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Worship in Diverse Cross-Cultural Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Ken D. Fuquay is curating a series featuring an eclectic group of voices responding to the question, “Does church matter? And if it matters, how, and if it does not, why?” Some of the voices speak from the center of the PC(USA); others stand on the periphery. One or two of the voices come from other denominations while some speak to us from the wilderness and barren places. “To every age, Christ dies anew and is resurrected within the imagination of humans.” These voices are stirring up that imagination in their own way. May your imagination be stirred as you consider their insight. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Gad Mpoyo

Since the 2016 election season, the topic of immigration has moved to the forefront of the national political debate as well as in the church. The changing demographic of the United States due to waves of migration is not longer an abstract phenomenon. The once majority culture is now becoming the minority culture.

As a pastor of Shalom International Ministry, a cross-cultural PC(USA) New Worshipping Community located in Clarkston, Georgia, a city once called by the New York Times “the most diverse square mile in the country,” I see this change in demographics and culture on a daily basis. For example, at Clarkston High School, students speak more than 77 languages; in my own context, 25 languages are spoken, and Shalom has members from 17 countries.

Photo from Shalom International Ministry Facebook page

People migrate for various reasons. For some, migration is driven by the search for better education. For others, migration provides oppressed peoples an opportunity to imagine a new future. As people migrate, they carry with them two forms of luggage. One is visible (i.e. suitcase or backpack), and the other is invisible. Inside this invisible luggage one will find culture, cuisine, language, fear, past trauma, and dreams, and interwoven throughout is their faith expressed in worship.

Clarkston is a microcosm of what America will look like in the coming years. This sounds like a very optimistic vision of a great future filled with unity in diversity, a future where everyone lives together in harmony. But it is worth pointing out that this new reality of diversity in culture and demographics poses new challenges not only in the political realm but also in our communities and churches.

When it comes to addressing issues of inclusiveness, power sharing, and justice, two questions arise in the church:

  • How can the church be church while offering worship that is authentic, contextual and just? By authentic, I mean true to our Judeo-Christian tradition; contextual, so that it reflects the reality of the people; and just, as it affirms the dignity and value of other human beings.
  • How can the worship and corporate life of our congregations be meaningful and inviting to people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, such as refugees or immigrants?

To address these questions, which are generated by the new reality of diversity in our communities and pews, and to live faithfully into our calling as the priesthood of all believers, there is a need for a paradigm shift in the way the majority culture relates to the minority cultures when it comes to worship.

A few years ago, I was approached by a Presbyterian minister whose church invested a lot of time and energy in welcoming and helping refugee families from Africa, including Congo. Her church responded to many needs of those refugee families, from buying furniture and kitchen utensils to tutoring the children, taking them to the social security office and medical appointments, orienting them to the new culture, and teaching the parents English, just to name a few. However, the minister and her congregation felt disappointed and could not understand why these families, though Christians, would neither attend the worship service nor participate in church activities. They would come to worship once or twice and then never came back. Since I come from the Democratic Republic of Congo and I work with refugee communities, this minister genuinely ask me to help her understand why there was lack of engagement from those refugee families.

On the one hand, I can empathize with this congregation. I can see the extent to which they invested resources in helping those families. On the other hand, the church’s encounters with the families seemed transactional rather than relational. They seemed to be driven by an expectation of some kind of return for their investment. Furthermore, there was a lack of understanding of the culture and notion of worship from the perspective of those refugee families.

Before jumping to conclusions and blaming the refugee families for not participating in worship, one needs to consider these questions: What is our worship planning process? Who is at the table? How did they get there? Who from our community is missing? Why are they missing? What power and cultural dynamics need to be reconsidered in order to reconceive worship planning in our own contexts as more than merely diverse but actually more just and equal?

As we reflect on these questions, I extend an invitation to each of us to take a deep breath, open our minds, eyes, and spirits, and put on the shoes of those refugee families – the ones who stopped attending services that were conducted in a language that was foreign to them; the ones who sat in pews attempting to follow a liturgy they could not understand. Who would want to continue coming to a service that does not speak to their own reality? As Jehu Hanciles once said, “Christ cannot be ‘the way’ if he does not know where you are coming from. Christ cannot be truth if he does not speak to your questions. Christ cannot be life if he does not know the circumstances you inhabit.” Is it not true that we, too, in our own contexts question why people do not come to church? I wonder if we are not falling into the same trap as it was in the case of my minister friend’s congregation.

As she and I continued the conversation, I expressed the need to understand worship from the African and, more specifically, the Congolese worldview. Worship among Congolese communities extends beyond the two or three hours that people gather. Worship is a way of life. This concept of worship is rooted in the African worldview, which states that there is little or no separation between the sacred and the secular. Based on this African worldview, to live is to worship, to worship is to live. Then, I expressed to her that if her congregation wants to be diverse, the leadership team would need to start inviting “the other” to the table in the planning process. Just as Christ welcome us all, no matter whether we come from the North, South, East, or West, so shall the table in our planning process be open to all. This is an act of justice.

I do not know how the conversation went between that congregation and those families, but this is a typical example that reminds us how the change in our demographics and culture affects our way of worship and pushes us to rethink the church’s call to be a priesthood of all believers. By welcoming everyone to the table, even the planning table, we see glimpses of the heavenly feast we will enjoy one day. In doing so, we are fulfilling God’s call to “make disciples of all nations.”

Resources
Elaine. Padilla; Peter C. Phan, contemporary Issues of Migration and Theology (New York: Palgrave Macmillan; 2013)

Woosung Calvin Choi, Preaching to Multiethnic Congregation: Positive marginality as a homiletical paradigm (New York: Peter Lang; 2015)


Gad Mpoyo is a founding pastor of Shalom International Ministry, a 1001 New Worshipping Community located in Clarkston GA. Shalom serves primarily immigrants and refugees from more than seven countries. He comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. His interest is on migration and how it is affecting the church.

The Town that Sold Sand

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Ken D. Fuquay is curating a series featuring an eclectic group of voices responding to the question, “Does church matter? And if it matters, how, and if it does not, why?” Some of the voices speak from the center of the PC(USA); others stand on the periphery. One or two of the voices come from other denominations while some speak to us from the wilderness and barren places. “To every age, Christ dies anew and is resurrected within the imagination of humans.” These voices are stirring up that imagination in their own way. May your imagination be stirred as you consider their insight. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Erika Funk

There once was a town in Texas that made sand. Really great sand. Right there in the middle of Texas, the best sand used for fracking. Fracking? Yep. Turns out good sand is essential for the process and when fracking started to take off, so did the small town of Brady, population 6,000, which had been making great sand since the ‘50s. As fracking grew, Brady eventually had seven sand plants. The whole town bustled with people who worked for the sand company. This was sand town! Until West Texas figured out how to mine the same kind of sand cheaper and closer to the fracking projects.

The town’s economy began to spiral. Now many people are out of work and have moved away. The last sand plant closed the end of May. Even folks with high paying jobs are leaving, there’s no work for them here without the plants. What is Brady without sand mines?

Sadly, this tale all too common in many U.S. towns today. The economy has shifted, globally, nationally and locally and there’s not much we can do about it.

In other towns, distant and different from Central Texas, something similar is happening in an industry we might call “church.” The atheist church began over 12 years ago in England and has grown at the pace of Starbucks locations. Atheist churches are popping up in the US and are spreading just as fast. With names like Sunday Assembly and Oasis, the Atheist church is exactly what it sounds like. People gather together on Sunday for music, community, an inspiring word, and information on where and how to serve others. Churches like this are clear to say they are anti-supernatural. It is a no myth zone, in their words. But yes, they use the word “church” in their names.

I went to hear the founders of the Atheist Church movement in England speak once at a conference and I will admit what they described sounded like fun. They sing, they laugh, they care about each other, and they have snacks! In fact, the leader is also a stand-up comedian! She was warm and funny. Their church is a simpler, easier form of the same thing I grew up with, easier to access and without all the cost. Like less expensive and more accessible sand.

This is the truth of what organized religions face today. What we offer can now be found closer to home (even online) and with less risk, less complications. We’ve done this to ourselves, church people, and I hope there’s not too much debate about that. The church has lost her voice, her passionate and articulate voice for things that really matter. The messages heard from the church beyond the sanctuary walls are typically mean, judgmental, coded, and “siloed.” As a whole, the church is not seen to have a voice for the suffering, the marginalized, the disengaged or even people who are living full lives and dedicated to issues they really care about. We sing, we give motivational talks, we create great fellowship events, so what’s missing?

While we were trying out new Sunday School times and praise music someone else came along and found a better way to connect people and share good news. And masses of people are flocking to it. The good news for us and humanity is that people still long for community, fun, and meaning beyond one’s individual life and goals. We should accept that we are no longer the experts at community and meaning and instead need to ask “what would be missing from the world if there was no church?” That’s a hard question to answer but worth contemplating. I do not believe the church is dying. It is changing and transforming and we are living in an exciting time of re-examination. The church will not die until God releases us from that purpose.

So how will we answer the question: What’s missing from the world that faith communities can uniquely offer? What’s missing that the church knows how to help people find?


Erika Funk is the Director of CROSS Missions at Myers Park Presbyterian Church. She is celebrating her 25th year of ordination in the PCUSA by returning to youth ministry. Her love of youth knows no end – she’s also mom to a 18 year old and a 13 year old. She likes whiskey but mostly drinks coffee.

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?

What it Takes to Transform

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 their testimony at the 2019 National Gathering in Seattle, Heidi Husted Armstrong and Scott Lumsden talk about the story of First Seattle Presbyterian Church – a church that went from being one of the biggest churches in the country to total membership collapse. This 30-minute video is a resource for any church group – the session, committees, or teams – to dig into what it takes to transform into the new thing in which God is calling them.

Heidi talks about three things that keep her “hanging in there.” Consider those three things below.

1. I have never been more free to say “I do not know what I’m doing.” How many 5 year plans have been run through this place? Like I’m going to come up with the one that works?! The phrase solvitur ambulando has been attributed to Saint Augustine, which translates as “it is solved by walking.” It means to just take the next step, and the next step, and God will show the way.

What is the hard thing before you in ministry that you need to take the next step toward? What might be an initial first step?

2. Letting go of “churchiness” so that I can embrace the quirkiness, the uniqueness, and the messiness that is in this place. Let me be present for what you have for us today. Let me show up. Help me show up for what is.

What is quirky, unique, and messy about what is in your place? How might you be more present to show up for what is?

3. Remember God is a God of resurrection. Resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing (Frederick Buechner). Being in a struggling church mean there’s lots of room for God to show up! There is one Lord of the Church who is still in the business of raising from the dead what is dead in us. Raising what is dead through us. Raising what is dead around us. Raising what is dead in spite of us.

What is dying around you? What might God be resurrecting and raising up in your midst? What are the spaces in your context where there is room for God to show up?

Scott closes their testimony by saying that the church has to admit we no longer have all the answers and instead need to start asking questions of ourselves, of our neighborhoods, and of God.

What questions do you need to start asking of yourself, of your neighborhood, and of God? What questions keep you up at night?

What is No Longer So?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’re curating a series on NEXT Church resources. Members of the NEXT Church communications team, staff, and advisory team are selecting resources already on our site and sharing the ways they have (or would) use them in their ministry context. We pray these will be of use to you in your own ministry! Have other ideas for resources you’ve used from our website? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jessica Tate

In Blair Monie’s short video “What Isn’t Helpful Anymore?” for “The NEXT Few Minutes,” he identifies the reality that as people and systems evolve, practices need to change with them and yet we often keep practices the same beyond their usefulness.

This reflection exercise could be incorporated in many ways in ministry settings:

  • A reflection exercise by a session, staff, or any leadership team, thinking about a particular area of ministry.
  • A reflection for the congregation as a whole in a period of discernment or as a moment of taking stock.
  • An invitation within a small group for self-reflection and deepened relationships as responses are shared.

First, watch the video:

Then answer the following three questions that he raises in the short clip:

  1. Can you think of things in your own congregation/ministry history that were healing and helpful in one time but are no longer so?
  2. Can you think of things in your own journey that were healing and helpful in one time but are no longer so?
  3. What were once means to an end of spiritual growth, but are no longer so?

If you would like to take it even further, invite participants to ask these questions of others in the ministry context and learn from their answers:

Name three other people you’d like to hear answer these questions. Maybe someone who has been at the church for only a couple of years. Maybe someone you consider a leader. Maybe someone who has been at the church for his/her whole life. Maybe someone who you see only a couple times a month.


Jessica Tate is the director of NEXT Church. She lives in Washington, DC.

Power in Relationships

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate and Linda Kurtz are curating a series written by participants in the first-ever Certificate in Community Organizing and Congregational Leadership offered by NEXT Church, Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, and Metro Industrial Areas Foundation. You’ll hear from clergy, lay people, community leaders, and others reflect on the theology of power and how organizing has impacted the way they do ministry. How might you incorporate these principles of organizing into your own work? What is your reaction to their reflections? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Jon Nelson

Reflecting on power in the context of my tradition, I immediately think of Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church. Paul inverts assumptions about power. He writes, “Christ [is] the power of God.” And yet, Christ was crucified. Paul concludes: “God’s weakness is stronger than [so called] human strength” and “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:18-31). This is Paul’s proclamation and he manifests it in his preaching, saying that God’s power is being revealed in even his weakness, fear, trembling, and faltering words (1 Cor. 2:1-5). Later, Paul writes that the whole ministry of the apostles is apparently weak. Apostles of Christ are of ill repute, hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, beaten up and homeless, weary, reviled, persecuted, slandered — the rubbish of the world (1 Cor. 4:9-13). Paul is telling the Corinthians that what counts for power in the world is not the power of God. Any discussion of power, if it takes seriously Pauline discourse, must reckon with this inverse.

Since the summer of 2017, I have been involved in the organization of an Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) affiliate in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Additionally, I have been involved in the Certificate in Community Organizing and Congregational Leadership training put on by NEXT Church, Metro IAF, and Johnson C. Smith Seminary. Through my involvement in these, I have encountered a use of power that at first seems counter to the Pauline presentation. I have been impressed by many stories of people of faith exerting power. As clergy myself, I have been encouraged by the manifestation of power among my colleagues. The stories that stick out are those where a pastor stands up and makes public demands of persons in political power. I have been inspired by people of faith who have stood up to powerful organizations and secured jobs. And I have been amazed by the way faithful people have organized large sums of money in responsible ways.

In an age where pastoral authority seems to be shrinking, I must confess delight in the assertion of will, clear demands and concrete actions by clergy. Community organizing enables people of faith to use power most commonly associated with wealthy institutions and federal government. And still, in the back of my mind, Paul’s depiction of inverse power has me wondering if stepping up to corporate and political power in this way is the way in which Christians ought to exert themselves.

However, those who have been in IAF organizations for long periods of time always insist on relational meetings as the basis for every powerful action. This is where I think there is an inverse. Our society places high value on positions of power that are gained by solitary means and are manifested by individuals. I am thinking of business executives and politicians who pride themselves on their own achievements. I am also thinking of the many corporations who are gaining strength by creating isolating job positions. Power, in the North American context at least, is solitary and personally secured.

IAF teaches the inverse. Power is achieved through relationships. Even the achievements wherein million-dollar deals are secured by organizers stand only on the ground of interpersonal relationship — the long slog of getting to know stories and passions, the tender moments where vulnerability leads to collective action. I suppose I am less and less impressed with the deals and public displays of personal and monetary assertion. I am more and more impressed by the many, many relationships that make for change. Here, people of faith are turning upside down and inside out power as it is often esteemed.

This seems evident in Paul’s discussion of the apostles. The “rubbish of the world” find strength in relationship. Think of the beaten apostle — the victim of abuse — who meets with the reviled apostle — the victim of systemic abuse. They find a mutual anger in meeting together. They have a mutual interest in disrupting patterns of abuse. United by faith in a crucified Christ, they find that the One who strengthens them is the One who was victimized by personal and systemic abuse. Their power comes from within and without. Power, in this Christian context, is realized as they meet the Crucified Christ in one another and commit to use their resurrection strength and will. The powers that be cannot stand against power that is built from the ground — even the grave — up.


Jon Nelson is the associate pastor at Ark and Dove Presbyterian Church in Odenton, MD. He enjoys a rigorous running routine, a good book, his talented wife and hugs from his one-year-old son.

Leadership: Our Faith Depends On It

by Laura Cheifetz

I don’t know if we can blame this on American individualism, white Christianity, or a misunderstanding of what Jesus did and how he did it. We have a habit of thinking single leaders will save us. Whether it’s deciding that the election of an African American stated clerk represents a turning point and then sitting back and waiting for change to happen (so what I’m saying is y’all better be showing up and doing your own work instead of waiting for the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson to magically transform the church by his lonesome). Or that an out gay Latino heading up PMA will be such an important change for the church (represents a change? Yes. WAS the change? That’s not how change works.). Or that hiring a charismatic white under-40 pastor will do for the congregation what the congregation has not been able to do for itself.

We are not a church of individual leaders fixing things. I mean, sometimes we think we are, but that’s not how we are set up. It is not how we flourish. It is not how we get things done.

Which leads me to the matter of leadership development.

We can’t, in fact, neglect leadership development in a church with no bishops. And we can’t focus leadership development only on the conventional choice (the young, the male, the outspoken). We need to develop everyone. You never know when you need someone to organize a group of people to march in a parade, corral knitters to make hats for preemies, or arrange the food pantry.

I hate being the youngest in the room; by the time I was in my mid-30s, I realized it is a chronic issue in many church circles. It’s a sign that we aren’t doing our job to find and cultivate leaders and make leadership development opportunities accessible. That’s not true anymore; I’m the second oldest on staff at my organization. I am delighted I can play my true heart’s role: grumpy older lady who knows some things. Every day is an exercise in leadership development.

That’s what church should be. A daily exercise in leadership development. The story of our faith in Scripture lays out a myriad of prophets, common folk getting things done, a community of people following Jesus and sharing the good news, scrappy early churches. We need people with the capacity to show up after their day (or night) jobs and be leaders. Our faith literally depends upon it.

This series of blog posts are by people who have been developed as leaders and who, in turn, develop leaders. They are insightful and focused. They offer lessons.

Here is the lesson I offer.

Leadership development is training people up to love God, love neighbor, and have the strength to withstand being uncomfortable. You know what’s uncomfortable, at least at first? Difficult conversations. Leading Bible study. Talking with strangers. Speaking in front of others. Marching past counter-protestors. Antiracism work. Guiding a community of faith to learn more about and be inclusive of LGBTQ people. Being in a different cultural context. Learning new skills. Engaging in a community that is simultaneously lovable and completely exasperating. Integrating people with intellectual disabilities in worship for the first time. Visiting people in prisons and detention centers. Being in community with people who live with addiction.

You know, being the church.

Church should be uncomfortable. Church should develop leaders.

Go and do likewise.


Laura Mariko Cheifetz serves as Deputy Director of Systems and Sustainability at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF). Prior to that, she served as Vice President for Church and Public Relations at the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, at the Forum for Theological Exploration, and at McCormick Theological Seminary. She and her partner live in Decatur, GA. If you were to be stranded in Atlanta, you could call them for a night on the couch, craft cocktails, a meal, lively discussion on politics or race or religion or whatever else we aren’t supposed to discuss, and dog snuggles.

The Changing Landscape of Youth Ministry

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. The majority of blog posts this month will share stories from church leaders who participated in a pilot coaching cohort in 2017. They will share the challenges they face, the movements they’ve made, and what they are learning along the way. We hope they will connect with your “me too” moments and give you a glimmer of a way forward, and the knowledge that you are not alone. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Susan Wisseman

Background
I serve as associate pastor in a suburban church nestled in a neighborhood – the church and neighborhood grew together. Over the past 61 years, the neighborhood has changed and changed again. The church has not kept pace.

When the previous youth director relocated, I was asked if I would add youth to my portfolio. I inherited a ministry in decline. Since then, we have had some failures, and some successes. The good news is that it’s broken, and everyone sees it… which means we get start from a new place. Nonetheless, change is hard!

I requested a meeting this fall with key stakeholders in youth ministry, to be facilitated by a National Capital Presbytery coach. We met, and were fairly successful at deciding on and aligning priorities. One of the changes is a metamorphosis of our previous “Club 456” (an upper elementary youth ministry) to a new pre-teen ministry that will encompass grades 5-8. One of our struggles last year was trying to have a grade 7-12 youth group. (It’s not really surprising that the 12th graders weren’t all that interested in hanging out with the middle school kids on a regular basis.)

Trial and Error
Reinventing youth ministry for a changed context is not for the faint of heart. Once upon a time, the church was filled with families with young children and youth. The youth ministry was of good size and participation – vibrant by any measurement scale. There is a deep yearning for a return to those days.

We still have families, but our demographics are uneven. Many of the kids of youth group age are actively involved in a myriad of other activities… and sometimes church falls to the bottom of the list.

Lack of participation may be due to those activities, different priorities, or lack of relationships with some of the others (because they go to four different high schools)… or the change in culture. I know that our church is not alone in this cultural change!

As we try to discern needs, we’re throwing things at a wall and seeing what sticks. Some of things we are trying include:

  • Trying to engage our youth in all aspects of church life.
  • Posting their game schedules, concerts, plays, etc. and encouraging the congregation to go and support our youth in their endeavors (if we can’t always get them to church, we can get the church to go to them).
  • Creating real estate they can “own” – not just on Sundays, but to hang out and do homework, or play games at other times.
  • Offering random opportunities (or pop up events) to gather for lunch, coffee, or ice cream.
  • Increased service opportunities.

Hoped for Outcomes
Not only is it necessary to change how we engage with our youth, we need to develop a new measurement for success that is not about large numbers on a Sunday night.

Success, for me, would be for our church to be a sanctuary – a safe place where every one of our students feels comfortable being their own best self. A place where they know in their hearts they are beloved as the very person God created each one of them to be. That they know that there are adults here who willing to listen (without immediately jumping in to problem solve or judgment). And to know (in their minds and hearts), and trust, that this body of Christ would be greatly diminished without their presence.


Susan Wisseman is associate pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Springfield, VA.

We Want Things to Be Different

by Jessica Tate

As we get our bearings this first week of 2018, many people (consciously or not) are thinking about what they want to be different in this new year. Some even go so far as to set up resolutions. It turns out that half of all resolutions aren’t kept and a third are disposed of by the end of January. If you are like me, you resemble that statistic.

For many of us, we want things to be different… to be more like the promises in scripture where hungry are fed and peace is present and life is abundant and the meek inherit the earth… but we’re not sure how to get there.

We want our worship services to carry more meaning, comfort, and challenge for people. We want our work in the world to have a meaningful impact. We want to be in communities that form us (not individualistic, consumeristic ways) but into fullness, abundant life, hope (and resolve) in the midst of suffering. We want these things, but we can’t seem to get there.

As we set sights on the NEXT Church National Gathering in February, we know many people come because they are hopeful (or need an infusion of hope) that things can be different. And yet at the end of a National Gathering (even a spectacular one!), we return to the contexts that go us here in the first place. As the calendar turns into 2018, we are still ourselves, with our same gifts and struggles, graces and vices. Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky say, “There is no such thing as a dysfunctional organization. Every organization is perfectly aligned to achieve the results it currently gets.” I think it’s true for people, too. We are perfectly aligned to achieve our current results.

So, if we really want to change, if we really want our lives/ministries/work to be different, how to we move toward it?

One tool NEXT Church has been exploring is coaching. Coaching, according to the International Coaching Federation, is “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Coaching is a tool that can help us move from a wishful thinking to an intentional action. A survey done by the International Coaching Federation found that across 2000 corporations, 34% of executives receive coaching and it does not tend to be remedial help for underperformers but those receiving coaching are usually the mid to upper level performers engaged in coaching. We need action-driven partnerships to support us in the work of leadership and change.

Following the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering, we piloted a group coaching cohort for ministry leaders (pastors, musicians, and elders) to help support leaders in making the kinds of change they long for in their ministries. (You can indicate interest in a similar group when you register for the 2018 National Gathering.) One of the biggest surprises in the cohort itself was that every time someone raised a sticky issue they faced in ministry in their church, there was a chorus of “me too” around the table. From sleepy worship experiences, to a youth ministry in decline, to Sunday school models not working, to trying to shift a theological culture — even though contexts were different, many of the challenges are the same.

The majority of the blog posts this month will share stories from those who participated in this cohort… the challenges they face, the movements they’ve made, and what they are learning along the way. We hope they will connect with your “me too” moments and give you a glimmer of a way forward, and the knowledge that you are not alone.

As you embark on your work and your life in 2018, take a moment to reflect on what you want to be different. If you are quick to come up with a long list, narrow it down to three things. (Most of us can’t manage more than that, anyway!) And then, for each of those three things, choose one, small action step. Maybe your goal is to lost 15 pounds by spring. A small action step might be to put three workouts on your calendar for this week. But don’t stop there, then ask yourself who can be a partner in this to support you and hold you accountable. Reach out to that person and ask if you can check in with them at the end of the week to share what progress you’ve made. And in all of it, be reminded that the processes of letting go and letting come, of death and new life, often happen in teeny, tiny steps along the way that lead us to transformed lives.


Jessica Tate is the director of NEXT Church. She lives in Washington, DC.

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.