Ashes to Fire - Review

On Patrick's suggestion, we started up a new small group working through the Ashes to Fire devotional guide produced by Nazarene Publishing House.  The basic concept is that the whole church moves on a collective spiritual journey from Ash Wednesday (through Lent and Easter) all the way to Pentecost.  To compliment the devo guide, there are lots of other resources: a 14 week worship service guide, a DVD with lots of digital support tools, 16 original songs, and resources for children.
Our church got into Ashes to Fire a little late, so we just had one small group working through the curriculum.  But we're probably going to try to do the whole thing as a church next year.
Here are some of the things I liked most.
  • Far and away, my favorite part was the daily devotional.  Each day there were morning and evening prayer and Bible guides.  When I was busy, I would just read the prayers and summary verses.  But when I had time, I would read through all the Bible selections.  I appreciated using a guide for the Bible reading, and I liked having it relate to the church season.
  • Still related to the devotional, I enjoyed the prayers from John Wesley or the Book of Common Prayer.  I often felt like they put words to my actual desires for that day.
  • Each devotional also included a quote - often from a church father (or mother).  It was great to live in historic community with those who have gone before us.
  • I liked the small group discussions.  In fact, our group has already chosen another book and plans to continue meeting.  I'm hoping that next time around, we'll be able to use the momentum from Ashes to Fire to start several new small groups.
  • I really liked some of the songs on the CD - especially the ones for the Lenten season.
However, the book/system could stand some improvements for next time.
  • Once a week there is a 2-3 page devotional on the gospel text.  Some of these were good.  Others were pretty weak.  For our somewhat skeptical book, the cheese-factor here lessened their resolve to participate in the daily prayer guides as well.
  • The daily quotes from church history could stand some improvement, (a) More women, (b) include the approximate date of the quote  (Most people have no clue when Gregory the Great lived.), (c) Make the quotes more connected with the readings (Sometimes, they seemed kind of random.), (d) Stay with the ancient writers for these quotes.  (It adds to the flavor.)
  • Provide the lyrics for the CD.  I couldn't even find out who wrote or performed the various songs.  (Also, sheet music would be very important for incorporating some of these into our worship services.)
  • Improve the promo videos.  We'll need something better to help us promote this within our church.
With that being said, overall, this was a good experience for us, and I think we'll be coming back to it next year with our whole church.  So the Josh rating here is: JJJJ.  (Missing one J because of some of the essays.)