I've written a unit for our new Certificate program called "Engaging in the Christian Life". It's a competency-based introduction to spiritual disciplines as a basis for a life of discipleship. The word 'competency' might sound odd alongside 'spiritual disciplines'. In this instance the competency is around learning some basic skills/approaches/understandings that relate to practices of spiritual growth. I've really enjoyed writing the unit, and now I'm tracking some distance students through it.
It's been a fantastic experience seeing bits of their journal writing. The unit is quite experiential. They meet regularly with a 'spiritual friend' for reflection. Early on, they engage in some five-day daily prayer and reflection exercises. They work through Vicky Balabanski's video material on discipleship in Mark's Gospel (here), and consider how growth in discipleship might be related to growth in spiritual disciplines.
In the second part of the unit they identify three areas in which they are seeking to grow as disciples, and then work out what spiritual growth habits might assist in each of these three areas. The students then choose three spiritual disciplines from the following list, and design a six week plan to explore these. (They can suggest a discipline not on the list if they wish. You'll see that this unit doesnt include things such as hospitality, service, etc, but focuses more on classical spiritual disciplines)
Regular prayer – when and how we include prayer in our daily lives
Contemplative and meditative prayer – approaches to being still and listening to God
Journalling – ways to reflect on our life in the world with God
Spiritual Reading – ways to enter into the Scriptures more as prayer than as study
Meeting with a Spiritual Guide, Mentor or Director – for spiritual guidance and encouragement
Discernment about God’s will or purpose – ways to seek guidance from God
Making time for Sabbath – how, when and were we take ‘time out’ that is genuinely renewing
Fasting – how, when and why we might take a break from our daily bread
Intentional experiences of Community – what kinds of community experiences sustain and enrich us?
Solitude – experiences of prayerful retreat
Body Prayer – expressing prayer through bodily posture and movement
The students are given some resources to assist them. The first batch of students are about to embark on their 6 week adventures, and its wonderful to see what the experience has meant for them so far, and how enthusiastic they are about the coming weeks.
In the third part of the unit, they design and lead a one-off experience for a group, based on their learnings in the unit.
It's a real privilege to be involved with people in this kind of experiential learning, at the same time as it's a challenge to design and manage it from a distance. I look forward to the time when I can teach this stuff in a face-to-face group setting.
The connection with my Assembly research is that I'm looking at congregations as learning communities of Christian discipleship, and of course, there has been a lot of interest in practices of discipleship by Christian educators over the last decade. I expect the research to in some way include investigation as to how congregations deepen the spiritual lives of disciples through practice-based learning.