To be honest, I wasn’t excited by Lifeshapes when I first heard about it. It doesn’t help that the marketing material is aweful. “You’ve found your purpose, now discover your passion.” That makes it sound like Purpose-Driven part two. Breen admits that he took a risk in giving the material to Cook, which tends to be pretty modern. As a result, it’s packaged in a fairly programmatic way, which really is too bad, and will cause a lot of people to dismiss it.
One of the best features of Lifeshapes is that it’s not a program. It’s meant to be more of a rule of life, sort of a modern monastic order. It actually provides an alternative to the modern, programatic model of church and life, to the model of individualized devotions, stadium-sized evangelism, and limited discipleship.
Breen developed this material while pastoring what has become one of the largest churches in the United Kingdom, where church attendance has plummeted. That church (an Anglican Baptist one) is primarily made up of the age group that is rarely found in church (those in their 20s and 30s). It’s been developed in a postmodern context.
It’s also been implemented in modern settings. Mike is now on staff at a megachurch in Phoenix. Mike calls megachurches the “last flower of Christendom”. He’s there to help transform the church from a programatic emphasis to a more organic one. Mike says that we have elaborate carts and starving horses; it’s time to ignore the cart and feed the horse, to give less attention to the institutions and more attention to spiritual formation.
Programs, Breen says, are like maps. The problem with maps is that they go out of date as the territory changes. What we really need is a compass. That compass is Jesus. We need to abandon the programs and get back to Jesus.
The way to do this, Breen argues, is through symbols and stories. Since language defines culture, Breen’s developed a language, a set of symbols, that takes us back to Scriptural teaching. It’s almost a form of shorthand to remind us what the Bible says about faith and repentance, rest, balance, leadership, ministry, prayer, organization, and mission. The power isn’t in the language as much as it is what the language points to, and how well the language reminds us of what’s important.
A cynic would say that Breen just offers another program. Lifeshapes can be used that way, but who needs another gimmick?. The best way to use his language is not by implementing it as a program. It’s first to live it, and then to share it relationally, sketched on the back of napkins rather than on Powerpoint, even though that won’t do much for sales of their kits.