One of the practical concepts that I picked up during seminary is the educational theory of “distributed intelligence.” In education practice there are “hard” tools like books, lectures and labs, and then there are “soft” tools like conversations with others outside of the classroom where ideas are articulated, feedback is offered and insights are shared. The primary goal for the education of Christians is transformation, where hope is bolstered, Christ-like actions are encouraged and love is encouraged. Together, with both “hard” and “soft” tools, we grow.
Back in September, I was blessed by a conversation with our associate pastor, Rev. John Wayne McMann. He had recently heard a doctoral class lecture from Dr. Scott Kisker, professor of church history at United Theological Seminary. I was the benefactor of the “soft” education as John Wayne shared his lecture insights with me.
Dr. Kisker spoke about the importance of Christian piety in the renewal of the church as individual Christian lives were formed by Christ. What was intriguing about his lecture was the church history backdrop in which he set his reflections. Often I have thought that the Reformation led to the Great Awakening of the church and the revivals that broke out over England and eventually America. Though this is true, there is much world and church history lying between the two events, a history that includes the messy Thirty-Year War, as nations and people struggled between differing ideologies of Catholic and Protestant beliefs. It is no wonder that there is a temptation to want to gloss over this challenging time.
The point of the lecture was not the conflict, but that the polarization of ideologies and dismissal of credibility of authority was much like what we are experiencing today. The Reformation did not initially produce a godly society; it was the piety movement which followed that brought the revival.
The personal piety movement, with its strong emphasis on new birth, holy living and the conviction that personal faith must be active in love, brought revival to the world. Believers discovered a life empowered by the Holy Spirit that included the expectation of sharing in God’s redeeming work including works of mercy, mission and social reform. The renewing church also harnessed the use of small groups and classes to cultivate the Christian life.
Quoting a major takeaway from the lecture that John Wayne shared with me: “The piety movement was not about great heroes or great people. Renewal came through the response of ordinary people sharing their experiences within their spheres of influence.”
The next several months will be interesting for our country. This is a very important time as different ideologies seem to be polarizing people in many ways. If ever there was a time for Methodists to get serious about spiritual practices and community engagement, now is the time. John Wesley helped birth a great renewal in England and a new denomination through the practice of what he called public and private acts of piety.
As Marvin Church continues to press into God through the fall campaign “Persevere in Love” with its 90-day gospel read, guided prayers and continued monthly service projects, it is hoped that our personal renewal will spill over into our community and our spheres of influence. As we celebrate more people in Sunday worship, classes and meetings, “distributed” intelligence will flourish. Now is the time to be generous in talking about God’s work in your life and in your church. Now is the time to invite your neighbors, friends, co-workers and acquaintances to participate with you in acts of piety. Our world needs revival.