Rebuild My Church: The Re-Formative Paradigm

Richard Foster has given us many gifts of inspiration, insight, and instruction. Among them I find his renewal paradigm to be especially important in this time of New Awakening. He describes it in three words: vision, intention, and means. [1] When I was visiting with him about the paradigm, he said it was the one he unearthed as he studied renewal, and it became the one that moved him to become a reformer in the late 1970’s. [2]

I am going to use this paradigm to develop the posts in this series, combining it with insights from St. Francis who responded to God’s call to “rebuild my church.” [3] In this post I will review the paradigm. In further posts I will apply it.

I begin with the reminder that renewal is about re-formation. Francis’ call to “rebuild” was a call to re-form the Church, not abandon it. When Richard Foster and I were visiting about the paradigm, he was clear that it is a re-formation paradigm. And he reminded me that it was a paradigm he had seen in the Wesleys and early Methodism. Putting it all together, the paradigm offers us the model for renewal that we need in our day.

Vision….the ministry of re-formation is a response to God’s revelation which comes to us in the form of vision. Richard Foster takes this to mean that God chooses to work through people. We are co-creators with God, doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. Rebuilding the Church is part of the re-formation, part of the New Awakening. John Wesley captured the collaborative dimension when he said, “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.” The vision is our inspiration.

Intention….the ministry of re-formation is our investment in the vision. We use the word ‘mission’ today when we are describing intention. In God’s call to Francis, we see intention in the word, ‘Go’—the same word Jesus used to begin the Great Commission (Mathew 28:19). When we express intention, Foster notes that we are recognizing the privilege it is to be co-laborers with in the re-formation. Intention is also the reminder that re-formation is not a spectator sport, it’s an “in the game” engagement.

Means….the ministry of re-formation happens through concrete practices. Means are the ingredients of re-formation. They begin in the practices we call the means of grace (spiritual disciplines), and with the nourishment we receive from them we go on to rebuild the Church through the “many services” (John Wesley’s term) that are to be done. Richard Foster calls the disciplined life “doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done.” We see Francis doing this—not assessing the importance of the work in size language (and especially not in “bigger is better” language) but in terms of an act’s necessity. He was honoring Jesus’ call to be faithful in little things.

Vision….Intention….Means. This is the re-formation paradigm. Upcoming posts will explore each aspect in more detail. For now, the words ignite the re-formation ministry in our individual lives, and in the life of each congregation that desires to co-labor with God in the New Awakening. We ask,

–What is the vision we see?
–How can we invest in it?
–What acts can we do to make the vision a reality?

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 43 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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