5 Questions with Deborah Wright and Jim Kitchens

This series highlights participants at the national gathering in Minneapolis on March 31st – April 2nd, 2014. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Minneapolis and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. 

Deborah Wright and Jim Kitchens are partners in PneuMatrix, a consulting group working with churches and presbyteries implementing adaptive change and supporting pastors developing innovative forms of Christian community. 

Together, they are offering a thought-piece at the Next Gathering on adaptive change and leadership.

5 questions1. Tell us about your ministry context.

Deborah: Following 8 years in the pastorate, a return to the PhD program at the GTU (Historical Theology), and serving as Development Director under Randy Taylor at SFTS, I launched a practice in Corporate Chaplaincy and Strategic Leadership Development.  Clients have included Kaiser Permanente, LucasFilm, and Google.  Launched PneuMatrix , a not-for-profit consulting practice for Adaptive Change, with Jim Kitchens in Jan. 2012.

Jim: I serve as interim director of the progressive ecumenical campus ministry at the University of California at Davis and as a consultant with PneuMatrix.  I also help oversee the Company of New Pastors, our denomination’s first call program.

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

Deborah: Since launching PneuMatrix, I’ve seen signs of ‘the church that is becoming’ across the country – through NEXT, through UNCO, through 1001 NWCs, through Fresh Expressions (U.K.), through following some of the brightest and most creative imaginations of newly discovered colleagues on Facebook.  PneuMatrix’ beta study in San Francisco Presbytery in 2012 allowed us to celebrate profound ‘deaths’ and ‘resurrections’ of a variety of ministries.  As a partner with NEXT in the Paracletos engagement, Jim and I are working closely with a congregation in transition in SoCal.

Jim: In people who are willing to take “holy risks” and begin new ministries that respond to the unique needs of their neighborhood.  I’m especially drawn to new ministries that are willing to risk even failure for the sake of learning about what the Spirit is doing among us.

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

Jim: I’m passionate about mentoring and encouraging younger church leaders and also about working with congregations approaching the end of their life to help them leave a legacy of mission for the church’s future.  What keeps me up at night is that whether we Boomers might run the church into the ground before younger generations of church leaders have the opportunity to renew it.

Deborah: I have always been attracted to change.  Since my undergrad years, I have studied the sociology of change in the church.  Having been born/raised/baptized/confirmed in a large congregation in South Florida that became a founding congregation of the PCA, I have lived the stuff of dramatic church change to the bone.  This current tsunami of change in Christendom jazzes me.  Where many see loss and challenge, I see fresh winds of the Spirit and vast opportunity for Kingdom work.  My work as a Corporate Chaplain has been all about being a midwife of deep change.  It doesn’t keep me up at night – I eagerly dive into the dreamworld waiting on God’s unveilings.  I’m an off-the-chart intuitive on  the MBTI.

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

Deborah: I’m looking forward to all the workshops and speaking engagements I’m NOT a part of!  I’m looking forward to the IGNITE segments, and to meeting new companions along the way to the Becoming Church!  And I just may make a side trip  to the Mall Of America, because, honestly, what a crazy concept!

Jim: I love the enthusiasm and hope that pervades the room as people who trust the Spirit is equipping us for and leading us into the future build off of one another’s insights, ideas, and energy.

5. Describe NEXT Church in seven words or less.

Jim: Isaiah’s “new thing” bursting into flower.

Deborah: Church Becoming: Diving into the Deep Unknown!

Discerning What’s NEXT in a Time of Transition

Each month we ask a different person from the NEXT Church community to assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, Karen Sapio has been curating a conversation around ministry in long established congregations. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here.

By Mark Davis

changeI currently exist in that happy little bubble called “the honeymoon” of a new call. I know that the joy, my apparent marvelousness, the crowds and the hope all carry the strain of false advertising, reminiscent of the hope that rises when looking at an Easter Sunday crowd. But, I honestly felt that – aside from a few unlovely encounters along the way –my first congregation and I were in something like a honeymoon phase the whole eighteen years I was with them. I tend to be a ‘rose-colored glasses’ sort of person, so maybe there was much more ‘trouble in the land’ than I ever presumed. But, I felt like there were two things I learned in my first call that I hope will help me in my second call: Joining the Team and Instituting Change.

By “joining the team” I am referring to one of my clergy pet peeves, so please bear with me. I despise when clergy speak about ourselves and our congregations as if ‘we’ are the only ones who really get Jesus while ‘they’ are all stuck in their ways and obstacle to what God is really trying to do among us. (It all starts with the dreadful ‘C&E Christians’ jokes.) Perhaps if that is how we comport ourselves vis-a-vis the congregations that we serve, then that is how each of us will act out. If we pretend that we are the voice crying out in the wilderness and our congregations are the brood of vipers gathered along the river; if we imagine that we are in the role of Jesus in this story while our congregations are the errant disciples, if we preach as if we are Paul and our congregations are the infighting Corinthians – then perhaps that is how we will all start to act in order to appear as good, biblical people. But, if we assume that Pentecost really did happen, a healthier perspective emerges: We – the congregation together with those who serve them – are a prophetic community, pointing toward a reign of God that sometimes puts us in direct conflict with the predominant values of our contextual communities. We are, by grace and giftedness, on the same team. Whatever resistance, hope, pettiness, glory, or fear that I see in the congregation I serve are akin to the same qualities that are in me. I see them because I know them. That’s why even my most ardent opinion about ‘them’ becomes a word about ‘us’ when I preach. It’s not faux humility. It’s truth.

By “instituting change” I am joining one of the most popular and one of the most despised of our current buzzwords quite deliberately. What I hope to ‘institutionalize,’ i.e. make a part of our routine expectation, is change itself. Frankly, I think admonitions against “change for the sake of change” are wrong. Even if a particular change ends up seeming contrived and a waste of time, the act of changing itself breeds openness to the creative God who is ever making all things new. Of course there are limits to what can and ought to be changed, of course there is discernment that is necessary, and of course the relationships behind our practices are tantamount. But, those are not typically the areas where conversations about change arise. They arise over the adiaphora, preferences, and conveniences – all of which are best kept when we subject them to change continually and deliberately. I want people coming to worship wondering, “What has the Worship Committee cooked up this time?” I want people whining, “But we did this last year!” And they will, once we’ve worked together to institutionalize change.


Mark Davis is the pastor of Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA.

Photo credit:Nanagyei via photopin cc

Sharing Ideas with NEXT Church

Each month we ask a different person from the NEXT Church community to assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, Karen Sapio has been curating a conversation around ministry in long established congregations. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here.

by Charles Taylor Kerchner

I am an Elder, both chronologically and by office.  Despite my 70+ years, I am much more excited by the church’s future possibilities than I am nostalgic about its past.  And while I am energized by NEXT Church, I find it does not help me much in thinking about the future of my congregation.

Most of the church stories I’ve heard at NEXT Church gatherings have been tales of decline and rebirth: the shell of an old church inhabited by vital, younger clergy and members, small in number but large in spirit.  Others tell of established churches with strong financial underpinning and the capacity to invest in new missions while maintaining the trappings of tradition.  My church has not collapsed, but it is not resting on a huge endowment either.

Claremont Presbyterian Church, where my wife and I have worshiped for nearly 40 years, is an aging congregation in a suburban college town, declining in attendance and numbers of pledging families.  Yet, it is spiritually, intellectually, and socially vital, perhaps more so than at any time in its recent past.  In conventional terms, it is well led and well managed.  Yet, I know where the trends lead.

org chartI study organizations and institutions for a living and know that almost all organizations have a life cycle.  Charles Handy—the British commentator and churchman—writes about intersecting sigmoid (S) curves.  As the old organization reaches its peak and begins to decline, new possibilities emerge.  For a brief time it has the resources to start and nourish new ventures.  If it waits too long those resources are used up supporting the programs of the past, and a panic response sets in.  People thrash about, desperately trying new things.  New leadership is brought in promising a quick makeover.  Our newspapers tell us about these organizations every day, and in many ways newspapers are these organizations.

The question is: How does an established church jump from the old curve to the new one before it’s too late?  And how does NEXT Church help us do so?

Three thoughts about how it might:

First, tell triumphal and detailed stories.  NEXT Church is not the remnant of a broken denomination; it’s the vanguard, or should be.  It should possess and proclaim case studies of congregational growth and transformation.  Cases both inspire and teach.

Second, don’t be afraid of the particulars.  John Gardner, in his writing about education, warned against too lofty a view.  In a society that values philosophy but not plumbing, he wrote, neither the theories nor the pipes will hold water.  Thus, church leaders, and particularly lay leaders, need to connect the mundane details of organization and money to the larger quest for transformation.

Finally, intentionally bring more lay people into the mix.  We need to be the agents of transformation, not just the object of it.  Particularly elder Elders will tend to be nostalgic remembering the programs and activities that they grew up with.  Push them past that.  Older people can be very unsentimental, very good about letting go.  They have to be.  As one of the residents of a retirement community in our town put it, “dying is no big deal here.”  And the secret that every successful development officer knows is that old people want to leave a legacy.

NEXT Church could help by creating processes that its member churches could use to help themselves see the future, imagine the rising curve.  Organizational consultants construct scenarios to imagine the future, city planners and architects use charrettes, to allow people to construct the tangible aspects of places they want to live.  NEXT Church could help by adapting these and other practices to the task of helping congregations move from the declining curve to the rising one.


Kerchner08Charles Taylor Kerchner is a Research Professor in the School Educational Studies at the Claremont Graduate University and a specialist in educational organizations, educational policy, and teacher unions.

5 Questions with Mark Ramsey and Kristy Farber

This series highlights participants at the national gathering in Minneapolis on March 31st – April 2nd, 2014. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Minneapolis and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. 

Mark Ramsey has been the Senior Pastor at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Asheville since 2006, after serving churches in Illinois, Colorado, Michigan and Maryland.  He is a graduate of the University of Virginia and Princeton Theological Seminary.

Kristy Farber has been the Associate Pastor at Grace Covenant since 2010.  Prior to that she directed a college ministry in Washington state and taught high school English.  She has an undergraduate degree from the University of Washington and graduate degrees from Seattle University and Princeton Theological Seminary.

Together, they are offering a testimony and workshop on leadership for congregational transformation.

5 questions1. Tell us about your ministry context.

Grace Covenant is a growing, fairly traditional (by all outside appearances) congregation located in Asheville, NC in the middle of the last area of the culture that hasn’t got the memo that Christendom is over (bless our hearts, as we say down here…)

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

Most every time we gather—either for worship, to work in our community garden, or especially last Sunday when we had our latest version of  “real.life.stories”—a first person storytelling event held in the restaurant/bar across the street with six people telling stories around the theme “Misunderstanding.”

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

We both love our jobs—almost all of it:  thinking creatively about the content of worship, thinking creatively about content in general, being with people in crisis, and riding the roller-coaster of living as a church at this time and place.

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

Ministry is all about collaboration.  There’s not substitute for relationships in ministry. 

5. Describe NEXT Church in seven words or less.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

5 Questions with Gary Swaim

This series highlights participants at the national gathering in Minneapolis on March 31st – April 2nd, 2014. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Minneapolis and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. 

Gary D. Swaim, Ph.D. lives in Irving, TX.  He is a produced playwright in California and Texas (including a drama portraying the last years in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and a widely-published poet and writer of short fiction, in addition to anthologized poetry and fiction.  Currently, Dr. Swaim teaches in the Masters of Liberal Studies Program for S.M.U and serves as Faculty Advisor for Creative Writing.  He was selected as the 2011 Texas Senior Poet Laureate and was awarded the honor of Minnie Stevens Piper Professor of Excellence for the state of Texas. Swaim is a member of the Woodhaven Presbyterian Church of Irving, Texas and a ruling elder. Gary will be leading a workshop, Creating the Poetry of the Spirit.

5 questions1. Tell us about your ministry context.

I grew up in a conservative denomination and served as a minister (pastor) in that denomination (fulltime and supply) for approximately fifteen years.  With that same group, I later served as an elder for thirteen years.  Through it all, I began drifting (deliciously and painfully) from the literalism I had been part to.  Fresh air fell on me when my wife and I associated with the Presbyterian Church.  I continued my spiritual search and have served as a ruling elder (and lay minister) there.  I have, for as long as I can remember, regarded myself a deeply spiritual person who makes essentially no distinction between the world of the spirit and material.  Each of my life acts is, I believe, of the (S)spirit.

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

I have seen the “church that is becoming” in the specific acts of persons inside as well as outside the nominal church.  I have seen it among those who say they do not believe as well as in those who believe deeply.  I have seen it in the person of advanced age and of youth.  It is most in individuals (and my thoughts go to one so aptly named Gloria) more than in collected gatherings of Christians.  I have seen the church becoming most with the marriage of the arts to the gathered body of persons. . .when individuals become co-creators with God.

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

The so-called “high church” among most Presbyterians speaks to me most and impassions me.  Perhaps because I am a Professor of Arts and Humanities, symbology/imagery/depth of analysis speak to me most clearly, and I fear for its demise, its being overrun by bubblegum theology and practice.  No, I know.  This meets the needs of many and has every right to its existence.  It is, perhaps, only I whose need cannot be met by what APPEARS to be surface in nature.  And, then, I cry (worshipfully) at the excellence in a performance of “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Benny Goodman’s recording.  I have not said, you will have noticed, that I’m always consistent.

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

I will be enjoying (I know this is so, by faith) my first visit with Next Church.  I have long been involved in a quest for truths of all types and sorts, the very nature of my profession and temperament.  A quest, as concept, automatically involves “quest-ions.” I am rife with questions, short on permanent answers.  I expect that will be so for most attending Next Church.  What other reason than the search for answers would bring into existence a gathering like this?  I look forward to interacting with “questers.”  Nothing gives me greater anticipation.

5. Describe NEXT Church in seven words or less.

Believing, hopeful, questers in search of answers. . . .

Old Church, Dying City, New Energy

Each month we ask a different person from the NEXT Church community to assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, Karen Sapio has been curating a conversation around ministry in long established congregations. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here.

By Sandy TiceSlide1

Confession: I am old enough that I prefer paper to screens, I fumble with my phone, and feel shy about my ‘old school’ formation in ministry. Still, I try to do new stuff.

I serve a church smack in the middle of a very troubled city.  This church is 140 years old, (which is VERY old in California!)  We can remember when we were the tall-steeple church, when those who wanted to run for public office joined as a way to get to know influential people. For 25 years, a number of crises have plagued our city: the departure of the 3 biggest employers, poor elected leadership, increasing poverty, and most recently, bankruptcy. I say this so you understand that this congregation knows about big buildings that no longer feel full, about the aging and death of key leaders, about ‘glory days’ of dramatic productions and comfortable budgets and bigger staff. Still, they are brave and creative, believing God is too.

A couple of years ago, a seminary student wandered in and asked to do some work. Someone had told him this was a place where “he could learn a lot” (?!?).  In response to his request, the Session created a seminary internship.  And then I heard someone say, “How come you have to be in seminary to do an internship??”  I thought the question was fascinating, a good doorway to understanding parity between ruling and teaching elders. As a way of inviting the Session to discuss our polity, I created a ‘job description’ for a 12:7 Intern (named after the verse in 1 Corinthians which affirms that every one is given a gift of the Spirit for the common good.)  I meant it as an example to provoke discussion, but they startled me by asking if they could actually approve this concept and invite applicants!

The purpose of the internship is twofold:

  • To equip members of the community for ministry so they can discover joy in responding to God’s call, AND
  • To strengthen the congregation by developing leaders and creating a culture of learning and growth.

The internship takes place over an academic year, and provides a chance to learn a specific skill or develop a new understanding by engaging in hands-on ministry, a study component, participation in staff meetings, a personal pattern of regular prayer & worship, and weekly theological reflection with the pastor.

Interested persons could submit a proposal describing their sense of call, and the project or skill they wanted to undertake or develop. I was startled again when we received not one, but TWO applicants!  Could we afford to give a stipend to each? Could we afford not to?  Our first two applicants were women, both raised in traditions that did not affirm women’s ordination. To be given a seat at staff meeting and have their names listed on the bulletin was deeply significant to them. One worked on creatively integrating kids as leaders in worship, the other on creating a new partnership with the struggling high school across the street. They frequently ate lunch with the seminary intern. It was full of grace and surprises for all of us.

It didn’t all go as planned. For one thing, though we did regular theological reflection, we never made it through our chosen ‘text’.  (Never made it past the first chapter…) It also took more time to supervise than I had budgeted, so adjustments had to be made.  When we arrived at the end of the internships, we found ourselves asking significant “now what?” questions to determine whether the projects came to an end or took on a life of their own.  Another surprise: at the end of the year, both interns wanted to do second internships, and created new projects, which the Session again affirmed.  One of the best things was having them describe where God had met them in their experiences on Intern Sunday in May – a chance for all of us to be delighted and astonished.

And now, midway through the second year, another young adult has created a position for herself that she calls “social media intern”, creating for us a presence on Twitter and Instagram, managing our Facebook page, and reaching out to the diaspora of young adults who grew up here but who live far away and don’t read newsletters. I love that I had to ask myself, “how do I supervise someone who is doing something I don’t know how to do?!” It’s an uncomfortable question, but it delights me – makes me think we are learning something.

My favorite thing about this has been the spirit of ‘let’s try it!’ that has surfaced.  People have wondered aloud if there is an upper age limit for interns. And other questions: can interns preach? How much work can be done in the office and how much from home? Can someone serve as an officer while being an intern? Session has been tickled that this un-planned thing has been so fruitful – their adventuresome spirit and trust in God has been rewarded. And bits of joy have trickled into other areas: new habits with kids in worship, new adults involved at the high school- and me, with a Twitter account!

But I still prefer paper.


sandySandy Tice is pastor of the brave and creative community at First Pres San Bernardino. 

5 Questions with John Wilkinson

We are launching a new series this month that highlights participants at the national gathering in Minneapolis on March 31st – April 2nd, 2014. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Minneapolis and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. So without further ado …

5 questions 950x300John Wilkinson is Pastor of Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester NY. He came to Rochester in 2001 from Chicago. He has been active on the presbytery and national levels, and loves our connectional culture and confessional legacy. He’s leading a workshop (along with Tedd Pulano) on Urban Presbyterians Together, A Model for Missional and Relational Ministry.

1. Tell us about your ministry context.

Metropolitan congregation, interesting combinaiton of tradition and innovation, vibrant, serving, growing, seeking

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

Our collaborative urban ministry that is addressing the challenges of public education in the city of Rochester

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

Worship, collegiality, collaboration, urban ministry, the confessions, connectionalism, hymns

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

Connecting with colleagues and friends and gleaning new ideas for ministry

5. Describe NEXT Church in seven words or less.

Connecting, transforming, adapting, confessing, serving, worshiping, hoping

Getting on the Balcony

balconyIt’s the Adaptive Change buzz motto.  Pastors around the country are hip to the phrase.  Lots of us toss it around as our bona fides that we know all about Adaptive Change.  And maybe we do.  But implementing Adaptive Change . . .  well, that’s another thing altogether.

Jim Kitchens and I have the pleasure of working with the Community Presbyterian Church in San Juan Capistrano as part of the Paracletos Project sponsored by NEXT. Their Revitalization Team is hard at work, eager to dive into new ideas and experiments, wanting to embrace a new chapter for their beloved congregation.  What they are learning is the hard lesson of the differences between technical changes and adaptive ones.  We are deep in the fallow period of internal reflection.  Are we an Attractional Church or a Missional one?  Yes, we are Sunday-centric.  Why is that bad?  Okay, truth is, only one of us – the pastor – is on Facebook, let alone any other form of social media.  Can ‘Old Dogs’ learn these ‘New Tricks’?  We’re hanging out together on that balcony.  And it’s hard work — like using muscles we didn’t know we had.  Adaptive change work unleashes a lot of epiphanies, many of which we ‘hip’ pastors sometimes take for granted.

One of the most profound new epiphanies our Team has recognized is that we have been a culture of Church as habit.  But that social and cultural habit is gone.  Nascar, kid’s soceer games and worthy cancer marathons have grabbed the Sunday morning space that once was sacred. (Welcome to MY world, says the friendly neighboring Rabbi!).  And hey, if we aren’t mainly about Sunday, then WHAT are we?  WHO are we?  HOW are we to be the people of God on the corner of 3rd and Main?

This is the reflective pool we pastors swim in – we blog it, we tweet it, we Facebook it, we confab it with one another.  Now, it’s time for the hard work – living into that ‘priesthood of all believers’ part of sharing the lifeboat as we move beyond the drifting stages.  In the U.K.  the vast majority of Fresh Expressions’ new worshipping communities are lead by the laity.  The challenge – the call, if you will – is to partner-up with our parishoners and listen.  Stand together on that balcony with listening ears, willing to share the Diana Butler Bass-ness of our shared world, and give it time to steep.  Adaptive change is often slow and steady, but it always pays to take the time to gain a shared reality at the start.

– By Deborah Wright and Jim Kitchens, Principals of PneuMatrix (and keynote speakers for the 2014 National Gathering!)

photo credit:

J.Marshall via photopin cc

Start-ups, Phoenixes…..and the Rest of Us

Each month we ask a different person from the NEXT Church community to assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, Karen Sapio has been curating a conversation around ministry in long established congregations. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here.

By Karen Sapio

pheonix smallIn a follow-up to his family’s wildly successful “Christmas Jammies” video, Penn Holderness recently released “Christmas Jammies, part 2”  in which he laments the disconnect between the hipster ensemble his wife gave him for Christmas and the realities of his middle-aging body.  Go ahead and watch it. I’ll wait… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAUtzBRLUrk

I have to admit that when I return from NEXT Church conferences and regional gatherings, I often have something like the refrain from this video buzzing in my head:  They looked so good on that guy from the Internet—but they don’t look so good on me…”

It worked so well for that speaker from the NEXT Conference–but that won’t work so well for me…..

NEXT conferences often showcases fantastically creative ministry startups, or formerly dead congregations rising phoenix-like from their own ashes.  The host churches for the national gatherings have all been large, vital, resource-rich congregations able to support their current ministries with funds to spare for experimentation and innovation.

Like many who are inspired by NEXT Church’s vision, however, that’s not where I live.  I am pastor of a medium sized congregation with about ⅔ of the members over age 60.  In another year we will celebrate the 60th anniversary of our founding.  We can just about make the budget work most of the time, and we are keeping an anxious eye on our small cushion of reserves.  We are not in immediate crisis, but it is becoming clear to those who are paying attention–and there are thankfully a number of those attentive, faithful people–that the current trajectory is not good and that our current strategy of hopeful tweaking is not enough.

I attend NEXT Church gatherings and wonder: How can we generate the energy and excitement of a start-up when we are a long established institution?  How do we foster the kind of urgency and focus that attends a true crisis of viability when we’ve got enough resources to maintain at least some semblance of the status-quo for another decade or so? How do we find the imagination and resources to operate in two worlds: the traditional church we’ve inherited and the new form of church we need to create, especially when we feel like we’ve got barely enough people and money to keep one world afloat?

During February the NEXT blog hopes to foster a conversation around these kinds of questions.  How do we bridge that disconnect between what works for the kinds of ministries that are so inspiring for us at NEXT gatherings and the kind of ministry that seems to be possible in our own contexts?  How do we discover what’s NEXT in the inertia of long-standing habits and traditions?  How do congregations embark on a journey toward the future while carrying the blessings and burdens of the past?  How do we find the energy and urgency to apply ourselves to this task NOW even when there is no immediate crisis to impel us toward big changes and bold risks?

We know it’s a mistake to go for hip and trendy if that’s not our style.  We also know that we can’t keep wearing grand dad’s clothes forever.

Jesus told his followers:  ‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’

How are you making these connections?  What have you found helpful if you are working toward transformation in an established church that is still doing okay in many respects?  How are you finding ways to generate energy and excitement? To  foster a sense of urgency and focus on the future?  To walk the tightrope between the current church and the NEXT church?  Join the conversation.

And hey, Penn Holderness–I hear you have Presbyterian connections: what do YOU think???


SapioKaren Sapio is Pastor of the Claremont Presbyterian Church a NEXT Church Advisory Team member.

Illustration credit: shutterstock/robodread