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On the Holy Way

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate and Jen James are curating a series featuring videos from National Gatherings and suggestions for how they might serve as resources for ministry. We’re revisiting speakers from this most recent National Gathering in Seattle as well as speakers from previous years. Our hope is that inviting you to engage (or reengage) their work might invite deeper reflection and possibly yield more fruit. What is taking root and bearing fruit in your own life and ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

In the closing worship service of the 2018 National Gathering in Baltimore, Rev. Kathryn Johnston invites us to consider the holy way through her engaging sermon. Consider using this resource for any group looking to consider doing things a new way (a committee, a leadership body, a small group, a class, or a youth group) or anyone looking to be filled and inspired by this prophetic preaching.

Have you ever been side-swiped on the holy way?

Have you ever almost missed someone on the holy way because you were on the holier-than-thou way?

How have our churches missed people on the holy way because they are on the holier-than-thou way?

Kathryn says, “Any time a line is drawn, Jesus is on the other side. Friends, we can’t stay where we are. God calls us to the holy way. It’s a risk. We prefer our comfort zones. We like what we know. The more we dig in the more comfortable our rut becomes. Soon its almost impossible to move us as we have dug ourselves so far in that we are surrounded by protective barriers. A foxhole of the familiar. And we are moving nowhere.”

What is your foxhole of the familiar? Where are you most comfortable?

Kathryn invites us to get out of our ruts and move to unfamiliar places – to go willingly into the wilderness so God can do a new thing because that is the holy way.

Where might God be calling you? Where might God be calling your gathered community?

Ready or Not, God Calls

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Suzanne Davis is curating a series highlighting the working relationship between ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament (or teaching elders). We’ll hear from both individuals and ruling elder/pastor partners reflect on the journey in ministry they’ve had together. How do these two roles – both essential to our polity – share in the work and wonder of the church? What is the “special sauce” that makes this special partnership flourish? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Todd Muldrew

Just over two years ago I received a phone call from my pastor. She wished to know if I would serve as an elder. Honestly, it’s flattering when a leader at your church calls to ask if you’re willing to lead, too. But I was uncertain.

I was relatively new to Presbyterianism, but I was at a point in my relationship with my church where I was willing to step up when called. I spoke with my wife, a lifelong Presbyterian and elder. She explained the commitment to me, both in faith and in time. I was ready. I was excited.

Image from Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church Facebook page

Because I was working often with our mission group, I assumed that is where I would plug in. But instead, I was asked to serve on the Christian Education and Formation committee – which includes a major focus on Sunday School. Now, I will admit to being a sporadic attendee to the Sunday School hour. But I said to myself, “This is where God must need me, so I will have faith that it’s the right place for me to be.” Then I went to my first meeting. By the end of that meeting it became clear that I was not just going to be on the committee – I was being asked to moderate the committee. My heart skipped a few beats. Who was I, as a part-time Sunday School participant, to moderate such an important part of the life of our church? Had there been a mistake?

The very next month, I was asked to give the devotional at our first meeting of the new session. In doing so, I found both guidance and peace. I discovered an article entitled “Wait Until You Get to the Corner.” It’s about a young pastor who is anxious and uncertain about what God has in store for him. An older pastor counsels him to walk the path before him with God, and not to worry about where the corner is or what’s beyond it until God reveals it. “Take the task He gives you gladly, let His work your pleasure be.” The author counsels us at the end: “There’s a line in a song, ‘I will go, Lord, where you want me to go.’ We might add, ‘And I will stay, Lord, where you want me to stay.’ And when we know that we are at a place and in a position because God has put us there, it takes a lot of stress out of it.”

It does indeed. God knows my strengths and my weaknesses, and yet here I am. I have faith that I am playing a role in God’s plan for our congregation, regardless of my inability to see around the corner.

As I took this leap of faith, the pastors and staff have been incredible partners in our work. Our children and youth programs are growing rapidly. This growth is wonderful, but it requires an evolution in our priorities and new commitments from our congregation.

One of the biggest challenges we face is awareness and buy-in. My first year, I took time to observe the process of this committee as I stepped gently into my role. Much decision-making seemed to take place with just the moderators and staff. When I listened to congregation members not privy to these meetings, I heard people complaining that such-and-such wasn’t happening in their child’s Sunday School – when, in fact, such things were happening. There was a disconnect between perception and reality.

This year, we have widened the circle of people who are involved in the committee’s work. Consulting with the pastors and staff, we have both solicited and personally invited interested and concerned members to our visioning meetings. This not only increases our awareness of the different needs of our members, but also gives us a conduit back to the congregation to explain what is going on – and why. The response has been rewarding, both in new ideas and greater understanding from the congregation.

I am prayerful that this momentum will continue to grow in the years to come. In the meantime, I remind myself “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the Lord!” Ps. 27:14. I look forward to seeing what God has in store for us next.


Todd Muldrew is member of Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He gladly serves as an elder and moderator of the Christian Education and Formation Committee of the session.

Exegeting Culture for Ministry

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Andrew Kukla is curating a series on officer training. We’ll hear from various perspectives about how churches might best equip those they call to the ministry of ruling elder for that service. How might we feed, encourage, and enable the imagination of our church officers? How can we balance the role of officers as discerners of the Spirit alongside church polity? How might we all learn how to fail — and learn from it? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Melodie Jones-Pointon

I first felt the call to professional ministry in the church when I was 21 years old. At the time, I made a “deal” with God: I would go anywhere God called (almost). I imagined this deal with God would lead me to ministry in Hawaii. But that has not yet been the case. So far, my calls have led me from my hometown in Idaho to Washington State, from Arkansas to New Jersey, from Michigan to Mississippi. Currently I call Lincoln, Nebraska my home.

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:1

If you want to know how something really functions, ask the custodian. Okay, so my current church has a professional cleaning company, so this doesn’t always work. I would happily insert the office manager, administrative assistant, or maintenance/security personnel in this spot. The larger point is that oftentimes the pastor and leadership aren’t around for some of the important happenings at the church.

Here’s the truth – as the senior pastor, I love to rattle off the list of things we support and believe in at the church. I am proud that we currently are a meeting site for AA and Girl Scouts, non-profit board meetings and senior citizen groups. I read the calendar every week and am thrilled at how we are growing into using our building better. It’s my job to look at the big picture.

But I don’t always know what is really happening. I recently learned that our new AA meeting is growing quickly in number and that our food pantry is hosting their first volunteer staff and client picnic where they anticipate at least 40 people. I learned this because our office manager brought up details for set up at a staff meeting so she could pass these details on to our maintenance staff.

Sometimes the most important conversations and decisions are made outside of the committee meeting. I learned this in my second call, in a small town in Mississippi. I found myself frustrated that I would sit at committee meetings where items were discussed, decisions made, and then changed later in the week.

I started paying attention, and discovered that the most important discussions in the community took place at the ball field and the grocery store parking lot. That particular congregation and community was (and is) relationship-driven. So they couldn’t make decisions without those conversations. In other areas of the country, the Catholic or Lutheran church has been a large community influence, and committees would never make a decision outside of a meeting with a pastor present. These are issues of culture and influence that affect how we lead.

Cultures aren’t “one-size fits all.” I am often asked how I like my current call and current city. The truth is, I love it. And I know why. It’s a growing larger-sized farming community with an emphasis on higher education. It is very similar to my home congregation and community. I’m comfortable here because I understand the culture.

But it’s just a culture. There’s no one ultimate right or wrong way to run a church. In today’s culture of change, it’s important for us to focus on the vision and mission of our congregation and community. As new people move into the community, they bring different experiences and ideas that are valuable. Don’t let the established culture run them off! Pay attention to it, be able to name it, and learn to either work within it (if it works) or change it (if it’s toxic).

For further reading and reference, see the works of Eric H.F. Law, Nancy Tatom Ammerman, and Israel Galindo.

1 These are in chronological order of discovery, not in order of importance.


Growing up in Idaho, Melodie has always had a great love for Christ and for the church. Melodie received her Doctor of Ministry degree from McCormick Seminary in May 2017 and has served at Presbyterian churches in Idaho, Washington State, Arkansas, New Jersey, Michigan, Mississippi, and finally here in Nebraska! Her pastor husband, Steve, is from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and together they have two children, Phoebe and Eli, and a 4-legged friend named Pebbles.

Ministry in Appalachia

by Anna Pinckney Straight

Let me say at the outset, I didn’t grow up here, in West Virginia or in Appalachia.

My birthplace is the deep south of Charleston, South Carolina. I understand that place (understanding being a very different thing than admiring or agreeing) and know it’s not the place that is “home” any longer. It is no longer of me, or I of it.

Anna Pinckney Crotts, Arthurdale, WV, 1997

For the second time in ministry, I’ve heard the call to serve a congregation in West Virgina. The first time it was an accident – I was called to a church that happened to be in West Virginia. I moved there single. Newly ordained. Ready to light the world on fire. This time, my husband and I prayed that West Virginia might reveal a church to which I would be called. We moved here by choice, with intention, and hope to stay a while.

Which means that, while I might not ever be considered “from here,” I want to understand this place’s ways. To know its history and people – the motivations and struggles that illustrate it.

But it isn’t easy learning a new language when you are in your forties. And the world isn’t the same place in 2018 that it was in 1997.

You might know something about West Virginia already, even if it’s just a general idea about the statistics.

U.S. median household income (2016): $59,039. West Virginia: $42,644

National poverty rate: 12.7%. West Virginia: 17.9%

The highest obesity rate in the nation at 37.7 %, and the highest approval ratings for President Trump.

If Jesus does have a preferential option for the poor, for the struggling, for the voiceless, then this is where Jesus must surely be. Right?

But… those aren’t the reasons I moved here. I moved here because it is a place with amazing people and unparalleled beauty.

The people here will share their precious morel mushrooms with you (even if they won’t tell you where they find them).

It’s a place where a busy commute means ten minutes to get across town but taking your daughter’s school friends home might take two hours or more.

It’s a place where even a small town of four thousand can have a Carnegie Hall and multiple music venues operating most nights of the week.

During the recent teacher’s strike, the community gathered food for children who might be hungry due to not having school-provided breakfast and lunch. But how could they find out about it? How could they get to it? You can go hours without cell phone coverage in some parts of the state, and even if parents know about the food, if they had the money to get there, they’d have the money to buy groceries. (For another perspective on this event, read Debra Dean Murphy in the Christian Century: “In West Virginia, the teachers’ strike made new space for Eucharistic living“).

To sum up, it’s complicated.

This month, we’ll be delving a little deeper into what ministry is like in this region of Appalachia (most of our writers are from West Virginia, but not all of them). What makes this a place where people choose to live? What are the particular challenges and opportunities of ministry here?

I hope you’ll accept the invitation to take the journey with us.

In closing, here are some words written by author and professor Silas House for the soon-to-be-released documentary entitled “Hillbilly” —

Appalachia is a wound, and a joy, and a poem.
A knot of complication.
But you cannot know a place without loving it, hating it,
and feeling everything in between.
You cannot understand the complex people by only looking at the way
they have been portrayed on the television and movie screens.

One must go to the mountains to drive these winding roads
One must sit and jaw for a while with folks on their front porches
Must attend weddings and high school graduations.
One must study the history of the place and come to understand it
Must sit at a wake and look at the lines on the faces of the people
and the callouses on their hands and understand the
Gestational and generational complexities
Of poverty and pride and culture

Something inside you has to crack to let in the light so
your eyes and brains and heart can adjust properly.

[The text from the teaser for http://hillbillymovie.com/, written and read by Silas House, Executive Producer.]


Anna Pinckney Straight is the pastor of the Old Stone Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg, West Virginia. She moved to Lewisburg with her family in 2016 from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Her first call, back in the 1990s, was to the Community Presbyterian Church in Arthurdale, West Virginia.

Big, Uncertain Moments

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Tanner Pickett and Elizabeth Link are curating a series that will reflect experiences of those in the beginnings of their ministry, particularly through the lens of Trent@Montreat. Over the course of the month, we’ll hear reflections from past and future participants, track leaders, and members of the leadership team of Trent@Montreat. We hope these stories will encourage you along your journey – and maybe encourage you to join us next April! We invite you to share your own thoughts on Facebook and Twitter!

by Katherine Norwood

Editors’ note: Trent@Montreat is created for people in their first ten years of ministry. Why is that relevant? As they saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know” and seminary can only teach you so much. Most people get into their chosen profession only to realize that there are things that they are not prepared to deal with. This post and the previous post are from two people on the cusp of this transition, reflecting on their time in seminary and sharing their hopes for their future ministry.

Often the events that stand out most clearly in our mind are those big, life changing moments. Those turning points where a decision you made or an event that occurred launched you down a new road: graduation, the birth of a child, a milestone achievement, a big move, a discernment process, a calling.

For me, it was the day I moved to college. It felt like everything I had known, every comfort I had for the last 18 years was gone; I was leaving it all behind and starting over. In the months leading up to the move, I tried to imagine what college life would be like: my dorm room, eating in the cafeteria, learning in a huge auditorium. But every time I would try to picture these snapshots of my future college life, my mind came up blank. I had no idea what my dorm room would look like, who my friends would be, or what I would study. My life would be unlike anything it had ever been before, in a good way, I hoped.

Photo from Louisville Seminary Facebook page

Similarly, when I entered seminary, my mind was blank as I tried to picture what it was exactly that I would be learning. Greek and Hebrew, Bible, theology, and then three years later I would graduate totally ready for ministry, right?! What I couldn’t have been able to picture about my seminary education was how my worldview expanded and was shaped. Theology and social justice intertwined in a way I’d never known before. As I learned about racism, liturgy, the Old Testament, sexuality, and ethics, I began to see the world in new and different ways.

I have one year left of my seminary education; one year remaining in this bubble of intensive learning and then out into the wide world I’ll go. Again, I’ll find myself on the precipice of a big life moment, one where nothing is certain about what my life will look like.

But what I have found in these big, uncertain moments is that there are new experiences to be had and a whole lot to learn. When I moved to college, not only was I learning in the classroom, but I was also learning how to navigate the world as an independent adult. When I began seminary, my learning lead to a transformation in my understanding of faith and ministry. After I graduate from seminary and begin ministry, I know there is more learning to be done because no matter how well I think I may have grasped the concepts in seminary, there’s a depth of knowledge I have yet to uncover about real life, hands on ministry. I have been warned about this gap of information from pastors who often like to spout, “they don’t teach you that in seminary.”

I am bound to uncover this knowledge not all at once, not in three years or even ten, but over the course of my life. I believe that the learning that began in seminary will never stop. Whether I am navigating big transitions or the daily grind, my hope is that I will never stop learning and growing because to continue to learn and grow is to lean into the person God is calling me to be.


Katherine Norwood is a 3rd year Masters of Divinity student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and a candidate for ordination in the PCUSA. In her free time she enjoys cooking, yoga, and being outside.

Called. And Gay.

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate is curating a series that will reflect experiences of living in diverse community. Over the course of the month, we’ll notice practices that enable diverse communities to thrive and we’ll reflect on the promise of Christ in whom there is no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free and what that promise means for our lives today. We invite you to share your own thoughts on Facebook and Twitter

by Kathryn Johnston

On a bright, cold Saturday in early January, the deacons and the session gathered for a combined meeting. The tradition is that as we worship together, the incoming class of officers share the faith journeys that led them to say ‘yes’ to the nominating committee. This is the culmination of their officer training.

As you can imagine, these testimonies cover a wide array of experiences and delivery styles. Most people speak with notes or at least an outline. Some have a fairly cut and dry story: grew up Presbyterian, stopped going to church in college, came back, now want to serve, glad that they can.

I recognize that story. I am that story. But five years ago, I thought that story was coming to an end.

Since high school I have been saying out loud: “God has called me to ministry.”  

Over five years ago I finally said out loud: “I am gay.”

These were two things that I did not think could be true at the same time. And yet, there I was, torn between wanting to resign from my position as senior pastor/head of staff to spare everyone, including myself, the pain of a coming out process; and knowing that running away from God’s call to serve this particular community, without them being a part of the discernment process, would not be faithful.

The coming out process began small – the chair of the staff committee, the clerk of session, two long time members of the congregation, and another ruling elder. I had two questions:

  1. What is best for the congregation?
  2. Where do we go from here?

They encouraged me to stay and we prayerfully and cautiously moved forward; session meetings featuring Bible studies and special speakers, congregational Q&A’s, and conversations with church members. Some of the things we did went well. Some of things we did – and didn’t do – could have been done better. After a few months, the session informed the congregation that they supported my call as senior pastor/head of staff. Some people applauded the decision, some left, and some people stayed even though they weren’t quite sure how they felt about it. I think all of us wondered, “Where do we go from here?”

It was hard to know what would come next for the congregation. The area of the country where the church is located is fairly conservative, with a general approach to controversial topics of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I held up what I thought was my end of the bargain. I didn’t seek out publicity. We just continued to do what God had called us to do: proclaim the love of Jesus Christ through worship and mission.

Of course, word did get around which resulted in more people leaving, but other people started coming. Some of them joined. One of those new members was at that January meeting this year. She stood up to give her testimony. She told us about being called to serve as a deacon at her former church. She told us about meeting her now wife, and how that meant she had to resign from being a deacon. Her eyes welled with tears.

I looked around the room through my own blurry vision. Everyone was transfixed as she shared what it was like to now be in a community of faith where the way she was fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image did not stand directly opposed to the call she felt to be a deacon.

Her testimony ended with thankfulness to those whose courageous decisions led to her not just being welcomed into the congregation, but also being eligible to serve. “Thank you,” she said, tears now streaming. The elders and deacons rose as one to embrace her, just as they had done with me five years earlier.

  1. What is best for the congregation? Keeping our minds and hearts open to who God is calling us to be.
  1. Where do we go from here? Anywhere God calls us, proclaiming the love of Jesus Christ.

Kathryn Johnston is pastor of Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church in Mechanicsburg, PA. A graduate of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, Kathryn earned her M.Div. at Princeton Seminary. She and her wife have four children (3 ‘adulting’ out in the world, 1 in middle school), 2 cats and a lively lab mix named Teddy.

When Our Screw Ups Are Met By God’s Grace

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Shavon Starling-Louis is one of our presenters. Learn more about her workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Shavon Starling-Louis

“Oh crap!” “I can’t believe I got myself into this situation. (…. Again.)” “I can’t do this!”

Those are the words that I hear from the bell tower of my mind when the reality of my f– ahem…. flub-ups hit me like a ton of bricks.

Here’s a truth about me.

I fail.

And when I do, I often feel like poop.

2014 communion tableI don’t often share this sentiment so bluntly with others, but there it is – in black and white no less. On a regular basis we as leaders of faith communities find ourselves lonely, embarrassed, confused, and suffering in bad head and spiritual spaces in light of our fragility and failures.

In the church (and the wider society), we have a stigma around failing.

In the PC(USA), we have a tendency to call leaders who are the best of the best. While this is generally considered a good thing, this way of thinking about leadership means we can lose the creative and spirit-led openness to new types of leaders and leadership. The “best of the best” often equates to the safest of the safe.

But the other problem is that we, as leaders, internalize the pressure to be the “best of the best.” Which means we feel a pressure to perform and assimilate to expected norms of what the best looks like, acts like, leads like.

(Sidenote: As a creative, young woman of color, the unspoken yet acclaimed “best of the best” in the PC(USA) rarely looks, acts, or leads anything like me, and that can feels crappy!)

We can lose or minimize the God-given unique combinations of interest, talents, and gifts that make us who we are because we aren’t the best in certain areas.

We can feel like imposters, failures, and frauds. Everything but the sons and daughters of God.

It’s a reality that a part of being growing creative people means that we will fail – especially when we try new things.

Unfortunately, the reality that we can strangely attempt to avoid or hide. And it’s a reality that can quickly turn from guilt to shame.

Thankfully, we have the theological terminology to name the reality that that “all fallen short.” Through the words and wisdom of our reformed tradition, we can name that are we are all guilty; we all fail. And we can confess in our words and actions that it is only by God’s grace that were are able to move forward as forgiven people.

But the stench of guilt and shame for things done and things left undone as we lead others has the ability to stick to us. Yet, as seen over and over, the stench often dissipates when allowed to come to air and light, love, and compassion.

And in the greater mysteries of God the very situations that once made us say “Crap!” are where we discover the grace and power of God in new and exciting ways.

I am so grateful that as the body of Christ, we are empowered to wade into any place of fear or anxiety compassionately together with hope.

You are invited to join me and my friend Glen Bell at the 2016 NEXT Church National Gathering for an open conversation about leading change, embracing failure, and naming the gifts of Holy Spirit that arise.


shavonShavon Starling-Louis is co-pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Providence, Rhode Island. Glen Bell is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Sarasota, Florida. In spite of failures and falls (literally and figuratively), they are committed to developing their gifts in leading change with God’s help – but sure enough, they are as human as they come. Shavon and Glen’s workshop, “Leading Change: Epic Fails and Spirit Surprises“, is offered during workshop block 1 on Monday.

Plowing the Ministry Road

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Nate Phillips is one of our presenters. Learn more about his workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Nate Phillips

Unlike the rest of us, Bill was thrilled to hear about the incoming Snowzilla blizzard that buried the Mid-Atlantic.

This was because Bill doesn’t manage snow with a plastic shovel or a finicky snowblower – his weapon of choice is a silver 3/4-ton truck and a snowplow, which, as you might imagine, makes Bill a very popular guy after a snowstorm.

snowy roadHe gets calls from neighbors and messages from Facebook friends begging him to sweep through with his plow.  When they can’t get through to him, they harass his wife and pile on the guilt.

During one of the heavier waves of the storm, Bill was out clearing a residential development when a man walked right out in front of him, risking his life to try to get Bill to stop 3/4’s of a ton of metal on wet snow.  Bill squinted his eyes, pumped the brakes, and rolled down his window.

The man was gruff with him, “I need you to plow my road!” he demanded, “I’ll pay you cash.”

When Bill told me that story, I laughed and said, “That’s not how it goes in my line of work.”

I remember when I started seminary thirteen years ago (time flies) and hearing about a “pastor shortage” in the PC(USA).  I felt confident about being able to find good work in a church, something that could last a lifetime.  That is still the case, for sure.  There are many places where a call is extended and accepted in a very traditional fashion.

However, it is not a stretch to say that there are fewer and fewer churches running out at pastors, stopping them in their tracks, desperate for pastoral services and ready to pay.

During our “Do Something Else” workshop at the NEXT National Gathering, we will discuss the current “job market” and set it alongside a consideration of call.  We will talk about actual needs in churches and actual dreams of pastors and discover that there is more possibility than might first meet the eye.

I will be joined by my colleagues John Molina-Moore and Edwin Estevez as facilitators in this workshop.  John and Edwin have joined me in the last few years in the work of cobbling and creating to work around the “one-church/one-pastor” paradigm and find ways for churches and pastors to be re-energized in plowing the ministry road together.

We look forward to sharing our stories and we hope you bring your story, your church’s staffing needs, and your sense of call for mutual reflection in our brief time together.


Nate PhillipsNate is co-pastor at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware.  He is the author of the upcoming book for churches and leaders, “Do Something Else: The Road Ahead for the Mainline Church,” and a devout Red Sox fan. You can pre-order his book on Amazon.

Nate’s workshop, “Do Something Else,” is offered during workshop block 3 (on-site) on Tuesday.

There’s a Wideness

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Colin Pritchard

The disciples did not choose each other. There is no way they would have chosen each other. Fisherman, zealots, brothers, tax collectors choosing to take this kind of extraordinary, dangerous, spiritually intimate journey together? Nope. In my experience, this just doesn’t happen. People choose the company of people like themselves when the going gets tough and the road is uncertain. Each unique, passionate, and particular, the disciples made for an idiosyncratic group. The brothers had to have moments of family drama. Peter had to drive the others crazy with some frequency. Did Thaddaeus ever say anything ever? Thomas didn’t believe the others even when they told miraculous truths. Scripture lets us know that while they may have invited some of their own number to “come and see,” the disciples did not choose each other.

And yet…they were undeniably and powerfully chosen. They journeyed and witnessed, struggled and served, loved and succeeded together, brought together by the One who changed the boundaries and embodied The Word. They did not choose one another, but each was chosen by Jesus. Not the same, but each essential: all a different part of the body that would go to the ends of the earth sharing love and life, hope and the Holy.

Artwork by Shawna Bowman

Artwork by Shawna Bowman

In these modern days we individuals, seekers and followers of The Way, we the Church, continue to walk an extraordinary, dangerous, spiritually intimate journey together. We are in the privileged place of having heard our names called by Jesus and having chosen his companionship. We are just like the first disciples: needed, blessed by opportunity, gifted in our own ways. We are also just like the first disciples: with different stories and means of employment, different personalities, and certainly plenty of family drama.

We share another thing with the disciples: the road ahead remains uncertain. I am certain of this uncertainty. I am also certain that the efficacy and integrity of our witness will be profoundly impacted by how we choose to walk together. We can retreat from the challenges of broad community and its particularities and limit ourselves to our gifts alone. We can participate in the drama of trying to be just a little more chosen, a little more right, and one step closer to Jesus than our sisters and brothers. Or we can wade through the chaos with our eyes set on the One who has called us all, remembering ours is only to do our part.

I have found that the second verse of the hymn, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” (hymn 435 in the Glory to God Hymnal) can serve as a helpful reminder for us all.

“For the love of God is broader that the measures of the mind”: We love to study and debate and discern, but beyond our prodigious collective intellect, the love of God reigns.

“And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind”: So kind that the quiet ones and the zealots, the blue collars, white collars, and no collars, the broken families and the unique individuals are all wanted, needed, and guided by Grace. Christ’s kindness is a model for us all.

“If our love were but more faithful, we would gladly trust God’s word”: If we remain deeply grounded in the love of God, then we will know our assurance of both pardon and security, we will compete no more, and we will trust not just the written Word, but also the resurrected living One.

“And our lives reflect thanksgiving for the goodness of our Lord”: Who we are and how we walk together will be a worthy witness to the rest of this world. Friends we may well have not chosen each other, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we’ve each been chosen to walk together.


COlin

Colin Pritchard

Pastor

First Presbyterian Church

Victor, New York

Beyond Arm Twisting: Calling and Recruiting Officers and Volunteers

Maybe get Mr. Incredible to serve on your nominating committee...

Maybe get Mr. Incredible to serve on your nominating committee…

Some time ago we saw a Facebook conversation about different approaches to calling officers in the church. Here were a few of the responses…


I don’t have any great ideas here….but I know of a Presbyterian church that is doing their recruiting seasonally rather than by task. So, they have Advent/Christmas, Lent/Easter, etc. teams that work across the whole life of the church, from Education to Mission, to Worship to Stewardship. They have found that folks are able to commit to a season (working a few months ahead and then the season of) and then being “off” for a while. Don’t know if that addresses the panicky thumbing part….but it allows for people to self identify which season they would like to work. (also posting selfishly so that I can see what others have to say! )


During my second year in a congregation, the Nominations Committee and I devised a survey for members of the congregation. Rather than asking what specitic position in the church they might be interested in, we had a list of tasks for people to check. We then took the returned surveys and matched desired activities to various committees, etc. That way we had people who were elected to jobs they would like. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it did help.


I like that idea…The challenge always is “knowing your people” and getting folks on the nominating committee who know the people well enough to know their gifts. I am not sure why we treat nominating as so “secret”. We should probably survey folks and get it from them. What WE think they like to do if different than when they think.


At our church, some years ago one of our ministers adapted Marcus Buckingham’s “Now Discover Your Strengths” (currently called “Strengthsfinder”) into what we called the Strengths Ministry. Many members of the church went through the Strengths Ministry workshop, and individuals’ top 5 strengths were recorded in a database at the church. Then, people could be identified by their strengths (reducing burnout) and the appropriate balance could be created on committees and the like. We are not perfect in our use of this and we haven’t had a workshop for a while, so newer members aren’t in the database, but it has overall been a great (long-term) strategy for us in identifying people for various roles in the church.


We’ve done away with a formal board structure. We now have just a leadership board and other teams. Our teams don’t have any terms. We can serve on a team that we love forever. So now more people are doing what they are passionate about for as long as they want. There is still some arm twisting for nursery volunteers and such, but I’m a do-er and I hate formal board meetings. But I’m perfectly happy to work on mission projects, lead huge fundraising efforts for mission trips, etc. Also happy to direct a youth choir, plays, etc. So the new system really appeals to me.


We switched to a call process a few years ago. The first meeting of Nominating we do a lectio on call (e.g. Eph. 4). Then we talk through qualities we need for elders, and for deacons. Then we look at specific leadership roles that need to be called (e.g. head of Worship or Mission or Children’s Ministries committee). we pray over names for a couple of weeks. We come to consensus about a person to approach, then invite them to meet with two nominating committee members to issue the call. We ask them to think & pray on it for a week or two. It takes time, but after a few years of this our Session is really strong, and people know it’s a real call – not a desperate last minute ‘need a warm body’ phone call. We have left positions empty if we cannot find the right person to fill the position – which leads to conversations about the position itself.


How do you all call, recruit and train leaders? What has changed about your approach?

And how will these ministries change even further in “the church that is becoming?”

 

photo credit: timaoutloud via photopin cc