NEXT Church Denominational Listening Campaign Report

In fall 2015 – winter 2016, NEXT Church embarked on a denominational listening campaign. A listening campaign is a tool we’ve learned from community organizing (specifically the Industrial Areas Foundation). We invited and trained people who have been leaders within NEXT Church to host a listening session with church leaders around questions of “transformational mission.” The sharing of stories and experiences gives space to hear together where God’s Spirit is moving.

We convened 47 groups that involved 447 people. These are our findings.

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Denominational Listening Campaign around Transformational Mission

What is a Listening Campaign?

In fall 2015 – winter 2016, NEXT Church embarked on a denominational listening campaign. A listening campaign is a tool we’ve learned from community organizing (specifically the Industrial Areas Foundation). We invited and trained people who have been leaders within NEXT Church to host a listening session with church leaders around questions of “transformational mission.” The sharing of stories and experiences gives space to hear together where God’s Spirit is moving.

We convened 47 groups that involved 447 people.

Purpose of the Listening Campaign

  1. To learn about how people are experiencing mission in local church settings.
  2. To offer the church a relational tool that can be used for discernment.
  3. To hear themes that can inform future directions for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and our national church structures.
  4. To connect local church leaders more deeply across differences in theology or vision for polity.

Through this campaign, we focused on people’s lived experiences. We believe taking time to build and deepen relationships is a critical practice in the church today. The relational fabric (our connectedness) is what will help us wade through the waters of cultural and denominational change.  

What We Heard

  • People shared exciting stories about transformational mission they/their congregations are engaged in. That is to be celebrated!
    • There seems to be an organic connection between missional engagement and congregational vitality.
    • Most of the mission described is happening at the congregational level, often with ecumenical or secular partnerships.
    • Mission is a place where people are eager to engage in church life.
    • Thought about mission is fluid and changing. Participants noted a shift toward “being missional,” a desire to seek full dignity of all parties in mission relationships, and that the most transformational mission experiences blur the us/them mentality.
  • People enjoy connecting with one another to share experiences or the practice of ministry. Sharing stories was a source of inspiration as people were encouraged by what their sister congregations are doing, made new points of connection around shared concerns, and got new ideas for mission connections in their own settings.
  • There is open wondering about the purpose of denominational structures (presbytery, synod, General Assembly) in the church today.
    • With a few notable exceptions, there was little despair or frustration voiced about denominational structures, but denominational structures or programs were not viewed as “go-to” resources.
    • There is hunger for denominational discernment. Where are the spaces to work through foundational questions that are not about voting?  
    • There is a desire to “flip the script.” We heard multiple sentiments like, “We need the denomination to stop inviting us in and start supporting us as we go out.”
    • People are very appreciative when denominational structures play one of the following roles
      • supporting — usually financially
      • training — educational resources or opportunities to increase capacity (community organizing, New Beginnings, and anti-racism training came up), or
      • connecting — linking people with similar interests/passions/mission engagement to share ideas or join together.
  • There is desire for a different denominational communication strategy around mission.
    • There is a sense that opportunities for connection in mission exist in the broader church but it is not clear how to find out about them or connect with them.
    • Others feel overwhelmed by the volume of mail/email from denominational sources and ignore it all.

Questions Going Forward

  • What does denominational participation mean today?
  • Where are the spaces to work through foundational questions that are not about voting? (Questions such as, what is mission? What is the role of the presbytery?)  
  • Is mission the threshold/entry space that worship was in previous era? If so, what resources exist (or need to be created) to help integrate education and spiritual development through mission, if that’s where people are engaging first?

For more information, contact NEXT Church Director, Jessica Tate, jessica@nextchurch.net.

A Prayer After the Shooting in Orlando

We are heartbroken after the shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, now the largest mass shooting in United States history. We share this prayer from the Presbyterian Mission Agency and join our voices in prayer, particularly for the LGBTQ community. We also know that prayer comes in the form of action as well as words. We ask that you share how your congregation and community are responding here in the comments or on the NEXT Church Facebook page so that we can learn from one another and be supported by one another.

by the Rev. Laurie Ann Kraus | Associate Mission Director, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Presbyterian Mission Agency

orlandoOnce again, Holy One, we cry, how long, O Lord?  

We wonder, when will it be enough? 

We pray you will forgive our society which tolerates violence,

Our fearful xenophobia, and our willingness to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to words and deeds of intolerance aimed at those “others” we fear are not like us.

The same lifeblood—the gift of a loving God—flows through all our veins, and spills out without regard to difference, staining the floors our places of fellowship, community, and learning.

staining our lives with sorrow, fear and regret.

Let the same heart beat as one among us, that we will draw together across these false divides,

And rise up as one to breathe peace where there is no peace,

and heal our communities and our world.

 

God of life, whose presence sustains us in every circumstance,

As the sound of gunfire echoes across Orlando

we seek the grounding power of your love and compassion.

We open our hearts in anger, sorrow and hope:

For those who have been lost: brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends

Your children, enjoying an evening of music and friendship,

Whose lives were ended or maimed in a hail of hatred and gunfire

We pray for those who have been spared and those whose lives are changed forever

that they may find solace, sustenance, and strength in the hard days to come.

 

We give thanks for first responders:

who ran toward gunfire, rather than away

who dropped everything to save the wounded and comfort survivors

We pray for doctors and nurses and mental health providers

who repair what has been broken

who bring healing and hope in the face of the unchecked principalities and powers of violence.

 

God of the rainbow, once long ago, you stretched your light across the heavens to renew your covenant of peace with your people, you promised not to destroy.

Help us in these days to believe that promise, and to participate in it, and to treasure the life which it treasures.

In the wake of an event that should be impossible to contemplate

but which has become all too common in our experience,

open our eyes, break our hearts,

and turn our hands to the movements of your Spirit,

that our anger and sorrow may unite in service to build a reign of peace,

where the lion and the lamb may dwell together,

and terror no longer hold sway over our common life.

In the name of Christ, our healer and our Light, we pray, Amen.

Change is Life

This month, we’re sharing reflections from a group of pastors from the US and the Church of Scotland who recently met to talk about being the faithful church in a culture that is becoming more diverse and more secularized. We invite you to offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here. If you like what you read, subscribe to our blog (enter your email on the right sidebar) and receive an email when there is a new blog article. This reflection is reposted with permission from Robert’s own blog, Lighthouse/Searchlight Church

By Robert Austell

In “Change is Death” I wrote about the process by which dying institutions and structures are transformed and new life and vision are birthed. While this change process is important to understand (especially if one is going through it), I proposed that there were more important underlying questions that must be asked. In this post I want to come at the same dynamics of change through stories, by sharing three narratives in which I participate.

As a backdrop I would note a convergence and seeming ‘peak’ of interest in the last six years or so (2008-2014) in which voices spoke and vision was cast for a church that understood itself to be missionally connected, locally contextualized, and increasingly set free from the massive structures that had been a feature of our mainline denomination for the past 40-50 years. What follows are three examples related to the PCUSA of how this kind of vision was received.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The 2010 General Assembly created several task forces to study change before the PCUSA and report to the 2012 General Assembly. I was particularly impressed with the significant work of the Mid-Council Commission, led by Tod Bolsinger. And yet, when that vision was brought to General Assembly in 2012 it was simply crushed. Though I would have called it change unto life, it evidently felt like change unto death. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

I experienced great disappointment and sadness during the Assembly… I was not disappointed that some votes didn’t go my way…  I was disappointed that, as a whole, this Assembly seemed to choose the familiarity and “safety” of the old way of doing things over the admittedly risky possibility of something new.  The invitations were there from all four moderator candidates, from the community and example of the YAADs, from three significant two-year committee reports (Mid-Councils, 21st Century, Biennial Assembly), and from the stories and inspirational leadership of the GAMC.  And time and again, I saw or perceived the unwillingness of the body to relinquish any ground that could possibly be used by ecclesiastical opponents. [full post]

The Mid-Council Commission offered a long and thorough report.

The Mid-Council Commission offered a long and thorough report.

Summarizing a subsequent post on the same event, I wrote: “out of fear of losing people, congregations, or assets, the Assembly missed the truly missional and forward-thinking gift of much the Mid-Council report had to offer.” [full post]

The Presbytery of Charlotte 

About the same time, my own presbytery was facing similar potential change. Younger council leadership had been recruited and had put a vision before the presbytery, perhaps most succinctly put as “equipping, resourcing, and connecting local congregations in ministry and mission.” (more…) Our presbytery was struggling financially to maintain a large program staff and many centralized ministries, and financial crisis precipitated change. It went neither easy nor peacefully. For many, particularly those whose jobs and centralized ministries were eliminated, change felt like death and it was as unwelcome and threatening. As one involved in the change process, it easily measures among the most difficult years of relationship and ministry I have experienced.

And yet we are on the other side. Much did “die” but the ministry of Jesus Christ through local congregations did not. Indeed, change was unto life, and the Presbytery of Charlotte very much feels like it is on the other side of something many presbyteries are still choking on. All is not bliss; part of our change process resulted in naming some of our deepest divisions and distrusts. But, we named them and we faced them and they are before us in a way that they haven’t been, perhaps in a generation. Time will tell, but it feels like a very hopeful and healthful place to be. The structures and institution of the presbytery (once the 3rd largest in the country) are now mobile, flexible, minimal, and focused on the congregations and relationships.

A third part of the story is NEXT Church. NEXT began out of some of the same core values brewing all over the church: nimble, relational, mission-focused networks for ministry. Leadership was handed off early to younger generations and more diverse leaders. A conscious decision was made to not become another “issues group” of the church. In this case, the vision and the community of NEXT folks seems to have stepped out ahead of the denomination. While smart leaders are aware of NEXT and point to it as an example of future church, it remains (in my view as a friend and participant) somewhat out of the room. The church isn’t ready to go there yet.

And similar things could be said of parallel movements: the Fellowship, ECO, 1001 worshiping communities, non-geographic presbyteries, and more. A significant number of groups and collections of people have envisioned different versions of this same nimble, relational, mission-focused church and simply don’t have the crisis, power, or voice to pull the bulk of the church along.

And that’s okay. I think the church coming along at this point would just mess things up. But I do hope the folks who are clinging to the institution and the old structures are paying attention. Life is springing up – not just in NEXTchurch, but in ECO, the Fellowship, 1001 New Worshiping Communities. And each of them is tempted and taunted by the old ways, the old fights, the old structures, and the old habits. But they are demonstrably showing change as life, and for that I am grateful.

Epilogue

Do note that I am not telling a story of failure, mediocrity, and success. Rather, I am trying to describe three different ways OUR CHURCH are struggling with change, death, life, and identity. I don’t want to dissect it too much, but want to tell enough of the story for you to think about change in your own context.  Is it death? Is it life? Is it to be feared… or embraced… or maybe both?

And again, I am convinced that change is not the main point; it is just a feature of the temporary trying to share in the eternal.

 


Robert Austell is the pastor of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. He blogs regularly at Lighthouse/Searchlight Church.

Reflections on Being More than a Deliberative Body

Editor’s Note: Earlier this week, Carol McDonald gave background that explains the thought behind the 90 minutes spent at General Assembly in a period of listening, conversation, and discernment.

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I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?   (Isaiah 43:19a)

By Nicole Partin Abdnour

Commissioners of the 221st General Assembly were invited this morning to try a new thing as a part of our deliberative process. The Rev. Dr. Susan Andrews (Moderator of the 215th General Assembly) introduced a period of listening and discernment over two of the most controversial items before this body: the definition of marriage and the question of divestment. In her introductory remarks she invited us to take this opportunity to, “pause instead of rush, feel instead of think, and listen instead of talk” in order that “ideological enemies may become spiritual friends.”

As we were invited into this time of “listening with hearts and not just our ears” we were provided the following outline for our process which we’d follow for each topic: a 5 minute presentation by the committee moderator, 10 minutes for clarifying questions from the body, 25 minutes for small group conversation, and then 5 minutes for prayer. Our small group conversations were guided by two questions:

  1. What did you hear that might lead someone to support the committee’s recommendation(s)?
  2. What did you hear that might keep someone from supporting the committee’s recommendation?

My overall impression and personal experience of this time is that it was important work. Commissioners honored the time. The questions asked were clarifying and did not lean towards debate. The conversation, at least in my small group, was respectful and sincere. In having this time as a part of the docket we were living out what we say we value: a variety of voices all seeking to be faithful witnesses. While I didn’t necessarily learn anything new during this time, it is no small moment when friends and strangers alike are willing to open up and share with one another their convictions and their questions. To set aside debate and open up space for testimony allowed for people to see and hear others in a new way.

The time for clarifying questions while appreciated at the outset proved to be difficult as the moderators of the committees weren’t equipped to answer most of the questions asked and they were the ones available as a part of this process. Most questions needed to be answered by the resource staff persons who were present with the committees in their work. Thankfully those people will be present when the committees each present their work for action.

The benefit of this time is not yet fully realized, but I believe that having the opportunity this morning to participate in thoughtful and intentional dialogue will shape the debate that is to come. It was worthy of the assembly’s time and I believe it modeled a helpful process for us all to take back to our congregations as we seek to help them engage in difficult conversations. May we continue to honor one another and God in our conversations and debate.

staff_nicoleNicole Partin Abdnour is associate pastor at Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church in Tampa, FL. She is a commissioner to the 221st General Assembly.

General Assembly: More Than Debate?

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By Carol M. McDonald

The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has begun in Detroit, MI.  Thousands of people are gathered here to worship, celebrate, converse, listen, discern, and debate.  And when the crowds disperse on Saturday, June 21, many of us will remember fondly reconnecting with old friends, acquiring new friends, amazing singing, and the power of gathering daily at the communion table.  But I daresay ALL of us will remember how the approximately 700 commissioners and advisory delegates debated the issues and discerned God’s will for our church for ‘such a time as this.’

It has been my profound privilege to moderate, since 2010, the Committee to Review Biennial Assemblies.  From the beginning of our work together, our dream has been for ‘a different kind of Assembly.’  We have encouraged the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly to structure the Assembly docket to include intentional times of conversation and prayer.  And we are particularly excited about the possibilities for a new kind of plenary session in 2014.

On Thursday morning, June 19, the plenary meeting of the Assembly will be a time for conversation and discernment, rather than a time for debate.  The Moderator of the Assembly, in partnership with the Stated Clerk, will select two critical/key/potentially contentious issues being brought to the plenary from two of the Assembly Standing Committees.  Each committee Moderator will make a 5 minute presentation to the Assembly – being clear about what it is the Assembly will be asked to vote on.  Following each presentation, groups of 8 will be invited to be in conversation: a.) What did you hear that might lead someone to support the committee’s recommendation(s)? b.) what did you hear that might keep someone from supporting the committee’s recommendation(s)?  Following the small group conversations, the Assembly Moderator will ascertain that what the Assembly will be asked to vote on is clear and will then lead the Assembly in prayer.

The hope of the Biennial Review Committee is that this non-parliamentary plenary with informal discussion of key issues will hopefully change the way critical and contentious issues are then debated and decided upon.(1)  It is our prayer that all commissioners and advisory delegates, during this time of conversation, will have both the opportunity to speak and the privilege of being heard.  You will want to be in the Plenary Hall – or glued to your computer screen for live-streaming – on Thursday morning, June 19.  Tune in to learn which issues will be discussed in a new and different way.

(1)Glen Alberto Guenther, member of CRBA, in Presbyterians Today, “Can General Assembly Offer More Than Debate?”

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Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 5.07.56 AMCarol M. McDonald is the Executive of the Synod of Lincoln Trails and Moderator of the Committee to Review Biennial Assemblies. She is on the advisory team of NEXT Church.

 

Confessions of a GA Junkie

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Now that’s trust!

Each month we assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, we’re curating a conversation around governance and connection. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here. If you like what you read, subscribe to our blog (enter your email on the right sidebar) and receive an email when there is a new blog article. 

By Leslianne Braunstein

In 2001 I took San Francisco Seminary’s GA Polity course and received an in-depth introduction into the history and workings of this august body. I was hooked. I’ve been to every General Assembly since. I am a certified GA Junkie. I’ve got the pin to prove it.

After years of drifting among the committees, I now pick a committee and follow its proceedings through open hearings, advocacy statements  and deliberations – right through its report to the Assembly during plenary.

What I love about General Assembly is the Spirit working in and through the commissioners. This is most evident in committee deliberations.  I have followed the committee workings of both the Polity and Peacemaking committees during times of great contention. As the commissioners entered the room I could see on their faces they had already made up their minds on issues of great importance to the church. Over the course of three days as they listened to testimony and discussed the issues among themselves, as they prayed and genuinely sought God’s face in their deliberations, I could actually see those firm convictions yielding to the leading of the Spirit. It was an amazing experience to witness.

Committee deliberations have taken many turns in the last few years. The efforts to build consensus on issues of substantial contention seem to run into obstacles and roadblocks at every turn. With good leadership, though, committees that worked primarily as “a committee of the whole” seemed to be able to build a deeper trust among their members than committees strictly relying on Roberts Rules. Roberts Rules, while a useful tool, simply does not engender mutual confidence among committee members. Being able to look in the eye your brother or sister in Christ and express your deepest hopes and fears seems to be the only way consensus can be reached.

Of course, letting committee members actually talk to one another during deliberations is messy and requires great listening skills from leadership. It takes great wisdom to know how to corral the energy in the room and bring it to a place of peace and understanding. In the end, in order to make the report, though, there must be a return to Robert’s Rules so that motions can be made and seconded and voted upon. I believe, though, the deliberative process is better served by other means.

Four years ago I monitored the Peacemaking Committee that, once again, deliberated whether or not the PC(USA) should divest from companies benefiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. At the first open deliberation it was clear who was going to vote which way. However, during the next three days, as the commissioners listened to testimonies and the advice of Gen. Assembly agencies, and as they discussed what they heard in small groups and as a committee of the whole, you could feel the air change. In the end, the committee – one I believed was split in half – came to an overwhelming consensus on the direction the church should take in these matters. Of the almost 50 commissioners, only four felt strongly enough to want to file a minority report. Even with that, the next day when the committee met, the leader of that group stood and tearfully acknowledged that while they had reservations about the outcome the committee was recommending, they would not file a minority report “for the good of the church.” It was, he said, the Spirit’s leading; the report should stand on its own. I saw no visible victory behaviors – no high-fives or thumbs-up.  What I heard were heartfelt acknowledgements of the difficulty of their decision and prayer. Lots of prayer.

I think this result was only possible because the leadership of this committee was committed to building trust. I suspect she did a lot of this during the closed sessions; and, when the atmosphere grew tense, she found ways to incorporate trust building opportunities into the discussions as they proceeded.

I have no idea how this would work in plenary. While individual committees work to build trust among their members, it is clear when the reports get to the floor of the Assembly, the trust does not extend to other committees. It is clear that we do not trust one another. While the Spirit may work in my life, we are not too sure about what She is doing in yours.

As I write this, I wonder if our predicament isn’t that we don’t trust one another; rather, we really question whether God is able to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

It’s a dilemma, for sure.

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LB PhotoLeslianne Adkins Braunstein is an Interim Ministry Specialist in the PCUSA (National Capital Presbytery), a biblical storyteller and passionate GA Junkie. She was raised in New York City in what is the equivalent of the Southern Baptist Church. Leslianne joined Hollywood Presbyterian Church in 1991 and she immediately fell in love with the connectional nature of the Presbyterian church (U.S.A.) – in all its beautiful organized messiness. Leslianne was a law office administrator before her call to ordained ministry which might explain her affinity to decent orderliness.

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“table” photo credit: Joi via photopin cc

Wherefore Robert’s Rules of Order?

Each month we assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, we’re curating a conversation around governance and connection. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here. If you like what you read, subscribe to our blog (enter your email on the right sidebar) and receive an email when there is a new blog article. 

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By Michael D. Kirby

Roberts Rules are best you know, for the Bible tells us so.

Thankfully those are NOT the words to a Presbyterian verse of “Jesus Loves Me,” but sometimes one might wonder. As Presbyterians of every stripe prepare to gather in Detroit this week for the 221st General Assembly, many are having to pull out, or download, their latest version of Robert’s Rules of Order, the ancient, yet-oft-revised (11th Edition) bible of parliamentary procedure not just for the PC(USA), but also for thousands of other organizations, from the the Evangelical Lutheran Church to the local Eastern Star chapter to Toastmasters to many chambers of commerce.

The purpose of Robert’s Rules is very simple. It’s right there in the definition on the first page of most of the recent edition: “a set of rules for conduct at meetings, that allows everyone to be heard and to make decisions without confusion.” Many religious organizations adopt Roberts Rules because we heed the Biblical instruction that Paul gives to the early church at Corinth,“let all things be done decently, and in order.” 1 Corinthians 14:40. (Yes, it’s Biblical!)

For many, Roberts Rules, and indeed any rules of Parliamentary procedure, are seen as obstacles to the movement of the Spirit because they impose a seemingly burdensome structure on the actions of a body. The goal of the Rules is not burdensomeness, but exactly the opposite, to allow for work to be done efficiently yet fairly, and to help prevent business meetings with a multitude of opinions from devolving into chaos.

At their core, Robert’s Rules are designed to even the playing field in the work of organizations, large or small, by creating a set of ground rules for how business is to be conducted, namely by motion (a proposal is presented by a person or committee), perfection (the body makes changes that the majority believes will make the motion more effective/efficient), debate (proponents and opponents express their views and suggest a desired outcome) and vote.

The beauty of this system is that, ideally, anyone with voice who so desires can speak, (subject to restrictions on available time and relevance); any participant can bring motions, or seek to modify existing motions (subject to various agreed rules regarding timing, relevance and other procedural safeguards); any participant gets the same vote as any other (subject to rules about advisory voters). The system is designed, ideally, to prevent anyone from being silenced and to protect against the use of process to prevent fair consideration of the matters before the body.

Ironically, therein lies one of the great problems that many have had with Roberts Rules over the years. Ask anyone who has been a General Assembly commissioner or anyone who has been a parliamentarian in any organization and they will be able to recall a time when they felt someone was trying to use “loopholes” or their superior knowledge of the rules to subvert debate or prevent certain items from coming up for a vote on merits. In other words, the main problem that many people have with Robert’s Rules is we don’t trust people are using the rules fairly or that leaders are fairly interpreting and applying those rules.

The bad news is that Roberts can’t create trust where it doesn’t exist. The good news is that Roberts anticipates situations where trust is threadbare, and seeks through transparency, minimal structure and discretion given to moderators and parliamentarians, to craft a framework that can serve, like a walking cast on a broken foot, to allow the system to function, and through the work that is accomplished to provide space for trust to be renewed and to grow.

We must always remember that Roberts is a tool, and just a tool, not holy writ. Like any tool, knowledge as to its use is essential to effectiveness AND to group cohesion. Like a car, a power drill, or an axe, Roberts is a tool that can cause more than a little damage if misused or used without adequate knowledge or experience. Those conducting business need to know the basics of how it works, both to trust its use and understand what is happening or how to make something happen. The Roberts folks have made those basics available for you online. If you will be following the work of the Assembly or any committee in person or online, you will want to make a quick review of those basics.

In his book “Great Boards for Small Groups,” Andy Robinson suggests that in smaller groups, where trust is strong, the “consensus model” for decision-making is less stressful and more effective. The structure he proposes (1. Idea, 2. Discussion, 3. Modification, 4. Discernment if consensus is developing, and 5. Respond to dissenters with further discussion and modification until unanimity is achieved) is essentially a restatement of the steps used in Roberts, with discussion preceding “perfection.” The key difference is the headless character of the model, where there is no formal structure and no single decision-making moderator.

As we move forward as a connectional people, only we can decide if the groups we are a part of can live in the freedom of the consensus model. In the meantime, Roberts can be an effective tool to maintain order, foster trust and get difficult things done “decently and in order.”

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299535_10150311824339581_958859489_nMichael D. Kirby is a teaching elder and serves as pastor of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Chicago. He will be attending the 221st General Assembly as an overture advocate from the Presbytery of Chicago.

Connect with NEXT at GA

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Tuesday, June 17th, 8:30pm

at the bar/lounge of the Marriott Renaissance

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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.