The Future of Our Connectionalism

First things first: we hope folks have weathered Sandy OK. Be safe.

by Dr. Ed Brenegar

As the chair of the Stewardship Committee of my presbytery, I am concerned by the practice of congregations withholding of funds from the PCUSA as an act of principled protest.  Regardless of the reasons, I’ve come to see it as a political act that weakens our connectionalism. Here’s what I recently spoke during our recent presbytery meeting.

We are the Presbytery of […] . There is no “they.” Regardless of the presbytery you are in, it is essentially a volunteer organization of members from local congregations.   Look at your Nominations Committee list of those to serve on committees, councils and mission teams. They are men and women volunteers from churches.

Our Connectedness as a Presbytery isn’t just Spiritual, but Financial. My presbytery does not “charge” a per capita fee to churches. We, the presbytery, trust in the spiritual commitment of churches to make financial contributions to the support of the presbytery and the other councils of the church. In effect, what is happening is that small churches are funding the per capita payment of those larger churches who withhold funds. How ironic that in our modern day we see Paul’s perspective in 1 Corinthians 12: 22-26 gaining relevance.

On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Just to be clear, there are small churches who also withhold funds, and the large churches who are extraordinarily generous in their giving to support our presbytery’s work, including its ministry with small churches. Size is not the primary issue, connectionalism is.

Our Connectedness as a Presbytery isn’t just Financial, but also Missional. From my vantage point as Stewardship Chair, it is the shared mission work of our presbytery that is the heart of our connectionalism. It is the only thing that cuts across all the social and institutional boundaries of the church to unite people from large and small churches in the worship and service of Jesus Christ in the world.

Our Financial Future as Congregations and the Presbytery is not our Past.  We can no longer count on the tried-n-true stewardship practices of the past to sustain local congregations and presbyteries in the future. Developing a dynamic missional connectionalism provides a way for more members of churches to participate and contribute in the life and ministry of the church.  From this position, churches and presbyteries can adapt to the economic realities that we all will be facing in the future.


Ed-LIL2-2010-6Dr. Ed Brenegar is a life-long Presbyterian, a Tar Heel born and bred, teaching elder for three decades, a validated minister serving as a leadership consultant, a life / work transition coach, creator of The Stewardship of Gratitude strategy and The Circle of Impact Conversation Guides, occasional interim minister, honored blogger, speaker, and restless inquisitor of the impact of God’s grace in our time. Find Ed online at: Leading Questions blog and At The Table of Thanks: Presbyterian Life & Mission.

Here is the Church, Here is the Steeple… Re-writing the Rhyme

by Ashley-Anne Masters

Here is the church smallA little rhyme I learned as a child goes like this, “Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people.” There are hand gestures to go along with it to up the dexterity ante: Face hands toward each other. Lock fingers together facing down. Hold both index fingers straight up against each other. Fold thumbs inward against each other. The index fingers make the steeple, thumbs the doors, and other fingers the people inside. When the thumbs separate they represent opening the church doors to look at the people inside.

At the NEXT conferences in Indianapolis and Dallas I heard much talk of wanting what’s next for the church to include hospitality, people of all ages, and sustaining life instead of attempting to prevent death. I’m in favor of all those, and have learned about the impact of all three from sitting in the pews instead of standing the pulpit lately.

One of the realities I’ve come to appreciate about not currently receiving a paycheck from a church is that do not have to arrive early on Sundays. As part of my self-guided continuing education while seeking a call, I intentionally show up 5-10 minutes late to worship services at various churches.  I do this to experience how visitors and/or latecomers are treated. In some churches I’ve been pleasantly surprised and in others I’ve been offended when I did not receive a bulletin and nobody passed me any peace.  As clergy, I happen to know insider language and cues, but if I didn’t, I might feel awkward even in the friendliest congregations.

A few Sundays ago I arrived at my scheduled 11:06 to the church I most frequently attend. I walked up the steps with two women whom I did not know. We entered the narthex and were greeted by closed doors to the sanctuary. The women looked at me and said, “This is our first time here. Do you think it’s alright to open the doors or are we too late?” I jokingly made a comment about how people come to this service up until 11:45 and opened the doors for them. Once inside we were given bulletins, and I walked with them to an open pew so they wouldn’t feel alone walking down the long aisle.

The doors of the sanctuary were likely closed because it was a crisp, breezy, fall day and someone didn’t want the sanctuary to get drafty. For all practical purposes that makes perfect sense, too. But I can’t help but wonder if those two women would have turned away had someone more familiar with that congregation not been there when they arrived. Would they have opened the doors? Would they have tried again another Sunday? Who knows, but I do know that closed doors, even for good reasons, do not send the message that this is a gateway into life, hope, and hospitality.

As I settled in to my seat next to the two women, the childhood rhyme was on repeat in my head. Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people. The problem with that is not that the church is a building with a steeple, doors, and people. It’s that someone on the outside of the potentially intimidating sanctuary has to open the doors to see the people inside.

I’d like to receive a paycheck from a church again, and I live in a city with a serious winter season, so I’m not about to suggest we remove all doors from all church buildings. I say we rotate the hinges, leave the sanctuary doors open, and let the Spirit blow where it will. I realize that practically speaking it may mean leaving our light jackets on while seated in the pews, but I consider that a small price to pay for hospitality. Let’s just make sure we aren’t layered in Members Only jackets, as insider language is not welcoming, nor are we the church of the 1980’s.

While we’re at it, let’s tweak the rhymes we teach our children. “Here is the church. Here is the steeple. The doors are wide open to welcome all people.”


AAM Headshot

Ashley-Anne Masters is a freelance writer and pediatric chaplain in Chicago, IL. She is the author of Holding Hope: Grieving Pregnancy Loss During Advent and co-authored Bless Her Heart: Life as a Young Clergywoman with Stacy Smith. She blogs at revaam.org. 

Funding Realities and the Future Church

by Dr. Ed Brenegar

The question crossed my mind, “What if non-profits are no longer fundable? What does this mean for churches and presbyteries? How will we fund the church in the future?”

I have been asking these questions in the places where I serve as a leadership and stewardship consultant and teaching elder. Until recently, I was a fund raiser for campus ministries in North Carolina, now I am an interim pastor of a small church.  Also, I chair my presbytery’s stewardship committee and leadership division of committees, am a member of its Administrative Board and the presbytery’s Transitional Task Force, which is looking, in part, at the future funding structure of our presbytery.

In each context, questions about the future funding of the church and presbyteries are becoming more focused and urgent.

What am I seeing? The funding of the church and presbyteries is in transition. This year, 2012,  has been the worst year for fund raising that I’ve seen in 30+ years of involvement with churches, non-profits and fund raising campaigns.  I see a change in the way people are managing their charitable dollar. Our assumption about the importance of the deductibility of non-profit and church donations as a solid reason for people to give is no longer as certain. In a disruptive global economic climate, cash in hand means more than a tax deduction. Other people may see something different, but this is what I see.

What then distinguishes givers from non-givers? I believe it is fairly simple. Givers have a clear sense of mission and a spirit of generosity.  They are focused in their giving, and give to designated causes in order to meet their own sense of responsibility as a steward of their wealth.  They give generously if the church’s mission matches their commitments.  Being missional is the key to sustaining membership giving.

What else do I see? The most troubling phenomenon that I see in the church is the withholding of funds to coerce change.  This intentional weakening of the structure is a reaction to the politicization of the church in society at large. This practice of protest, in my opinion, has no justification. Yet, it is widely practiced. The practical result is that it exacerbates the historic pattern of church and presbytery budgets being funded by a small number of individuals and churches.  This reality should be openly discussed in churches and presbyteries.

How will the church in the future be funded? There are two answers to this question.

First, churches will be funded as they always have, by people who are committed to the mission of the church. Therefore it is imperative that every local congregation and every presbytery have a very clear mission that creates the conditions for both financial and spiritual sustainability.

Second, churches will be funded as the church adapts to the changes in organizational structures that are taking place in both the non-profit and for-profit worlds. These two worlds, non- and for- profit, are beginning to morph into new types of organizations. An environmental organization where I am an advisor is in the process of converting from a non-profit to a for-profit in order to diversify the way it funds its research work. Creatively linking a for-profit business with a philanthropic foundation with a non-profit organization is a possible way for traditional non-profit organizations to find new resources. Just as a growing number of ministers serve bi-vocationally, so can an association of local churches develop ways of generating revenue to support the mission of the church.

What should your church do now?

First, don’t preach about being generous. It sounds desperate. Instead celebrate God’s call into mission and the impact of your church’s programs and ministries. Celebrating generous giving is a response to God’s grace at work through the church.

Second, integrate your congregation’s mission focus into every aspect of the life of your congregation. Make sure you can demonstrate the tangible difference your mission makes through each of your programs and ministries.

Third, be honest and transparent about your budget and your sources of income.

Start now, while you have the opportunity.


Ed-LIL2-2010-6Dr. Ed Brenegar is a life-long Presbyterian, a Tar Heel born and bred, teaching elder for three decades, a validated minister serving as a leadership consultant, a life / work transition coach, creator of The Stewardship of Gratitude strategy and The Circle of Impact Conversation Guides, occasional interim minister, honored blogger, speaker, and restless inquisitor of the impact of God’s grace in our time. Find Ed online at: Leading Questions blog and At The Table of Thanks: Presbyterian Life & Mission.

The Yeast from Durham

Rev. Esta Jarrett, pastor of Canton Presbyterian Church in the mountains of western North Carolina, preached at the NEXT Regional Gathering in Durham on August 18th, 2012. She was gracious enough to share her words here.

“The Great Leavening”                               

Esta Jarrett

Matthew 13:33

NRSV: He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

CEB: He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough.”

A little more than a year ago, I began work at Canton Presbyterian Church as their Designated Pastor, or Teaching Elder, or what-have-you. Canton is a tiny paper mill town in the mountains of Western North Carolina. I was called there as part of a residency program through the PC(USA) called “For Such a Time As This.”

The idea of the program is simple: it matches pastors with churches who are having a hard time attracting full-time clergy, because of money or location or both. The pastors and congregations are given 2 years to help the church find its feet and establish meaningful, vibrant ministry in their particular setting.

The program gives a lot of support during those 2 years – mentors, resources, continuing education, financial help when it’s needed. It’s an amazing program. I honestly don’t know how anyone begins a call in a church without this sort of support.

So here we are, one year in. My friends in the program and I keep in touch – we talk on Facebook a lot, checking in, comparing notes and experiences. We talk about what this year has brought us and our churches – relationships established, programs attempted, session meetings navigated.

We have commiserated when there have been spectacular disasters, like the night before my installation, when the ceiling of my fellowship hall fell in. Welcome to ministry! Another story: at my friend’s church on Maundy Thursday, during communion the baptismal font got knocked off its base and shattered. My friend asked what we would have done in that situation. I said that it couldn’t get any worse, so I might have been tempted to do jazz hands and say, “Ta da!” Fortunately she’s more mature than I am. She just pretended that nothing had happened, and went on serving communion. It’s things like this that we don’t learn in seminary.

We have also shared moments of celebration, such as weddings, baptisms, new members, and Christmas morning services that were surprisingly well attended. We lift each other up in the midst of all our milestones.

In our conversations during the past month, a common theme has started to pop up, as we look at attendance and membership. Like I said, we have just 2 years at our churches to try to turn things around. But for many of our churches, numbers are either the same as when we started, or are actually down. We have buried a few people, but not as many have joined. It’s a sobering realization, especially at this midway point of our residency, as the program is hoping for quantifiable good news so that we can get funding for another year.

Now, we all know that there are many ways for churches to measure vitality. Numbers can be deceiving. But that’s hard to remember Sunday after Sunday, as you look out from the pulpit at a sanctuary that once held 120 people, into the faces of the 20 or 25 who remain. They sit scattered around the room like paperweights holding down the corners of the church, where their parents sat and grandparents before them, seeming to brace themselves for what’s coming next.

It’s a challenge, to plan for vitality and growth in the midst of seeming emptiness. And yet, these congregations are taking on the challenge. Across the country, on the Florida coast and in the Kansas plains and West Virginia coal country and North Dakota prairies and Western North Carolina mountains, these churches are all trying something new. And we feel, we know, that hidden deep within the day-to-day grind of church ministry, something vital is rising up.

In our parable, we hear Jesus compare the kingdom of heaven to a tiny measure of yeast mixed with a huge amount of flour.  Some translations say the woman “mixed” them together, but others say she “hid” that yeast in the flour, like a light that is hidden under a bushel. Something small and nondescript can be so completely scattered that it becomes invisible. But even yeast that is well-mixed, or hidden, cannot be forgotten or ignored. Before too long, it will cause the dough to expand and rise transform into something entirely new, and delicious.

In such a way, the presence of the Holy Spirit, signaling the reign of God, cannot be ignored. When our churches are denuded of members, when our budgets shrink, when, on paper, it looks like there’s nothing happening, when transformation is painfully slow and just plain painful, in churches and ministries of all sizes…even then the Holy Spirit makes her presence known. Everything the Spirit touches rises and transforms into something new. You can’t hide that presence when it’s there, just as you can’t pretend it’s there when it’s not.

The fact that Jesus used yeast as an analogy amuses me. The chemical process through which dough rises is not pretty. Yeast are microorganisms that stew and ferment and produce gas. This isn’t the most elegant image for the kingdom that I’ve ever heard, and it may be a little too on the nose for some days of ministry I’ve had.

But ultimately, this parable shows us that part of the work of the kingdom is about the creation of open space. Yeast transforms flour into bread by stretching and seething and making room. It elbows its way throughout all the flour there is, as much as we can bring, and makes room, and turns it into something that will feed us.

I’ve seen a lot of new things happen in my church in the past year, most of which has been encouraging. The congregation on a small scale is doing what the whole denomination is seeking to do: trying new things, taking on new ministries and considering different ideas, some of which are rocking the boat, and some of which don’t look like church as we know it.

In Canton, one of our newest members felt a strong conviction that we should host a Vacation Bible School for our community. It didn’t matter that most of our members are older, and have little energy, and that we have exactly zero young families with children. What mattered was the need for kids in our neighborhood to have a safe place to gather, sing, make crafts, and learn Bible stories. We have a building and people, so why shouldn’t we do it?

So, this past June, we had Vacation Bible School. It was an intergenerational event, held with a neighboring Episcopal congregation. Over 5 nights, we had 30 kids and 25 adults for dinner, study, and play.

At the end of the week, one of the mothers came up to me and said, “When’s Sunday School? The kids want to know when they can come back.” So, a week later, we began a Sunday School program, the first the church has held in years. I should emphasize: this happened not because we felt we needed a program, but because the congregation is hearing the voice of the Spirit, making itself known through their particular gifts and desires. Many of the children at VBS came from troubled homes, or foster care, or are in group homes through the Department of Social Services. There are particular needs in this community with which we can work.

All this is happening because one person in my congregation saw possibilities instead of reasons to say no. Perhaps the fact that he came to the church with an outsider’s perspective, a breath of fresh air, helped make all this possible.

Maybe it doesn’t matter so much how it happened. What matters is that everyone stopped saying “We can’t,” and started saying, “Why not?” What matters is that we are learning how to trust the power of the Holy Spirit, instead of ourselves. And with the Spirit, miracles do happen.

I admit that my vision of capital-C Church is a very particular one. I see ministry through the lens of a small town from which industry has fled, that is only slowly rebuilding its identity. Sometimes the challenges seem insurmountable. What does the work of one old church in such a community matter? Why do any of our churches matter, wherever we are? Whether we are a mono-ethnic suburban congregation, or a new congregation meeting in coffee shops, or a group of volunteers working at a community kitchen, or a two-language congregation navigating different cultural traditions, whether we wear dresses or jeans or seersucker and bowties, no matter how we see ourselves, we have to ask: what makes our ministry worth doing?

In this post-denominational age, during what Phyllis Tickle calls “The Great Emergence” of the next stage of Christianity, our churches are facing unforeseen challenges at every step. The founders of our churches could not have possibly imagined these cultural shifts that are part of our everday lives. Old paradigms of the church in the world no longer apply. So why are we pouring so much love and sweat into ministry, when numbers tell us it’s a losing proposition?

I believe the answer lies with the yeast. Even when we cannot see it at work, the kingdom of God is like this: persistent, unstoppable, undeniable, homely and comforting, infinitely nourishing.

Our Lord is at work in the world and is not letting creation lie dormant and unfulfilled, but is bringing about something new. As we ask important questions and seek to respond faithfully to God’s claim on us, the kingdom is revealed, in different small ways, wherever we are. What ultimately matters isn’t our strategies for growth and survival, our membership numbers and bottom line. What matters, for the church and for the world, is that the power of God’s kingdom is at work, and that there is nothing that can stop it.

I ask myself whether we are being naïve, to work so hard and care so much. It’s hard to maintain any fashionably ironic detachment when we’re looking at our communities through the eyes of church. We talk about love and promises and forgiveness, and we’re embarrassingly earnest about it.

But, our life in Christ is the opposite of naïve. We are called to a terrible and persistent hope. We cannot give up, or be content with the way things are, because God has not given up and is not content with the way things are. In the kingdom, we insist on hope. Every single day, we choose it, for ourselves, our neighbors, and the world.

That hope manifests itself in very particular ways, in small moments and shared stories. That hope is made known in occasions like small town Vacation Bible School, when a young mother in the neighborhood becomes connected to a congregation for the first time in her life, and finds an extended family of faith.

That hope rises to the surface when a Presbyterian Women study helps mobilize a group of grandmothers to fight human trafficking in our town.

That hope is felt in worship, when a mother is free to grieve for the death of her child, and is held by the congregation in love and shared mourning.

Through our communities of faith, in our living and our dying, our serving and praying, God’s relentless hope for creation can be given room and that hope mixes, and expands, and rises up, and becomes something new.

All these small, particular stories of hope and renewal are being echoed in churches, in worshipping communities, in towns, in countries throughout the world…wherever the Spirit is felt and welcomed. These stories help us understand and live into the great true hope of Jesus Christ that makes us more than what we were, uniting us in the work of radical love and hope that goes beyond life and death.

At the recent General Assembly, our denomination voted to support 1,001 new worshipping communities. We committed to think creatively about what makes a church. As we wrestle with the difficult issues of our life together, stories of transformation and hope will continue to rise up, like fresh bread baking in an oven. And we will remember that our purpose is not our own preservation, but our participation in the kingdom, where all may gather freely and be fed.

There’s no hurry. We have to give yeast time to work. Whether we have two years or twenty, we’re on God’s time, now. We can be in the kitchen together, talking, laughing, enjoying each other’s company. All the best parties wind up in the kitchen.

The divine hands are kneading and shaping, working their way through all of us with strength and assurance, so that the kingdom will be felt by every person in every place. Even as our institutions are in the midst of evolving into something different, this kneading, this “Great Leavening,” is bringing the living bread of Jesus Christ to the world.

There will be enough to go around, friends. A scant handful of yeast in a bushel of wheat will make enough bread to feed hundreds of people. And we know, don’t we, what our Lord can do with only a few loaves of bread. God is never stingy when it comes to feeding us what we need.

Our hope is realized when we gather at the table, as believers have for centuries, to share our common meal and tell our common story.

So, come as you are, beloved of God. Come broken, come humbled. Come with more questions than answers. Come and be fed with the living bread, and feel the Spirit at work in you. Come and rejoice, because in the Lord, there will always be enough.

Thanks be to God the Creator, God made flesh and risen, God who dwells with us, now and forevermore. Amen.

What’s in your head?

Author’s note: In the effort to spark some conversations, the following is in response to a prompt, “So, you have attended a NEXT Church event! What did you learn in Dallas (or Indianapolis or Durham or another regional gathering) that has informed your thoughts about ministry today?” Since I raised this question, it is only fair if I answer first. If you would like to share, please send your post to taylortroutman@yahoo.com

wayne meiselby Andrew Taylor-Troutman

A confession: Wayne Meisel is in my head.

This is not a bad thing, really, because I found him to be delightful and engaging in Dallas at the 2012 National Gathering. Yet he challenges me too. He is at once comforting and unsettling, simultaneously reassuring yet provocative. The reasons for such paradox are found in my own story.

You see, I was born in 1981, which many designate as the cut-off between the Generations X and Y. What an auspicious year to be born, particularly if you decide to make a career in the mainline church. I look young enough to be mistaken for a member of Generation Y and, admittedly, my Birkenstocks and shaggy beard are in some ways meant to evoke such a characterization. But I grew up in a denomination that was built to appeal to Generation X, a model that was itself a continuation of baby boomer preferences. As a result, I often find myself on the cusp, pulled between this and that. I want to work for change, but don’t really want to rock the boat; I appreciate the tradition, even as I feel the burden of keeping an institution alive.

So after I left Dallas, Wayne Meisel has taken up residence in my head, stubbornly refusing to allow me to brush these contradictions under the rug. During his presentation, Meisel challenged the “next church” to listen to the younger generation. Let them lead!

Sound great, huh?

As Meisel spoke, I remember looking around, noticing that my older colleagues were nodding appreciatively. Good for them, I thought, I hope they do empower people.

That’s about the time when I realized that I could not identify with either the older or the younger generation, neither the listeners nor the talkers! And so, I felt a burden of being stuck in between. I am aware that the following is somewhat of a caricature, but as an illustration, I am too inexperienced to pastor a tall steeple church yet too imbedded in this culture to start a hospitality house. What’s “next” is neither something for me to hand down nor to pick up, not about handing over the car keys or enrolling in driver’s ed or, for that matter, learning to skateboard in skinny jeans.

What, then, is my role? What about those of us who, in many ways, have been trained to replace the old guard, except now we are all aware that, unless things change, there is not going to be much left to replace?

Wayne Meisel, that voice in my head, pushes me to be a change agent as a facilitator. I think it is inevitable that institutional transformation is painful, but perhaps from my vantage point in between, I can provide a little space for transition.

After Dallas, I came back to my presbytery and got involved with the Committee on Preparation for Ministry. Yes, dear reader, I am aware that joining a committee is not exactly the most revolutionary act that comes to mind. I don’t need Wayne Meisel to tell me that. My wife, who is Generation Y, teases me plenty!

But, in this role, I can work directly with seminary students, support them, and provide connections. Most of all, I can learn from them, and then help interpret their passion for my senior colleagues. As a transition agent, I do not view my role as gatekeeper, but rather someone who issues an invitation. Here’s where we are and some idea of where we would like to be. How can you help us? What new direction would you take us? Finally, the crucial “next” step: How can we learn from each other?

I am in between the generations; my perspective is a paradox. Perhaps my goal, then, should be to raise questions, not necessarily to answer them. Maybe such work is even a calling. Thank you, Wayne Meisel.

NEXT at GA

On July 1, members of the NEXT Church leadership teams (strategy and advisory) hosted a gathering at the 220th General Assembly. Teaching Elder Cindy Kohlmann attended that gathering and offers this report:

Here in Pittsburgh, the question underneath all the deliberations, conversations, and discussions is “what’s next for the PCUSA?”  What will happen in the next few months?  What will the denomination look like when we gather for the 221st General Assembly?  What’s next?

Of course, we can ask these questions out of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty, or we can ask these questions out of a sense of the deep abiding love of our Creating God, the faithfulness of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the transformative breath of the Holy Spirit.  How we ask the questions will say a lot about the answers we hear and discover.

The NEXT Church is seeking to ask, “what’s next?” out of a position of faith in a God who is not through with us or the Body of Christ yet.  This group wants to join faithful Christians in a journey of discovering what God is calling us to do, and what God is already doing that we are being invited into.  They’re asking the question, “what’s next?” with a joy and excitement that is welcome in the midst of these uncertain times.

Gathering with others in the chapel of First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh on Sunday, July 1, we had an opportunity to engage in conversations about where we see God at work in our ministry contexts and where we are feeling called to enter into new ministry.  The NEXT Church PCUSA operates with the reformed understanding that God has supplied everything we need in order to do what we are being called to do within the Body of Christ.  Sharing our resources, our discoveries, our abilities, and our stories is a way to equip all the saints.

Reflecting on this offer to come together with others sharing in this journey of ministry gives me hope, even as the General Assembly stands divided on so many issues.  The deep need to reach out to our neighbors, many of whom have no notion of the grace and love of Christ, can be a tie that binds, especially in such a time as this.  Regionally and nationally, we can ask “what’s next?” in faith and with hope together.


Cindy Kohlmann is a Presbyterian teaching elder currently serving in two positions.  She pastors a small multicultural church in Clinton, MA, where she has been welcomed into the local Cameroonian community, while also serving as the Resource Presbyter for the Presbytery of Northern New England.  Her husband, Eric, is also a Presbyterian pastor, and together they share this amazing journey of ministry.

Dispatches from Pittsburgh: Brian McLaren Speaks to the PC(USA)

As the 220th General Assembly moves forward, we continue to seek folks who are willing to write short dispatches about what they are seeing at GA that will help inform the ongoing NEXT conversation. In the meantime, check out this great summary of Brian McLaren’s talk to commissioners on Monday. (Plus a news article here.)

Lots of food for thought as it relates to the the issues being raised in NEXT gatherings, both in Dallas last February and around the country in the months to come as regional gatherings take place.

A short excerpt:

In Christianity for the Rest of Us, Diana Butler Bass says the pendulum is swinging back from “spiritual but not religious,” and that these people are now hungry for spiritual andreligious. There are some indications that they’re not so much against “organized religion” itself as against religion organized for the wrong purposes.

People are looking for religion to organize for the right purpose: not so much for purposes of self-governance (the old model), as to conduct wholistic mission.

One of the wisest things church leadership consultant Lyle Schaller ever said: “You bring in a new day with new people.”

The new day will require welcoming in significant numbers of the erstwhile spiritual-but-not-religious.

The PC(USA)’s new “1,001 New Worshiping Congregations” project will not succeed unless we can make room for the innovations of the newcomers, and unless we can make sure they won’t be constantly criticized. We must create safe zones for innovation. Existing churches will need to actually see these innovative communities succeeding before they will begin to emulate their practices.

Thank you to the commissioner from New Jersey, whoever you are, for taking such careful and thoughtful notes. Read their entire post and check out their whole site here.