Evangelicalism as Community Problem-Solving

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Andrew Kukla is curating reflections on being evangelical in the church. Have we connected our congregations to resurrection life? Have we taught them how to talk about it?  How to live it? How to connect others to that life-giving, life-abundant power? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Wyatt Schroeder

The offering plate sits in my lap. I wonder if the offertory volunteers notice my hesitation. I’m a guest at this church. I don’t know well enough the cause of the congregation. It hasn’t been made clear yet what problem my money is solving. Am I donating to accrue more members? Am I reaching in my pockets to address deferred maintenance? Is this assuaging my guilt? It’s not that I don’t understand how unrestricted dollars can impact the depth of our work; I understand all too well. I’m the executive director of a housing nonprofit in Boise, Idaho. Money fuels our mission and directly allows our case managers to end homelessness for over 200 people a year. Then why am I uncomfortable in the pews?

tsr_4422_webYour work in the church and my work in the streets intermingle and cross-pollinate. The New Evangelicalism, if we are comfortable with capital letters, is likely to be about causes, not creeds; to be about problem-solving and not moral rectitude. It will be about inviting a community conversation on community problems and not about creating a convert. I say this as a nonprofit professional and as a millennial. Yes, that cursed generation that is plaguing the graph of church membership and afflicting the comforting malaise of the status quo.

Often, a volunteer will shyly confess to me, “Wyatt, I’m uncomfortable asking for money.” My response is simple, but culturally significant: at our organization, we should not ask people for money, we should ask people to solve problems. This builds a covenantal relationship with supporters that recognizes their strengths, recognizes the need, and will continue to grow beyond any one transaction, handshake, or capital campaign. A covenant is a language that we’re familiar with—but one that seems reserved for our current congregants. Should we not have a covenant with our community at large, inviting congregants and non-congregants alike to join us in addressing community problems?

From my seat in the pew, evangelicalism became a sullied tradition because of confusion between outputs and outcomes. This is not a semantic point; instead it actualizes a severe disregard for building covenantal relationships. Our efforts, both as church and as social-justice leaders, in the old evangelical model were about bean counting: member rolls, dollars raised, dollars donated to local charities, and hours of religious education delivered. Our success was determined by the number of souls recruited. It was, to my mind, never about the outcomes that we could achieve together for the benefit of our community.

This misstep also plagues the nonprofit sector. I notice it in the 15-minute presentations to local Rotary or Kiwanis Clubs, where a nonprofit shares a three-minute story of a client’s success and then details how their seven programs could use my support. At no point did they educate me on the community need. Sure, it’s implied that if the organization exists then it must be addressing a need, but it’s output-thinking. Instead, we should use all 15 minutes to educate about the problem that we’re addressing. “Lead with the need,” as one mentor used to tell me. When we share based on our intended outcomes, a beautiful thing happens: it forces a conversation about how our values are put into action. Outputs are about the mechanics of our work; outcomes are about how our vision transforms a family, a mother, a child. “Let’s raise $3,000 for this month’s plate partner” becomes “let’s increase childhood wellness by reducing family homelessness.”  

If we only implore others to join us in addressing outputs—I’m picturing your annual-fund campaign thermometer posted in the narthex—then our work will not resonate with a millennial generation that is less interested in membership than in revolutions. But if we discuss outcomes, then the offering plate becomes an invitation to community problem-solving. And in this new language of evangelicalism, we will invite a covenantal relationship that will empower people’s strengths to be levied for a greater purpose.


Wyatt head shotWyatt Schroeder (@wvschroeder) serves as the Executive Director for CATCH, Inc. He is responsible for the strategic management, fund development, storytelling, and program success of the organization. A native of Pennsylvania, Wyatt holds an M.B.A. from Villanova University (Philadelphia, PA) and a B.A. from Allegheny College (Meadville, PA). While serving in AmeriCorps with Rebuilding Together, Wyatt found the passion of his life: ending homelessness. Wyatt is committed to building sustainable organizations around innovative housing models, such as Housing First, while never forgetting to share the powerful stories of those we are serving.

Reconciliation Lived Out

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Shannon Beck is one such presenter. Learn more about her workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Shannon Beck

When I was called to work for World Mission at the Presbyterian Church (USA), I took on the most amazing job title on the planet: Reconciliation Catalyst. Of course everyone, including me, was asking with a snicker, “How is she going to do that?” The funny part is that the job title was originally listed as “Violence and Reconciliation Catalyst.” Needless to say, I was not keen on being a violence catalyst, so we changed it. (I’m a stickler on details like that.)

presby peacemakersThe thing is, though, we live and work in a violent world. Much of what Presbyterian mission co-workers do in their context, is pastor, love, teach, and advocate in communities where wars, conflicts, corruption, and the violence of poverty persist, sometimes for decades. Israel and Palestine, Congo, Iraq, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the United States, just to name a few. And there are so many levels of violence we address. Hence, removing the word violence didn’t seem right. But ultimately we landed here on reconciliation. We work toward reconciliation. That is where we began as Christians, reconciled to God; that is the goal for God’s beloved world.

And to think: the 2016 National Gathering is an entire conference with reconciliation as the theme! I’m in!

Related to that is the fact that I have a particular interest in how we create change for the common good. On an essential level, I think of peace, justice, and reconciliation as the primary ingredients of social justice. This is the mission and witness we undertake as church. The church exists for mission. This much we know. How exactly we do that is dependent on many factors, especially our context. But, we find there are few venues for leaders to discuss this. How does change work? What ingredients do we need? What has worked for us?

Rev. Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, and I work closely together and thought it would be an amazing experience to share together what has worked in a workshop. We have models of social change that can be instructive, but we know that our experiences will be our teachers.

What usually happens when the Spirit moves us toward deeper involvement? We are sooo excited that we…form a committee! Or we take off running, cape flying behind us.

Both ways can be helpful for a season, but often we do just one or the other. We either wander through the discernment vortex or we pull out our light sabers and head into battle. Either way, we can miss THE moment. You know the one – where God, the community, the world, our worshipping community come together and are the feet and face and presence of Christ in a way that moves humankind forward.

We make the road by walking it together. But it takes some creativity. And I believe a couple of things about creativity. One is that creativity is really just a tweak on something else. It’s not magic. Another thing is that when creative people come together, magic happens.


Shannon BeckShannon Beck serves as the Reconciliation Catalyst in World Mission for the PC(USA). She connects individuals, congregations, and other entities with each other and with PC(USA) global partners engaged in building peace and reconciliation in cultures of violence. She is currently focused on an international Presbyterian campaign to stop sexual violence. In her spare time she is a blogger, poet, peace activist and writes and performs “Heart-driven contemporary folk music”. She is co-leading a workshop entitled “Holy Impatience” at the 2016 NEXT Church National Gathering.

Another Year, Another City

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Emily Powers

Over the past couple of weeks – really months – I have been thinking about why I decided to do a second year as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV). I’ve been asked if it wasn’t required, then why do it? I have talked with other YAVs who have done or are currently doing a second year, and they understand my struggle. After doing one intense year of intentional community, discernment, and volunteering, I discovered a lot about myself. So I felt that tug. That tug that we often identify as a call to do another year in a drastically different city with different people. I went to New York City to try a different job and maybe find my calling along the way.

Then, three months ago, I got to New York. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t finding my second year harder than my first. Who would have guessed that I would long for the spacious city of Washington, DC, or that I would crave for the relative silence that surrounded our row house? Yet here I am. I am in New York, and it is not what I asked for. It is not the second year I thought would be guaranteed from working in an interesting placement, living with experienced YAVs, and living in a constantly moving city jungle.

yav nycSo I am faced with the very difficult task to step back and evaluate my part in my experience. It may seem like a “no kidding” moment. Of course you have the autonomy to take back your life and experience. When I talk with my parents, they tell me how proud they are that I’m doing this great thing. They tell me to keep going because the experience will be worth it. They tell this to me knowing that my entire life I’ve been stubborn and bull headed and that I’m going to do it my way either way. So I thank them for their support because they are right. I will make it.

I have known for a while now that when I am fed with the Holy Spirit, I am at my happiest. Yet I manage to forget this when life gets hard or stressful or busy. So I have decided to start trying to listen to my parents’ advice to pray about it and keep going (like they have shown me my entire life). I cannot expect that someone is going to sit down with the bible and read it for me, just like I cannot expect someone to do my dishes.

So to not spend my year simply saving myself from myself, I have decided to do what I already know how to do. I know how to pray. I know how to go to church and worship. I know how to sit with a work and learn something new. I know that being present and showing up is 90% of the game. I know that by doing these things I have given myself the tools to be fulfilled.

It will still be hard. It will not be the last time I feel frustrated or want to pack my bags to fly home. It would not be worth it if it were easy.


emily powers

Emily Powers is a second year Young Adult Volunteer. She completed her first year in Washington, DC, and is now in The Big Apple. She plans to continue her life in ministry and eventually find herself at seminary. She is basically a New Yorker, except that she likes the Royals and misses getting across town in under twenty minutes.

Engagement in Church and Community

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By John Wilkinson

At our staff meetings each week, we begin with going around the circle and asking people to share “one good thing” from the previous Sunday. It’s a great prelude for all that follows, not a magic corporate strategy but a lovely litany of faith and reminder of the ministry to which we are called.

I am not sure that anything is saving my ministry right now, other than Jesus! But I do know that many, many good things are giving my ministry energy and fueling my passion, for which I am very grateful. Here’s a list…

  • Worship. Worship. Worship.
  • A call to make a difference in public education in Rochester, New York and Monroe County, where concentrated poverty and inequitable access holds children back. Fortunately, through the Great Schools for All movement, we are making a difference in our community. It’s the good and hard work of organizing and coalition building, all very Presbyterian.
  • A transforming trip to Kenya in October, where five of us visited our partner congregation just outside Nairobi. We experienced extraordinary hospitality and learned so much about what it means to be the church. Plus, the sights and sounds of Kenya are indescribable.
  • Challenging and important conversations on race and racism that we are attending in our community and hosting in our congregation, led primarily by Facing Race, Embracing Equity (FR=EE) a local community organization.
  • Our Book of Order, yes, our Book of Order. We utilized a new provision in the Form of Government to transition an interim associate pastor to an associate pastor. We worked closely and cooperatively with our Committee on Ministry, who engaged this new process with great thought. Cheers to a new sense of adaptability for mission purposes!
  • Stewardship, yes stewardship. We are having creative conversations about faith and money and seeking ways to make Stewardship Sunday feel different than it traditionally has.
  • A Vision and Strategy team on which I am privileged to serve in our presbytery. We are working on what many presbyteries are working on, the difficult task of change in a fluid environment. We are putting a heavy emphasis on relationships and also reminding ourselves that a presbytery’s health is closely linked to congregational health and pastoral leader’s health.
  • The East Avenue Grocery Run. What began as a way to reframe a hunger walk and to raise money for our various hunger programs at Third Church has turned into an epic event with over 1300 runners and walkers and thousands and thousands of dollars raised for our hungry neighbors. A wonderful leadership team makes it all happen, meeting rarely. We’ve also involved local businesses and other community groups who normally wouldn’t connect with a faith group, but do for this. It’s been fabulous!

I know that all of the above are very contextual and personal, but if there are common denominators and transportable values, they reside in collegiality and collaboration, openness to innovate, and a heavy reliance on prayer. I am grateful indeed!


john wJohn Wilkinson is Pastor of Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY. He has been active on the presbytery and national levels, including on the Strategy Team for NEXT Church, and loves our connectional culture and confessional legacy.

Greatest Hit: Making Space to Engage Our Neighbors

This fall, in addition to sharing reflections on “what is saving your ministry right now?”, we are also bringing back some of our most popular posts over the last couple of years. We hope these “greatest hits” will allow you new insight in this busy time of year. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

This post on multicultural ministry and community engagement is one of our most popular posts in the history of the NEXT Church blog. We’ve updated it slightly below in hopes it becomes a fresh resource as you look towards December.

By Rachel Triska

Several weeks ago, I was sitting in our coffee bar during an event and overheard a conversation that made me smile. A tech company had brought 125 of their employees from across the globe to our space for a major annual meeting. One of the guests was visiting with Kevin (a Dallas cop who runs security for all our events). The gentleman asked Kevin, “So what is this place?” Kevin began to give him our elevator pitch, “Life in Deep Ellum is a cultural center built for the artistic, social, economic and spiritual benefit of Deep Ellum and urban Dallas.” Then he added, “Basically, it’s a church that opens up to the community for a lot of different things. I’m here all the time – art shows, corporate events, fundraisers.” To which the gentleman responded, “You could have asked me for a list of twenty guesses – a church would not have been one of them.”

From the Life in Deep Ellum Facebook page

From the Life in Deep Ellum Facebook page

Joel and I have been pastoring together at Life in Deep Ellum for almost six years. Deep Ellum is a historic neighborhood just outside downtown Dallas. It’s often described as the Brooklyn of the South. Basically, it’s a small neighborhood with a big personality – lots of artists, entrepreneurs and folks who pride themselves on not needing God.

It’s that last characteristic that forced us to think differently about how to engage our neighborhood – traditional methods of outreach were not working. It was my husband who first pointed out what this neighborhood was forcing us to do. It forced us to stop thinking like pastors and start thinking like missionaries.

He was absolutely right. We found that to connect with our neighborhood we had to slow down enough to learn the language, the customs, how to appreciate their sense of humor. Some people might say we’ve kind of gone native. Ministering in this neighborhood certainly changed us.

What I love about thinking like a missionary is it taught me to think beyond Sundays. To think about how we might engage our neighbors seven days a week. That’s how we reached the decision to operate as a cultural center Monday-Friday.

Every Sunday we stack all the chairs in our venue (worship space) and put them away. Our band clears the stage. We take down all our church-specific signage. We clear out because we are making space to engage our neighbors. Those very same neighbors who say they will never go to church but hang out with us in our building all the time. On Tuesday nights a dance company takes over the space. Mondays and Wednesdays we host Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. In the next few weeks we’ll host a book launch for a local author, a closing reception for an art exhibit and have 500 teens in for a spoken word event.

Each year, not including Sundays, we see between 10,000 and 20,000 people come through our building. Our coffee shop will serve somewhere around 35,000 cups of coffee this year.

A lot can happen when we think beyond Sundays. One of our friends who first engaged with us via community events says, “What happens here Monday through Friday is why I gave Sundays a chance. And what happens here on Sundays restored my faith in what Christian community can be.”

We use Monday through Friday as an opportunity to redefine for people what it looks like to be the Church on mission. And often, it does open their hearts to what happens on Sunday.


Rachel Triska is the Chief Practicioner at Life in Deep Ellum. Rachel enjoys running, reading the classics, and expressing her inner child while playing with her two daughters. rachel@lifeindeepellum.com

 

Looking for more? Check out the resources below from NEXT:

From Cultural Competency to Cultural Humility

God colors smallBy Rev. Natasha Iwalani Hicks

I was in a meeting a few months back and a gentleman approached me asking me about pastoring a church in White Center, a diverse urban community in Seattle.  As our conversation proceeded he interjected and asked me why I do not preach in Spanish, and before allowing me to answer, he continued to give his rationale behind why I should be preaching in Spanish if I really cared about this particular community.

I rebutted with a similar question, asking if this gentleman speaks Spanish in order to better engage with the community that he is seemingly so passionate about.  His response was that he does not, but he is not Hispanic.

So, let me begin with the fact that I am actually not Latina/Hispanic either, despite my brownish skin tone, long brown hair and brown eyes.  I am Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, Irish, German, Dutch Welch, I grew up on a Native American Reservation, and I speak English and some Romanian (as I was a missionary in Romania for a period of time).

In the past I used to get fired up about the assumptions that people make about me and my cultural/ethnic background, especially because it often came with a lack of expectation based on my appearance and my quiet presence.  However, as I have grown to be more and more comfortable in my own skin and to truly value my experiences as a multi-cultural person, I have increasingly learned to lean in and to engage in conversation instead of allowing anger or disappointment to lead my response.  I will admit though, that I still do experience those knee-jerk responses of anger and disappointment at times, especially when I see assumptions being placed upon others.

Let’s be honest, the PC(USA) has a long way to go in regards to authentic cultural engagement.  I heard much about cultural competency in seminary and I saw the attempt to paint a visually diverse picture of our seminaries, but the reality is when I attempted to question why there was such a lack of globally diverse voices included in the curriculum, I was told to go and take a class at the African American Seminary if I wanted that perspective.  Seriously, that was an actual response from a professor!  Don’t get me wrong, I do not share that to simply come down on the professor or our seminaries, but I use it to highlight the reality that we as a church have a long ways to go if this is still a reality in our seminaries, where leaders for the church are being formed.

Western culture values intellect.  We see a problem and we want to fix it.  We like process (decently and in order!).  We create resources and programs to overlay upon our increasingly diverse communities and wonder why they are not always well received or why they do not actually work.  Action, albeit at times well intentioned, takes precedence over the “inefficient,” time-consuming, practice of enlarging the circle to hear a wider array of voices and experiences.

Competency is easier than humility, because it implies that we can attain it and be done with it.  I have a Hawaiian friend, so I “get” Pacific Islander culture – check.  I’ve been on a mission trip to Mexico, so I understand Latino/HIspanic culture – check.  We’ve got a black person on staff, so we are diverse – check.  I BBQ with my white neighbor, so I “get” white folk – check.  Obviously, I am being somewhat facetious, but I honestly don’t think I am too far off.

Before I go on, I want to be clear that I do not think this is just an issue of “White Folk.”  I see this happen in the reverse all the time, where racial-ethnic folks disregard white folks, because they presume “they don’t get it” or they somehow come to believe that white folks do not have anything to contribute to the conversation around culture.  Reverse judgment, reverse prejudice, reverse exclusion gets us nowhere.  I understand the issue of white privilege and am not seeking to undermine or dodge the legitimate issue of power, but I believe the greater issue is a matter of humility, of the heart.

Each of us has a story.  I think we would all agree with this.  BUT, are we willing to truly enter into relationship with the firm belief that each person has something to contribute to “my” life and “my” story.  Period.  It doesn’t matter if they are poor or rich, Japanese or Lebanese, from the country or from the city.  Am I, are you, willing to enter each encounter with a posture of humility, desiring to learn, believing that the very heartbeat of God already exists within each person?

God came in flesh in Jesus Christ to share life with us.  To share life with us.  He was born within a particular culture, in a particular place, but he consistently pushed the boundary and invited those who followed him to do the same in order that life and culture could be shared and exchanged.

Jesus proclaimed that his followers would be known by their love.  He doesn’t lead with a clenched fist, but rather an open hand outstretched toward us.  He doesn’t lead with a heart of judgment, but rather a life of overflowing grace.  He doesn’t lead from an exclusive circle, but rather a table of invitation and belonging.

We get the ideal.  We understand the value of this intellectually, but where do we land practically?  How do our actions unveil the motivations of our hearts?  What do our day-to-day lives look like?  Who do we spend time with? Do we lead with assumptions, or curiosity to truly know another person and to value them?  Do we value them enough to embrace mutuality, sharing our lives with them, as they share theirs with us?  Do we speak for or about others, or do we ask questions and listen, giving them the opportunity to speak from their own lives and their own experiences?  Will we allow ourselves to be changed, our lives to be interrupted, and to risk our vision of the Kingdom of God being shattered wide open as we encounter the cultures and experiences of others?

As a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural person, I am often told by others what I am before a question is even asked.  I am tired of the assumptions.  I am tired of hearing that I am somehow not White enough, or Pacific-Islander enough or Asian enough, or that I don’t belong because I am not from a particular place, or my faith journey does not fit a specific mold.  I am, in fact, enough. I am held in God’s grace and I have experienced the power of God’s redemption in my life and know that I am beloved.  You are enough.  And we become enough-er when we choose to live life together, to grow with and from one another.  When we choose to learn the stories of one another.  When we choose to love for the sake of love, because we were first loved by the very God of life.  When we choose to be attentive to the ways the Holy Spirit is at work and to celebrate this with others instead of tearing down or dissecting the story of another because it doesn’t fit our cultural understanding.

We are called to bring out the “God-flavors and the God-colors” of this world (Matthew 5 MSG).  To bring out makes clear that the beautiful array of flavors and colors already exist.  How do we then encourage and draw out, to inspire and lift up?  It begins with a posture of humility, with a heart that desires to grow and be broken open by the joy and the pain of being in genuine relationship.  We have to move beyond intellect, to having things simply well articulated in writing, to lives lived. Cultural humility is about curiosity and wonder and it will always, always enlarge our hearts.  Perhaps this is what it means that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, [a new culture]: everything old has passed away; see everything, [yes, everything!] has become new.” The God-flavors and the God-colors of this world should delight our souls as we come to experience Christ anew through the lives, the experiences, and the cultures of another.  Everything is becoming new!  Amen.


Tasha Hicks is the pastor of the Mount View Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Washington and a member of the NEXT Church Advisory Team.

One Body

by Jessica Tate

We’re in the process of getting NEXT Church up and running as its own legal entity. I’m out of my league when it comes to the the ins-and-outs of incorporation. I’ve had to go to a lot of people for help–business administrators, Board of Pensions reps, Stated Clerk, General Presbyter, COM, lawyers, finance people, other pastors… It’s taken all those connections to help sort out next steps. In all of these conversations, I’ve noticed two things:

1) Everyone has a piece of the puzzle and no one has the whole thing.

There’s the legal piece, the church piece, the pensions piece, the presbytery piece. There were lawyers helping us who reached the end of what they could do because we needed a lawyer barred in Virginia to finish things up. Everyone had a piece of the whole.

2) People want to play their part.

I’ve been issuing a lot of thank you’s. Inevitably people say, “of course,” or “you’re welcome,” or “glad I could help.” This isn’t terribly surprising. Some of it is cultural conditioning. It seems, though, that people are genuinely glad to offer their gifts and contribute to something larger than themselves. They are proud they can offer something truly needed.

I had the privilege of visiting Broad Street Ministry in Philadelphia a few weeks ago. Broad Street began when five partner churches decided they didn’t want the vacant Presbyterian building smack in the middle of the arts district in Philly to be vacant, shut down, or sold. Surely there was ministry to be done in that section of the city.

Seven years later they’ve been proven right. One of the glints of wisdom they shared is that the current talk of self-sufficiency in the church is overrated. “You don’t want to be self-sufficient,” Pastor Bill Golderer said. “You want to be interrelated.”

It sounds like a metaphor I’ve heard about everyone having a part to play in a body. Without the eyes, where would you be? Without the ears? The foot?

In her book An Everlasting Meal, Tamar Adler gives some basic instructions on adding salt to boiling water. She says that every ingredient needs some salt.

“The noodle or tender spring pea would be narcissistic to imagine it already contained within its cell walls all the perfection it would ever need. We seem, too, to fear that we are failures at being tender and springy if we need to be seasoned. It’s not so: it doesn’t reflect badly on pea or person that either needs help to be most itself.”

The pea and the pasta need the salt. And the salt would like to play it’s part in bringing out the best of the pea and pasta. Self-sufficiency isn’t the secret to being tender and springy. Nor is being tender and springy the secret to being self-sufficient. The secret is that you want to be interrelated.

Source: Adler, Tamar. An Everlasting Meal (Kindle Locations 153-159). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 


Jessica Tate1Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church and head water-boiler at her house.