By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning
Ben Campbell Johnson and Andrew Dreitcer provide a welcome resource to congregations in practical spirituality in Beyond the Ordinary: Spirituality for Church Leaders. The book’s unique contribution is in fleshing out of classical Christian spirituality in the context of congregational leadership. In doing so, the authors move spirituality away from the individualistic expressions that remains prevalent today, and into a corporate dimension more in keeping with the communal nature of the church.
In addition, the intentional attention to an underlying theology of discipleship that calls for a shared ministry between clergy and laypersons can be a revolutionary challenge to most clergy-dependent congregations. In this way Johnson and Dreitcer call for greater responsibility from the laity for their personal spirituality and for a way of congregational leadership grounded in spiritual principals and disciplines.
The ten chapters of the book address specific dimensions of spirituality and congregational leadership. The opening chapter, “In Search of a Vital Spirituality,” sets the stage by speculating on what’s wrong with current understandings of spirituality. The authors present their theological understanding of the foundation for spirituality: sacramental baptism. While a sacramental view of baptism may be uncomfortable for some Protestants, the authors’ qualifying definition will dispel any unease. Other chapters give attention to classical disciplines of spirituality like lectio divina, spiritual companionship (friendship), discernment, Sabbath, and prayer. The most original and helpful chapters, however, are those which deal with myth in congregational spirituality and the practice of discernment.
In chapter four, “Myth in Congregational Spirituality,” the authors touch on the often-neglected corporate dimensions of congregational spirituality. An understanding of this issue is of critical importance to any pastor who would lead a congregation toward a corporate spiritual identity. The other very good chapter, “The Practice of Discernment,” brings another classical dimension of spirituality into the corporate dimensions of congregational life. In addition to providing a good introduction to the nature of Christian spiritual discernment, the authors give practical guidelines for applying the discernment process in traditional congregational structures. The dual emphasis of moving spirituality from individual to corporate, and from clergy-centered to lay leadership is, in the opinion of this reviewer, the single most valuable contribution of this book to conversations about spirituality and congregational leadership.
Throughout the book Johnson and Deitcer invite readers to apply the practices and principles of spirituality to the nitty-gritty of congregational life. Johnson is professor emeritus of Christian spirituality at Columbian Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia, and Dreitcer is associate professor of spiritual formation at Claremont School of Theology in California.