Wednesday, May 07, 2003

The Alpha Program

I have never made it clear in this web log that I am a lay person. By day, I am a mild mannered computer applications architect and designer. I specialize in scheduling applications for the paper industry. That is what I do to make a living. What remains of my time is spent with family and church. On the family side, I drive daughters around to dance classes; answer my youngest sons questions about life, the universe, and everything; and chat with my wife. On the church side, I teach 2 Bible weekly Bible studies and another bi-monthly study. I blog 5 days a week. On occasion, I fly to the Dallas/Forth Worth area to teach in a Bible Church. I live a full and busy life.

There is one more thing that I do, that has born much fruit. I direct a program called Alpha.

Alpha is not my invention. It was born out of Holy Trinity Brampton, an Anglican church  in the United Kingdom. Alpha is a 10 week course in basic Christianity and held over 15 sessions. Besides the weekly meetings there is a weekend away that concentrates on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Christian leaders who endorse Alpha include Bill Hybels, Leighton Ford, J. I. Packer, Bill Bright, Charles Colson, and many others.

In terms of growth. In 1996, there were a total of 202 Alpha courses conducted. In 2002, there were 5,893 courses held around the world. So far, 2003 has seen 6,130.

Alpha at my church began three years ago, when I attended an Alpha seminar. The local Salvation Army hosted the event. Attendees included Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterian, and Baptists. My team represented a local Vineyard church. There were charismatics and non-charismatics there. We were there to learn implement Alpha to provide new Christians with some basic training and have a forum for bringing people to the Lord.

At the beginning of an Alpha course, I give this little speech:

This Alpha course is used in many Vineyard churches like this one. It is also presented by Lutherans, Methodists, and Baptists. It is used by denominational churches and nondenominational churches. Both charismatics and non-charismatics conduct these sessions. In other words, what you are about to see is that core of Christianity that all of us agree is true. I am amazed, and you will be also, that what we all agree is true is sufficient to know God through Jesus Christ and live a life that pleases Him. I would consider Cobb Vineyard to be low church. We dress very casually as the sandals and shorts worn by the worship team in the summer adequately demonstrates. The videos that you are about to see come from high church. The Reverend Nicky Gumbel is a minister in the Anglican Church of England. This Alpha course stretches across all Christians all over the world.

Each Alpha session begins with dinner. The purpose of this time is to meet and get to know the participants. There is a standing rule that religion is not discussed during dinner. Rather we are to talk on more general topics. This helps non-Christians feel more at home and welcome. Following dinner, I show one of the 15 videos taught by Nicky Gumbel. Following that and a short break, we have small group discussions on any topic that the group wants to talk about. For this part, I tell everyone that all questions are legitimate. I also tell the participants that they can be glad, mad, or sad. It is their time.

A year ago, I was leading a small group discussion. During the first meeting we go around the table introducing ourselves. I introduced myself with general comments. The next lady threw her dirty laundry on the table, speaking of her multiple divorces, addictions, and failures. She set the tone and each person, in turn, did the same. When it came back to me, I said tongue-in-cheek, "Clearly I have not intimidated you enough." That lady cried all through the 10 week course and came back for the next one. She only cried half the time on the second one. She is full of joy today.

In the Alpha course, I have seen people saved. I have seen most begin to move on in maturity. I would encourage those of you unfamiliar with this program to investigate it. You can begin by visiting their web site: http://www.alphausa.org.

Friday: Abraham's Faith

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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