Holy Habits is an adventure in Christian discipleship based upon Luke’s picture of the early church in Acts 2:42-47. It explores and encourages the practice of ten disciplines, or holy habits, that Luke presents in the passage: biblical teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, prayer, sharing resources, serving, eating together, gladness and generosity, worship and making more disciples. It is way of life for all – a key word Luke uses several times in the text – from young children to those in residential care. It is also a way of life to be lived when followers of Jesus are both gathered as church and dispersed in day-to-day life at home, at work and in engagement with the issues of the world. The name reminds us that these are godly practices that form us not just as followers of Jesus but as wholesome human beings, both individually and in community.
After several years of trialling and developing Holy Habits material in the Birmingham area, the Introductory Guide and ten original church resources were published by BRF in January 2018. Already, Holy Habits is proving to be fruitful across a wide range of denominations, traditions, cultures and contexts. As an approach to forming disciples, Holy Habits works particularly well in smaller communities, including many rural communities. Whether urban, suburban or rural, you don’t need a large budget or a large building. Throughout Acts, the primary place for church gatherings was the home, with eating together a key habit. The same is true for Holy Habits communities today.
Holy Habits emerged from MA biblical and empirical research undertaken by Andrew Roberts at Durham University while he was working for the Fresh Expressions agency. One of Andrew’s MA modules was on Acts and involved writing an essay in response to this question: 'To what extent do we see the picture that Luke presents in Acts 2:42–47 reappearing in fresh expressions of church today?'
A few years later, two events providentially coincided. The Birmingham Methodist Circuit invited Andrew, along with Deb Humphries and Brian Dickens (who would both go on to also make significant contribution to Holy Habits), to offer ideas on how they could better form disciples. For some time, Andrew had been pondering the possibility of encouraging people to explore Luke’s model of church in Acts 2 and use it as a framework for resourcing discipleship. Now was the time to suggest what has developed into the Holy Habits resources, published locally by the Birmingham Circuit and subsequently by BRF, having been substantially redeveloped – not least to be accessible to Christians of all traditions. At the same time, a sabbatical provided the opportunity to write the Holy Habits book that was published by Malcolm Down in 2016.
Andrew explains the appeal of the Holy Habits approach to discipleship:
‘For the last five, six, maybe more, years, discipleship has risen to the fore of the thinking of not just the major or historic denominations, but also some of the newer churches. Across the board, churches are rediscovering the importance of this calling, so the Holy Habits resources are responding to a discerned need, rather than being the product of a strategy or a committee, and I think that’s a key to fruitful resources in general.’
‘Enabling’ and ‘ownership’ are two more words which come up frequently in any explanation of the Holy Habits concept. Some 200 people of all ages, cultures, ethnicities and denominations have helped produce these resources and, according to Andrew, that makes them stand out:
‘The level of collaboration in the production of Holy Habits is different to many other resources. The participative process is significant and reflects the Acts passage on which Holy Habits is based. Jesus called his first disciples into community. Interestingly, they didn’t choose each other; he chose them and brought that group together, and that’s a challenge to our increasingly individualistic society. We flourish and grow, not just as disciples but as human beings, in relationship and in community, and so the community nature, the collaborative nature and the participative nature of discipleship is really important.’
When Andrew met Malcolm Down at a Harvester outside Milton Keyes to discuss the possibility of the book, neither imagined what would come of it, but both are hugely grateful to everyone who has been supportive of the project and to BRF for taking it on further. Most important of all are the stories of renewal, growth and transformation from individuals and churches of all sorts, who have been blessed to rediscover the way of being followers of Jesus that Luke presents so vividly. Those involved in supporting Holy Habits see it as a gift that we have been given to share and the more people rediscover this timeless way of forming disciples, the more wonderful, creative stories, ideas and resources are being shared.