Beyond ‘Learning Something New’

By Jeff Krehbiel

I long ago stopped attending church-related conferences to learn something new. In my experience, congregational life is too idiosyncratic for an expert’s well-intended prescriptions to hit the target. I go, instead, for the relationships. If I can meet one new person with whom I make a deep connection, (that, and at least one good sermon idea), I go home satisfied.

Casual spaces and unscripted moments at NEXT National Gathering

That was especially true at NEXT this year. My colleague Ashley Goff was presenting on our worship experience at Church of the Pilgrims. I expected to be uplifted by hearing her tell our story, but I didn’t expect to hear anything new. A major focus of the plenary and workshops this year was related to community organizing, something I have been involved in since I was in seminary. NEXT Church for me did not provide new information.

Yet I came home from NEXT invigorated. It wasn’t just the relationships, both renewed and forged, though there were many. It was the contagious spirit that NEXT Church imbued. As a pastor, even with a team of wonderfully creative and collaborative colleagues, I sometimes feel as if we labor in isolation, trying to re-invent the wheel on our own, to figure out what it means to faithfully live out the gospel in our ever-changing 21st century landscape by ourselves.

What I found at NEXT was a deep and wide company of conversation partners who are struggling with the same questions, and equally unsatisfied with the old answers. The hardest part of ministry in our current context is that we don’t yet know what is next. All we know is that much of what we inherited in the past no longer works, and the best we have now is a glimpse of the contours of a new future. The community that NEXT has cultivated inspires me to enter that future with hope.


Jeff KrehbielJeff Krehbiel is Pastor of Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC, where he has served since 2000. He is the author of Reflecting with Scripture on Community Organizing.

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  1. […] post on connectionalism, some other examples have surfaced. Jeff Krehbiel blogged about “Beyond ‘Learning Something New’” at NEXT […]

  2. […] First, John’s objection: three years into its existence, NEXT seems no more willing to grab hold of the institutional levers of the PC(USA) than it did at its inception. Leaders in the organization continue to recite a “we don’t know” mantra when asked hard questions about what they want to build. What it is contributing–and this is undeniably valuable–is “a platform for innovative and creative leaders to share ideas and best practices” (just hours after John’s post went up, NEXT’s blog published a post by D.C. pastor Jeff Kreibehl celebrating that very thing). […]

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