Exciting Opportunity for Seminarians

By MaryAnn McKibben Dana 

NEXT Church is inviting two student leaders from each Presbyterian seminary to come together with seminarians from across the country immediately prior to the 2015 NEXT Church National Gathering in Chicago.

We have been dreaming up this event in hopes of deepening the strategic impact NEXT has in connecting and developing seminarians as leaders of change in our church. We are inviting each of our Presbyterian seminaries to send two students to attend a pre-gathering from noon on Saturday, March 14 through Sunday evening, March 15, 2015. The students are encouraged to stay for the entirety of the NEXT Church National Gathering, (March 16-18) if the limitations of their class schedules allow it.

Our goals for this pre-gathering are as follows:

  1.  Connect student leaders to each other across seminaries, to seed the relational network that will support, sustain, and challenge them throughout the course of their ministry.
  2. Hear from the students about their seminary experiences and their hopes for leadership in service to the church in the world beyond their seminary careers.
  3. Invite the seminarians into relationships with innovative leaders in the NEXT network who are the peers and mentors already working in and beyond congregations to bear the fruits of the gospel in significant and inspiring ways.
  4. Hear from the seminarians about their relationship to the PC(USA) as a denomination, and, if needed, help to strengthen that relationship.

Wayne Meisel, Director of the Center for Faith and Service at McCormick, will facilitate the two-day conversation along with NEXT leadership. Frank Yamada and McCormick have graciously offered housing for Saturday night, free of charge. NEXT will cover the cost of student registration and housing for the national gathering, if students can stay in Chicago through March 18th.

We are excited about this partnership! Stay tuned for updates about this new venture.

Pastors and Social Media

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. For January and February, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a month of reflections on technology, faith, and church. Join the conversation here or on Facebook. This post is based on one originally posted on Columbia Connections on January 22nd, 2015. 

By Adam Walker Cleaveland

For as many years as I have been writing or talking about social media and the church, I have been pretty adamant that pastors should only have one Facebook account. See, I wrote about it here.

There were many reasons why I took a pretty hardline approach to this. For one thing, I know myself and I know I would forget which account I was signed into – and post the wrong thing to the wrong group of people.

But it was more than that. I believe in authenticity and transparency when it comes to being a pastor in the 21st century. And yes, I’ve sat through those pastoral care classes in seminary and know about power dynamics between clergy and laity. Yes. And I remember cringing in those classes when a few students would start ranting about how pastors can’t be friends with their parishioners…and I think it only gets more challenging now with social media.

social media


I have always tried to be pretty much the same Adam on Facebook and on my blog, as I am in Session meetings and in the pulpit. I believe that authenticity and transparency are important for ministry in the 21st century church.

And sometimes that makes things challenging. When I started my blog, Pomomusings, in 2003, it became a place for me to think, out loud, to try on different theological positions and to rock the boat a bit.

Now, there are some people who enjoy having their boat rocked. And there are certainly others who don’t. I’m sure there were times when some folks had issues with some of my views, or my language, or my way of sharing something online. And sometimes, those folks were members of the churches I served. And generally, we were able to have some really good conversations because of those interactions.

Based on these previous experiences, I just assumed that authenticity and transparency were values that most churches viewed as important as well. Unfortunately, because of too many things to get into in a short blog post, that hasn’t worked out all that well in my current call.

There were questions about the types of articles I was sharing. Were they “balanced enough” and “fair”? Was it really okay for a pastor to share things that imply what their politics might be on certain issues? When is it okay to post articles and links about controversial issues, and when is it not okay?

Knowing that this was causing some serious angst in my parishioners, it caused me to rethink how I’ve viewed social media and pastoral leadership.

How well should a congregation know its pastor? Can social media be a space where pastors can share their political views, and share things that are important to them, in the virtual presence of parishioners? How does all of this translate itself to the question of how pastoral or prophetic a pastor is in the pulpit?

For me, the solution was found in tweaking Facebook privacy settings and Friend Lists and being much more intentional about choosing who (from my church) saw what status updates, tweets and photos. I also think this experience has helped me to see something that is totally obvious: what works in one congregation doesn’t necessarily work in another.

It’s better for my ministry to share less on social media with members of this church. That doesn’t mean that I’m having to “silence” myself. I can continue to share online as I had been, but I just “filter” who sees what – and that gives me flexibility and space I need. I can still have meaningful conversations in person about some of these hot button issues; it just works better to keep those offline with this community.

While I have somewhat changed my thinking on the topic, I still encourage pastors to have one Facebook account and to be as transparent and authentic as they can. But I have a greater understanding why some feel the need to have two accounts.


10251921_10152736900070498_1386465092307869785_nAdam Walker Cleaveland is the Associate Pastor at Winnetka Presbyterian Church, Winnetka, Illinois, and has been blogging at Pomomusings since August 2003. He lives in Chicago’s North Shore with his wife Sarah (also a pastor), their son Caleb, and a lab-pit named Sadie.

Virtual Worship

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. For January and February, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a month of reflections on technology, faith, and church. Join the conversation here or on Facebook.

By Jessica Tate

Our church has just started to livestream its Sunday worship services. A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to take advantage of it and participate in the worship service from the comfort of our couch.

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 11.04.27 AM

Some things were exactly the same:

  •  We were five minutes late. (Apparently we can’t really blame the metro.)
  • Though we were removed from them, we felt the energy of the children during the conversation with children.
  •  We enjoyed the anthems and hummed along with the hymns, singing when we knew the words.
  •  We prayed.
  •  We listened to the sermon – more up-close-and-personal than we are when we’re halfway back in the sanctuary.
  • Our offering had been given online already, just like usual.

Some things were different:

  • We didn’t get to chat with our pew-mates, meet someone new, or catch up with friends.
  • Seeing only the chancel area on our screen made worship seem more formal than it does when we’re in the room, surrounded by people who move about, sneeze, cough, shush children, and what have you.
  • Normally on the way home, my husband and I share tidbits about who we spoke with, what activities are coming up in the life of the church, what we’ll have for lunch. This time, we spent a good bit of time reflecting together on the sermon –what we’d each heard, what moved us, how it challenged us.

The only moment that was awkward was communion. We prayed the liturgy along with the congregation, and then watched as they streamed up to the table to eat and drink together. At one point my husband looked over and said, “should I go get some bread?” We didn’t, but I felt it, too. We were missing something.

This little reflection isn’t intended to offer a verdict one way or another on the validity of livestreaming one’s worship experience. Watching online can’t take the place of actually showing up in the same space together, but it did provide a point of connection in a week when we otherwise would have completely disconnected. For a city like ours where people are stationed around the world for various amounts of time, live-streaming worship could be a very meaningful tie to a church family they would otherwise completely miss. I wondered if those homebound members for whom we pray every week might watch – and if their spirits might be lifted, hearing their names prayed over week after week; they are not forgotten.

Clearly, a long and deep debate can be had about virtual worship and the incarnate worship and community experience to which we are called, but I am more and more convinced that in a busy, diverse and increasingly, online culture, a touch point is a touch point. To the extent we can continually connect – in whatever means – the more ability we have to live out our call as Christ’s community.

Jessica Tate1Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church.



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Virtual Bible Study

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. For January and February, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a month of reflections on technology, faith, and church. Join the conversation here or on Facebook.

By Roy Howard

Saint Mark Presbyterian Church was founded in 1962 to be a neighborhood congregation in a close-in suburb of Washington DC. That promise was fulfilled in the early years but now it is no longer a neighborhood congregation. Members come from many Maryland neighborhoods near DC, some traveling 45 minutes for worship and congregational gatherings. In the past 10 years the congregational membership has steadily diversified across ages, races and cultures as well as denominational and theological backgrounds. This change has mirrored the DC area though it is not as widespread among congregations.

The majority of the members work far away from the church location and find it difficult to come for evening Bible studies because of family responsibilities or reluctance to battle traffic. This has created a significant pastoral challenge to sustain a faithful community of deeper friendship, committed discipleship and mutual learning.

photo credit: Stewf via photopin cc

photo credit: Stewf via photopin cc

We are experimenting with various ways to adapt to the congregational demographic and the culture, in order to make connections, create community and encourage discipleship. One of the ways we are trying now is a lunch-time Bible study that includes a conference call-in option.

A member eager for the opportunity suggested this option because she works in DC and is a young mother of two children. It was a ‘light bulb’ moment!

We made our free conference call account available to members and friends and began with a six-week study of Ephesians. Seven people gathered in the library and six called in from their work sites. (One friend of the church called in from Atlanta for the whole series.) This January we launched the second round by joining with our Jewish partner congregation for a joint study of Jonah. Members of both congregations will have the option of calling the conference line, and those who able will alternate meetings at the synagogue or church.

This is clearly a work in progress and we have only the experience of the “early adopters” to measure success, but it has become an exciting possibility for connecting our members in new ways.

That young mother who suggested the idea said, “I appreciate the timing of the study—during lunchtime—and the convenience of calling in—both of those factors make it possible for me to participate. I can put the phone on mute if I have a work interruption (which allows me to hear, but not to be heard), all while sitting at my desk with my door shut! I have been enriched by the experience of Bible study during my work-day and look forward to continuing to be.”

Another said, “The call-in option for participation is putting technology to use to enable widespread participation — irrespective of where one might happen to be.

One participant said, “There’s a quality of experience that comes from sitting in the room with others that can’t be replicated over the phone.  I found it especially challenging to speak because I’m cautious about speaking over other people and that’s harder to regulate in a telecom situation.”

The man from Atlanta said, “It meant a lot to me to be able to listen and discuss the Word of God with old friends even though I was miles away.”

We have discussed future plans with Face Time or Skype interface availability. It’s a new day.

Roy HowardRoy Howard is the pastor of Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in North Bethesda, Maryland and the Book Editor of The Presbyterian Outlook. He has a fondness for long distance running, hiking mountains and photography.

Technology, Faith, and Church

social mediaEach month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. For January and February, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a month of reflections on technology, faith, and church.  Read more

Podcasting Made Easy…Even for Small Churches

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. For January and February, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a month of reflections on technology, faith, and church. Join the conversation here or on Facebook. This how-to post first appeared on MaryAnn’s blog The Blue Room.

By MaryAnn McKibben Dana

You, too, can podcast!

You, too, can podcast!

Some pastor friends and I got to talking recently about sermon podcasting. I’m always disappointed when gifted preachers I know, whose sermons I’d like to listen to, aren’t available as a podcast. Some congregations put their sermon audio on their church’s website, but that’s not the same as setting up a podcast that can be searched for and subscribed to via iTunes.

Many medium-sized and large congregations have folks to record the service and take care of this technical detail. But what about small congregations? Yes you can! We’ve been podcasting at Tiny Church for a few years now. (Search Idylwood Presbyterian on iTunes, or click here.)

In my experience with a small church, many decisions are inevitably weighed in terms of stewardship of time and resources. Or to put it crudely, a cost/benefit scale. Is it worth going through the effort of podcasting if only a couple of people will avail themselves of it?

It is absolutely worth the effort because it doesn’t take very much effort at all. It’s also an easy and important method of evangelism—a way of being in the world, exactly where people are searching for inspiration and ideas.

Thinking about setting up a sermon podcast but not sure where to start? Let me put on a very old hat of mine, that of technical writer.

There are three basic steps to podcasting: recording the sermon, converting the sound file, and uploading it to a podcast service. Here is how I handle those three steps in a small church without an A/V team.

  1. Recording. I use iRecorder Pro, which is a $2.99 app for my iPhone. I put the phone on the pulpit and hit record when I start preaching and stop when I’m done. (Protip: Write start/stop reminders into your manuscript or notes.) The phone’s microphone works fine whether I’m using a microphone or not.
  2. Converting to mp3. Most recorders I’m familiar with save the recording in some other format. Podcasts require mp3. I download the audio from my phone to my MacBook Air and use Switch to convert. It looks like there’s a paid version of Switch, but the version I use is/was free. There are a ton of audio converters out there.
  3. Uploading the mp3 file to your podcast service. I use SermonDrop, which I’ve been very happy with. The free version keeps the 10 most recent sermons. If you want more than that, you can pay. You upload the file to their site, and there are places to type in scripture text, name of preacher, whether it’s part of a series, etc. You can even upload PowerPoint slides or PDFs. Here is IPC’s SermonDrop page.

You do those three steps every time. There’s also an intermediate step that you need to do once, which is to register your podcast with iTunes so it shows up in their listing. Here are some instructions. Basically you’re telling iTunes “hey, my podcast exists, here it is.” So anyone who searches for your church name will find it.

As a pastor of a small church, you could certainly find someone to take care of this each week. But honestly? It takes me 10 minutes per week, and that’s mainly waiting for the computer to convert and to upload. There is no reason not to do it.

Does your congregation podcast? What tools or suggestions do you have?

wallsquareMaryAnn McKibben Dana is pastor of Idylwood Presbyterian Church, author of Sabbath in the Suburbs and a regular blogger at The Blue Room. She’s the co-chair of the NEXT Church Strategy Team.


Happy New Year!

photo credit: mdesisto via photopin cc


New Year, New Continuing Education Funds

Friends, 2015 is here and the NEXT Church National Gathering is only 68 days away! It’s time to put those new ConEd funds to use and register today!


Join us at the National Gathering as we aspire to put our heads, hearts, and hands to work in 2015: speakers from Tiffany Jana and Mathew Freeman to Diana Butler Bass will spark our imagination, worship will renew our hearts, and workshop leaders will teach us skills for connecting with our specific ministry contexts.

Register now for the National Gathering and don’t forget to book your airfare and lodgings while rooms are still available at the NEXT Church conference rate!

Is there a compelling question, idea, or project that you want to lift up at the National Gathering? Apply now to give an IGNITE presentation!