Cultural Contempt

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’re curating a series on NEXT Church resources. Members of the NEXT Church communications team, staff, and advisory team (and others!) are selecting resources already on our site and sharing the ways they have (or would) use them in their ministry context. We pray these will be of use to you in your own ministry! Have other ideas for resources you’ve used from our website? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

This editorial was originally posted on the Presbyterian Outlook website and has been re-posted with permission.

by Jill Duffield

Repeatedly, in a multitude of settings, I hear complaints about people in leadership positions: the executive director, the principal, the president, the head of staff… you name it. From the neighborhood association to the city council and beyond, leaders are considered not simply mistaken or misdirected or misinformed, they are stupid, idiots, evil. Motives are not questioned, they are assumed malevolent. Decisions are not disagreed with, debated and discussed, they are maligned and the people who made them castigated. The benefit of the doubt doesn’t exist anymore. Public postings of perceived ineptitude have replaced personal conversations seeking understanding and resolution.

And we wonder why the pool of people willing to occupy leadership roles is so shallow.

When we operate out of a default mode of disdain, we get the leaders we deserve: the ones who don’t give a whit about what others think, the ones who seek power for self-aggrandizement and abuse the privileges their offices afford.

Research has shown that the biggest indicator of the dissolution of a relationship is contempt, described in an article from Business Insider as “a virulent mixture of anger and disgust.” Susan Heitler, writing in Psychology Today, notes, “Empathy and contempt are polar opposites.”

I believe we are living in an age of cultural contempt.

When adults insult teenagers grieving the death of friends shot and killed in a mass shooting, and a group of fraternity brothers film themselves spewing racial and ethnic slurs, and memes making fun of children with disfiguring genetic disorders go viral, our moral compasses have collapsed. Empathy has left the building; anger and disgust have overtaken any sense of connection and concomitant compassion.

No wonder people of goodwill soon succumb to the relentless pillories and step aside.

Civility is not the answer. I understand the critique that civility is code for silencing the oppressed and delaying, if not denying, justice. We are nowhere near mutual respect. We are an ocean away from mutual trust. We need to begin with recognizing the reality and destructiveness of our mutual contempt. We must individually and corporately recalibrate our moral compasses.

I had the pleasure of hearing Jonathan Walton of Harvard Divinity School speak at this year’s NEXT Church gathering. His answer to a participant’s question sticks with me; he responded that we must know and name our “moral frame.” How do we morally view life, people, situations? He noted that his moral frame meant he is always aware of who the most vulnerable person or people are in the room. He knows his moral frame, and others know it too because he names it.

I began to think about my own moral frame and here is where I landed: I believe everyone is a beloved child of God made in God’s image. Additionally, I believe that transformation is possible. These two frames shape how I view everything and everyone. Now that I am clear and explicit about this framework, I am clearer and more explicit about my beliefs, motivations, words and actions. Contempt for another cannot fit in this picture. The frame cuts it out. Disgust cannot remain either. And if I believe that transformation is possible then I cannot write off anyone. Now that my moral frames are visible and known to me, I am obligated to check to see if what I say and do align with them. And when they don’t (and they often don’t), I am forced to make a choice: Do I want to live with integrity or not? Am I willing to do what I need to do to live within the parameters I believe God sets for my life or not?

Let me be explicit, blunt, uncompromisingly clear about this reality: Countless times I have answered, through my actions, a resounding and hurtful “no” to both of those questions. My only hope in the wake of such personally caused destruction is God’s promised grace and the forgiveness won for us through Christ.

In this age so rife with cultural contempt, what is your moral frame? Make it explicit, known, visible in word and deed so that a grassroots movement of empathy can transform our culture. Transformation is possible, promised by God even.


Jill Duffield is the editor of The Presbyterian Outlook.

When We Are In The Sermon

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’re curating a series on NEXT Church resources. Members of the NEXT Church communications team, staff, and advisory team are selecting resources already on our site and sharing the ways they have (or would) use them in their ministry context. We pray these will be of use to you in your own ministry! Have other ideas for resources you’ve used from our website? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Pete Peery

Being now a person of senior status, I remember being taught in seminary to avoid using personal examples in sermons. It was not appropriate. It would divert attention from the Word to the preacher. The sermon was to be about God’s Good News, not about us.

Frankly, it was not a bad teaching. Yet in practice striving to avoid the personal sometimes led me to preaching some pretty sound theological treatises but not proclamations well connected to life. This meant, of course, that those sermons were more often than not boring! And what is the worst thing you can say about a sermon?

As a corrective to emptying pews with boring sermons, the personal vignette has worked its way into acceptability in preaching. This is a good thing. Yet, danger still lurks. Crafting sermons using “our stuff” may well be a way we preachers subtly feed our own narcissistic appetites. Attention indeed can get turned from the Living Word to our desperate egos.

On the NEXT Church website there is a tab noted “Resources.” Clicking on that tab brings up var-ious icons, one of which is “Video.” Clicking on that icon another page emerges showing an icon labeled “Sermons.” Clicking that will bring you to this sermon by Kathryn Johnston delivered at the close of the last NEXT Church National Gathering.

Kathryn is very personal in this sermon. You will discover it is far from boring! I believe she demonstrates a wonderful way to be personal and avoid drawing attention away from the Gospel.

I invite you to try the following:

  • Watch Kathryn’s sermon.
  • Note the way she uses her personal story. How does she avoid making herself the focus of the sermon?
  • Review several of your sermons in which you have used personal vignettes. In light of Kathryn’s approach, would you revise the way you used yourself in the sermons? If so, what changes would you make?
  • What nuggets from Kathryn’s sermon will you keep in your head as you consider using personal examples in your sermons going forward?

I thank God for Kathryn pointing a way for us to preach in this “next church” breaking forth in this very present era.


Pete Peery is the relationship developer for NEXT Church. He formerly served as president of Montreat Conference Center and pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Asheville, NC.

Turning Intentions into Action

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’re curating a series on NEXT Church resources. Members of the NEXT Church communications team, staff, and advisory team are selecting resources already on our site and sharing the ways they have (or would) use them in their ministry context. We pray these will be of use to you in your own ministry! Have other ideas for resources you’ve used from our website? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by MaryAnn McKibben Dana

When I was in the early months of a new call, I worked with a ministry coach on a process of structured goal-setting. I’d never heard of coaching, but after meeting him for a preliminary session and hearing about the process, I decided I could use all the support I could get. We met over the phone for six sessions over a period of 4-5 months, in which I shared what I was learning and experiencing in this new context, and thought through ways to move forward faithfully. My coach asked good questions and, in some cases, made concrete suggestions, but the beauty of coaching is that the bulk of the wisdom emanates from the client. I made commitments to my coach, but most importantly, to myself: to make the phone call I found every excuse not to make. To establish good habits and boundaries. To turn my good intentions into concrete action.

I have to admit that in the early days of this coaching relationship, I would sometimes feel bad about myself for even needing a coach at all. Talking to other coach clients, I know this is common. Self-sufficiency is a strong cultural value, and coaching is an acknowledgement that we can’t do it all ourselves. We load ourselves down with “should”: I should be able to manage this on my own. I should be able to set a goal and just do it. I should be able to figure out what’s keeping me stuck. More power to those who have that kind of personal discipline, but most of us need a little something more. Coaching isn’t the only place we can find that perspective, but it’s a powerful one.

A few years ago, I heard Carla Pratt Keyes address a NEXT Church gathering and she shared some startling statistics. When we set goals for ourselves, there’s about a 6-8% chance that we will achieve it. The chance increases to 30% when we write the goal down, and it increases to 60% when we tell someone about it.

What helps move that stat from 60% toward 100%? I suspect it’s a lot of what we find in the coaching relationship, in which each conversation ends with a series of commitments: What will you do in the next few weeks? When will you do it? Where will your accountability be? (Knowing that the coach will ask about it next time was always a big help to me.)

For this reason, NEXT Church has created NEXT Steps Coaching, an initiative to help ministry leaders be more fruitful in their ministries. Right now we have two primary means for people to take advantage of these resources:

  • a directory of coaches, vetted for training/certification and familiar with NEXT, whom church leaders can contact directly and contract with on their own.
  • pro-bono coaching for leaders who could not afford it, provided through a generous gift from National Capital Presbytery.

Of all the initiatives currently on tap through NEXT Church — the Cultivated Ministry field guide, the community organizing training and certificate, our stellar National Gatherings — NEXT Steps Coaching is the one nearest to my heart. I have seen a pastor’s eyes light up as they finally figure out how to streamline some cumbersome administrative process. I have heard the relief in the voice of a leader who said, “Of course… I never thought about it that way.” And I have witnessed individuals and groups who felt utterly stuck and dispirited find new vitality and purpose.

For the past several months, a NEXT Church coach has been working with a team of leaders from South Jacksonville Presbyterian Church as they make some major changes to how they worship, connect, learn, and serve on Sunday morning. Their story is theirs to tell, and I hope they will, for the sake of countless congregations experiencing similar challenges. But here’s what’s struck me about their process. Among other things, the church made the difficult decision to move from two worship services to one. It’s a painful issue that many churches are facing right now, and it can come with a lot of emotional baggage, even grief, over letting go of the way things used to be. It can lead to a real defeated, deficit mentality.

But the team at South Jax realized that with this challenge came tremendous opportunity. After attending the NEXT Church gathering together in Baltimore, they re-branded themselves the “NEXT team,” charged with helping the congregation take the best from their past as they stepped into a new chapter. They designed a church-wide campaign of listening sessions, synthesized the stories they heard, and made recommendations to session. Most importantly, perhaps, they framed the changes with genuine excitement: One of the things we value here is relationship… with this change, we will all be worshiping together, at the same time, as one community. This change allows us to live our values more deeply than before. When I chatted recently with the chair of the team, he said, “We still have a ways to go, and lots to tweak. But one of our members that had expressed great concern about the changes came up to me recently and said, ‘I see nothing but smiles since the change.’”

This endorsement speaks to the leadership of the team shepherding this work. But it also speaks to the power of coaching — of listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit in one another, discerning the next right thing, and holding one another accountable in love to do it.


MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a writer, free-range pastor, speaker, and leadership coach living in Virginia. She is author of God, Improv, and the Art of Living, and 2012’s Sabbath in the Suburbs. She is a former chair of NEXT Church’s strategy team, and was recognized by the Presbyterian Writers Guild with the 2015-2016 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award.

Welcoming the Refugee, Loving Our Neighbor

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’re curating a series on NEXT Church resources. Members of the NEXT Church communications team, staff, and advisory team are selecting resources already on our site and sharing the ways they have (or would) use them in their ministry context. We pray these will be of use to you in your own ministry! Have other ideas for resources you’ve used from our website? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Linda Kurtz

At the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering in Kansas City, Tom Charles, a ruling elder from Nassau Presbyterian Church, gave a testimony presentation about the church’s ministry resettling refugee families. You see, Nassau has been welcoming refugee families to New Jersey for almost 60 years, giving them — and Tom — a wealth of experience and knowledge to share. Less than 20 minutes later, when he was done speaking, Tom had the entire room on its feet in applause. His testimony was inspiring — so inspiring, in fact, that some folks who heard Tom in Kansas City went home and asked their churches whether or not they might be called to refugee resettlement ministry themselves.

Ginter Park Presbyterian Church in Richmond, VA — in partnership with Union Presbyterian Seminary — is one such church. In the last year, they’ve discerned whether God might be calling them to sponsor a refugee family and ultimately decided the answer was yes. In fact, the family Ginter Park and Union Presbyterian Seminary are supporting arrived in the United States two weeks ago!

As a student at the seminary, I gathered several of my classmates and other members of our seminary community to discuss the extent to which we could partner with Ginter Park in this ministry. To facilitate that conversation, I turned to Tom’s testimony.

Here’s a reflection exercise appropriate for any faith community who might be engaging in similar discernment.

First, watch the entire testimony yourself. Since it’s just over 18 minutes long, I suggest selecting the most pertinent clips for your community to show others. I showed the video from 2:03-3:05 and 4:53-7:27.

Then, discuss:

  • What is your reaction to Tom’s reflections in this video?
  • What do our scriptures and confessions say about the refugee and immigrant? [See Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:34, I Peter 1:1-2; BoC 9.45 for starters.]
  • How might refugee resettlement fit into our broader mission and ministry?
  • If not sponsoring a refugee family, what are ways we can live out our call to care for refugees and immigrants?
  • How might our faith be impacted by this work?

Tom also helpfully provided a comprehensive guide for churches, individuals, and organizations looking to start such a program in their own context that assist with some of the more practical details.

But this isn’t the only way this testimony might be used. Sponsoring a family might not be feasible for your faith community for any number of reasons, but I find Tom’s heartfelt commitment to loving his neighbor — even his newly-arrived-from-another-country neighbor — inspiring. This video could also prompt a good discussion about how faith can be changed by encounters with people outside of our faith community or be used to facilitate conversation amongst a mission committee discerning where God is calling them next.

That discussion might be prompted by:

  • What is your reaction to Tom’s reflections in this video?
  • When have been some of the most faithful moments of your life?
  • How are we called more generally to love our neighbor in this community?
  • How do the people we interact with outside this faith community impact our faith?
  • How might we provide opportunities for members of our faith community to live out and experience their faith as Tom has?

Has your church discussed the possibility of sponsoring a refugee family? What was your discernment process like? How else might you use Tom’s testimony to spark conversation in your ministry context? Share with us in the comments!


Linda Kurtz is the communications specialist for NEXT Church and a final level student at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. 

Human Resource

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’re curating a series on NEXT Church resources. Members of the NEXT Church communications team, staff, and advisory team are selecting resources already on our site and sharing the ways they have (or would) use them in their ministry context. We pray these will be of use to you in your own ministry! Have other ideas for resources you’ve used from our website? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Charlene Han Powell

I’ve been involved in the NEXT Church movement since the beginning-ish. It used to be a small group of people sitting around a few tables talking about what the church could be. Fast forward to a few years later and now it is comprised of hundreds of people around a number of tables across the country talking about what the church is already becoming. Dreams have become realities. Hopes have been realized. NEXT Church is a movement that is making a difference in the church.  I can personally testify to that.

When NEXT Church was in the early stages of its ministry, so was I. Not yet ordained. Not yet called. Not yet employed. I didn’t even know what resources I needed to be a good pastor. I just knew I needed some support and fellowship for this long and often lonely journey. I have found that in the NEXT Church community. Every regional gathering I attend, every conference I go to, every workshop I participate in, I walk away feeling less crazy and less isolated in this vocation.  The most valuable resource that NEXT Church has offered me are the people I have met and the relationships I have formed.

But the human resource I have found in NEXT Church is more than just companionship. When I needed to reimagine officer training* this past year, I reached out to my network of colleagues I have met over the years at the National Gathering. When I was navigating a recent job transition, I connected with those in NEXT Church who had gone through the same thing. When I am stuck in any sort of ministry-related rut, I rely on the wisdom and experience of this amazing community of passionate and capable leaders.

The best part about utilizing this valuable resource within NEXT Church is that all YOU have to do is show up. Next time we are in your area, show up. If there is an online roundtable that piques your interest, show up. When registration for the National Gathering goes live, SIGN UP and then show up. And get ready to reap the unbelievable benefits of this fantastic movement.

*Stay tuned – we’re offering a blog series on officer training next month! 


Charlene Han Powell is the Executive Pastor at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in midtown Manhattan. Originally from California, Charlene is a proud New Yorker raising two young girls on the Upper West Side.

What’s The Best Use of Our Church Space?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’re curating a series on NEXT Church resources. Members of the NEXT Church communications team, staff, and advisory team are selecting resources already on our site and sharing the ways they have (or would) use them in their ministry context. We pray these will be of use to you in your own ministry! Have other ideas for resources you’ve used from our website? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jen James

In his Ignite presentation, Mark Elsdon shares a story about how creative revenue generation and a major impact investment turned a campus ministry on the verge of closing into a vibrant multi-million dollar ministry serving 750 students per year.

Whether you are considering a big project like Pres House or a small project to better utilize your church building space, this exercise would be great for:

  • A session meeting
  • A building committee meeting
  • A gathered small group of visionary church members

Before watching the video, ask the question: If someone wondered in off the street and asked, “what happens here?” how would you respond?

Now, watch the video.

Here are potential discussion questions:

  • What ministries of your church will your community be talking about 111 years from now?
  • Mark says, “But how was this spark going to turn into a lasting flame without some fuel?” What are the sparks in your community? What are the things about which you are dreaming?
  • What are some creative and innovative sources of fuel in your midst? Do you have some “literally in your backyard?”
  • If there was no chance of failure, what risks would you take to creatively use your space?
  • Who could be your supporters and partners in an innovative building/space project?
  • What would be a first step to consider adding fuel to a spark?

Continuing the Conversation:

Where else can we do this? What are the institutions that are ready to diversify and make more of an impact with their capital? What are the social enterprises that you can think of for those funders to invest in?


Jen James is the National Gathering coordinator for NEXT Church. She lives in Alexandria, VA were she is also a facilitator and educator-at-large helping to equip congregations. 

What is No Longer So?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’re curating a series on NEXT Church resources. Members of the NEXT Church communications team, staff, and advisory team are selecting resources already on our site and sharing the ways they have (or would) use them in their ministry context. We pray these will be of use to you in your own ministry! Have other ideas for resources you’ve used from our website? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jessica Tate

In Blair Monie’s short video “What Isn’t Helpful Anymore?” for “The NEXT Few Minutes,” he identifies the reality that as people and systems evolve, practices need to change with them and yet we often keep practices the same beyond their usefulness.

This reflection exercise could be incorporated in many ways in ministry settings:

  • A reflection exercise by a session, staff, or any leadership team, thinking about a particular area of ministry.
  • A reflection for the congregation as a whole in a period of discernment or as a moment of taking stock.
  • An invitation within a small group for self-reflection and deepened relationships as responses are shared.

First, watch the video:

Then answer the following three questions that he raises in the short clip:

  1. Can you think of things in your own congregation/ministry history that were healing and helpful in one time but are no longer so?
  2. Can you think of things in your own journey that were healing and helpful in one time but are no longer so?
  3. What were once means to an end of spiritual growth, but are no longer so?

If you would like to take it even further, invite participants to ask these questions of others in the ministry context and learn from their answers:

Name three other people you’d like to hear answer these questions. Maybe someone who has been at the church for only a couple of years. Maybe someone you consider a leader. Maybe someone who has been at the church for his/her whole life. Maybe someone who you see only a couple times a month.


Jessica Tate is the director of NEXT Church. She lives in Washington, DC.

Sharing Resources, Sparking Ideas

by Linda Kurtz

When you think of NEXT Church, what do you think of?

Perhaps you think of our annual National Gathering, three days of worship, workshops, keynotes, and more – a place to connect with other church leaders and share experiences of ministry.

Perhaps you think of our relatively new Field Guide for Cultivated Ministry, which aims to create a culture and process of ministry that does not rest on traditional metrics nor does it abdicate accountability altogether.

Or perhaps you think of this blog, which mostly runs on monthly themes that highlight a particular intersection of life and ministry, and through which we try to connect you, our readers, to creative ideas and best practices.

Sensing a theme there? We love sharing ideas in hopes that they spark something in your own ministry.

To that end, this month, our blog will feature resources found on our website (primarily under the aptly-named “resources” tab on our website – conveniently next to “blog”!). Our hope is that by highlighting some of these resources and providing extra insight into how they might be used, you might find them even more useful in your ministry context. Plus, we have a lot of great things on this site, so we might even highlight a resource you’ve never found before!

Here’s how it will work: the blogger will identify a particular resource and share how they have or would use it in their own ministry context. They’ll include some potential discussion questions or insights into how the resource can be used. And they’ll invite you to do the same!

As we get started, I’d love to know what resource on our site you have used and would choose to highlight on this month’s blog. Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page with the link to the resource and your thoughts about it.

God calls and equips local congregations for transformation: gathering people in Christ-centered community, and dispersing them into the world to seek justice, peace, and reconciliation. Informed by that conviction, NEXT Church strengthens congregations by connecting their leaders to one another, to creative and challenging ideas, and to best practices. Join us!


Linda Kurtz is the communications specialist for NEXT Church and a final level student at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA.