Lead Testimony – Mark Ramsey and Kristy Farber (2014 Minneapolis)

Mark Ramsey and Kristy Farber’s testimony entitled: Leading When We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know.

Here are their slides:

And the notes:

We are GRATEFUL for emphasis this year on “LEAD – CREATE – DISCERN.” “LEAD” has been under-served by NEXT— pastors and Sessions. We’re not experts – we can only tell what we have experienced. We are in a medium sized church in Asheville, NC. Terrific group of people – all ages, lots of life-long Presbyterians, but also just as many former Roman Catholics and former Baptists – Sense of SAFETY is important… Several pastors of GCPC has had some kind of minor to moderate to serious boundary challenges which at times means we have to refocus on TRUST. We would tell you how many members we have but we are really not sure.  We only spend 15 minutes a year on the statistical report that we have to give to GA which we have never found relevant …and we have a lot of people who are people participating with us who we don’t know what to call as membership fades away as a relative category. In the last few years, our 25-45 year olds now meet and exceed our next largest group in the church which is 65 and older, which we have achieved without the usually bells and whistles that attract that group…. some of which we understand (we’ll talk about it in a minute) …. and some of which is why we labeled this talk “Leading when you don’t know what you don’t know.”  Cause we don’t know… Younger members we see 1 in every 3 Sundays. Older ones we see almost every Sunday. We try to keep what is ESSENTIAL – we don’t know what we don’t know.  NOTHING is obvious or predictable in church life—We EITHER love that…or we will be miserable – growth or not! We have a long list of failures…one of which is committees. We reorganized committees and arranged for a committee night where we would meet and worship together once a month. It worked great….one time. SEVERAL attempts at alternative worship have…failed, but we started a new one yesterday. We’ll see how it goes. Small groups never took off. Like many of us, we’re asking, is the building important? It’s a resource, but ALSO a DRAIN… Here are some things we’re doing that are working: …Session went from 35 to 14 …Session meetings are around 75 minutes – not every month …BIBLE STUDY + ARTICLES is the focus of our work. We fund the theological and Biblical imagination of Session members above EVERYTHING ELSE (business, reports…etc…) …When new members join the church.  We don’t have a class – Mark likes to offer a 3 hour class on Calvin, but instead, the professional staff meets individually with each new member or family to get to know them personally – to hear their stories and find out what their spiritual needs are. …We LEVERAGE LEADERSHIP to NOT feed energy on useless things… This is our biggest bet.  If we are wrong about this–we are out of business. … This is OBVIOUS…but one of the challenges of LEADERSHIP is looking for the “magic potion”  or the “special insight or gimmick” which will turn things around.  Recently, another mainline pastor got together with us to find out what we were doing to be so successful.  He’d heard about Grace Covenant…He was genuinely disappointed when he learned that there was no magic bullet.  What we told him, and what we are here to share with you, is there are no shortcuts and no magic wands. We talk about JESUS—relentlessly— At our Annual Meeting in February, we asked our congregation to consider our ministry… and what there “is no substitute for.” Here’s what they said:

  • trust
  • authenticity
  • nimbleness
  • curiosity
  • openness
  • content
  • competence
  • healthy boundaries
  • working (no shortcuts)
  • imagination
  • leadership
  • kindness
  • joy

Here’s what we tell ourselves and others about our guideposts:

  1. Be reliable—return phone calls/emails promptly.
  2. Don’t make it about you—because it’s not…be well-defined leaders; tend the family system of our ministry—every day
  3. Boundaries….SERIOUSLY. When I arrived at GCPC there were boundary challenges and easily fixable things like solid doors without windows.
  4. Work hard – work smart. Much of ministry is incremental!
  5. Take care of yourself/take time off, but don’t overly spiritualize.
  6. Feed opportunities and starve problems. This is LEADERSHIP – we steer where energy and attention goes.
  7. Church has to feel different than the rest of folks’ lives!
  8. Strategic planning is largely a waste of time—but strategic thinking is essential! (Pay whatever cost you have to help you system be NIMBLE.)
  9. BUILD a network – expect to do that – don’t wait to “get picked”
  10. No substitute for loving our jobs.. 

There are a few things we’ve done that are going well. 1) A Sermon series/theological imagination: –we want to nurture a theological conversation with the congregation; –lectionary doesn’t help much –democratize the conversation/ get people engaged/be accountable 2) Faith survey –giving it/sharing it changed conversation –engaged Session, members, new folks—they were part in building it 3) Using our Resources Used to be the “church behind McDonalds.” Now we’re the church with the garden.

4) Strategic planning vs. Strategic thinking:

There are two major growth producers there were NOT on anyone’s radar 2 months before we started deploying significant resources to it: 1) the garden. 2) real.life.stories (Storytelling events)   Look, this is just us—we are describing, not prescribing. We have discovered that we can EITHER struggle, or see these challenges as a FEAST – we know God likes FEASTS. Ministry today is hard, it is a challenge…and we love it…

[Editor’s note: Our apologies that there isn’t video with sound. The video from the LEAD testimony at the 2014 National Gathering is somewhere out in the ether, but we don’t have access to it.]

Here is a copy of the Faith Survey they talked about as having changed the conversation at their church. Also, visit the website real-life-stories.org to check out the storytelling ministry they’ve started.

Create Testimony – Casey FitzGerald on Biblical Storytelling

This was a testimony from the 2014 National Gathering in Minneapolis, MN.

Shawna Bowman is the artist.

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.

Storytelling from the 2014 National Gathering

One of the highlights of the 2014 National Gathering was the biblical storytelling that took place in worship.

Jeremiah 29 was told in a variety of ways–

in 22 voices:

and by Jeff Krehbiel:

Then we learned to tell it:

There were additional stories told in worship, too:

Casey FitzGerald tells Matthew 10:

…and Luke 2

Jeff Krehbiel and Casey FitzGerald tell John 16

MaryAnn McKibben Dana tells part of Jeremiah at the start of her sermon


Thanks to Casey FitzGerald, Jeff Krehbiel, MaryAnn McKibben Dana for sharing their gifts this way. If you want to learn more about biblical storytelling, check out Casey’s blog Faith and Wonder.

Help Us Remember – A Prayer of Sending

Pastoral Prayer from the 2014 National Gathering Closing Worship

Gracious God, as we prepare to go out from this place:

Help us to remember. That is our prayer as our attention and our calendars start to turn back toward home. Help us to remember because in remembering, O God, we find your faithfulness to us, and so we find hope. And we are hungry for hope. Help us to remember the energy, intelligence, imagination, and love that kindled in this place, the energy, intelligence, imagination, and love that we found in each other and rediscovered in ourselves. Help us, O God, to remember the stories of the church that persists not because we have all the answers, but because you simply will not let us go. Your steadfast love endures forever. Help us to remember and trust that “the church lives by a thousand resurrections,” and resurrection does some of its best work in the dark. Help us to remember the calling you have placed upon us all: to shine light into the darkness, to offer an anchor in the storm, to bind up the broken and proclaim release to the captives, to seek the welfare of our cities. Help us to remember our people, our places, where the needs are great and the ache is strong: where chemo treatments continued in our absence, where hungers persisted, where families fell apart, where guns were used, where grief was renewed. As we head home, help us enter into those places but God almighty, you come, too, for surely they need you more than they need us. Help us all to remember that. Help us to remember your story, O God, your story of creating and longing, your story of building and planting and prompting, your story of prophets who raged and disciples who didn’t get it, your story of angels stuck on repeat saying, “Do not be afraid,” your story of a brutal cross and a broken son, your story of a stone rolled back and a brand new day… which is, of course, your story of reconciliation and redemption and grace and good, good news. It is the story that is saving our lives. So help us to remember, O God. Write it on our hearts because the church that is next is about the story that always has been and the love that always will be. Help us to remember today and every day that follows. Amen.

~ written by Jenny McDevitt, Pastor of Pastoral Care, Village Presbyterian Church Prairie Village, Kansas. (Jenny writes: “My theology professor Dawn DeVries assures me that “the church lives by a thousand resurrections” comes from John Calvin.)

Sermons from the 2014 Gathering

Watch the wonderful sermons from the 2014 National Gathering in Minneapolis, MN.

Alika Galloway

Dan Vigilante

J. Herbert Nelson

And last but not least, MaryAnn McKibben Dana, preaching “an end worth remembering…”

MaryAnn McKibben Dana

Erin Dunigan – Discern Testimony from the 2014 National Gathering

Erin Dunigan, evangelist of Los Ranchos Presbytery to Baja California talks about Not Church at the 2014 National Gathering.

Kara Root – Discern Testimony from the 2014 National Gathering

Kara Root, pastor of Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church, talks about the pattern of life at LNPC which includes sabbath-keeping, worship at the local home for children and inviting children into worship at the 2014 NEXT Church National Gathering.