Walking by Faith
Faithwalking creates the possibility for real transformation, says Drew Poppleton.
"It's a spiritual formation process that forms disciples to live in mission," says Poppleton, who is pastor of Heartland Community Church (RCA) in Lafayette, Indiana.
"There's a lot of emphasis on personal transformation that would lead to corporate [church] and community transformation."
The Faithwalking program is a key component of the Ridder Church Renewal process used by various RCA churches, but it can also be used on its own. Poppleton was part of an October 2010 retreat that introduced the Faithwalking process.
In the three years since, 16 Heartland members have been through a similar retreat and nearly all of them have furthered their journeys in the program. Chad Summers is one of them.
"I think what attracted me to this approach was the testimony and shared experiences of people who had gone through our first retreat," says Summers, 27. "It forced me to examine every part of my life--even parts I didn't want to. And transformation started when I was able to pinpoint those events and determine why they had such an impact."
Steps of faith
Radical obedience, reflective lifestyle, and authentic community are key to Faithwalking.
Its steps include an initial retreat, a six-month follow-up process, a leadership course, and then the task of creating a missional community.
Poppleton says an important goal is "mobilizing Christians to become the functioning body of Christ in their neighborhood, workplaces, and 'third places.'"
The "third place" is that place other than home or work where people spend the most time--spots such as community centers, coffee shops, or other locations where people gather for relaxed conversation and are open to relationship building.
"So many times in the church we have systems and structures which naturally lead believers to compartmentalize their faith," says Poppleton. "They exercise faith on Sundays and Wednesday evenings but don't always make the connection of how their faith should impact their workplace, for example. Faithwalking encourages disciples to be most active at the places they spend the most time--and that's not at church."
Faithwalking led one Heartland church member, Cindy Medley, to adopt a missional role at the Eye Opener Café, an area coffee shop she frequents. It was there that she and her husband, Brian, met a middle-aged man who recommitted his life to Christ and now attends their church.
Medley says she and Brian followed God's guidance to build relationships with people at the café. "We have become their friends, studied the Bible with them, driven them to the doctor, prayed for them through their surgeries, prepared meals for them during their recoveries, and answered their phone calls and texts at all hours of the day.
"On Christmas Eve, we decided to ask one of them, a lonely veteran, if he wanted to come to Christmas Eve service with us, and to our surprise he said yes. Doug has attended church almost every Sunday since then, some even when we weren't able to go. When Lent began we began having communion every Sunday, and two weeks ago I gently reminded Doug that he did not have to partake of communion, but that he was welcome to join us.
"Last week Doug posted a comment on Facebook that he was turning his life over to God. On Sunday morning, we once again had communion, and this time Doug joined us and just flashed a smile at me."
"It's all because Cindy saw that she could be a witness in this third place where she hangs out," Poppleton says.
Assessing the impact
For Poppleton, the initial Faithwalking retreat was a personal landmark--it changed his outlook and changed his life. "I eventually had an experience where I was born again, again," he says.
Poppleton realized that even after his initial commitment to Christ in college and eventual completion of seminary, he still had not taken his faith far enough beyond life's surface areas.
"Faithwalking was an avenue that opened up some deep places of wounding and brokenness and allowed Jesus into those places," he says.
During the retreat his eyes were opened to his hidden turmoil over a broken relationship with his estranged father that stemmed back to his teenage years. "That was leading to all sorts of instances where my ability to follow Jesus well was compromised," he says.
He soon flew to Florida to personally apologize. The experience set in motion a whole series of transformations that affected his relationships with his wife, children, and elders in his church, as well as his own discipleship.
He was inspired to share Faithwalking with his congregation. He found a number of people ready and willing to step into the process. The church's first retreat was in 2012.
Poppleton says Faithwalking can bring tremendous impact for individuals, and for the congregation and community. "There's a lot about emotional maturity—we can't be spiritually mature without being emotionally mature, and that collective increase in emotional maturity makes a huge difference around the church. The more mature we are the better we are able to have hard conversations.
"If you want instant gratification and overnight success...that's not what Faithwalking is about."
Christ's Community Church in Fishers, Indiana, was introduced to Faithwalking by its pastor, Nate Pyle.
"Nothing we have done has produced as much lasting transformation in the lives of people as Faithwalking," says Pyle, who was part of the same retreat Poppleton attended more than three years ago.
Nearly two dozen church members have been part of the process, with 17 continuing in the program to the leadership training level.
"We have seen Faithwalking change lives, marriages, and raise up leaders who are now coaching others through the process," Pyle says.
Pray for your faith community and the hard work of discerning and embracing change. Pray that these efforts will bear fruit.
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