In February of 2006, Lighthouse Trails issued a report titled “Awana: Are They Heading Toward Contemplative/Emergent?” The concerns were over the organization’s connection with Willow Creek, with Awana’s interest in Spiritual Formation and with a recommended ministry list that included a number of contemplative/emergent organizations, including Youth Specialties.1
A year and a half later, Awana is showing signs that it is becoming a full-blown contemplative organization. First of all, through Awana’s prison project, the organization is incorporating New Age sympathizer Ken Blanchard’s Lead Like Jesus Encounter program. On July 13th, we spoke with Lyndon Azcuna, Awana Cross Cultural Ministries director, who told us he was a Lead Like Jesus facilitator. Azcuna works in the main headquarters office of Awana. He said that the project was using Ken Blanchard’s materials. When we explained to him that Blanchard promoted the New Age and mystical meditation, he said that the program did not have these elements.
However, the Lead Like Jesus Encounter is largely based on Blanchard’s book, Lead Like Jesus, and that book does include contemplative elements. For instance, in the chapter called “The Habits of a Servant Leader” a palms-up, palms-down exercise is described (something Richard Foster has encouraged)(p. 158). The book gives a typical instruction on contemplative:
Before we send people off for their period of solitude, we have them recite with us Psalm 46:10 in this way: Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know. Be still. Be…. When people return from their time of solitude, they have big smiles on their faces. While many of them found it difficult to quiet their mind, they say it was a powerful experience. The reality is most of us spend little if any time in solitude. Yet if we don’t, how can God have a chance to talk with us?
For Awana to include Ken Blanchard’s teachings into its organization, shows that the situation is quite serious. Blanchard has been promoting eastern-style meditators for over twenty years, and to this day is still doing so. In addition, he is a board member for the occultic Hoffman [Quadrinity] Institute. Blanchard participated in the Hoffman Process and said it made his spirituality come alive. We believe this experience he had through Hoffman is similar to what Blanchard refers to in his Lead Like Jesus book, when he says people who “quiet their mind[s]” during the Lead Like Jesus Encounter have “powerful experience[s].” This means that now children and families in Awana could possibly wind up with the same experience.
Blanchard, who has been a professing Christian since the 1980s, wrote the foreword for a 2001 book titled What Would Buddha Do at Work?. In the book, Blanchard said:
“Buddha points to the path and invites us to begin our journey to enlightenment. I … invite you to begin your journey to enlightened work.”
Blanchard has made numerous other similar statements about other books. After a 2005 report exposed his connection with Rick Warren (see below), Blanchard placed a statement on a page of his website for a short time that said some of his previous endorsements had been wrong. However, since that time, the endorsements have continued, including his connection with Hoffman Institute. One example of his continued endorsement of meditation practices is his back-cover statement on Jon Gordon’s 2006 book, 10-Minute Energy Solution, in which Gordon makes several favorable references to eastern-style meditators and the practice itself (see ATOD, pp. 164-165). Another example is Blanchard’s June 2006 endorsement of Thom Crum’s book, Three Deep Breaths.
Amazingly, in the book that inspired the Lead Like Jesus Encounter that Awana is using, Blanchard acknowledges Norman Vincent Peale’s role in his spiritual walk. According to Ray Yungen (For Many Shall Come in My Name – p. 47), Peale had strong New Thought connections. This could partly explain Blanchard’s leanings toward the New Age.
While Awana’s decision to include Ken Blanchard’s materials into their program is enough evidence to show that the organization is quickly changing, we must now report that there is something even more disquieting with regard to Awana and their slide into contemplative – a book that is recommended by Awana and also carried by the Awana store: Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation. A description of the book is as follows:
In childrens ministry, models, methods, and materials abound. How do you decide what direction you want your ministry to children to take? Perspectives on Childrens Spiritual Formation allows you to examine the four prominent points-of-view in the church today. You will then be able to make a more informed decision on the way in which your ministry should take.
The book offers four different views on how to transform children. One author, Scottie May, a professor at Wheaton, writes the section titled, “Contemplative-Reflective Model.” May gives a hearty promotion of centering prayer, the Jesus prayer, Christ candles, the Catholic Eucharist and an strong endorsement for contemplative spirituality ala Thomas Merton, whom she favorably quotes in the book. Two Awana staff writers respond in the book to May’s contemplative approach and give it a thumbs up with only minor cautions. But overall they believe that contemplative is a valid approach for all Christians, including children. Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation is giving a green light to Awana leaders around the world to practice contemplative prayer.
Some people may not understand why we write this report about Awana. After all, they have done some wonderful things for children. But that is the very reason we do issue this report – we do not want to see Awana sell out to the fast growing apostasy of contemplative spirituality and the New Age; and because we care about children, we speak up. With more and more public schools teaching kids to meditate and do yoga, and with more and more Christian schools bringing in emerging leaders like Rob Bell (through his Noomas and his book Velvet Elvis), millions of children are now placed in harm’s way by learning meditative techniques that will possibly take them into altered states and demonic realms. We hope Awana leadership will reconsider their position on contemplative/spiritual formation for the sake of children and their parents. And if you have children in the program, please use extreme caution in light of these new developments.
Let us leave you with this sobering thought: Sue Monk Kidd was at one time a conservative Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher. She was led down the road to apostasy (i.e., worshiping the goddess Sophia) through the practice of contemplative prayer after someone handed her a book by Thomas Merton, the same Thomas Merton who is endorsed and quoted in the Awana book, Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation.
For more research information:
Our April 20th 2005 report, Rick Warren Teams Up with New Age Guru Ken Blanchard
Spiritual Formation: Another name for contemplative spirituality