Contemplative spirituality and the emerging church have come to Kansas and in no small way. First of all, the Christian university in Olathe, Kansas, MidAmerica Nazarene University, is introducing students to the writings of Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, Henri Nouwen, and Rob Bell, four of the strongest voices for contemplative emerging spirituality.1 In the required chapel services, speakers include Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Calvin Miller, and Leonard Sweet, all of whom teach mystical spiritual practices. A newer style of chapel has been introduced at MNU: “Morning Prayers.” The description for the service reads: “It will be a contemplative, liturgical service, which will include the reading of the morning prayers, scriptures, hymns, and communion.” 2 MNU is just one of a number of Nazarene Universities that has moved swiftly into the contemplative/emerging camp over the past few years.
Secondly is a Kansas-based Christian organization called YouthFront, a national youth ministry training organization that has gone in the contemplative/emerging direction. Books being promoted by YouthFront include those by emerging leaders Scot McKnight and Tony Jones, and YouthFront’s president Mike King. King is the author of Presence-Centered Youth Ministry (also promoted by YouthFront), and in his book, he presents the classic contemplative/emerging teachings. The majority of the quotes and references in the book are by contemplatives such as Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Ignatius Loyola, and Brother Lawrence as well as emerging church leaders such as Tony Campolo, Robert Webber, Mike Yaconelli, Phyllis Tickle and more. In a chapter titled “Prayer Practices for Presence-Centered Youth Ministry, King advises readers to practice exercises such as breath prayers, prayer ropes, Ignatius exercises, silence and solitude, making the sign of the cross, praying with icons, and more.
Not surprisingly, Mark Ostreicher, of Youth Specialties, placed his endorsement on the back cover of King’s book. Youth Specialties is a leader in bringing contemplative/emerging beliefs to tens of thousands of youth across North America.
YouthFront has had a significant influence in Kansas through their YouthFront Camps, where young people are “trained.” Kansas City magazine chose YouthFront Camps as “a 2008 Family Favorite in their ‘reader-approved choices for the favorite family-friendly places in the Kansas City area.'”3 It is alarming to know that families in Kansas are trusting their children to mystics.
In addition to training youth, YouthFront also trains youth workers who come from many different churches. Part of this training involves participation in events such as the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention, a pro-contemplative, pro-emergent convention which speakers list includes names such as Mark Yaconelli, Jim Burns, Greg Stier, Phyllis Tickle, Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, and many others in the contemplative/emergent camp.
This past summer Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) partnered with YouthFront to teach a youth spirituality and formation course.4 The following link is to a blog posting written by someone who witnessed what was taking place with teens at YouthFront: http://revolutioninjesusland.com/index.php/2008/07/30/youthfront.
Kansas is also the home of the highly prolific IHOP (International House of Prayer) with contemplative proponent Mike Bickle. With the influence of MidAmerica Nazarene University, YouthFront, and IHOP, it looks like contemplative prayer and the emerging church have planted their feet down solid on Kansas soil.