I had no choice but to join the conspiracy. In the summer of 2009, I started my first call post-seminary and ordination as a pastoral resident at a growing, mid-sized, suburban, mainline protestant congregation in the Deep South. During a planning retreat in August with my senior pastor, I was introduced to the Advent Conspiracy (AC), which the church had already joined. It was an amazing, spiritual, and challenging experience for them, during which a congregation of 140 in worship raised around $5000 to build 3 wells in the Chaco Region of South America. They decided to continue it during the two Advent Seasons that I served with them; projects in those years raised funds to dig a well and help build an orphanage in Kenya.
Simply put, the Advent Conspiracy (AC) is a program theme for Advent. The four weekly themes are "Worship Fully," "Spend Less," "Give More," and "Love All." AC started in 2006 through the work of five pastors. They head churches that are non-denominational, larger congregations, which clearly state their theological positions on their websites. Most of the leadership roles are filled by men; however one congregation (Windsor Crossing), after two years of discernment, now states that women can have full leadership in the church including the role of pastor.
While in many traditions the themes of Advent are Hope, Peace, Love and Joy, these can sometimes feel too abstract during this season where all around us we receive messages to spend, spend, spend. AC instead begins with a look at the culture and discovers where the incarnation compels the church to be prophetic – namely around the simple idea that the birth of Christ is not about spending money. Rather, it is about God’s coming and challenging the political and cultural power of the day. Especially in these past years of hard economic times, this critique of our consumerist culture is a vital one for our congregations to take up. As the Occupy movement has reminded us, there is a massive wealth disparity in our nation. AC reminds Christians still further that there is wealth disparity in our world and as Christians we are called to do something.
The way AC is offered is refreshingly reflective of its message. First, it is (mostly) free. Yes, there is a book with discussion and accompanying DVD that you can purchase for at most $29.99. However, the church I served was using AC before the book was published and continued doing it without the book. All you need is free at their website. There are the themes, scriptures, sermon preparation material, sample sermon outlines and sermons, and many resources. If you decide to go the book/DVD route, the cost is on par with most small group studies.
Next, the website has a lot of free resources (notice a theme here). I was especially thankful for the communication ones. As the youngest person on staff, and most aware of technology and social media, I was responsible for communications at the church. This program has free informative, relevant and catchy videos perfect for putting on the website, using in church or sharing by email. It also has several graphic choices which can be used in newsletters, as bulletin covers, on the website or any advertising material. It even has a sample press release to remind you to share what you are doing with your community.
As a Christian Educator, I was also thankful for the free downloadable children’s curriculum, which they had for two year olds, preschool age and elementary. It is in a station/lab model and even if you choose not to do stations, it provides ideas which you can adapt to your specific needs. The one drawback is that there is not curriculum specific for youth, but I imagine the DVDs can be used for that age group with some adaptation.[i]
Overall, a good way to view AC is as a gift from churches with more resources to those churches which might not have as many – surely a model to be emulated. While you can and should adapt AC to your own theological point of view, its concept is a valuable reminder that being a disciple of Jesus Christ requires something of us in how we live our lives and it hits us right in the where it counts, in our pocketbooks.
One year during our Wednesday night program for children, as suggested in the on-line curriculum, rather than the adult weekly theme of “Give Less,” we used the theme “Get Less.” Since most members of the church I served wanted for little materially in their lives, (every child had at least one video game system and most attended private schools), I wanted the children to be challenged by their faith in the same way their parents were being challenged. So, the parents and children were invited to participate in sharing gifts with other children who couldn’t afford them. While most churches do this in some way, the twist was that they weren’t allowed to buy a gift in addition to what they were buying their children. Instead, the child had to pick a gift off his or her own Christmas list to give away, instead of receiving it.
Several of the children had no problem with this; they loved sharing. But, the night when the children brought their gifts, one little girl walked into church glaring at her mother and gave me the dirtiest look I have ever received from someone under the age of 10. She was not happy about giving up her Polly Pocket play set and she was going to let us know about it. Her mom insisted however, and the girl placed her gift under the tree, frowning the whole night. It was a tough and challenging experience for her. I don’t know what she thinks about the experience today. My prayer, though, is that as she examines that experience, which is now a part of her Christmas memories, she will know that being a Christian is not easy and that being a faithful disciple requires something of you.
So the question is: Are you going to join?
More information about the Advent Conspiracy can be found at www.adventconspiracy.org and Living Water International at www.water.cc. As an additional note, the little girl did get her Polly Pocket Playset. She waited a WHOLE year and put it on her Christmas list again. Talk about a season of expectation and anticipation!
[i] I have not viewed the DVDs or read the book so I do not know for certain.