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.
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 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.