In the final post of our “Stewarding Attention” series, today Jason Misselt moves to some practical suggestions congregations might employ. While on a very different level, they remind me of pastor Eugene Peterson’s old practice of putting author’s names at intentional points in his calendar. That way, when something else threatened to take his attention away, he could say, “I have an appointment” and attend to the study that made his career. I’m so grateful for Jason’s thoughtful approach to the series and hope you might take up the invitation below.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Stewarding Attention (III of III): Cultivating Curious Christians
We have attended to the stewardship of attention these past two weeks, noticing the ways in which we are distracted from and by present realities. As has been repeated, attention matters—for our souls and for our communities. When stewarded well, empathetic attention can help surface some of the background assumptions, the null curricula, that quietly shape our worlds.
Building on this discussion, here now are two modest proposals for cultivating more robust stewards of attention in your congregations and beyond, for growing partners in the work of cultural leadership in service to God’s abundant possibilities (see II of III).
Again, these proposals assume that communities, like individuals, develop attention “muscle memory” over time. Once something becomes familiar, we stop paying attention to it, at least overtly. But, working hard in the background, it continues to actively shape the kind and quality of attention we pay to new ideas, experiences, and people. Constructive interventions playfully highlight these forgotten guides and create space for faithful attentiveness to fresh possibilities.
Stewarding Attention Maps
This first proposal reaches back to Luther Seminary’s Centered Life initiative, a suite of resources designed to help congregations reacquaint folks with the doctrine of vocation (i.e., God’s creative work in the world)—stewardship’s theological cousin.
Post a large map of your congregation’s context, its collective sphere of attention, over a cork board in public space. Then invite folks to identify those places God has called them to steward their attention with push-pins.
Homes, workplaces, schools, etc. are natural starting points. From there, you might invite folks to place pins to signify critical relationships (e.g., key friendships, grandchildren, etc.) or associations (e.g., youth sports, volunteering, etc.).
Stewarding Attention Visits
As a follow up, invite folks to notice a place of attention they were unaware of and make a visit. While accustomed to gathering for coffee hour, potlucks, and home barbecues, it’s unlikely that congregants have visited each other’s places of attention (e.g., a neighborhood book club, a student band concert, etc.) and borne witness to what God was up to there.
This second proposal borrows from the excellent small group resource Connections: Faith & Life now hosted online by Wartburg Theological Seminary. See pp. 42-3 of the printed participant guide for Unit One: Living Faithfully (p. 22 of the PDF) for more detailed instructions including before and after conversation prompts and reflection questions.
Finally, you might consider layering the proposals. Invite congregants to bring back artifacts from their visits (e.g., pictures, brochures, quotable quotes, key insights) and add them to the map.
The big idea, across both of these proposals, is to practice the empathetic stewardship of attention, to make visible the forgotten patterns and assumptions that connect faith and daily life, congregation and community.
And the big, big idea across this three-part inquiry into the stewardship of attention is to take a step toward reckoning with the stewardship of even more precious and even more intangible gifts (e.g., faith, hope, love, etc.). Attention, and particularly the empathetic attention beyond multitasking, mindfulness, and “marshmallow tests,” is a kind of waystation on this journey.
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Jason Misselt designs innovation strategies for institutions old and young in Minneapolis, MN. Formative partnerships include The Fisher’s Net, Centered Life, and The Vibrant Congregations Project.