Theocademy, by Landon Whitsitt

Landon Whitsitt introduced Theocademy at the 2014 National Gathering. You can see that here: https://vimeo.com/94233866 But more importantly, check out the video series here.  

Mission Shift in Christian Education, by Jen James

Christian Education has changed a lot over the years. You come to a conference like Next and I hope it leaves you wondering, “What will Christian Education look like in the years to come?” When the mainline churches began to experience decline several decades ago, Christian Education seemed to be the life vest of the sinking boat. The church thought, “If we could beef up these educational programs, it would attract a lot of new families to our churches.” Today the attractional model runs rampant in our churches and in our denomination. Children’s Ministries rely on the latest Vacation Bible School curriculum filled with action-packed activities, catchy songs, and palatable themes. We spend hours of time, heaps of money, and endless energy of volunteers because we claim the thin assumption this is real outreach to the community. Youth Ministries hire young, cool leaders hoping they will attract teenagers like the star football player attracts a crowd at his lunch table. We think free pizza, fun games, and mission trips to cool places are the building blocks for deep disciple making. Adult Education insists on experts to teach their classes and the latest curriculum based on the most current events in order to draw new people.  But in reality the only ones at the table have been there for years and diverse ideas and people aren’t really welcome. It seems the attractional church’s only success is poaching members from smaller churches whose modest budgets can’t support big church programming. But the missional church, the next church, is a return to the original calling of the church – to go into the world to share the Good News of Christ, love our neighbors, and seek the welfare for our community. The missional church turns its focus from internal to external. It seeks relationships with others not to increase attendance, but instead because as God’s people, we are only complete when we are in community with God and all of God’s creation. It recognizes that the local church is only as healthy as the community surrounding it. One size educational programming does not fit all neighborhoods, communities or cities. The kind of ministry in which the church engages must be responsive to the community it serves. Churches must be open to recognize what once was a vital and beloved Christian Education ministry might no longer fit. Consider Christian Education in the missional church to be like a greenhouse. It’s a place for new beginnings where plants are intentionally fed and nourished to become strong enough for transplanting. Plants will never thrive in the greenhouse the same way they will thrive in their natural environment.  Plants that never leave the greenhouse have their growth stunted by their limited context. The natural environment for disciples is being in the world. A plant in its environment depends on its environment for life, but also gives back to that same environment. It’s a symbiotic relationship. The missional shift in Christian Education means our Children’s Ministry Committee will spend more time volunteering at a local elementary school than it will planning Vacation Bible School. It means you are more likely to find members of a Youth Ministry Team at the high school football game, or school play, or chaperoning a dance than in the state of the art youth lounge. It means adults will take a break from their study on Matthew to actually cloth the naked, feed the hungry, and visit the prisons. It means bringing bagels and coffee to the families at the Sunday morning soccer game, and instead of rushing back for worship, staying to cheer for a child’s first goal. The missional shift in Christian Education does not do away with learning the stories of our ancestors or the teachings of Jesus. But it does change our definition of success. It is less concerned with filled pews and more concerned with what happens when we leave those pews. It is less concerned with a popular youth lock-in and more concerned with youth who don’t have a permanent place to sleep each night. It is less concerned with honoring youth on graduation Sunday and more concerned with advocating for educational changes for students who are racing to nowhere. It is less concerned with providing a theme dinner at the mid-week children’s ministry and more concerned with children who go hungry at night and on weekends. This shift is about making our communities whole for community’s sake because the love of Christ compels us to do so. Because Christian nurture and spiritual formation are bigger than what a publishing company sells us and bigger than a full education building on a Sunday morning. The missional shift in Christian Education means we will stop building up church programming to make ourselves look and feel good.  But instead, it shifts to become servants of the community and recognizes that spiritual formation and wholeness happens in the midst of seeking that wholeness for others. Thanks be to God.

Welcoming Children in Worship

As we heard from pastor Kara Root in Minneapolis, at Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church children participate fully in worship. This includes teaching the congregation at the “children’s message” time, writing and leading the offering prayer each week, serving as our usher team once a month, leading our monthly food shelf collection, leading opening liturgy for Advent, sharing in serving communion, and as other ways as we can find to have them lead us and share their gifts from month to month.  Here is why… (the below is taken from our pew insert).

WHY WE WELCOME LITTLE CHILDREN TO WORSHIP… At the time of baptism, parents, godparents and the whole congregation promise to bring children to worship.  Not to do so would be like sitting down to the family evening meal but excluding the kids.  Sure their manners might be far from elegant, but we welcome them because they are part of the family.  Being with family is how we learn to be family.  Worship is no different. Young people giggle, they poke, they ask questions and they swing their legs because they are young children.  Children learn about worship and how to participate by experience, by how they are welcomed into the community, by what they see big people doing.

WHAT IS WORSHIP? Worship is how we respond to God.  When we gather in worship we all come together to encounter Christ, and we watch together for God’s presence in Scripture, our own lives, and the world around us.  When we worship God, we are reminded that we belong to God’s love, and we are empowered by the Spirit to participate with God in loving and healing the world.

HOW DO YOUNG CHILDREN LEARN TO WORSHIP?

  • By being taught they have a place in the community of the church.
  • By seeing, hearing, feeling, even smelling, the sanctuary as a place of welcome and worship.
  • By being around other children in the worship space.
  • By watching how their significant adults sing, and make prayers and offerings.
  • By sharing prayers, communion, and worship leadership alongside adults.
  • By being given ways to watch for God’s presence in their own lives, and encouraged to share where they notice God and how they participate in God’s love.

ADULTS LEARN TO WORSHIP by “becoming like a child” (Mt. 18:3). Children notice, absorb and feel deeply. They respond freely.  Children perceive God.  Children learn to worship from adults and adults learn to worship from children. Bringing a child to church can be frustrating. Their behavior can make it hard for parents and others to worship.  Then again, many facets of parenting can be challenging. It’s the rewards that make it all worthwhile.  While we do not want our children to be disruptive or hamper the worship of others, all of us together need to be reminded that children are not the church of the future.  They are the church of the present and are to be treasured as such.  Children and adults alike are able to watch for God, and participate in God’s love and healing.

SUGGESTIONS FOR ADULTS WITH CHILDREN

  • When possible, arrive in time to find a good place to sit. Let them sit next to the aisle, near a work station or in the front pews.  Even let them stand on the pew next to you so that they can see.
  • Tell them before they come in what will happen in worship.  Show them the parts of the service where they have an active role, and the parts where we all listen or watch others quietly.
  • Take advantage of the worship supplies and materials available at the door when you arrive, and bring them to your seat.  Return bags and supplies to their place when you leave.
  • Worship with your child, guiding her or him through the service so they can feel what it is like to worship together.
  • Worship at home through saying Table Grace together, or Bedtime Prayers, or even, “God bless you.”  Ask your kids questions about how they noticed God’s love in their day, and how they shared in it.
  • Remember that sometimes children just plain need to run around and play.  That’s why we provide a bright and safe Nursery space for your young child at any time during worship.  Gather them back with you for Communion so they can experience God’s blessing.

SUGGESTIONS FOR ADULTS WITHOUT CHILDREN

  • Be helpful to parents of small children by not making them feel awkward or unwanted.
  • Acknowledge children by smiling, or nodding in their direction, to show your appreciation of them.
  • In fact, make a child’s presence a part of your worship by inviting their family to sit next to you, praying for them, taking an interest in them.
  • Make a special point of sharing the Peace of Christ with them when everyone else is greeting.
  • Find a young child before or after the service, make eye contact, introduce yourself, tell them you are glad to see them and will be looking for them next week.  You might just be the reason that family returns.

(adapted with permission and gratitude from pew insert by Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St. Paul, MN)  

Clarifying Mutual Expectations–A Workshop

expectations-1By Bob Harris

I think it’s very important to regularly develop mutual expectations for a pastor’s top priorities. To do that you need to try to figure out what congregational members expect, but most importantly, clarify what board members expect of you and each other. How varied are the expectations? And how realistic? Are there common wishes, hopes, and needs?

Many pastors get into difficulty because they don’t take time to have a good conversation with leaders about mutual expectations and top priorities. Pastors blissfully follow their particular interests, ignoring what key leaders think is really important. If you don’t take time to clarify expectations, then you are bound to disappoint a number of key members. They will then lose trust in their pastor. Conversely, when the board and pastor are clear on priorities and communicate the priorities to the congregation and the pastor spends time and energy in accordance with these priorities, then trust will build. You will be seen as a leader who both has strong character and is competent.

So, how do you clarify expectations? Here is an approach to clarifying priorities I have used for clients and for myself. It is best done in a half-day retreat or meeting involving both board members and other key leaders. You might invite a coach or consultant or judicatory staff member to lead the retreat. (this is adapted from my nearly completed book aimed at pastors new to a parish so it is written directly to pastors)

1. Open with prayer and a trust building exercise. (15 minutes)

2. Ask participants to individually list what they expect you to do and to note roughly how many hours/week they expect you to spend on that task. You might give them your job description or what was developed in the pastor search process or a denominational list of pastoral responsibilities. (5 minutes)

3. Quickly compile the results and estimate the total number of hours per week their expectations would require you to work. When I’ve done this, the total hours often top 100! (5 minutes)

4. Discuss what you see in their list, and then invite them to describe what they see. Note similarities and variations in their expectations. (10 minutes)

5. List 10 to 15 responsibilities, each on a separate sheet of 11″x17″ paper, and tape these on a wall. I suggest that you prepare around 8 to 12 sheets in advance identifying typical expectations (for example, sermon and worship preparation, leadership, teaching an adult Bible class, evangelism). Also add expectations that were on the congregational profile that was prepared for the pastor search process and any you heard several identify as you interviewed leaders using the Eleven Curious Questions. Invite the leaders to add other expectations to the sheets on the wall. Post them too. Invite participants to reflect on the array of expectations before them. Invite questions for clarification about the meaning of specific expectations. I encourage you to limit the sheets on the wall to no more than 15. Be sure to summarize and combine expectations that are similar. It’s better to post one sheet saying “sermon and worship preparation” than two sheets with “sermon preparation” on one and “worship planning and preparation” on the other.(20 minutes)

6. Instruct the participants to each indicate what they think the top six priorities should be for you in your first year by writing their name on six of these sheets. I suggest that you tell them that after they make their selections, they may take a ten-minute break.

7. In the total group, review the voting and identify the top four to six priorities, and have a conversation about why these are most important. If the congregation did a mission/vision study during its search process or has done one recently, reflect on how study findings correlate with the priorities the board just identified. Discuss what these top priorities likely mean you will and won’t do in the next year (recognizing that surprises always happen). Invite conversation about how board members will respond when members complain about something they think you should be doing.

For example, Mr. Jones may have expected you to visit his home-bound wife monthly, but the board and you agree that quarterly visits are sufficient, since other members are visiting her. Instead of visiting home-bound persons so frequently, you and the board have agreed that, in an effort to welcome newcomers, you will visit every newcomer to worship. Or perhaps you and the board determine that you should spend eight hours a week with musicians and a contemporary worship planning team to begin a new service or strengthen an existing one. Most important, you and board members agree that if members complain that you haven’t met their expectations and in fact you have been meeting these mutually agreed expectations, the board supports your focus and use of time. (30 minutes)

8. Discuss how your focusing on these priorities directly affects how you will work with leaders and various committees. For example, previous pastors may have been expected to attend every committee meeting. These priorities might mean that you won’t normally attend the property committee meeting but that the chair of the committee will talk with you about plans and any issues they are dealing with. Perhaps you and they will explore having an all committee evening at which you will attend portions of the meetings as necessary. If there has been staff dissension and the board wants you to spend significant time strengthening staff relationships, then you might not have time to teach an adult class, and so the education committee will have to arrange for someone else to teach that class. Take time to be clear about what you expect of each other. (20 minutes)

9. Clarify how achieving these top priorities will be measured. For example, if you are fairly new to the congregation, board members and you might agree that the most important thing is for you to talk with most of the church members as soon as possible. Together you might set a goal that by the end of your first year, you will have had conversations with 75 percent of the active members. (20 minutes)

10. Request that the board pass a motion naming these priorities and that the appropriate lay leaders communicate these priorities to the congregation through varied media (e.g., newsletter, email, oral announcement). Also request that the Personnel Committee adapt its appraisal instrument to reflect these priorities. If you take time to develop mutual expectations with the board and communicate these priorities clearly, then members know what to expect, thus building trust as you meet the expectations.


Robert A. (Bob) Harris is a semi-retired pastor now serving as a leadership coach and consultant. Over his career he was called pastor in five congregations; he also served four churches as Interim Pastor. A Professional Certified Coach member of the International Coach Federation, he is especially interested in helping pastors who are new to their church get off to a good start. An outcome of that passion is a book due to be published by Alban Institute: Entering Wonderland: Tips and Tools for Pastors New to a Congregation. This article is adapted from his current draft.

The Ritual of the Cell Phones

by MaryAnn McKibben Dana

This ritual is a way of acknowledging the many roles we play and the constant pull to be connected, to be relevant and useful. That impulse to connect can lead to many life-giving things. And it can also leave us scattered and overwhelmed.

The Ritual

Have people trade phones with someone they’re sitting next to. I have them cup the person’s phone in their hands, and I say something like this:

We hold in our hands these tools of connection. They ring and we answer; they buzz and we respond. For some of us, this is our tether… our calendar… our means of expressing ourselves… our means of reaching out, being heard, caring and being cared for, and exploring our world. We have more information at our fingertips, more data on demand, than any generation in the history of the world. That is a weighty thing. Sometimes these possibilities excite us. Sometimes these connections bring light and joy to our lives. But sometimes they feel like a burden. There is always another article we could read, always another website to peruse, another message to respond to, another person we might call. We pray for the person whose phone we hold. We pray for the many roles they play, their connections to parishioners, to family, friends and loved ones. We pray for their responsibilities, their ministry. We pray for the heaviness and the lightness of those relationships and responsibilities. We pray a silent blessing for this fellow traveler. O God you hear our prayer, Amen.

Note: You can read more about this on MaryAnn’s blog at: http://theblueroomblog.org/blessing-of-cell-phones/

Theology Pubs with Glenn Zuber

Glenn Zuber shares practical ideas for creating communities of theological conversation using his experience as founder of Iona Conversations in Washington, DC.

Listen here to the webinar recording.

Check out the pictures here.