At its best the church is a locker room. It’s the place we go to be spiritually coached and taught, healed and fired up. This makes worship the crucial “practice time” for Christians. Bible study, service projects, and leadership opportunities are also essential “drills” for this team building. But this is where the sports metaphor breaks down. Football teams don’t generally have to prepare the field, wash the uniforms, staff the concession stand, and sell tickets to the game! As church-goers, we are called on to do so many other tasks to keep the institution going that it is all too easy to lose track of our primary job, which is to become great disciples for Jesus, so that they can in turn make other great disciples. Years ago I was invited to a Via de Cristo, one of many expressions of the Three Day Movement across the church. It made such a difference in my life that I have to commend it to you.
The Three Day Movement began in Spain after their Civil War that ended in 1939. In the wake of the bloodshed and violence, the Spanish church, like the nation, was broken and divided. A group called Catholic Action for Young Men wanted to bring healing so they tried to organize a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James, in Compostela, Spain, a place of great Christian renewal in the Middle Ages. They hoped that such a pilgrimage would help revive lukewarm religiosity once more. In order to prepare leaders for this pilgrimage, Catholic Action wanted to offer a Cursillo, literally “Little Course for Pilgrim Leaders.” Unfortunately, these efforts were delayed by the outbreak of World War II, but the first Cursillo weekend was finally held in 1949 at the monastery of St. Honorato in Majorca. By 1955 Bishop Juan Hervas became a leader in the Movement and helped spread the Cursillo across Spain.
From there it spread to Latin America, as more and more believers found this short course to be a vital part of their deepening walk with Jesus. By 1983 there were Cursillos in nearly all of South and Central America, plus Canada, Mexico, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia, Australia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and several African countries. Cursillo made it to the Lutherans in Florida in 1972. Building on its Catholic and Spanish roots, American Lutherans added their own flavor to the Three Day Movement, and renamed their version of it Via de Cristo. or “The Way of Christ.”
I was invited to attend a Via de Cristo weekend in the spring of 1992, just after my first Easter as a green parish pastor, As soon as I arrived at the rustic camp facility, I resented it like crazy! It was advertised to me a “spiritual retreat,” when in fact, in was an intense, disciple-building workshop. I was exhausted after the rigors of Lent and Easter. Besides, the church had just certified me with the “magic hands” of ordination. I knew everything that I needed to know about my faith, or so I thought. What I found at VdC was a series of lectures and sharing talks, given mostly by lay people, about different aspects of the Christian life; then as participants in the weekend, we got a chance to discuss these talks and connect them to our own lives in small groups. There was also music, worship, and a gaggle of excessively cheerful servants, made up of people who had made a Via de Cristo before me. Slowly, I began to realize that some of the talks were quite powerful, especially as ordinary lay folks openly shared their blessings and struggles in following Jesus. The “grace talks” given by ordained pastors were spot-on summaries of Jesus’ love for us, and the pastors were every bit as vulnerable as other speakers. Once I had let go of being able to take long naps on this weekend, what got to me was the over-the-top service of the people who were putting on the weekend. Dozens of regular church folks had given up their weekends to cook, clean, and fetch snacks so the rest of us could focus on our faith, without distraction, for 72 hours.
I have Cerebral Palsy, and at the time, I was walking on crutches. The camp was moderately large, and over time hoofing around the camp got to be a challenge for me. It was then that I realized that someone in the Movement had thought ahead to rent a golf cart for the weekend, and someone was assigned to drive me around all weekend, just so that I could get the most out of my Via de Cristo. Wow! “All this just for me!” is a regular refrain in the Movement. It has also become my personal prayer of gratitude. It’s why I have been involved in VdC as a servant for many years. Putting on the weekends as one of the “Team,” I learned that VdC is more than spiritual talks and extraordinary hospitality. It is fundamentally a prayer movement. Months before, people begin praying for the success of the weekend and the growth of the as yet unknown participants or “Pilgrims.” Then during the weekend people, both on-site and off, are praying for us 24/7. Many of the people serving on the Team are barely seen, but they work behind the scenes to help make more and deeper disciples.
Via de Cristo is the Lutheran expression of the Three Day Movement. There are others. The Catholics and the Episcopalians still call theirs Cursillo; the Baptists call it Tres Dias, and the Methodist version is Walk to Emmaus. Perhaps even more exciting, there is a Three Day Weekend for young people called Teens Encounter Christ and an ecumenical version for men and women in prison called Kairos. There is even a weekend just for the female relatives of male inmates called Kairos Outside. I also served for many years on Kairos Teams. It is truly amazing to watch men in a very dark place come to deeper faith and the profound awareness that “Jesus loves me,” Yes, even me! The Movement goes by different names, but it all has the same basic structure and a common goal: to bring Christians closer to Jesus so that they can live their faith more vibrantly in the world.
A Three Day Weekend is not just talk. It’s about providing the tools, courage, and support to put your faith in action. Neither is VdC an end in itself. If it were, it would be a pleasant memory with little lasting impact. At the conclusion of each weekend, Pilgrims are invited, challenged, to join a Reunion Group. Reunion Groups are small groups of people who have made a weekend. Like other Small Groups or Accountability Groups, these are safe places to share the joys and the challenges of Christian living. Their purpose is to keep your faith revived. They also provide another group with whom to share and serve in Christ’s love. While we love for Pilgrims to come back and serve on Three Day Teams, VdC really wants you to go back and serve in your congregation with new skills, trust, and joy. The Three Day Movement is a vital tool for renewing the church.
Sadly, too often, this is a tool that is being left dusty and unused in the shed. Every time Christians gather sin is present, so Via de Cristo needs to take its share of the blame for being under-utilized. There are some really fun, unexpected things that happen on a weekend that we don’t like to advertise in advance, for fear of spoiling the surprises. Years ago in VdC, this was often perceived by those who had not yet made a weekend as “secretiveness.” More than that, weekend participants get very close to each other and typically come back from a weekend very enthusiastic about God and each other. This, too sometimes made it seem to others that Via de Cristo is a “clique” reserved for only the most special Christians. Nothing could be further from the heart of the Movement. The Three Day Movement is for burned out Christians, tired Christians, and cranky Christians like me who need very much to be reminded of Jesus’ love for us and our mission for the world.
A sin of the church is that sometimes pastors, of which I am a card-carrying member, can be skeptical of religious experiences that happen outside their buildings. We love to see God’s Holy Spirit at work in our members, but we like it best when it happens close by where we can keep an eye on it! It embarrasses me that many of my fellow clergy are nervous about a Movement that is largely lay-led and cross-denominational. Every pastor worth her salt would say that the purpose of the church is to align people with God’s mission for them and those around them. If the Three Day Movement help us do that, then every spiritual leader in every denomination should be a huge cheerleader, but lots are not.
Of course, not every tool works for everybody. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel right in your hand. Maybe it’s not the right time to tackle this particular job, or you just choose to get the job done in a different way. That’s great. But if the job of the church is to excel together on the field, and the local congregation is a locker room, then perhaps it’s time for a bunch of us to suit up and go to training camp,For more information about various expressions of the Three Day Movement or to join the next weekend, check out these websites: