animate.Faith Does the Little Things Right

A quick look through the Spark House website will help you see that they are generating quality curricula to serve all age groups within the church. animate.Faith is one of their newest. Billed as a seven week adult study, animate.Faith could clearly work for older students and post college groups as well. Most, if not all, of the contributors and editors have some connection to the emerging church. Brian McLaren, Lillian Daniel, Mark Scandrette, Shane Hipps, Bruce Reyes-Chow, Lauren Winner, and Nadia Bolz-Weber contributed the video segments. Jones and Carla Barnhill edited the material. The illustrator is Paul Soupiset – and he is one of the stars of the show.

Quick confession: I’m prone to like this material because I like these people and I have enjoyed hearing/reading their thoughts over the years. I think this video series would be worth your time to look at and consider buying a copy to make it available for your church. The approach our church takes to the video based curriculum is to purchase one full set for the church. When a group uses the material we let them check out the DVD, and have group members purchase their own books. Now a bit of review…

What is animate.Faith?
The whole package is a 7-part video presentation on DVD, a participant’s Journal, and a facilitator’s guide.

DVD: Producing high quality video material for small groups is not as easy as it looks. Even the most experienced presenters will often struggle in the video format. How do you keep a small group engaged with a talking head? Spark House’s answer is animation. Along with the presenter, you will see this creative black and white hand-drawn animation which serves to illustrate the content so you are not simply watching a person speak. The animation serves to spark the imagination and keep people engaged. The presenters do a good job, material is good, nobody takes themselves too seriously, but the animation glues it all together.

Journal: This is going to kill with the tactile/visual learners in the group. The Paul Soupiset artwork is quite beautiful. It feels like you are buying a Moleskin that somebody has already partially filled with content. You can journal or sketch along with the material already in progress. You have never had a bible study book like this before.

Leader’s Guide: Anyone who uses video based material will tell you that the whole thing hinges on the group facilitator/leader. If they are not well prepared or personally equipped to lead, then the whole thing could tank. The leader’s guide is one of the best things about the animate.Faith material. I wish I had a guide like this for every video based study we have in our church library.

Overall Impressions: If you are looking for certitudes this study is not your thing. If you want to agree with everything a presenter says, this stuff will not float your boat either. The animate.Faith contributors are imaginative church leaders. They are not afraid of allowing the gospel to call their entire lives into question and they are leading people to do the same. They are attempting to kindle the kind of faith that goes all the way down, which means tension and questioning are your friends. If you are looking for a video curriculum to stir people to think and engage with one another, to grow past nuts-and-bolts Christianity to something deeper, more engaged, more meaningful… then animate.Faith is perfect.

I’ve said this many times, but high-quality video curriculum for small groups are solid gold. Finding video based studies that look great, are thought provoking, and that will engage people on many different levels… it’s a tall order. animate.Faith nails it. All of the pieces are well done; thematically and graphically this stuff is top notch. Spark House did all of the little things right, even down to the kind of paper they used and how the books were bound. Anyone looking to feed their group leaders good video-based studies should buy the whole set. Here’s a quick preview of all the videos.

Brian MacLaren
Brian – who is a master of metaphors – considers the ways in which we talk about God. Here he is working against the certitude or fortress mentality on one hand, and the wispy or toothless religious mumbo-jumbo approach on the other. McLaren is doing what he does best: helping us to think about faith in terms of mystery, wonder, awe, and pointing us toward love, grace, and mercy and the practice of an active faith as the pathway to God and one another. His best image is that Christianity is like a boat on the ocean… he walks us all the way through this great metaphor. You could spend a whole group on that alone.

Lillian Daniel
Spiritual but not religious is not enough. I loved this video because I find myself trying to make this argument all the time. Lillian Daniel makes a compelling case for the validity, necessity and even beauty of religious traditions. Where do you grow and thrive? Is it not where roots take hold and are nurtured? Sure, there are downsides to all great faith traditions, but the spiritual but not religious approach is fallacious. Garden is her metaphor. At some point you have to dig around in the soil of a tradition if you want to grow something that will last.

Mark Scandrette
I love Scandrette’s stuff – He’s this Zany-cool left-coast pop-theologian who is reminding us that Christianity not a set of beliefs, but an all-consuming way of life. Scandrette is reminding us that learning the unforced rhythms of grace is central to the Christian life; that solitude and prayer are the pathways to God. Dojo is his image and he does it well, you’ll have to watch it to see.

Shane Hipps
Shane’s talk is pointing us toward fundamental human questions: the problem of meaning and the crisis of death. The search for meaning drives much of our lives as it drives nearly all religion. Salvation isn’t just something for when we die it’s for here and now as well. Shane’s been through hell for the past couple of years & you can see him trying to navigate it all with grace and integrity. Great story about he and his father… powerful image. When Shane talks, I’m listening.

Nadia Bolz-Weber
I’m the least familiar with Bolz-Weber. She’s a fellow Patheos blogger & I’ve only really read her blog for a few months. She’s talking about a God who loves the God-killer in all of us (yeah, we all have one)… a God who is revealed most gloriously on the cross. Bolz-Weber is a bit of an iconoclast. You should watch this before you trot it out there for any group and think carefully about how to frame the video. Don’t shy away from it though. Remember that Bolz-Weber is speaking powerfully to those in your group who bear deep scars.

Lauren Winner
Why the endless rereading of the same book over and over again? Winner is a quirky presenter – think Zooey Deschanel grows up and studies theology. I love what she’s doing with locations and the Bible. Think about what kind of reading you might come up with if you read Jesus’s words about wealth while standing in your bank lobby, or Psalm 1 beside a river bank. The Bible is not Jane Eyre, so we shouldn’t read it that way. Winner helps us remember why.

Bruce Reyes-Chow
Why would anyone go to church? Reyes-Chow is working with the image of the church as a family. He makes a few really interesting observations about family as a model for how we view the church. This is good stuff & works well at the end of the other videos.

Here’s a cute out-takes video.

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About Tim Suttle

Tim Suttle is a pastor, writer, and musician. He is the author of several books: Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), and An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade Books, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals. Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. He has planted three successful churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.


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