Module 3: Christian Practices

In this module, you will learn about practices and examples of practices. That will prepare you for our gathered summit where you will brainstorm about ways that Christian practices can help you respond to the people entrusted to your care.

Welcome to the third module as we prepare to work together toward innovation.

Before we continue, here’s a quick reminder: If you haven’t done so yet, please submit your Listening Report TODAY. Here are the assignment instructions pasted from Module 2:

Listening Report

To help us tailor the summit to your team’s needs, please send a “listening report” to Jessie ( This email report should consist of two things:

A note in the body of the email about how many interviews your team completed.
Attach a summary of one of your interviews.

This listening report is due on the day you meet together for Module 3.

Now, back to Module 3…

Last week, we learned that we need to create shared stories of future hope that make spiritual sense of the longings and losses of the people entrusted to our care.   We composed five questions to help us do just that.

  1. Who are the people entrusted to your care?
  2. How do those people experience the longings and losses that make up the human condition?
  3. What Big Lie do your people believe that prevents them from hearing the gospel?
  4. How do you make spiritual sense of those longings and losses?
  5. How do you express that spiritual meaning as a shared story of future hope?

The next step for us requires us to return to the basic problem we are trying to solve.  We know that the church as we know it is calibrated for a world that does not exist.  That’s why we need innovation.

So, let us phrase the task of innovation in the form of a question, “How to maintain a rock-solid commitment to the never-changing Christian gospel, while developing an innovative attitude for presenting that gospel to our ever-changing people?”

In the first module, you listened to the longings and losses (and the Big Lies) of the people entrusted to your care.  That is how we will stay connected to our ever-changing people.  But we still need to answer questions four and five.  We need a way to make spiritual sense of those longings and losses – and we need to do it in a way that guarantees that we will stay anchored in the never changing Christian gospel.

That will require us to learn about Christian practices.  These practices have been part of the faith for thousands of years.  Yet the form of the practices has changed over time.  That’s what we need. Something whose form can change but whose content remains the same.

So, in this module, you will learn about practices, and then we will give you some examples of practices.  That will prepare you for our gathered summit where you will brainstorm about ways that Christian practices can help you respond to what you heard when you listened to the people entrusted to your care.


Watch the video.


Discuss the following questions:
  • What do you think of the idea of practices?
  • Can you think of examples of Christian practices? Make a list
  • How is each one historically-rooted and an end unto itself?
  • Can you think of any way that each one has changed over time?

Now let’s look at three practices: Vocation, Hospitality, and Lament.

Practice 1: Vocation

Read this handout on Vocation: Vocation

If you have access to YouTube, watch this video of the Pixar short called “Tin Toy”:

Discuss the following:
  • Do you believe that all Christians have callings, and not just ministers?
    If so, can you name any people who have vocations outside of church?
  • In the Pixar short, the Tin Toy exists to entertain children, but he decides that this particular child is entrusted to his care (it’s his calling). What is the difference between why we exist and what we are called to do?
  • In two examples, at the end of the written piece, we have stories of dads who discovered that they needed to be who their children needed them to be – and not who they had expected to be. Discuss how callings often require us to become who we did not plan to be.

Practice 2: Hospitality

Now let’s look at another practice – the practice of hospitality.

Read the attached handout on Hospitality: Reinventing Hospitality

Discuss the following:
  • How is this explanation of hospitality similar or different from how hospitality is practiced in your congregation?
  • A key insight of this article is that hospitality is about treating outsiders as insiders. Who are the outsiders and the insiders in your context?  And, how does that change how you think about the people entrusted to your care?
  • Another insight is that hospitality involves sharing with outsiders the privileges that come with being an insider. What are some of the privileges that you or others in your congregation have as insiders?  And, what would it look like to share those privileges with outsiders?

Practice 3: Lament

Now let’s look at the Christian practice of lament.

Start by watching this video.

The video mentioned a youth pastor who taught her middle-schoolers about lament.  Read her story (below) and answer the following questions:

  • When and where does your congregation practice lament?
  • Do you really believe that “God can handle your honesty”?
  • If you are listening for losses as well as longings, and if the appropriate biblical response to loss is lament, think back on the stories you have been hearing in your congregation (perhaps you can list them) and think of ways that your people might have something pointed to say to or about God.
  • Look at Erica’s example (below). What do you think of her use of a Mad Libs structure to get young people to lament?
  • Are there other practices that you think might benefit from a Mad Libs structure?
Erica’s Story

Erica is a youth pastor at an Anglican Church in Florida. In 2017, she came to Pasadena as part of a cohort of pastors who wanted to learn about youth ministry innovation.  The project was sponsored by the Fuller Youth Institute.  She and her cohort did an online course before they came to California.  In it, they learned about meaning-making innovation.  They learned about the importance of listening to the longings and losses of the people entrusted to their care.   They learned about reinventing practices in order to make spiritual sense of those longings and losses.  And they learned about the Christian innovation process that combines Practical Theology with Human-Centered Design.  She also read through this chapter’s example of how to use lament with young people.

When she came to California to spend three days working an intensive version of the innovation process, Erica decided that she wanted to focus on lament, specifically she wanted to engage middle-school students in lament.

Before coming to California, she and her team spent hours engaged in Empathetic Listening.  They meet regularly with young people over frozen yogurt and at ball games.  She listened to them talk about the things that kept them awake at night – things like “homework, fitting in, school stress, sports performance, family dysfunction, and conditional acceptance.”[i]  She summarized all those anxieties around one question: “Am I valuable?”  And she decided that she wanted her teens to experience “grace-based identity.”  As she put it, it is about “being known and loved anyway” because that kind of authenticity is “liberating, increases boldness, and provides honest connection.”  She wanted her students to be able to be completely honest with God.

While in California, she worked through the innovation process.  She and her ministry partner filled out many, many Post-It notes with divergent ideas.  They went all over the place. She thought about how she might use the Book of Common Prayer because she is at an Anglican church.  She thought about how she might use songs – including secular, contemporary songs – to express the angst and anxiety that teenagers feel.  And she realized that, if possible, she “wanted to create something physical to symbolize and assist the movement through lament.” And she wanted it all to happen in community.  These ideas were the product of her Divergent Ideation.

Then, she had to narrow these options down.  This is what we have called Convergent Deciding.  She and her partner decided that they would do two things.  They would, over the course of ten weeks, teach these middle-schoolers to lament.  And, second, she would try to build on the church grounds a labyrinth so that the teenagers had a place to walk – a place to contain – their lamenting.

She then created a prototype.  In this case, she did three things.  First, she wrote a simple lament, using almost a Mad Libs style for each of the components of a lament:

  • God, I don’t understand _______________
  • God, please fix ______________________
  • God, I trust you with my future even if ________________
  • God, I will praise you even when _____________________

Second, she mapped out a labyrinth on a piece of paper.  She eventually wanted to create something more permanent.  But for her initial testing, she chalked out a labyrinth in the church parking lot.  And, third, she roughed out what ten weeks of lessons and practicing lament might look like.  She knew she wanted an older adult from the congregation to come to tell stories. And she knew that she wanted to teach about Psalm 22, Psalm 42, and Lamentations.  She brainstormed song lyrics.  She laid out how the teens would start by lamenting for things outside themselves and then, as the weeks progressed, lament about things that were more personal.  And, she decided that it would be important to have a parent’s night halfway through in order to assess what was happening.

Eventually, she decided it was time to test her ideas.  She got together with a couple of middle school girls.  She talked them through Psalm 22 in order to learn about lament.  And she walked them through the Mad Libs version of their laments.  And then she asked the young women what they thought.  “I used to think we had to be nice to God,” one of them said, “But now I know I can be really honest with God.”  Another said, “It’s hard to see how love and anger can go together.” But she eventually got it. “I see it better now,” she concluded, “I see how trusting someone even in anger makes a deeper relationship.”  This beta-test of Erica’s lament project told her the time was almost right to pursue the full project. She did, however, add one preliminary step.

Before initiating the Lament Project in the fall of 2018, Erica engaged in what she called “empathy training” for church leaders, then parents, and eventually the whole congregation.  She started by training the adult volunteers who worked with her small youth group.  The volunteers gathered for a one-day retreat designed to cultivate their capacity for empathy.  They began the day by focusing on lament.  She asked each person to think back to her/his own experience of middle school.  Each person named their middle school longings and especially their losses.  And then they engaged in group lament expressing their own adolescent pain.

Then the volunteers at the retreat focused on learning to “walk alongside” a young person.  They used this image of “alongside” as a way to describe “listening with” and they did it because the metaphor fit so well with the movement that happens when walking a labyrinth.  She showed the group a Brene Brown video on empathy that had been part of the training we gave her.[ii]  And the group processed it together.  They then talked about how to create a holding environment for young people.[iii]  And they emphasized the idea that we discussed earlier that, “Empathy cannot want control.”  And, finally, they discussed eminently practical ideas, such as, “Every time you want to speak as you listen, take a sip of water,” and “Stop yourself from saying, ‘Yeah, but…’”  Once they had completed the empathy training, Erica was ready to purse the full project.

The project itself began with the middle-schoolers meeting on a Sunday night.  The first week Erica asked them to come up with lyrics from songs they know that expressed loss, or anger, or whatever else they might be feeling.  The young people pointed to Christian songs and to secular songs.  That first week, Erica also brought in a storyteller from the community so that the teens could hear about the power of stories – including their own story.  The storyteller told them about Psalm 22, Psalm 42, Job, and Lamentations.  Then, in the second week, the group listed together issues that they thought were lamentable and they replaced lines from the song lyrics they discussed the previous week in order to express their pain.  During the third week, they wrote and recited together a group lament on the topic of their choosing, using the Mad Libs format.  The fifth week’s meeting was Parents’ Night.  The parents came to learn about lament and participated as each teen used the lament structure to write about something that was happening with a friend.  During the teaching portion of the evening, Erica reminded the parents and teens that sometimes they might want to lament about something for which they themselves were partially responsible.  In other words, they might make confession part of lament.  In the sixth week, they did a group assessment (more listening) to see how the young people were experiencing the process.  And then for the seventh, eighth, and ninth weeks, they allowed each young person write and pray her own lament. And, finally, for the tenth week, they wrapped up the experiment.  And after ten weeks, the middle-schoolers had a habit of lamenting.

After Erica took up the project, something surprising happened. The adults in the congregation heard about what was going on.  And they asked to be a part of it.  She currently has plans to preach about lament and to prepare them to walk the lamenting labyrinth as part of a Lenten reflection.