Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Michael McNamara is curating a series that will explore the theme of Christian contemplative practice, which has been central to the formation and development of Christianity. We will learn from writers exploring spirituality from both the secular and the religious, embracing the paradox within that — a paradox essential to contemplative practice itself. How can this Christian or secular tradition impact today’s church? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Rev. Michael McNamara

Intent. All prayer starts with intent.

In the beginning the intent might be a selfish desire to get something or achieve something. The intent might be to satisfy an elder or even a loved one. The intent might be to look good in public amongst peers; the intent might be to show off, as Jesus accused the scribes and the Pharisees of doing.
If one prays enough though, those original intents can begin to melt away. There is another intent that begins to emerge. At first, it is quiet and subtle, buried deep below the surface. It might start with the thought that one should not ask for things in prayer; it might be a desire to pray in solitude even if one has only ever prayed in public; it might come in a moment of seeking prayer apart from the person that has always been present before.

Over time this shift becomes greater. One might feel a need to pray, but is unable to find words; one might feel a necessity for silence; one might find themselves unable to make it through a day without stopping and giving themselves to something larger than themselves, deeper than their own capacity of experience.

Over time, one may begin to deeply understand that the intent of prayer is to simply be present to God.

I have come to appreciate this through the help of contemplatives like Gerald May, Thomas Keating, and Tilden Edwards. And as I have come to appreciate this, I have started to realize that with this intent, nearly all things can become prayer. That an intent to be in the simple presence of God is something that can guide one’s whole being,. One’s life can be intent to be present to God. When a person is intentionally present to God, simply and in still, patient awareness of the freely given Love of God, there exists the capacity to be transformed into the hands and feet of God, to exist as the body of Christ in the world.

One of the hopes of the NEXT Chuch blog this month is to share with the mainline church lessons garnered from contemplative practice. This lesson of intent is powerful. It is simple, yet in it is the capacity to “be reformed.”

What is your intent in worship? What is your intent with mission and outreach? What is your intent with leadership? What is your intent with stewardship? What is your intent as a congregation? The contemplatives offer a simple answer: to be present to God.

And even more than that, what if worship on Sunday morning was an intentional space to practice this intention? To practice it so one can live it out the rest of the week? What if the intent of worship was to practice presence in and awareness of God so that in the rest of one’s life they can more confidently live into this intent? In this scenario worship is not an end in itself; it is a means to God becoming actualized in more places. It is a means to God’s love in one’s community beyond the walls of the church.

Contemplation, then, is not something a person does for themselves; rather, it is something that is done for the community, for the world, because contemplation is the practice of letting God in, and by letting God in, God goes out.

It is with the intent to be present to God and to deepen awareness of God that the Love of God becomes manifest.

What is your intent?

Mike McNamara is a Presbyterian pastor serving Adelphi Presbyterian Church in Adelphi, MD, as well as forming a New Worshipping Community rooted in contemplative practice in Silver Spring, MD. Mike has a beautiful wife and two young boys ages 2 and 4. He has a particularly strong love of rock climbing and good coffee. Catch him at and on instagram: @a_contemplative_life.

Human Resource

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 Charlene Han Powell

I’ve been involved in the NEXT Church movement since the beginning-ish. It used to be a small group of people sitting around a few tables talking about what the church could be. Fast forward to a few years later and now it is comprised of hundreds of people around a number of tables across the country talking about what the church is already becoming. Dreams have become realities. Hopes have been realized. NEXT Church is a movement that is making a difference in the church.  I can personally testify to that.

When NEXT Church was in the early stages of its ministry, so was I. Not yet ordained. Not yet called. Not yet employed. I didn’t even know what resources I needed to be a good pastor. I just knew I needed some support and fellowship for this long and often lonely journey. I have found that in the NEXT Church community. Every regional gathering I attend, every conference I go to, every workshop I participate in, I walk away feeling less crazy and less isolated in this vocation.  The most valuable resource that NEXT Church has offered me are the people I have met and the relationships I have formed.

But the human resource I have found in NEXT Church is more than just companionship. When I needed to reimagine officer training* this past year, I reached out to my network of colleagues I have met over the years at the National Gathering. When I was navigating a recent job transition, I connected with those in NEXT Church who had gone through the same thing. When I am stuck in any sort of ministry-related rut, I rely on the wisdom and experience of this amazing community of passionate and capable leaders.

The best part about utilizing this valuable resource within NEXT Church is that all YOU have to do is show up. Next time we are in your area, show up. If there is an online roundtable that piques your interest, show up. When registration for the National Gathering goes live, SIGN UP and then show up. And get ready to reap the unbelievable benefits of this fantastic movement.

*Stay tuned – we’re offering a blog series on officer training next month! 

Charlene Han Powell is the Executive Pastor at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in midtown Manhattan. Originally from California, Charlene is a proud New Yorker raising two young girls on the Upper West Side.

Sharing Resources, Sparking Ideas

by Linda Kurtz

When you think of NEXT Church, what do you think of?

Perhaps you think of our annual National Gathering, three days of worship, workshops, keynotes, and more – a place to connect with other church leaders and share experiences of ministry.

Perhaps you think of our relatively new Field Guide for Cultivated Ministry, which aims to create a culture and process of ministry that does not rest on traditional metrics nor does it abdicate accountability altogether.

Or perhaps you think of this blog, which mostly runs on monthly themes that highlight a particular intersection of life and ministry, and through which we try to connect you, our readers, to creative ideas and best practices.

Sensing a theme there? We love sharing ideas in hopes that they spark something in your own ministry.

To that end, this month, our blog will feature resources found on our website (primarily under the aptly-named “resources” tab on our website – conveniently next to “blog”!). Our hope is that by highlighting some of these resources and providing extra insight into how they might be used, you might find them even more useful in your ministry context. Plus, we have a lot of great things on this site, so we might even highlight a resource you’ve never found before!

Here’s how it will work: the blogger will identify a particular resource and share how they have or would use it in their own ministry context. They’ll include some potential discussion questions or insights into how the resource can be used. And they’ll invite you to do the same!

As we get started, I’d love to know what resource on our site you have used and would choose to highlight on this month’s blog. Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page with the link to the resource and your thoughts about it.

God calls and equips local congregations for transformation: gathering people in Christ-centered community, and dispersing them into the world to seek justice, peace, and reconciliation. Informed by that conviction, NEXT Church strengthens congregations by connecting their leaders to one another, to creative and challenging ideas, and to best practices. Join us!

Linda Kurtz is the communications specialist for NEXT Church and a final level student at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. 

This Connectional Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jeff Bryan is curating a series reflecting on the 2018 National Gathering in late February. You’ll hear from clergy, lay people, community leaders, and others reflect on their experiences of the National Gathering and what’s stuck with them since. How does the “Desert in Bloom” look on the resurrection side of Easter? What are your own thoughts of your National Gathering experience, or on what these reflections spark for you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Angela Ryo

The first time I attended a NEXT Church National Gathering was three years ago. I was in my first call as a resident minister — a two-year position for recent seminary grads to explore every aspect of ministry in a large congregational setting. Going to the National Gathering was a natural progression of what I wanted out of ministry: to imagine a different church, a different set of tools for ministry, and life-transformative outcome and not just soul-draining output.

So I went for the first time, looking for others who were doing ministry differently and wanting to learn and connect with them. That particular year, there was a workshop titled, “Do Something Else.” Perfect. Just what I was looking for. It was led by three very energetic (I mean, “exactly-how-many-cups-of-coffee-did-you-have-this-morning?” energetic!) pastors who were doing ministry differently. They sure LOOKED crazy! But as crazy as they were, by the end of the workshop, I remember looking at one of them in particular — Nate — and thinking, “how cool would it be to work with someone like him, who can imagine a different way to BE the church!” But he was all the way from Delaware and I was in Michigan — fat chance that would ever happen!

The next time I saw Nate was the following year at the National Gathering. He had accepted a call at a church in Michigan and he was looking to put together a team. I had my first informal interview with him between workshops. And yup, you guessed it — he’s now my head of staff. That’s just a prime example of what NEXT Church is all about: bringing total strangers together in surprising and awesome ways!

This year, I came to the National Gathering with my boss — the one I met at a National Gathering two years ago. We dreamed together as we watched Ignite presentations about Pres House and Serve GR and asked each other, “Why aren’t we doing this at our church?” During David Leong’s keynote, we thought about how we can help our church be at the forefront of change by lifting up artists as prophets and adding fuel to their imagination. Having enjoyed my time with old and new friends, I left the National Gathering feeling rejuvenated and refreshed with a renewed hope for the Church.

I am no longer a resident minister whose job description is to be curious and to dream and experiment. In the busyness of everyday ministry, curiosity and imagination often take the back seat because they feel like luxuries I can’t afford. However, reflecting on my experience from the National Gathering, I am reminded of the importance of practicing the following in my ministry:

  1. Interaction with ALL KINDS of people (even those you think had too many cups of coffee!).
  2. Integration of what I learn from them into my daily life as well as my ministry (workshops are great at that).
  3. Imagination of what the church OUGHT to be and CAN be (Ignite conversations will do that for ya!).
  4. Inspiration of the Holy Spirit to be transformational rather than transactional in all of our relationships both in our church and community (David’s keynote hit the spot).
  5. Invitation to others to join and dream with me in my ministry and vice versa (that’s NEXT Church, y’all!).

I hope you will keep dreaming with me until the next National Gathering! And who knows? You might end up meeting your head of staff there just like I did!

Angela Ryo is an assistant pastor for Christian Formation at Kirk in the Hills in Bloomfield Hills, MI. In her previous life, she was a high school English teacher in Chicago, where she grew up. She loves to watch food documentaries and horror movies, but sometimes, it’s hard to tell which is which.

The Precarious Balance of Organized Religion

Each month we assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, we’re curating a conversation around governance and connection.  Read more