Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Eight


If you’ve read the previous posts in this series about Living Faith, thank you for staying with me on this. If you haven’t, you can find themhere (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7). I hope you will check them out.

You will need a little background information for this post to make sense. If you aren’t familiar with how the Moravian Church is organized, you need to understand that the Southern Province of the Moravian Church in America is governed by a body called a Synod which meets for about four days every four years. This Synod consists mainly of the pastors and educators who are serving churches along with elected representatives from the member congregations.

Something happened at the last Synod which was held two years ago in the spring of 2014 which could bible image alter the future of our Church. I’m not saying it will, just that it could. A resolution was passed calling for the establishment of Manna Ministries–or maybe a way to recognize Manna Ministries–to be overseen by the Provincial Elders’ Conference (PEC) or by an entity designated by the PEC. This was not so much about creating a new “department” in the church or even about creating a new ministry. It was about recognizing “new and emerging ministries that do not otherwise fit into the existing models and categories of ministry.” There seemed to have been a lot of interest and energy among the delegates over this concept. It reflects the belief of some that the church’s ministry–or a portion of its ministry–needs to move in an innovative, non-conventional direction if it is to be relevant to our current culture.

One of the exciting things about Living Faith is that it looks in two directions. It connects with the past by using the model of Moravian prayer bands (see blog post 6), and it connects with our present and future by connecting us with each other and with God in a time when it’s easy to become disconnected. It capitalizes on the dynamics of spiritual unity and fellowship more fully than most of us are currently experiencing. It offers to invigorate our faith and our congregations through a practice that is a part of Moravian heritage but which is rarely found in Moravian congregational life today.

When I heard of the adoption of the Manna Ministries resolution, I sensed in that action an eagerness to do something innovative, something non-conventional, not just so we can say that we are being innovative, but to search for something that offered to make our experience of Christ more powerful and life-changing. And I sensed a desire to find a way for our church to have a more profound impact on our world.

Not always, but many times when I’m describing Living Faith, I hear responses that reflect some of this eagerness to make our congregational life more transformative. That’s what I’ve sensed in many conversations.

I’m not sure Living Faith fits the vision of Manna Ministries the way it was conceived at Synod. I wasn’t there. And Living Faith is intended usually to begin within a congregation’s fellowship rather than something apart from a congregation. But I do see some of the same characteristics that one might find in a ministry that doesn’t “fit into the existing models and categories of ministry.” Our existing way of “doing church” doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on spiritual growth. It’s offered, it’s presented as a good thing, but not as a major priority for the entire congregation.

Coupling spiritual growth with outreach is another unique quality of the Living Faith model. Outreach doesn’t usually grow out of spiritual growth as it occurs in small group fellowship. They seem to be done independently of each other. Let me hasten to add that I’m not suggesting that they are never joined in this way in our churches. It just doesn’t seem to me to be the norm as it is in Living Faith.

I’m excited about this yearning for a deeper church life that impacts our lives and our world. This is what I sense in this resolution on Manna Ministries. I believe it’s something we need. Living Faith can enable our congregations to move beyond themselves in ways they are not currently doing. I look forward to seeing how this plays out.

Questions? Or want to learn more about Living Faith? Contact Tim Byerly at tlbyerly1971(AT)

The Rev. Tim Byerly is the Special Project Manager for Living Faith Small Group Ministry under the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM)

Tim Byerly

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Seven


This is the 7th post in this blog about Living Faith, a model of congregational life that has been developed by the Board of Cooperative Ministries of the Moravian Church, Southern Province. If you’ve been sticking with me throughout this discussion, thank you. If you haven’t, you can find the previous posts here (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6).

How many times have you participated in a worship service—and then left with a sense of transformation in your life? Not necessarily a conversion experience, but definitely a moment of growth or transformation? When you were different in a good way than when you arrived at the service? And the difference did not fade away as life’s challenges distracted you from a good and holy experience? How recent was the last time you felt something like this?

In the first post in this blog about Living Faith, I wrote about my belief that God calls the Church to be involved in three basic activities:

1) provide for the spiritual growth of its members,

2) find ways to do outreach in the surrounding community and the world, and

3) regular times of worship.

Everything else the Church does is probably good but is not essential to its calling, or could be grouped under one of these three callings.

Most of this blog has focused on how to encourage spiritual growth in our congregations. That’s the main objective of Living Faith. However, in post #3 I described how outreach fits into the Living Faith model. One thing that I haven’t discussed is the inter-relationship between Living Faith and worship. They have a profound impact on each other.

Since I am a pastor, it may surprise you to learn that I think the power of worship to bless us and Living Faith Small Group Ministrytransform us is not dependent on a good sermon or worship leadership. Musicians may be troubled to find that I would say the same about music. Don’t misunderstand me–these are critical to good worship. They enable us to draw near to God in worship and to experience and express our faith. If this is happening, then you will wonder what else I want out of worship. I want to be transformed; I want to be blessed in ways that will stay with me when I get to Monday, and to Wednesday, and to days that are darkened by my burdens. Great sermons and music aren’t enough for me. Nor are liturgies and prayers and even Scripture readings. All of these are essential. Without them, worship is not worship. But I need something more to make worship transformative.

I need the bonds of fellowship with those who sit with me in worship. Not friendliness, but fellowship. I need something more than the smiles and handshakes exchanged before and after we worship. I need to be in worship with those who’ve shared life with me, who know me, and I them. Living Faith enables relationships like this to flourish. This happens as people walk together in faith in Living Faith groups. Then it happens as these small groups reach out to impact the world in ways they feel the Spirit guiding them. In such fellowship we learn about each other, and we love each other just as we are. We do this not with excessive emotion but with strong bonds of friendship.

I am imaging sitting in worship near three or four people I know well. We’ve become friends that talk through our thoughts about faith with each other and have encouraged each other. We’ve done projects together in service to Christ. We’ve learned give and take in our relationship. There may be 500 other people worshiping with us, but the other 495 don’t affect me as much as those few that I know so well. As we worship, I see their faces; I hear their voices. I’m recalling conversations and experiences that we have shared. The service progresses, and I feel a sense of unity with these who know me as we seek God’s presence together. This makes worship transformative. I am lifted to God by worshiping with those who’ve shared sacred experiences with me. And these experiences come from our times of fellowship and service as one body.

That’s what happens when we come together in a small gathering like a Living Faith group. Who would like to help develop such a community of faith? I would love to hear from you.

Questions? Or want to learn more about Living Faith? Contact Tim Byerly at tlbyerly1971(AT)

The Rev. Tim Byerly is the Special Project Manager for Living Faith Small Group Ministry under the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM)

Tim Byerly

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Six

This is the 6th post in this blog about Living Faith, a model of congregational life that has been developed by the Board of Cooperative Ministries of the Moravian Church, South. If you’ve been sticking with me throughout this discussion, thank you. If you haven’t, you can find the previous posts here ((part 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5).

Living Faith is a model of church life that can work in most congregations within most denominations. But one thing I haven’t mentioned yet is how closely tied this approach is to the life of Moravian communities in the 18th century–sort of a heyday in renewed Moravian history. For those wanting to get in touch with their Moravian roots, for those who like Moravian history and traditions, for those who believe that the Moravians of that era offer something to us today, Living Faith promises a re-connection with our forebears.

When we think of our Moravian heritage, we  often focus on external trappings that look Moravian but that will not necessarily connect us to the roots of our faith. When I mention my denomination to others, they will make reference to our cookies. Sigh! But even things like lovefeasts, Easter services, music–which are rich and valuable traditions–might easily obscure the depth of the faith of those who first invented these wonderful practices. Even these traditions–which are rich expressions of our faith–depend heavily on our own spiritual condition. It’s easy–and tempting–to go through the motions of these traditions without a deep, underlying, spiritual connection with our Savior.

What we need is a way to discover and experience the deep faith of those earlier Moravians, and to practice some of the principles that made their faith strong. Living Faith embodies some of these principles that made the 18th century Moravian Church dynamic and transformative.

In the development of Living Faith, we rediscovered one practice which has fallen into disuse today — the prayer bands. Residents of Moravian communities were expected to be involved in this form of spiritual pursuit. A great way to learn about this part of Moravian heritage is to read an article by Lanie Graf Yaswinski which you can find at this link. It was published in The Hinge, a journal on issues related to the Moravian world. A condensed version of this article was published in the November, 2013 issue of The Moravian. Yaswinski’s article gives attention to the choir system of that time, but Living Faith rests more on the prayer bands which she also describes. Bishop Spangenberg wrote a biography of Count Zinzendorf. He includes a comment by the count about these bands: “[bands] were established throughout the whole community . . . and have been productive of such blessed effects, that I believe, without such an institution, the church would never have become what it is.[emphasis mine]

Living Faith groups are different from the 18th century Moravian bands as they are described in Yaswinski’s article in some important ways. However, they offer the same source of spiritual vitality and fervor that our forbears found in the close fellowship of the bands.

I like what Ruth Cole Burcaw wrote in her recent BCM blog posts (part 1 and part 2). She urged us to be bold in adapting to our changing world. That’s very Moravian in a historical sense. Moravians of the 18th century weren’t focused on tradition but rather on growth, vision, and ministry. They strained against conformity and the restraints of the day. I would typify our church then as a church of innovation, creativity, and vision. Those aren’t the first descriptive words that come to my mind as I reflect on how we do things today. We are more a traditional church — cautious, bound by precedent.

I’m excited that there is interest and yearning for ideas to emerge that will help us move forward with greater vitality, both as a church and as Christians. Living Faith is intended to be a part of that picture. The wonderful thing about it is that it can help us move forward, but it can also connect us with an important part of our past.

*August Gottlieb Spangenberg; Samuel Jackson, trans., The Life of Nicholas Lewis Count Zinzendorf, Bishop and Ordinary of the Church of the United (or Moravian) Brethren (London: Samuel Holdsworth, Amen-Corner, 1838), 86.

Questions? Or want to learn more about Living Faith? Contact Tim Byerly at tlbyerly1971(AT)

The Rev. Tim Byerly is the Special Project Manager for Living Faith Small Group Ministry under the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM)

Tim Byerly

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Five

In the previous installments of this blog (part 1, 2, 3, 4,), I’ve written about our need for a greater focus on spiritual growth in our churches. I’ve discussed the key components of Living Faith that facilitate spiritual growth. One thing I haven’t discussed is the center of all of these discussions–not the ‘how to’ of spiritual growth, but the ‘what exactly is’ spiritual growth. It’s time for a good examination of spiritual growth to discover what we’re hoping to achieve.

We should start by considering what isn’t spiritual growth—

  • Spiritual growth or maturity isn’t eloquence in speaking about faith. This is true whether that speech is a sermon, a prayer, comments in a discussion, dynamic teaching, or encouragement offered to another person. Jesus talked about people who pray publicly, and his words were not very affirming. He might offer the same comments about prayers than impress us today. The person praying might be moving and ‘spot on,’ but that doesn’t mean the person is in touch with God. It simply means that the person does well talking about being in touch with God.
  • Spiritual growth doesn’t equate with a high level of commitment. Sometimes it’s said of a person that he or she will do anything he or she is asked, or that the person gives generously. These are great practices, but they don’t reflect the spiritual condition of the person. The person might be head-over-heels in love with Christ, but a high level of commitment to doing good doesn’t prove this. There are a lot of other incentives for deep involvement in church activities such as guilt relief, recognition, influence, or approval. None of these will bring a person closer to God or instill Christ’s image in them.
  • Talents don’t prove this either. A singer might be able to amaze a crowd. A youth leader might be able to draw young people like bees to honey. An officer on a church board might be able to motivate the congregation or manage the work of a board in impressive ways. But none of these abilities demonstrates spiritual maturity and growth.
  • Spiritual gifts don’t guarantee spiritual growth. They receive a lot of attention in the New Testament, and they are emphasized in some denominations, much less so in the Moravian Church. Some see them as a litmus test of godliness, but nothing supports this conviction.

But enough about what spiritual growth/maturity/life isn’t. It’s time to think about what it is—

  • Galatians 5 is a good place to start. Paul writes about the fruit of the spirit. That’s always intrigued me. I read the names of the fruit, but what does that look like in a person’s life? I have not grown tired of pondering this question about people, and about myself.
  • Fruit, not fruits. There are nine names given to the spirit’s fruit in Galatians, but fruit is singular. It’s like they come as a set. If you have a basket on the table with an assortment of fruit in it, you don’t talk about how nice the fruits look. You talk about the fruit. The Galatians 5 passage is like a prism that refracts the light of spiritual fruit into 9 colors that enables us to understand it better. But it’s one fruit. It’s one image of Christ that is revealed in different ways depending on the situation. Can you imagine having love without gentleness, or patience without peace, or joy without self-control? Of course not, because it’s one fruit–the fruit of the spirit. We can’t focus on achieving one or the other like it was a New Year’s resolution. Instead, we focus on Christ, and the fruit of Christlikeness begins to develop in us.
  • Philippians 4:4-9. Before you read further, read these verses. Go ahead, I’m serious. Just don’t forget to come back and finish reading this post.

The word, fruit, isn’t included in these verses, but its imprint can be seen all over it. It talks about a frame of mind which allows for and fosters spiritual growth and maturity.

By now you’d be right to wonder what this has to do with Living Faith which we’ve been developing. The goal or focus of Living Faith is this spiritual fruit/growth/maturity. This model of church life makes this kind of vibrant spiritual life possible. Spiritual life doesn’t happen because we decide to pray more or serve more. It happens when we help each other discover God’s work in our lives.

That’s the point of Living Faith. Even the most dedicated introvert (like me) needs fellowship with others to grow toward Christ. No one does this alone. Even monks living in solitude depend on the sense of fellowship they have with those who live that same disciplined life.

If you want to have a deeper spiritual life, work at it with others who are also focused on the same thing. Living Faith can guide you in that. Gradually, you’ll find the fruit developing in your life that Paul discusses out of his own experience.

Questions? Or want to learn more about Living Faith? Contact Tim Byerly at tlbyerly1971(AT)

The Rev. Tim Byerly is the Special Project Manager for Living Faith Small Group Ministry under the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM)

Tim Byerly

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Four

This is 4th post in our series about Living Faith, a model of congregational life being designed by the Board of Cooperative Ministries of the Moravian Church, Southern Province. You can read the first post (click here)second post (click here), and third post (click here) at the preceding links. I’ve been writing about the need we have in our churches for a more focused approach to spiritual growth. Much of this has centered on the key components that make Living Faith an effective model to generate spiritual growth in the people of our churches. I hope you have found this interesting. We’ve gotten some response from some readers, and we would like to hear from a lot more. Your feedback and questions are welcome.

In my last post, I promised that I would write this time about the final key component that makes Living Faith succeed as a model of church life. I also wrote that this final component is the hardest for us to embrace, so here it goes.

In my last post I referred to Luke 10 as a good example of how Jesus worked with his disciples and how they are guided toward spiritual maturity and trained for outreach. When the time came, they didn’t go out as a single group. They divided into groups of two.

A similar thing happened in Acts 8. However, this time it was forced on them by persecution. In Luke 10 the disciples were ‘scattered’ by Jesus’ direction. In Acts 8 they were scattered by necessity following the death of Stephen. No doubt they mourned Stephen’s death and mourned the loss of fellowship they had with each other. But the rest of Acts 8 gives an example of the benefit of this forced dispersal. Phillip goes to Samaria and shares his faith there. Soon he finds himself in a remote area where he encounters the man from Ethiopia and shares his faith with him. And he is just one of those who left Jerusalem to escape persecution. Lots of others did the same thing.

It would have been nice to stay as one joyful, thriving community in Jerusalem; and they might have if given the choice. But the plan was to “go to all the world.” The persecution made clear that the time to start this had arrived. The cocoon phase of the church had ended.

When we discover a community, large or small, which nurtures us, we cling to it. Groups have formed and provided such blessing that they lasted for years. Often this is wonderful for a while. Then it stops being wonderful and begins to become inward. The members of the group find the group loving and accepting, and they sometimes wonder why others don’t join. They don’t see the barrier than has developed naturally around the group. Sometimes they begin to find it less beneficial even for themselves as the dynamics change.

Living Faith seeks to avoid this hardening of the wall around the group by periodically birthing new groups. When a group is begun, members are asked to agree to a covenant. A part of that covenant is to be open to the possibility of birthing a new group or helping to birth a new group after several months. This time period varies depending on the dynamics of the group. Not everyone will agree or be able to help birth a new group, but each group member is asked to consider doing so.

Those who have been part of close knit groups will recognize how hard it would be to depart from the blessings of such a group. You look around the circle of dear friends who have shared so much together, and its hard to imagine losing that. But that’s the way the church thrives, and that’s the way the church avoids stagnation and decline. Often when the church has plateaued or become corrupt or has become identified with empty ritual, some type of upheaval was needed to clear the way for fresh life. That’s true in congregations, in small fellowships, and in denominations. Birthing new groups helps to provide this renewal that prevents stagnation.

Moravians of the Renewed Church were regularly changing residence to other parts of the world, and we admire them for that. If we feel that way about the way they followed Christ, why do we find change in our own church routines so difficult?

One of the richest Moravian practices of the 18th century was the prayer bands–small groups that met frequently to encourage each other in their spiritual journeys. They became transformative and invaluable to the vitality of the Moravian Church. And members of these bands were sometimes shuffled or re-organized to make them more effective.

There is a lot of detail about how this works in Living Faith that I’m not including here. But birthing new groups is vital to the effectiveness of Living Faith and to the vitality of our churches.

A popular dish in coastal North Carolina is the blue crab. It’s especially sought after when it’s a soft shell blue crab. The fisherman (sometimes woman) catches the crab in a pot (more like a cage than a cooking pot) and watches for the crabs that are ready to moult (sometimes spelled molt). These crabs, called peelers, have grown and no longer fit comfortably in their shells. The peelers are set aside in a tank with flowing salt water. When the crab sheds its shell, it is chilled and sent to market before the new shell hardens. These softshell crabs are a delicacy. If the crab lives, it develops a new, slightly larger shell so it can grow larger.

This moulting is necessary to allow the crab to keep growing. If it didn’t do this, it could not thrive. As important as our groups are where we find fellowship, maybe they, too, need a transformative cycle built into their routine.

Questions? Or want to learn more about Living Faith? Contact Tim Byerly at tlbyerly1971(AT)

The Rev. Tim Byerly is the Special Project Manager for Living Faith Small Group Ministry under the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM)

Tim Byerly

Living Faith Small Group Ministry: Part Three

This is the third post in this blog. In the first post, I shared my view that opportunities for spiritual growth are one of three foundational assignments which God has given to the Church along with outreach and worship. I suggested that our Church needs a more concerted focus on spiritual growth opportunities for our members because much of what we do in our churches doesn’t achieve this objective.

In the second post, I wrote about the key elements that make spiritual growth possible. These key elements are incorporated into Living Faith, a model of congregational life which is being developed by the Board of Cooperative Ministries. In introducing this model I mentioned that a group that focuses on spiritual growth must be small to allow all members to share. I stated that there must be confidentiality within such a group. And I wrote about accountability for personal daily devotions and attendance in group gatherings. This post continues this discussion of the components that make spiritual growth possible.

In addition to small size, confidentiality, and accountability, there are a few other key components that a Living Faith group needs to allow spiritual growth to happen.

Leadership. Ideally, the group leader has had previous experience in a group focused on spiritual growth. That person helps the group remain faithful to its covenant. The leader keeps the group on track so that the group’s discussions don’t drift into conversations about theology, society, politics, sports or a host of other topics that are enjoyable but not consistent with the group’s purpose. The leader also guides the group as it explores the study materials that are covered. Keep in mind the leader is not an expert or teacher. The leader discovers new things about faith along with the other group members. The leader’s task is not to enforce rules but to encourage the group to stay on track. Basically, the leader has become familiar with the Living Faith model and seeks to follow this model with the group.

There are two other key components to Living Faith groups. The first of these is described in the rest of this post. I’ll save the last one until the next post. It’s the hardest one.

Outreach. In my first post I mentioned that there are three foundational assignments which God has given to the Church. They are to provide opportunities for spiritual growth, outreach into the world, and worship. In Living Faith, outreach is an outgrowth of the small group experience that produces spiritual growth. This follows in a general way the model that we find Jesus using in Luke 10 with 70 disciples. If we see that passage as a summary of an extended period of preparation, we find that he spent time training them in the context of their community. They then went out, working together on their various outreach efforts. Afterward, they came back together to celebrate and reflect on what they had done. Imagine the bonding and the growth they experienced as their community developed through sharing with each other and then through serving others.

Living Faith groups undertake outreach as groups. This can vary widely, but each group discerns God’s leading toward a specific type of outreach and then pursues it together. In Luke 10 the disciples went in groups of two, whereas Living Faith groups serve as slightly larger groups. Just as the fellowship of the group binds its members together as it focuses on spiritual growth, so the bonds that develop through outreach are no less powerful.

Initially a group develops its small community through talking and sharing. In outreach the group develops unity through doing. Both are important. Both are found in Jesus’ method of training his followers. Henri Nouwen in Spiritual Direction-Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith suggests that this experience of community and outreach are two of three disciplines–along with solitude–to which Christians are called. “These are the three disciplines we are called to practice on the long journey home: (1) solitude or communion with God in prayer [a form of worship; although Nouwen is focused on solitary worship rather than corporate worship (my comment)]; (2) recognizing and gathering together in community; and (3) ministry or compassion in the world.” The second and third of Nouwen’s disciplines match these components of Living Faith which provide a balance of being faith and doing faith. This makes our faith whole.

A lot of people have undertaken outreach together which led them to live their faith journeys alongside others. Those experiences cemented those friendships. What was the outreach project that brought you close to someone who remains a close friend now?

Next time I’ll write about the hardest component of a Living Faith group.

Questions? Or want to learn more about Living Faith? Contact Tim Byerly at tlbyerly1971(AT)

The Rev. Tim Byerly is the Special Project Manager for Living Faith Small Group Ministry under the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM)

Tim Byerly