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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. 

2018 National Gathering Testimony: Turnaround Tuesday

Members of Turnaround Tuesday, a campaign of Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development, give a testimony presentation at the NEXT Church National Gathering in Baltimore.

Turnaround Tuesday was born of the engagement of BUILD member churches with their communities and has grown into a jobs movement that is making a unique and powerful contribution to the fight against recidivism and for neighborhood revitalization in Baltimore City. Sponsored by BUILD, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, a broad-based community power organization, Turnaround Tuesday has connected 366 people to employment with living wages and high retention rates in 2.5 years. Turnaround Tuesday’s community-based, open door approach makes it uniquely accessible to jobseekers experiencing any barriers to employment, and it works especially hard to attract and employ returning citizens. A combination of intensive relationship building with participants and employers including the delivery of essential skills, leadership development, and issue organizing experiences has made Turnaround Tuesday into one of Baltimore’s most respected jobs pipelines.

How Do You Say “Thank You”?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Chick Lane

Most people recognize the importance of saying thank you. We try to remember these two important words when someone does something for us. Those who have been parents recall trying to help their children get into the habit of saying thank you when they receive a gift. We know saying thank you is important, and yet we struggle, don’t we?

Congregations are no exception to this struggle. It is important for a congregation to say “thank you” appropriately when members and friends give time, talent and treasure to the ministry. And yet, most congregations will acknowledge that they fall short.

My experience is that those congregations who are most effective at thanking are those congregations who have a plan for how they will thank. I’d encourage you to consider developing your own congregational thank you plan. As you do this, you might think in terms of both general thank yous, in which many people are thanked at once, and specific thank yous, in which people are thanked one at a time for their unique contributions to the congregation’s life.

Developing a thank you plan involves three rather simple steps. First, you will want to assess how you are currently thanking people. Gather a group of people together who are familiar with the congregation’s operation and create a list of all the ways people are being thanked now for their gifts of time, talent and money. Take your time with this – you may be thanking in more ways than you think.

Second, consider how you would like to thank people. This might involve two steps. You might want to gather a group of staff and lay leaders for a discussion of the question, “How do you think we ought to be thanking people here at church?”  A second strategy might involve a focus group or two of members in which the question is asked, “How would you like to be thanked for your contributions to the life of our congregation?” A word of caution here: you will inevitably hear some people say, “I don’t need to be thanked, I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do.” Try to get past this. It is a common response, but you don’t want it to be the last word.

Third, and perhaps most challenging, is to consider what you learned in the first two steps, and then develop a plan. Ideally the plan will be developed by the people who will be implementing it. Depending on your congregation’s size, this might be staff or a mixture of the pastor, a part-time parish office staff person, and some volunteers. Your plan should be specific – exactly what will you do. It should have time parameters – when will you say thanks. It should describe how the thanks will be extended – will it be in a letter or email, or will it be a more general thanks given in the newsletter? It should be clear who is responsible for extending the thank you.

A good thank you plan should not be overwhelming. If you try to do too many new things at one time, you will doom yourself to failure. Keep it simple and manageable at first, knowing that you can add to it as you go. A good thank you plan should include specific thank yous, thanking one person at a time for a specific contribution to the congregation’s life. It might also include thank yous to groups of people like the choir, the ushers, or church school teachers. Finally it should include general thank yous to the entire congregation either in worship, via mail, email, or in the newsletter.

If you would like to see a sample thank you plan, visit this Embracing Stewardship web page. If you are interested in more information about thanking, you might explore Chapter 9 in Ask, Thank, Tell and Chapter 8 in Embracing Stewardship.


Pastor Chick Lane is Pastor of Stewardship and Generosity at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Maple Grove, Minnesota, the author of Ask, Thank, Tell, and the co-author with Grace Duddy Pomroy of Embracing Stewardship. Chick has served as an assistant an assistant to the bishop in the Northwestern Minnesota Synod, director for Stewardship Key Leaders in the ELCA, and director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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