Reinvigorating the Life of the Church: Interview with Scott Gunn, Executive Director of Forward Movement

The Rev. Scott Gunn is the Executive Director of Forward Movement, which is probably best known as the publishers of Forward Day by Day, to be found in almost every Episcopal Church in America. But they do so much more, including publishing Confirm not Conform. I asked Scott to fill us in on what's happening these days at Forward Movement while I sit here drinking tea out of my Lent Madness mug.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

Having grown up in Iowa, I spend most of the last 20 years in New England. Before ordination, I had a bit of a career in information technology, working mostly in media companies and non-profits. Just before I was called to Forward Movement, I served as a parish priest in Rhode Island. It's all been very good preparation for my ministry at Forward Movement.

What drew you to work with Forward Movement? And what would you like to see happen there during your tenure?

Our church is in a time of transition now, as we learn that the world of Christendom has passed away forever. We need to recast the church as something that looks more like the year 250 than the 1950s. When we focus on basic discipleship, this transition seems much less frightening, but more than that, we're doing a better job of being followers of Jesus. That is, after all, what the church is for. So I was drawn to Forward Movement because it's entire mission is proclaiming the need for discipleship and providing resources to support disciples. I'd like for people to see Forward Movement as the vanguard of fresh, innovative thinking about the church, but in the sense that our work is rooted in the most ancient work of being followers of Jesus. What's old is new again.

What's new at Forward Movement? And what do you see happening in the near future?

We now have an app for iPhones, offering Forward Day by Day and the daily office (morning and evening prayer), among other things. There's a lot of interest in reading the Bible, and I'm proud of The Bible Challenge, our collection of devotional essays to guide someone through a year of reading the Bible, including a few essays by Bishop Justin Welby, the next Archbishop of Canterbury. We have lots of new resources for disciples, and more on the way.

Of course, I'm thrilled about our partnership with Confirm not Conform. It's a fantastic program, and I always get a positive response when I talk about it while I'm on the road. I'm looking forward to finding ways to introduce it to more congregations -- it can make a real difference in our church.

Well, thank you! We hope so!

Moving on, the mission of Forward Movement is to "reinvigorate the life of the church." What do you think that would look like? And how can all of us make that happen?

The founding vision of Forward Movement was simple: to make the Episcopal Church strong, its congregations need to be strong. To have strong congregations, we need the pews to be filled with engaged disciples, not habitual Christians. A revitalized church will manifest a strong commitment to Jesus and his ministry. When people become truly engaged in the work of discipleship, they are much more likely to tithe and to share the Good News. As we get more disciples, we'll make a great contribution to the welfare of the whole world. And, as a side effect, our church will be stronger, healthier, and growing.

Of course one season in the life of the church that we particularly focus on building disciples is Lent, which leads me to my last question. In your opinion, who's looking good for the Lent Madness Faithful Four this year?

As a member of the Supreme Executive Committee of Lent Madness, I must remain impartial. All I can say is that anyone can win the Golden Halo -- we've had modern and ancient saints, men and women, saints from around the world. I hope lots more people will join the 50,000 who took part in Lent Madness last year. It's a great way to learn more about the saints, about ways God works in the lives of ordinary women and men.

Here's one pro tip: you can ask one of the saints (perhaps a previous Golden Halo winner) to pray for you when you are picking your bracket. You never know.

Thank you, Scott! We at Confirm not Conform look forward to our continuing work with Forward Movement!