Robert Schnase did not start out to create a movement. Yet Schnase and his seminal book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, are at the forefront of an emerging movement that is energizing Christian churches around the world.
At first glance, Robert Schnase doesn’t seem like movement-starter. He’s a gentle-voiced marathon runner, birder, kayaker, and occasional blogger who just happens to be a bishop.
Schnase says these Five Practices are larger than any book, author, congregation or denomination. They are basic building blocks of Christian faith that stretch back to the beginning of the church.
After being published in the United States, Schnase’s Five Practices has spread to Australia, England, Germany, Russia, Korea, and even Indonesia. It has moved from The United Methodist Church to denominations like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Episcopal, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian, Congregational, and many non-denominational congregations.
His approach is decidedly different, if not radical in a 21st Century way. His theology is mainstream, but he has found a clear, identifiable way to frame what churches and their followers must practice to become fruitful: Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity.
Using these fruitful practices to share the Gospel is radical in today’s world. Schnase’s practices advocate action in an age in which many Christians, congregations, and denominations are passive actors of their faith.
A native of south Texas, Schnase became a pastor in 1981 after graduating from Perkins School of Theology in Dallas. After serving a year as pastor of a Methodist circuit of five churches in England, he returned to Texas where he led churches along the border with Mexico. In every place, the congregations grew. In 2004, as he was serving as pastor of First United Methodist Church of McAllen, Texas, he was elected bishop. He was assigned to lead United Methodists in Missouri,, a state with 850 congregations and 175,000 members.
The seeds of Five Practices were planted during the fall of 2004 at Schnase’s first meeting of United Methodist bishops from around the world.
During one workshop on best practices that dealt common language and large organizations, Schnase listened to a bishop describe characteristics of healthy congregations. There, he says, he appreciated the importance of a common language. Having a common language that laypersons and their pastors can use, he says, has a powerful multiplying effect.
“I was taken by the power of the image Radical Hospitality, in particular, and how those words stretched and challenged us beyond just being friendly,” Schnase says.
Schnase took the words and phrases describing healthy congregations back to Missouri. He tested them with pastors and congregational leaders. He added his own ideas, expanding the number to five, and reworked the language and tested some more. He developed the notion of practices and the focus on fruitfulness. As he
worked the words, five fruitful practices emerged as a book for Christian congregations.
“These words capture peoples’ imaginations, and give greater clarity to how the church fulfills its mission of making disciples. They are derived from the formative practices of the early church, and have marked congregational mission since the events of the second chapter of Acts,” Schnase says.
While the book is not specifically Wesleyan, Schnase says the use of the word practices comes from Methodism founder John Wesley’s days. The early Methodist movement thrived under rubrics of personal practices – from giving to the poor and visiting the imprisoned to praying, fasting, and celebrating the sacraments.
In addition to Five Practices, he’s the author of several books published by Abingdon Press, including The Balancing Act: A Daily Rediscovery of Grace (2009), Ambition in Ministry: Our Spiritual Struggle with Success, Achievement and Competition (1993), andTesting and Reclaiming Your Call to Ministry (1991). He worked as editorial consultant for the New Interpreters Bible, and has contributed chapters to Weaver and Stapleton’s Reflections on Marriage and Spiritual Growth and Grand-Parenting and the Spiritual Journey.
A Five Practices leader manual and kit for congregations has been produced and released by Schnase and Abingdon Press. This five-week program for congregations, their lay leadership, and pastors encourages putting faith into action.