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Sources of New Life

by David Norse Thomas

Church conferences can be, lets face it, weird. Long exhausting days can overwhelm me with an even worse sense of imposters syndrome than my first few weeks of seminary. Sometimes I leave with a nagging feeling that maybe this was the year I should have organized a reading retreat with my friends with my continuing education funds instead. But this year, at the NEXT Church National Gathering, I had a uniquely different experience, and I’m not the only one. This month the NEXT Church blog will share the stories and insights of pastors who attended in person and virtually, and experienced new life and a deeper sense of hope for the people of God we call the Church.

This year, the gathering was in Seattle, and as a child of the Pacific Northwest, it wasn’t just the weather and the mountains that made me feel at home. For three days, I found myself engaging in the conversations with colleagues and friends, hearing from speakers doing the work that I see Jesus’ resurrection made visible in. This was a year full of honesty, tackling the ways in which we can be woven together too tightly without room for the people God is calling into our communities, speaking prophetic words about how we need to shift from constructs of racial reconciliation to repairing relationships and seeking reparations alongside our Black siblings, poetry that spoke to the power of being honest about how difficult the work of the Church can be, and where new life is showing up.

For me, one of the most powerful experiences was a workshop on utilizing design thinking in our congregations. Design thinking centers the experience of people and pushes us to creatively utilize the resources we have, instead of mourning what we lack. It is a powerful tool for opening leaders to new possibilities that God might be calling us to risk trying. In the workshop, we utilized the “Mission: Possible” game, and I took away two surprising paradoxical lessons from this experience. First, being encouraged to look at the resources we were given in the game (in the form of resource cards) set my imagination, and those of my table mates, to be creative with the skills and experiences we have. It seems so simple to start with the gifts God has given us in our congregations, but I realized that we so often start with what we lack, instead of giving thanks for God’s provision.

The other surprise came when our facilitators set firm time limits on our planning. Knowing that we had to make a decision freed us up to be more experimental, and to focus. This rang true personally for me. In my context at Maryland Presbyterian Church in Towson, MD, we have a firm deadline for when we have to become financially stable as a congregation, or begin to consider options like calling a part-time pastor, seeking to merge with another congregation, or consider selling our building. This deadline has unleashed unimaginable creativity, curiosity, and a willingness to risk failing that we would not have had otherwise. We have to act, and while we need to discern, decisions have to be made.

I returned from the NEXT Church National Gathering excited, ready to start from a place of gratitude and creativity, and I look forward to attending next year with more stories to tell. I ordered Mission: Possible for our next session meeting, and I am excited to see what our creative, motivated ruling elders dream up.


Rev. David Norse Thomas (he/him/his) is the pastor of Maryland Presbyterian Church in Towson, MD. Known as “the little Church in the woods,” and “the Church full of badass, progressive Grandmas, and everyone’s favorite Aunt and Uncle,” MPC is a dream congregation for Rev. Norse Thomas to explore what radical hospitality and community organizing can unleash in the hands of loving followers of Jesus.

Editor’s note: We invite you to dig more deeply into two of the stage presentations David references by watching the video recordings and engaging with the provided reflection questions:

2019 National Gathering Keynote: Jennifer Harvey

Jennifer Harvey, professor of religion and ethics at Drake University, gives a keynote presentation on racial justice and white anti-racism at the 2019 NEXT Church National Gathering in Seattle.

Addressing the Evil That is Racism

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 her testimony during the 2016 National Gathering, Jessica Vazquez Torres offers a strong challenge to the church to get serious about addressing the evil that is racism in meaningful ways. This 30 minute video is a resource for leaders and congregations who are already talking about race, racism, and white supremacy and want to lean into that tension. It is a challenging personal introduction for leaders who want to deepen their own wrestling with racism and white supremacy.

As you finish the video, what word or phrase describes how you feel after watching this? (in a group setting, be sure to allow for complexity of reaction and varied reactions)What is hard to hear in what Jessica says? How might you lean into that discomfort?

Jessica offers four insights in addressing racism that the church needs to be clearer about:

  1. Racism can’t be understood aside from white supremacy.
  2. History matters.
  3. Racism is structural, not relational.
  4. All of us are made complicit.

Thinking about your own context or your own life, which of these insights is most recognizable to you? Which is the most daunting?

What’s one step toward learning you can do in one of these areas?

Jessica she offers four actions to take:

  1. Own your complicity.
  2. Develop a thicker, more complex, intersectional analysis of racism.
  3. Be political (because racism is lived out in the public sphere).
  4. Talk about whiteness and the benefits to white people, not just the oppression of people of color.

Which of these actions could you lean into most easily as an individual or as a congregation? What’s one step you/your church could take?

Which of these actions would be the most difficult to lean into? Is there an initial step you could take toward that larger action?

Holy Spirit, this is a challenging word. Help us to hear your liberating promise within this challenge. Open us to the tension and discomfort that we pray is in service of sanctification. Amen.

Seeing the Possibilities in Ministry

by Jessica Tate

Back in 2011, at the first NEXT Church National Gathering, Joe Clifford gave a short talk in which he introduced the chemistry concept of the “adjacent possible.” The concept, so far as I understand, is that specific chemical reactions are possible based on what elements are next to one another. Clifford suggested it is important for the church to pay attention to what is next to us because there are numerous possibilities available to us based on what is adjacent to us. Too often, moving down well-worn paths, we forget that other possibilities exist. On the flip side, we are limited by what is next to us. There are set possibilities of how elements interact with one another. Hydrogen and oxygen combine for water. If you have hydrogen and carbon, you can’t get water, no matter how much you wish it.

The concept of adjacent possible has stayed with me since 2011. In moments when I have felt stuck, it has encouraged me to take a step back and look at the adjacent possible. What combinations might exists that I have been ignoring? What reaction am I wishing for but don’t have the right elements in the right places?

NEXT Church gatherings – local or national – seek to connect leaders to one another, to spark imagination, to offer an honest reflection about the challenges confronting the church, remind us that God’s Spirit is up to something, and encourage us to see possibilities to which we had been blind before.

In 2014, Kara Root told the story of Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church and the congregation’s creative reimagining of a rhythm for worship in their community. As is true for many congregations, Kara described Lake Nokomis as a congregation that had declined numerically and yet tried to keep up with all the demands and programmatic offerings of a larger congregation. The result was exhaustion. Congregational burnout. Together, the congregation undertook a serious study of Sabbath which led them to be more honest with one another about their energy, their capacity, and a desire to practice the act of Sabbath keeping together as a community. The creative result was a change in their worship pattern so that some weeks they meet on Sunday morning for worship. Other weeks they meet on Saturday evening for a simple supper and evening prayer, preserving Sunday for communal Sabbath keeping. Some weeks they lead worship at a local home for children. A radical change in the rhythm of life was borne out of honesty, theological reflection, and Christian practice.

All of the speakers and leaders at NEXT Church gatherings bring their gifts as an offering to the church in hope and in faith – not with the expectation that everything shared will be directly relevant across all contexts, but trusting that hearing testimony from leaders reflecting on their own contexts might spark a new insight for your own. As an organization, NEXT Church creates space for these offerings, recognizing that though we cannot control what is heard, what takes root, and what is acted upon, we trust that these interactions bear fruit over time.

This month, we are going to revisit some 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.

As we continue to journey through Lent and as I, along with other NEXT Church leaders begin an audit process this week with Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, I am reminded again of the powerful keynote Allan Boesak gave at the 2016 NEXT Church National Gathering. During the Q&A, a participant noted the church’s long silence on racism and asked him, “what does the church need to give up moving forward?” Boesak responded with a story.

South African author Alan Paton wrote a book about a principal in Soweto, where the 1976 uprising began. The principal was a gentle guy, not controversial, not one who goes to protests. “Very much like me,” said Allan Boesak. He had many friends in the white community because he did not come to their tea parties to talk about politics. “He was reasonable.”

One day the whites saw him sitting on a stage at a rally. Then the next time they saw him and he spoke at the rally. Then he was in the front leading the march. And they said to him, “What has happened to you? We depended on you! Now you are making things worse.”

He responded to them: One day I will die and the Great Judge in heaven will ask me, “where are your wounds?” And I will have to say, “I don’t have any.” And when I say, “I don’t have any,” the Great Judge will say to me, “Was there then nothing to fight for?”

Boesak continued: In the end the one who will ask you about your wounds will not be me, will not be #blacklivesmatter, will not be the women, will not be the children. It will be the one who appeared before Thomas and said to Thomas, “look at my hands and my feet and put your hand in my side.”

“I pray God,” Boesak concluded, “we will have something to show.”


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

Sacred Agents

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate is curating a series written by participants in the second Community Organizing and Congregational Leadership cohort offered by NEXT Church, Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, and Metro Industrial Areas Foundation. You’ll hear from various church and community leaders as they explore the key organizing concept of power. How can these reflections on power shape your own work and ministry? What is your reaction to their reflections? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Eyde Mabanglo

The Purpose of Power is Restoration

Luke 1:17
“With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

I am tempted to recoil from power because I see power abused everyday. It is offensive to me and grieves my heart. As a result, I often reject (or shrink from) any power I might have in order to avoid any temptation to wield the same abuses of power that I abhor.

Reflecting on a theology of power has challenged me to re-evaluate and re-calibrate my ultimate distrust and rejection of power. My calling to follow after Christ and proclaim healing to the nations is woven together with a God-given power and sacred agency to participate in that restoration. I am reminded that the world desperately needs Christian leaders that have a healthy view of power to enter into this glorious, restorative work of God’s Spirit.

Power Comes from God’s Authority

Luke 4:36
They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, “What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!”

The truest power is God’s. I love how the word authority includes the word author. God is author of all that was, is, and will be, so naturally the only power that exists to bring renewal and restoration belongs to God alone. God is sovereign. Scripture reminds us that power and authority go together. When power serves self only (basically the definition of abuse of power), then it should be obvious to all that it does not reflect God. Power that diminishes or destroys is demonic. Power that restores is sacred and ordained.

We Have the Power to Help and Heal

Luke 9:1
Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases…

I believe that the abuse of power prevalent throughout the lifespan of humanity is indeed a demonic force. I may hesitate to believe that I have ultimate power over demons, but I now believe I have the power (and obligation) to speak to power, to redirect power, to leverage power, and to influence other agencies of power to bring about healing in our bodies, relationships, and institutions. I am a sacred agent of restorative power.

Power Restores Right Relationships

Luke 22:69
“But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”

The picture of Jesus sitting at the right hand of “power” is more than a family photo. Through a theological lens, the incarnate power of God simply (yet profoundly) abides with God’s Self. Power is about restoring each of us to a wholeness that finds itself in God’s self. This is the purpose of power—to turn hearts (Luke 1:17) to others which in turn is to turn one’s heart to God. This is the new commandment (self-giving love is the essence of God’s Word). In other words, “They will know we are ‘Sacred Agents’ by our love.”

God Sends Power and Sends Us

Luke 24:49
“And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

God’s power is God’s essence which means that this divine power is not just sacred agency but perhaps is profoundly equal to God’s love, grace, mercy, life, faith, resurrection, and self. God’s self can’t not love. God must create (make things new) always, so God’s Power is always regenerative, renewing, restoring. This may be the best way to understand the Word — the Logos, the imago dei, our Triune God. Dwelling in that Word is how we understand the purpose of God’s sacred power and our sacred agency.

Then, we must humbly embrace the responsibility of receiving this power to bring about right relationships under the authority of Christ Jesus. We must not abuse it, but neither should we reject it or recoil from it.

For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Now and forever. Amen.


Eyde Mabanglo is an ordained PC(USA) pastor and ICF trained leadership coach. She is an experienced transitional pastor and is currently serving in a 260-member congregation in Tacoma, Washington. Eyde is driven by a profound hope in Christ Jesus and is devoted to helping church leaders fully participate in God’s mission of sacred restoration.

An Outhouse that Became Bookshelves: Doing Ministry in the “Funk“ of Life

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Linda Kurtz is curating a series we’re affectionately referring to as our NEXT Church book club, which aims to share insights on a variety of texts – and how they have impacted our bloggers’ ministries. Understanding that reading in and beyond one’s field is important to offering good leadership, we offer this series to get your juices flowing on what books you might read next. What are you reading that’s impacting how you think about and/or do ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Lisa Janes

What happens when ministry requires you to not only get dirty, but funky? Dirt can be brushed away but funk in its true vernacular saturates everything and lingers in the atmosphere. The word “funk” as a noun can be defined as “a state of paralyzing fear; a depressed state of mind.” As a verb, the word “funk” is defined as “a strong offensive smell.” Doing ministry in the funk of life embraces not only the noun and verb described here but even evokes the other noun that defines “funk” as a music that combines rhythm and blues as well as soul music that is percussive, harmonic, and filled with bass and heavy downbeats.

In Bruce Watson’s book entitled Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America A Democracy, I found a tantalizing tale of sanctuary and sanctity in the midst of savagery. In the midst of the sunflowers and the Delta topsoil was the brutal and arid landscape of segregation which was fertilized by terror perpetrated upon African-Americans in the American South. This terror consisted in the form of lynching, rape, and death threats as black people in the American South attempted to register to vote. Joining in this struggle were thousands of college students of all races who found themselves spending an entire summer as a part of The Freedom Summer Project which consisted of voter registration, the Freedom Schools, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

In chapter five of the book, entitled “It Is Sure Enough Changing,” the narrative begins: “On his first full day in Mississippi, Fred Wynn tore down an outhouse and turned it into bookshelves.” According to Watson, this outhouse stood behind a two-room shack on a road that divided sections of the black community and these places had names like Jerusalem and Sanctified Quarters. The shack was to become Ruleville’s Freedom School. What makes this image so powerful was twenty volunteers, black and white, male and female, native and foreign-born came together and created a sanctuary of empowerment for black citizens of Mississippi.

When I reflect on my ministry contexts, they – like the book Freedom Summer – center around a cultural, radical, educational, and empowering love-centered ethic. First, I serve as an associate pastor at Faith Community Baptist Church, a church located in the east end of the city of Richmond, Virginia. The senior pastor and founding visionary, the Rev. Dr. Patricia Gould-Champ, was given by God a vision and mission which focuses on three public housing communities: Fairfield, Whitcomb and Creighton Courts. In my second ministry context, I serve as a circulation supervisor at the William Smith Morton Library on the campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary.

In my former ministry context, I am learning how to do intentional authentic ministry in the midst of a radicalized sanctuary space whose external wall is adorned with a “Black Lives Matter” banner. At Faith Community Baptist Church, there is always a call to action to not only transform the Jericho Road as evidenced in Luke 10:25-37, but to remind those who abandon and/or walk away from our oppressed brothers and sisters left on the side of the road their need to be responsible and accountable to our community. Often individuals can center themselves around the sound bites of ministry which involve teaching and preaching. The grunt work like the tearing down of the outhouse to create bookshelves in the intense, oppressive heat of the day causes a disorientation that places us in the center of social justice for the least of these, those whose names and places of habitation are scandalized and stereotyped.

In my latter ministry context I take everything I have learned in the former and introduce it to the latter, creating and developing a sanctuary of holy dialogue and a pedagogy of the funk. This pedagogy will allow us to embrace what my pastor always calls “on the job revelation” that is not often in the books as it relates to our unique ministry context. In the midst of our feelings of inadequacy, we must trust God in the heat and offensive smells of the “isms” that oppress us and learn a new language and a new song.

Now we endure a political system in America along with a societal malaise that reeks of reality TV and narcissistic patriotism that diminishes, demeans, demotes, and demolishes. I think that every American citizen should read Freedom Summer and that it should be a required text in our school systems. I would only advise that when they get to chapter five, they allow the definition of a outhouse to be examined in order to understand that democracies are not made by avoiding that which stinks; they are only created by facing the collective funk of life together as a beloved community and creating something sacred and noble that will benefit all who encounter it.


Lisa R. Janes is an artist, teacher, curriculum developer and minister who serves as an Associate Pastor at Faith Community Baptist Church and Circulation Supervisor at the William Smith Morton Library on the Richmond campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary. She is also currently working on a social media project on Instagram which is a return to her artist and teaching roots. This project entitled “godintheskin” is a blend of music, politics, social history, spirituality, and art. Her goal is also to complete a book based on her experiences on Instagram and how it is shaping her faith journey.

The Surprise of Holy Chaos

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Linda Kurtz is curating a series we’re affectionately referring to as our NEXT Church book club, which aims to share insights on a variety of texts – and how they have impacted our bloggers’ ministries. Understanding that reading in and beyond one’s field is important to offering good leadership, we offer this series to get your juices flowing on what books you might read next. What are you reading that’s impacting how you think about and/or do ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Ken Evers-Hood

It’s Christmas Eve and what looked to be a mild winter front turned into a snow storm shutting down most of the neighborhood around the church you serve. What are you supposed to do now? Or, some other Sunday you’re leading worship and after reading the text, you scan the pulpit for the fantabulous sermon you wrote that now appears to be gonzo. Later, you would find out some “helpful” person removed it trying to tidy up the place, but what are you going to do in this moment? Or, you’re on vacation when death strikes. The family calls, wanting you to come back for the memorial. It’s possible, but you aren’t sure you should go. There are good reasons on both sides, and the way forward isn’t obvious.

These are all situations that I found myself in with little to no warning. Nobody told me how to cope with these situations in seminary… because no one could. Because you can’t plan for every possibility. No, in ministry as in life, the moment we’re done crafting our perfect plan is the moment the Holy Spirit seems to hit the holy chaos button and we find ourselves in the land of improvisation. Thankfully, there’s help! MaryAnn McKibben Dana won’t tell you exactly what to do when you’re surprised. She does something better. She steeps us in the wisdom of improv, teaching us how to carry ourselves more nimbly and how relate to others more gracefully when the bottom has fallen out.

There are SO many things I love about God, Improv, and the Art of Living. For starters, MaryAnn dispels the notion that improv is some kind of rare preserve for the wild and wacky. Rather than being a gift for the few, improv is a skill able to learned and practiced by all. It’s easy to think about shows like “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and think improvisation is only for clever wits who can think on their feet. But improv, MaryAnn points out again and again, isn’t about thinking fast but learning how to be more present in whatever situation we’re given. And good improv isn’t finally blurting out that hilarious line you’ve been holding onto for just the right moment – it’s being in deep relationship with your partners, listening to what they are saying, and responding vulnerably and authentically to what it is they are offering. Improv is much harder than just going wild; improvising means learning to trust that we and our partners are enough if only we allow ourselves to really show up and enter fully into the moment.

Another thing I love is how MaryAnn thinks theologically in relation to improvisation. Improv isn’t just a way of thinking about ourselves and our own way of being in the world but a lens through which we learn more about Jesus in his full humanity and God. Take Jesus’ first miracle in John: turning water into wine. Unplanned. Jesus apparently had a schedule and didn’t think his time had come. But God and Mary thought otherwise. (Isn’t it nice to know that this happens even to Jesus?)

The Syrophoenician woman? A master class in improvisation on the part of both the woman and Jesus. Instead of a practically perfect Mary Poppins savior, give me a fully human Jesus who messes up, acknowledges his mistake, and course corrects every time. And while I can understand the desire for a God who has everything figured out, I’m much more at home with MaryAnn’s depiction of an improvising, co-creator who is working with us as much as through us.

And selfishly, MaryAnn is SUCH a good collector of stories and quotes. The book is filled with fascinating stories that, ahem, might have already wound up in a couple sermons inspired by her book. And it feels like that’s just the beginning, but I don’t really know. I’ll just have to see what the future sends my way. And, thanks to MaryAnn, this unknowing feels more exciting than frightening.


Ken Evers-Hood pastors Tualatin Presbyterian Church and is the author of The Irrational Jesus: Leading the Fully Human Church and The Irrational David: The Power of Poetic Leadership. Ken also serves as an adjunct faculty member teaching leadership at Duke Divinity School. When he’s not pastoring, writing, or teaching, he’s probably hanging out with his kids on a soccer field or the beautiful Pacific coast.

Scripture, Poetry, and the “Irrational David”

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Linda Kurtz is curating a series we’re affectionately referring to as our NEXT Church book club, which aims to share insights on a variety of texts – and how they have impacted our bloggers’ ministries. Understanding that reading in and beyond one’s field is important to offering good leadership, we offer this series to get your juices flowing on what books you might read next. What are you reading that’s impacting how you think about and/or do ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jenny Warner

When I get stuck, I call Ken Evers-Hood.

And when you read his new book, you’ll know why he’s on my speed dial of advisers.

Ken and I met as pastors in the same presbytery in Oregon. As a new pastor, serving three hours from the hub of most other churches, I had few true colleagues. Ken invited me to sit in the back row with him, included me in the irreverent commentary of the younger pastors (by which I mean those under 55), all the while sharing with me a great love of the presbytery and its process.

I learned to trust Ken’s perspective, and so when he invited me to join him in a yearlong leadership cohort with the poet David Whyte in 2015, I said yes. The experience changed both of us. We found a community and a construct that took us further in ministry, our lives and our future. Our collective engagement with David’s work taught us to bring our whole selves to bear in our vocation. We learned to trust where vulnerability leads us, which is perhaps the most radical move a leader in contemporary America can make, religious or not.

Ken found another companion in this wholehearted journey in David of the Bible – a shepherd, king, musician, poet, friend, lover, and full-throated human. In this book, you will see David with a lens that opens fresh possibilities of being faithful, not perfect.

In his first book, The Irrational Jesus, Ken offered his doctoral research on decision-making and leadership in the church. In this book, The Irrational David, Ken dives deep and has “a real conversation,” as David Whyte would say. He brings Scripture, philosophy, theology, poetry, literature, and psychology into a conversation that puts us all at ease because of Ken’s profound vulnerability.

For those who are struggling to articulate a faith that is not either/or in the aftermath of the liberal/fundamentalist battles, Ken masterfully articulates a faith that honors the complexity of postmodern understandings in a way that is grounded and undefended. He doesn’t let either side get away with defended polarities and invites us into faithfulness and wholeness instead.

My copy of this book will be full of underlining and coffee stains as I return over and over to see what Ken has to say about the text I’m preaching on. His words often say what I intuit, but am not yet able to articulate. As a gift to preachers, he brings along references from literature, history, and life that will make Scripture come alive week after week. This book is a trusted dance partner in the rhythm of life with God.

Editor’s note: The Irrational David is not available yet, but you can sign up to receive an email from Amazon when it is available there. This post will be updated when the book is available (any day now!).


Jenny Warner is pastor at Valley Presbyterian Church on the western edge of the Silicon Valley. She loves the challenge of pastoring on the West Coast. She and Chris have two teenage daughters and a Bernese Mountain Dog named Holly.

Reading as Good Leadership

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Linda Kurtz is curating a series we’re affectionately referring to as our NEXT Church book club, which aims to share insights on a variety of texts – and how they have impacted our bloggers’ ministries. Understanding that reading in and beyond one’s field is important to offering good leadership, we offer this series to get your juices flowing on what books you might read next. What are you reading that’s impacting how you think about and/or do ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jessica Tate

“What have you read recently that has been worth passing on?” the leadership coach asked.

I sighed and thought to myself (only half jokingly), “Oh, wow. I remember reading… Back before I was a parent and moved and worked a (more than) full time job and tried to have some sort of social life and tended to extended family.” These are constraints, of course, and they are very, very real.

It’s also real that reading in and beyond one’s field is important to offering good leadership. And secondly, that passing on what has been worthwhile is also a mark of good leadership. NEXT Church is committed to developing leaders and to continual growth and learning in the context of community. We hope this month of blog posts will offer some good food for thought as we put reading/learning back on the front burner. To kick us off, here are five titles that I read (or re-read or read most of!) this past year that are worth your time.

Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown
Brown’s work is like no other leadership book I’ve read. She pulls together lessons from community organizing, science fiction, the natural world, poetry, and her own experience. At times it reads like a stream of conscience, and it is rich. She argues for an adaptive and relational way of being that becomes a strategy “for building complex patterns and systems of change through relatively small interactions.” That seems to me to be the sweet spot for the church – transformation on the small scale in individual encounters, sermon by sermon, prayer by prayer, project by project that is connected to a more complex and strategic system to change the world. Perhaps my favorite line of the book is quoted from a sign in the home of the late Grace Lee Boggs: “Building community is to the collective as spiritual practice is to the individual.” How do we lead in ways that shape community so that our communities and the world around us find abundant life?

Dare to Lead: Daring Greatly and Rising Strong at Work by Brené Brown
I’ve been a big fan of Brené Brown’s since I read The Gifts of Imperfection about five years ago and listened to hear TED Talk on shame and vulnerability. This new book pulls on all the previous work and research of Brown and her team and puts it directly in the context of work and leadership at work. She illustrates how vulnerability works (and doesn’t work) at work. She talks about what it takes to lead with a whole-heart. She unpacks what shame does to colleagues in the work place. I’m finding that her research and its applications are pulling together the best of what I have learned through the disciplines of community organizing, the work of Cultivated Ministry, and what I’m learning about dismantling racism. It’s not a theological book per se, but helps me embody (I pray) a servant leadership and the best of what is meant by our call to lose our lives to save them.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo
“Well, that explains a lot.” That has been my consistent reaction to DiAngelo’s book on why white people have a hard time engaging and dismantling racism in a serious and lasting way. She has helped me understand systems I work and live within, the reactions of people around me, and (most importantly) helped hold up a mirror for me to see myself and my own reactions more clearly. It’s not been a particularly comfortable read, but I believe it is a sanctifying discomfort in service of a more honest view of myself and a commitment to repentance in the fullest theological sense of going a new way.

DiAngelo mixes it up with helpful frameworks for understanding systemic racism and the “pillars of whiteness” alongside tangible examples of what it looks like in practice to build up my racial stamina, to be willing to enter discomfort for the sake of honoring the experience of people in marginalized groups, and to take every opportunity to learn. The NEXT Church Strategy Team read and discussed this book this fall. We are working toward building racial stamina in the white folk in our leadership and to work together to ensure that people in marginalized groups are not undercut by practices that diminish all of us.

Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
We ask the participants in our certificate for Community Organizing and Congregational Leadership to read this book and I’ve been re-reading it along with them. Thurman argues that the Christianity most of us have been taught does not deal much with those who stand “with their backs against the wall” at a particular moment in history, other than to have them be the beneficiaries of our “mission.” Further, he reminds us that Jesus – in his personhood – is one who speaks Good News directly to and for those with their backs against the wall. It’s a good reminder to de-center my own experience as I think about what is next for the church. I am also seeing more clearly in the text this time around the importance of the liberating work of Jesus to a “weary, nerve-snapped civilization.” Thurman wrote these words in 1976, but goodness they seem an accurate description of our culture today.

Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1953-63 by Taylor Branch
In all fairness, I’ve been reading this book for the last TWO years. At 1088 pages, it is a tome, but it is also an illuminating look at the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The level of detail paints a much fuller picture than the broad brushstrokes that colored much of my knowledge of the movement from history class. I am finding it a helpful read because it giving me broader perspective on the current political and cultural moment in the United States. This is significant for several reasons. First, there are different philosophies and strategies and tactics for social and cultural change. What can feel like dysfunction in the current social movements is human nature and has been part of this work all along. It’s part of the struggle. Second, organizing for effective social and cultural change is messy and hard. This perhaps is obvious, but it has ben a good reminder that the Montgomery Bus Boycott wasn’t simple to pull off. It required a lot of coordination, grit, and huge sacrifice by the folks who participated. I shouldn’t expect that social change today would require any less sacrifice of me. Third, the role of the church! The church (and mostly the Black Church) played a huge and important role in supporting, equipping, training, and praying for this movement. The church was essential to the movement. I pray the church today is seeking to have such impact.


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

Sent Out into the World

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Katy Stenta is curating a series called “Worship Outside the Box” that looks at the elements of worship in new ways and contexts. Each post will focus on one particular part of worship, providing new insights about how we can gather to worship God. Today’s post serves as the benediction. What are the ways you worship God in your own community? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Andy Kort

The benediction. It is usually the last spoken piece in worship and is spared the distinction of being the last piece only by the inclusion of a postlude. The benediction is perhaps the shortest element in the worship service, usually only a few seconds to complete. Maybe that’s why people often love it. It is a blessing offered at the end, a simple and wonderful way to remember that God’s help, guidance, and grace goes with us as we leave the sanctuary. I hope that’s actually the real reason why people love it. But in my mind, the benediction and the accompanying charge serves as more than a blessing. I also see it as a line of demarcation, with a before and an after.

What happens before shapes what comes after. Think about the typical Sunday morning and all that happens before the benediction. There is an education hour complete with Bible studies, conversations about faith, kids in Sunday school, prayer in the chapel, and people catching up about their lives from the last week. Before the benediction there are all the other elements of a worship service. We are called together, we praise God, we confess our sins and hear we are forgiven, we pass the peace, and we read God’s Word and then proclaim it in sermon and song. We share our gifts as we are called to generosity, we pray, we sing, and on really good days we celebrate the sacraments. In all of this we hear about God’s reconciling and liberating work in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. We hear about love, justice, mercy, compassion, and more. We cannot help but be shaped by this. And in turn this shapes what happens after the benediction.

What usually happens after the benediction? In the congregation I serve, the pastors recess from the chancel and position themselves to greet worshipers at the doors. The worshipers either stay seated for the postlude or get up and begin to disperse. Eventually we all go into our fellowship hall for coffee hour. Then what? Do we all just go home until next week? No. We go into the world as people shaped by all that happens before the benediction, ready to do the work after the benediction. For many of us, that involves mission activity that has been informed and interpreted through our worship, Christian education, fellowship, and even committee meetings during the week.

Many of us love to quote St. Teresa of Avila, “Christ has no body on earth now but yours, no hands…no feet…no eyes…but yours.” To that I would also add ears. Maybe even before we are the hands and feet, we are the eyes and ears, looking and listening, witnessing and watching what is going on in worship, but also in our neighborhood, community, and world. Once we learn more about what is going on around us, we are in a better position to engage while responding to being sent into our communities to work with our neighbors. This can also save us from imposing on our neighbors what we assume they need, or helping them with things they don’t really need or even want.

I recently spent time listening to church members through surveys and ethnographic interviews to understand what is important to them as it relates to mission, how they understand mission, and feelings on what we have been doing. I also listened to community agencies to hear more about their needs. The results were informative and led us to adjust what we were doing. Some things changed, others were dropped, and a few new things began. One example of a new initiative is our “pop up missions” where we learn of an immediate need and try to help. But we also strengthened relationships with existing mission partners like Montgomery, West Virginia (15 years), a Catholic church in Nicaragua (20 years), and many local groups.

After the benediction we don’t just get coffee in fellowship hall. We are sent out into the world, our neighborhoods, our communities, and our homes to participate in what God is doing. What is God doing? A whole lot. Christian education, the elements of worship help us to understand “who is our neighbor?” it informs our understanding and biblical best practices. We get a reminder that we are called, equipped, and sent out by God. And as we are sent out, we receive a blessing to send us on our way. It’s absolutely beautiful.


Andy Kort is senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Indiana.