Friday, May 18, 2012

Pilgrim Practices - A Review

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Pilgrim Practices: Discipleship for a Missional Church by Kristopher Norris is book that posits “discipleship is primarily an identity and is formed and practices in and through the church community” (xvi). The way that one forms that identity is through pilgrimage and practice, ancient ways that can and should be renewed in the current social context. After identifying American hyper-individualism as a paradox to the church as the body of Christ and a communal path of missional discipleship as expressed in the book of James, Norris outlines eight pilgrim practices for discipleship: believing, listening, welcoming, committing, speaking wisely, witnessing, caring, and praying.

I resonated the most with Norris’ chapter on welcoming. Norris identifies hospitality as one of the issues with which the church has struggled the most and longest. Since Christianity became a dominant religion, it has struggled with how to treat the poor, as well as its role in fostering racism, sexism, heterosexism , and other –isms from which the greater culture suffers. I was particularly taken with his interpretation of James 2:1-8, where James states that a congregation should not favor a person “wearing …fine clothes” over dirty ones. Norris exegetes that the rich person is a wealthy politician that can do favorable things for the congregation and the poor person is pushed to the side because he can only bring himself and that is seen as a burden. Norris challenges us to look beyond alliances between church and state and the identities that society places on us and embrace the radical hospitality of Jesus, who insists that the poor are blessed and that the rich are on notice.

Also intriguing was his chapter called "Witnessing: I Pledge Allegiance," where he encourages us to be Christians first and then Americans, Southerners, sports fans, etc. He encourages Christians to step outside politics and be more proactive and hands-on to solve problems as churches. I agree with much of this, as the Church engaged in real world problems coheres to the vision of the kingdom of God. I would caution that churches still need to be vigilant and active in the political realm in a non-partisan way on issues like religious liberty and speak truth to power on issues of justice that can only be overcome by overturning unjust policies. I would venture to say that Norris would agree at least on the church taking prophetic stances, based on his statements in the subsequent "Caring" chapter quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. and urging churches to speak against war.

Kristopher Norris writes with great thoughtfulness and wit (I laughed out loud when he referenced Ben Stiller’s attempt at prayer in Meet the Parents) about reclaiming practices that are absolutely necessary for the church to embrace transformational discipleship. I recommend this to churches that are looking to do a study on discipleship. The questions at the back of the book can help facilitate group discussion. Norris’ writing, while solidly researched, is appealing to both ministers and laity, and his humor, compassion, and pacing makes this a quick and enjoyable read.

You can get more information and order Pilgrim Practices here:

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