Not every church can march on Washington but every church leader can support their community on Main Street. Church leaders are not just leaders of their church community but also the larger community that they reside in.
In the Presbyterian call system, church professionals are often called far from home to lead in congregations and communities that have unique cultures. Discovering those cultures and naming them help us navigate those cultures in ways that make our leadership connected and effective. Here are three insights I have gleaned over the years.
Immersion in the Bible is imperative for the life of faith. Without it, we cannot know what it means to be the church. We cannot understand the greater purpose that animates our polity, our budgets, our worship life, and our participation in God’s mission.
It’s only after discernment that one gets to governance, the business of leading and guiding the people and institutions entrusted to the session’s care. Governance is always secondary and subsequent to discernment, because it depends on discernment. Even the title given to the order reflects this: ruling elder.
So, for the next month, for all that we are talking about officer training, let us remember that we are not trying to fill up church leaders full of things they need to know. We are hoping that together, through prayer, study, fellowship, and mission, we are falling in love with God more deeply ― day by day.
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.
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.
Of all the initiatives currently on tap through NEXT Church, 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.
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. Here’s a reflection exercise appropriate for any faith community who might be engaging in discernment around this or other ministries.
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.