Today’s disciples need a new rhythm of life, says Andrew Roberts. The author of Holy Habits – the key book for Walking the Way: Living the life of Jesus today – talks to Karen Carter
The idea for Holy Habits first came about when I sat down to tackle an MA essay question: ‘To what extent do we see the picture that Luke paints in Acts 2:42-47 re-emerging in fresh expressions of church today?’ That really made me think! The phrase ‘holy habits’ describes the practices we see in Acts 2 and I began to intentionally link the passage to the nurturing of discipleship – focusing on discipleship supported by Church but not limited to it. Discipleship is lived in the whole of life, not just in the times that we gather as Church.
It was then that the Birmingham Methodist Circuit asked me to think about how they could more fully support the nurture of discipleship through their churches and I suggested something based on what became Holy Habits. I started writing the book during a three-month sabbatical, while they began work on accompanying resources.
The first part of the book examines the adventure of discipleship while the second half reflects on how disciples are formed through supportive relationships and by the ten habits Luke depicts in Acts 2:
• Biblical teaching
• Breaking bread
• Eating together
• Gladness and generosity
• Making more disciples.
As time passed, I very much sensed a connection between Holy Habits – which looks to help people in their daily walk with Jesus through these ten habits – and the Walking the Way: Living the life of Jesus today vision that’s emerging in the United Reformed Church. On discussing what was happening with the URC, we recognised a timeliness in the possibility of this coming alongside, or being supportive of, Walking the Way. This was great news because, in Birmingham, there are five or six Methodist/URC LEPs and the URC was directly involved in developing Holy Habits and its resources as independent but complementary projects. When it was decided to develop those resources beyond Birmingham, the URC also partnered in that process – alongside Methodist colleagues, so the URC has been in the thick of it right from the start.
Holy Habits is something that people can use as part of their Walking the Way journey. Yes, we feel we have been blessed with a gift to the Church in Holy Habits but it’s not the only gift that we’ve been blessed with, and if people find other discipleship resources more appropriate and helpful, please use them!
In some ways, Holy Habits is semi-autobiographical in that it is saturated with stories – both from my own life and the lives of ordinary but remarkable individuals I’ve been privileged to come across. I think that’s one reason why the book has connected with so many because this is all about flesh-and-blood discipleship anchored in the everyday.
People seem to have found this an academically credible but popularly accessible idea. I’ve heard the comment many times over that there’s nothing new in Holy Habits and, personally, I welcome that, because if this was some fancy or esoteric new idea it might be transient and temporary. Whereas if these habits are godly practices that go back way beyond that, holy ways of being human, then that’s perhaps why they make sense to people. Following on from that, the big challenge is to live these habits rhythmically, or, to use Luke’s phrase from Acts 2 – ‘day by day’.
It addresses something that’s coming to the forefront of thinking across the denominations: How do we walk the way? How do we live day by day? How do we adopt a wholesome, healthy, not-too-burdensome rhythm, ‘rule’ or pattern of life
Holy Habits was published in December 2015 and has, I’m delighted to say, sold more copies than we ever dreamed of. It has just been reprinted for the sixth time, is a regular bestseller on Amazon and is also available in several high street bookshops. The New York Conference of the United Methodist Church has even adopted it as one of its books of the year.
On 18 January, Bible Reading Fellowship will publish a series of guides and booklets for each habit with worship and preaching materials for small groups and Bible studies. In time, we hope to add video resources and an interactive website where people can share stories, insights and questions.
So there’s a lot going on but, in all honesty, the most wonderful thing for me is that we’ve seen people choose to become disciples of Jesus by reading the book. Sales’ statistics are all very well but it’s the stories of changed lives that really matter.
This is an extract from an article that was published in the December 2017 / January 2018 edition of Reform