Long Haul 157
Photo Credits 163
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First Chapter

Reimagining Spiritual Formation

A Week in the Life of an Experimental Church
By Doug Pagitt


Copyright © 2004 emergentYS
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-310-25687-9

Chapter One


Welcome to Solomon's Porch. It is truly an honor to invite you into a week in the life of our community. We hope you will be our guest and find friends and kindred spirits with whom you can journey in the pursuit of life in harmony with God.

Let me make a few clarifications from the beginning. The intention of this book is not to tell you how you can have an effective church in the 21st century. I'm not laying out a how-to guide for reaching "target audiences." I won't even try to convince you that you'd be better off having a church with the practices, intentions, and values of Solomon's Porch. My desire in writing this book is to provide a descriptive glimpse at the efforts of our emerging community on the chance that you will find our story useful as you seek dreams of your own.

This book is more about our community's honest longings and efforts than our accomplishments and results. It is a collection of the hopes and aspirations of a people trying. Our efforts to arrange our lives around communal spiritual formation are, at times, awkward and pathetic. Yet at other times, they are wonderfully forward-leaning and pull us toward God in ways we neveranticipated. They are nearly always sincere attempts toward sustainable Christian spiritual formation utilizing practices that extend beyond the education model of Christian discipleship.

Maybe like me you're wondering why I'd write a book when so much of this is in the experimental stage. I've spent many hours struggling with the idea of "selling" what I think of as a vision for Christian community that is God's to give, not mine. What's pulled me through is my belief that there are wonderful people-pastors, teachers, lay leaders, new Christians, lifelong Christians-who are not interested in a model program or approach to spirituality, but are searching the stories of others to find permission to pursue their own deeply held, unspoken intuitions about how faith and church could be. In some ways this book is an act of poetry; it is an attempt to put words around our experiences and desires to allow others to step inside.

In an ideal world this would be a two-way conversation. We would be mutually inspired by sharing our stories, visiting each other's faith communities, eating in each other's homes, and discovering the details of each other's lives. In reality, of course, we have few options beyond visiting Web sites, reading books, and meeting one another at the occasional "New Church Trends" conference. But I hope that this book will inspire you to seek face-to-face conversations with other searchers as you seek ways to make your own dreams of faith become reality.

* * *


If you need a picture of me in your head, go with a mix of the depressed Charlie Brown, Lucy at her advice kiosk, Linus doing his philosophy, and of course, Snoopy dancing in the Christmas pageant. Then picture this Charlucysnoopynus person holding two children, leaning on my wife, and smiling from ear to ear. That's me, Jim Barnhill.

I'm 35 and the father to my incredibly gifted daughter Emily Rose, age 6, and to my unbelievably good-natured son Isaac, age 2. I've been married to the love of my life, Carla Marie Grover Barnhill, for 10 years.

We're all shaped by our world. The influences in my life include an atheistic best friend who taught me to think and to care for the underdog, an older sister who taught me how to treat women, and living in Christian community.

But the greatest impact in my life has clearly come from living in a dysfunctional family. My parents' conflict-filled relationship created in me both an intense need to understand myself and other's behavior and a powerful, dare I say codependent, need to help people who are hurting emotionally. So the plot of my life seems obvious: having watched two people I love dearly inflict pain on each other for so long, I have devoted my life to healing myself, being the best husband and father I can be, and helping others deal with their own pain. The bummer in all this is that I am often insufferably serious and yet I have the heart of a seven-year-old. Despite my tortured side, I am the most real when I am playing Barbies with my children, arguing with my wife in the form of show tunes, or singing my diaper-changing song to the Music Man tune "Trouble in River City."

In the midst of all this, I have sought desperately for the God who can account for this world of pain and heal it-and, frankly, me too. My upbringing in the United Methodist Church grounded me in the Christian faith, allowed room for doubts, and clearly emphasized that loving others is the way of Jesus Christ. In college, popular beliefs challenged my faith. It was hard to counter my non-Christian friends' charge that "all beliefs are relative." I turned toward evangelical groups that projected a strong sense of confidence, but any doubts I expressed were always brushed off glibly.

I needed answers, so, after leaving UNC-Chapel Hill with a BA in Psychology, I decided to study theology at Fuller Seminary. In seminary, however, I unexpectedly began a spiritual depression: too many different "answers" offered over the centuries to the toughest questions told me that finding the ONE undeniable and indubitable faith was impossible.

Devastated, I decided that I could not serve as a pastor. Since then I have used my pastoral gifts outside of the church in child protection, mentoring programs, and now as a high school special education teacher to students with emotional and behavior disorders.

What saved my faith during this time? A handful of postmodern theologians convinced me that the Christian faith did not need to be justified by "rational" modern scientific criteria to be believable. I came to understand the faith not just as doctrines to be believed but as a way of life to be lived. The all-powerful god who intervenes in the world just for some gave way to the all-loving God who suffers with and for us all.

In Glen Ellyn, Illinois, I began attending St. Barnabas Episcopal Church and learned how high-church liturgical worship can powerfully change us.

Finally, a move to Minnesota led me to Solomon's Porch where I was attracted by its postmodern expression of the faith. So here I am, trying to be faithful, trying to experience the allloving God that is found in Christian communities who live with and for one another, the God who walks among those who suffer.

I hope something in this book helps you along the way.

* * *


This book will bring you into our community and our life. You will meet our people through journal entries, hear stories from each day of the week, and be invited behind the scenes to see how we are trying to live. First, though, let me explain what lies behind much of the design and practices of our community. In some ways this book is not about the 21st century, it is about the 1880s and the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution.

Beginning with the Industrial Revolution, innovations in travel, communication, and science have changed the way we define community and live in it. Incredible advances in medicine have made life possible where once there was only death. These shifts have changed the way we think about what it means to share our lives with others and how we measure the value of life. We have revolutionized how we live and nearly all that we believe, know, and understand- but much of the thinking and practices of Christianity have stubbornly stayed the same.

It seems to me that our post-industrial times require us to ask new questions, questions that people 100 years ago would have never thought needed asking. Could it be that our answers will move us to reimagine the way of Christianity in our world? Perhaps we as Christians today are not only to consider what it means to be a 21st century church, but also-and perhaps more importantly-what it means to have a 21st century faith. The answers to all these questions will have an impact on how our faith communities are structured, what we do in those communities, and the practices we utilize for spiritual formation. They bear on how we experience community in daily life, how we relate to others, our faith and beyond, and even how we understand the gospel itself.

Perhaps most importantly for our conversation in this book, these changes call us to rethink the value of the education model in spiritual formation. The heartbeat of our efforts within Solomon's Porch is to pursue a way of life in harmony with God created from means extending far beyond what educational formation can provide. I do not intend to spend time discussing the failings of the education model, but rather to lean into the future with descriptions of our practices, some tried and true, and some experimental.


One notion we are seeking to reimagine is the whole concept of spiritual formation-how people become Christian and live in faith. In the 19th century it was believed that the most effective way to deepen a person's spiritual life was to increase her knowledge about God. People behaved-and still behave-as though the spiritual part of a person is a separate component that can be worked on and developed in isolation from the rest of the person. This approach has been refined with great fervor over the last 100 years and in some ways has just recently hit its stride.

Our efforts are built upon the assumption that we are able to imagine and create something of greater beauty and usefulness if we move away from speaking of spiritual life in dualistic tones, as if the spiritual part of a person is a separate component that can be worked on and developed in isolation from the rest of the person. We are working with a view of spiritual formation in which we forget about working on a part of a person's life, and instead work with people as if there is no distinction between the spiritual, emotional, physical, social, professional, and private aspects of life. We hope the result of this vision of human formation will be a move toward a place where we focus on the holistic formation of people who are in harmony with God in all arenas of life, and who seek to live in the way of Jesus in every relationship, every situation, every moment.


There could certainly be an argument made that Christianity is doing fine and that we are not in need of this radical reimagining. It is possible that the way forward centers on the church improving its current approach of education- based spiritual formation. Perhaps all we need is better curriculum and better training for our pastors and teachers. Perhaps we need to make a clearer call for the basics of the faith and be sure that people are well-grounded in their beliefs. Perhaps the church is actually positioned quite well in the post-industrial world and, with some fresh models of teaching and learning, will do just fine.

Perhaps, but I think not, or at least not for us. We join with the many people, professional and lay, who have suggested in writings, conversations, prayers, and pleadings that the Christian Church has not lived up to its potential or calling in the post-industrialized world, but that it could. Maybe there is something to the critique that the church is marginalized in the world to such a degree that the marks of a "successful" church have been reduced to tangible evidence such as size, market share, political influence, healthy budgets, and the creation of model citizens living the American Dream. This marginalization is not due to the Church's poor use of marketing techniques or lack of effort in discipleship. Rather, I've become convinced that our misguided belief that life change can come through proper knowledge acquired through education has failed to produce the kind of radical commitment to life in harmony with God in the way of Jesus that we are called to. When the realities of life crash into our knowledge of God, faith is often the prime casualty. Doesn't the role of communities of faith need to include more than making converts and educating people in right belief? Doesn't it need to also make possible corporate and personal lives lived in harmony with God? I am not suggesting that churches have not sought this holistic approach to faith in other times, but I do believe that the knowledge-based spiritual formation of the 20th century has so reduced the call of Jesus to right belief that many become confused about why mere profession of belief does not bring about life change.

* * *


Hey, sugar. I'm Erin. Let me tell you a bit about myself. I'm 5'5", 115 lbs., brown hair, hazel eyes. I was born under the sign of Taurus, but I'm more like a Scorpio. I like snuggling by the fire, long walks on the beach, and reading love poetry by candlelight. So now that you know about me, I want to hear about you. Oh, the strong silent type, are you? I guess I'll have to take this bull by the horns and start from the beginning.

I was born into a huge blessed Irish Catholic family in South Dakota. I attended Catholic grade schools. My 4 younger siblings and I were raised by my parents and the dozens of aunts, uncles, and grandparents that lived nearby. After multiple moves, my family settled in St. Cloud, Minnesota, when I was in fourth grade. We attended a stoic German Catholic church. My parents taught confirmation, sang in the choir, and tried to be involved. "Try" was all they could do-many people in the church wouldn't even acknowledge a family that hadn't been coming to the church for 10 years.

Luckily for me, the youth of the church were slightly more accepting. I was very involved in church in high school, one of many reasons why I was labeled a nerd. Other high school activities that pay tribute to my nerdiness: Math League, Future Problem Solving, SADD, Honor Society, band, choir, chamber singers, and orchestra. I was just athletic enough to not get beaten up before I graduated in 1995.

I squandered several years at Concordia College testing out six different majors. (Sorry, Mom and Dad. When I'm a doctor, I'll be able to pay back all the money I wasted tenfold.) I finally chose a major that I could stick to, the Classics (Greek and Latin), after studying in Greece my junior year. After returning from Greece, I transferred to the University of Minnesota. I've lived in Minneapolis ever since.

In college I went to church for various reasons. At Concordia, I got paid to sing in a church choir. In Greece, I wanted to see how culture affected religion. When I got back from Greece, I was agnostic, but still went to church because it felt like it was something I should do.


Excerpted from Reimagining Spiritual Formation by Doug Pagitt Copyright © 2004 by emergentYS. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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