Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Districts work at church renewal through Springs initiative.

The "Springs of Living Water" church renewal initiative is entering into its fifth year. The initiative is the work of ordained minister David S. Young and his wife, Joan, who are members of Lancaster (Pa.) Church of the Brethren.

Three Church of the Brethren districts currently are engaged in Springs of Living Water, in an effort to bring renewal to existing congregations: Northern Ohio District, where congregational renewal teams attended training at Camp Inspiration Hills on Oct. 31; Shenandoah District, which on Jan. 16 plans training for its second cluster of churches taking part in the process; and Western Pennsylvania District, where 21 churches are taking part and a first training experience was held in September.

The initiative "came out of deep prayer and years of experience," David Young said in a telephone interview. It grew out of his doctor of ministry project at Bethany Seminary, which was based on the Gospel of John. At the time, Young was pastoring Bush Creek Church of the Brethren in Monrovia, Md., where he began the work of revitalization with an emphasis on spiritual growth. He also helped the congregation work on the biblical concept of servant leadership, and experienced the process of a renewal team working with the pastor to guide the church's work.

Then Young was invited to put together a renewal program for American Baptist congregations. Over the years he also connected with the Renovaré spiritual disciplines movement led by Richard J. Foster, and the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership founded by Robert K. Greenleaf.

For Baptists, the image of renewal was fire and the program was named "Rekindle" ("They have a bit more fire than we do," he commented with a chuckle). But during a prayer retreat five years ago this Advent, he received the image of a spring bubbling up to represent renewal among Brethren, using John 4:14. He had been praying about how his own denomination could be revitalized--a primary concern that has motivated his work ever since.

"If we wonder if Brethren can (experience renewal), yes!" he said. "The Brethren have something very unique to offer. When we talk about servant leadership, no one understands that better than we do. Among the Brethren, our best model of leadership is the foot tub."

The Springs concept focuses on the centrality of Christ for congregational renewal, discernment of congregational strengths, and the idea that each congregation will have its own approach. The initiative provides a framework for each church to develop a mission plan "out of an assessment process carried out by the congregation itself," Joan Young explained. Other key elements are the deliberate practice of spiritual disciplines by the entire church, and servant leadership--or the willingness of leaders to welcome involvement by each person in the congregation.

Congregations follow a four-year process that includes forming a renewal team, implementing spiritual disciplines, holding gatherings to build energy among church members and to look at their strengths and where God may be leading, studying the ministry context combined with studying scripture to find a key biblical text for each church, developing a specific mission in each congregation, forming clusters of congregations to walk alongside each other in the process, participating in district gatherings, and sending leaders to training events and spiritual retreats.

What does a renewed congregation look like? "We want the output to be maturing, growing Christians," David Young said. The ultimate goal is for a congregation to enter into a spiritual path as a body, he said. "We need our churches to really give attention to their spiritual development." As by-products, he has witnessed congregations becoming more upbeat, has seen relationships improve within congregations, and often has seen people show a greater willingness to participate in church ministries.

"To see the church shaped as a body of disciples" is the goal of the Springs work, in Joan Young’s words. She emphasized the way spirituality and being in mission together make for a healthy direction in a congregation.

It is this particular combination--spiritual growth, Christ-centeredness, biblical guidance, working together as a body, servant leadership, and emphasis on mission--that makes the Springs initiative "so Brethren," David Young said.

The Springs initiative is "coloring outside the lines denominationally," said Northern Ohio District executive minister John Ballinger. "It’s been a blessing. It has brought hope and vitality. When folks leave the Springs meetings, they are excited."

A Shenandoah District report highlighted the experience of Mount Pleasant Church of the Brethren in Harrisonburg, Va., a congregation of less than 100 people. "We knew we were ready to move forward spiritually and however else God decided for us," the report said. "Our Leadership Team, now known as the ‘Bucket Team,’ whose purpose is to draw in what is good and pour out blessings, has been swimming deeply to meet the challenge of leading the congregation through this process of growth."

To begin, Mount Pleasant spent several months hearing sermons and reading scriptures about the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. The sermon series inspired a daily devotion on a Facebook page, which spilled over into discussions in a young adult class, and in turn led to a new Friday night discussion group. "The Bucket Team is searching for ways to increase the fire and make this process a life-long and life-changing endeavor," the report said.

In addition to offering leadership for the initiative in districts, David Young gives one-day renewal events and a pastor’s track, and has taught occasional courses such as a weekend intensive held at Lancaster (Pa.) Theological Seminary in early September that was tailored for "new pastors and others who feel led toward church renewal."

A nine-member advisory group helps guide the initiative, which also receives support from prayer partners. David Young’s two books are resources: "Springs of Living Water: Christ-Centered Church Renewal" with a foreword by Richard Foster (2008, Herald Press), and "Servant Leadership for Church Renewal: Shepherds by the Living Springs" (1999, Herald Press). His books can be ordered through Brethren Press for $12.74 or $9.99 respectively, plus shipping and handling; call 800-441-3712.

Although financially the Youngs carry out their work on a shoe-string, they said they are committed to serve each congregation that asks for help. The Youngs write regular e-mails about the Springs initiative to keep their supporters up to date, and most express gratitude for blessings. "Could we be in prayer and in thanksgiving this month of November," asked a recent e-mail, "seeing how God is leading renewal in our denomination, in the lives of people, and in our churches?"

For more about Springs of Living Water go to or contact

Source: 12/30/2009 Newsline

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