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Holy Spirit, Is That You?

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

by Sam Hamilton-Poore

A most important responsibility for church leaders is learning how to notice the movement of the Holy Spirit, and then respond to the movement in ways that are faithful. Whenever we gather, we call upon Christ’s promise of the Spirit’s presence and guidance — we hope that our discussion and decisions will be Spirit-led and Spirit-filled. But how do we recognize when it is, in fact, the Holy Spirit that is moving us, guiding us?

I’ve found help for this question in the words about the Holy Spirit from the Gospel of John and the letter of 1st John.1 Again and again we’re told in the Johannine witness that the Holy Spirit is inextricably linked to Jesus Christ, and links us to him. The Spirit is Jesus’ emissary, we’re told, who will bring to mind all that Jesus has said and done (John 14:25-26). The Spirit is our counselor, who advocates on behalf of Jesus and enables us to testify to him (John 15:26). Different spirits exist, not all of which may be holy — therefore all spirits must be tested (1 John 4:1); and the standard or norm by which the various spirits are tested is Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh (1 John 4:2). The Spirit is often manifested in an inner experience by which we recognize Jesus or God (1 John 3:24). And an essential mark of being grounded in God by the Holy Spirit is a sense of confidence toward God as a response to God’s love (1 John 4:16b-17).

As I understand these words from John and 1st John, this means that whenever or however we perceive that our thoughts our actions are being drawn closer to the pattern of the life, death, resurrection, and power of Christ, we are in fact being moved by the Holy Spirit. It’s not simply a matter of how I may feel about something, or any surge of enthusiasm for a particular decision — but whether we are being drawn more closely to the person and work of Christ himself. If our discernment is leading us into ways of being that more clearly reflect Christ, the Word Made Flesh, then this discernment is being guided by the promised Holy Spirit.

It may be worthwhile to ask ourselves something like this: How does this decision (or ministry or activity or expenditure) reflect Christ? How does what we do as a church and as Christians embody the ministry of Christ—the Word Made Flesh—in our community and world? Yes, whether it’s Session or committees, there are usually a wide variety of things to be considered—from boilers to by-laws. But at heart, we gather to try to discern the will of Christ for our congregations and community — and such discernment requires attention to the movement of the Spirit. And this Spirit, more than anything, wants to connect us more firmly to Christ himself: his life, his witness, his power, his justice, his compassion.

May you perceive and follow the Spirit throughout your life and service to the church — the Spirit that links us inextricably to the Risen Christ among us!

1My thanks to Elizabeth Liebert and her wonderful book, The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making (Westminster John Knox 2008) for calling my attention to this. See pp. 14-15.


The Rev. Dr. Sam Hamilton-Poore is a Presbyterian minister and spiritual director who has served congregations in North Carolina, Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin. He is also author of “Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation,” and the former Director of the Program in Christian Spirituality at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Is This the Best We Can Do?

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

by Paul Hooker

When I was young in ministry, the session of First Presbyterian of Kingsport, TN where I was associate pastor would debate some important matter until it appeared everything had been said that needed saying. Then, just before the moderator called for the vote, from the back of the room, Ernie Blackard would raise his hand, and when recognized, ask, “Mr. Moderator, I’d just like to be sure: Is this the best we can do for Christ and his Church?” There was, as I recall, never any answer to that question but silence. But there was always a silence, during which we all asked ourselves whether the vote we were about to cast served any purpose other than the advancement of our own interest or agenda. Ernie is long dead now, but his question echoes in my head every time I prepare to cast a vote.

The Book of Order names the order of ministry to which ruling elders are called, “the Ministry of Discernment and Governance” (G-2.03). I think the polity gets that just about right. The first and primary function of the ruling elder is that of discernment. The word comes about as straight and un-Anglicized from the Latin discernere as it is possible to do: “to separate, set apart, divide, distinguish, perceive.” The polity is even clear what, precisely, ruling elders are to discern: they are “not simply to reflect the will of the people, but rather to seek together to find and represent the will of Christ” (F-3.0204). The will of Christ. Not the shrewdest business decision. Not the action that comports with my pre-established preferences. Not the decision that places me on the right side of political favor. We are called to discern — to separate out all that stuff — until all that is left is the one that reflects the will of Christ.

It’s only after discernment that one gets to governance, the business of leading and guiding the people and institutions entrusted to the session’s care. Governance is always secondary and subsequent to discernment, because it depends on discernment. Even the title given to the order reflects this: ruling elder. The mission of the ruling elder is as old as Scottish Presbyterian polity. The Second Book of Discipline (1620) is clear that the task of the ruling elder is to measure the faithfulness of the congregation “according to the rule of the Evangel” — that is, according to the will of Christ as revealed in Scripture. This, by the way, is where the term “ruling” in ruling elder comes from.

I refuse to pull punches here. This means that every ruling elder must be a scholar of Scripture. It also means that it is the task of every teaching elder is to facilitate the session’s scholarship. The best sessions and pastors I know are the ones who take that responsibility seriously and spend time at session meetings in study, conversation, and prayer around the relationship between Scripture and the business at hand. Sessions that fail to do so, or that are convinced that they simply don’t have time to do so, are failing in their duty. That indictment, I fear, would convict more than a few of our sessions, including most of the ones I led when I served as pastor and moderator. Shame on me. Shame on us all.

When the members of the Form of Government Task Force (of which I was one) were making presentations to presbyteries in advance of the vote on the then-proposed Foundations and Form, we were fond of saying that the role of the ruling elder was a spiritual function, not to be confused with being a member of the board of directors of a small non-profit corporation. The best preparation for being a ruling elder is not an MBA (although many fine elders have one) but a sense of the mystery of God, not a head for figures so much as a heart for the flock. Ruling elders are shepherds before they are CEOs.

It will be argued that the church, as an institution, has certain needs in common with most businesses, and that some business sense is needful as the church makes its way in the world. Probably. It will be argued that the church’s financial ship will run aground on the rocks of receivership if there aren’t a few people who can read a balance sheet. Conceded. But let it never be said that those voices are the last voices to be heard in debates about the wellbeing of the people of God. Grant rather that the last voice is that of Ernie Blackard, wondering whether this is the best we can do for Christ and his Church. And let there be, in the silence that follows, a moment of discernment.


Paul Hooker is Associate Dean for Ministerial Formation and Advanced Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  A teaching elder, Paul has served in parish ministry, as a presbytery executive and stated clerk, and has extensive experience in writing and interpreting the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He blogs original poetry at http://www.shapeandsubstance.com.

Welcoming the Refugee, Loving Our Neighbor

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 Linda Kurtz

At the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering in Kansas City, Tom Charles, a ruling elder from Nassau Presbyterian Church, gave a testimony presentation about the church’s ministry resettling refugee families. You see, Nassau has been welcoming refugee families to New Jersey for almost 60 years, giving them — and Tom — a wealth of experience and knowledge to share. Less than 20 minutes later, when he was done speaking, Tom had the entire room on its feet in applause. His testimony was inspiring — so inspiring, in fact, that some folks who heard Tom in Kansas City went home and asked their churches whether or not they might be called to refugee resettlement ministry themselves.

Ginter Park Presbyterian Church in Richmond, VA — in partnership with Union Presbyterian Seminary — is one such church. In the last year, they’ve discerned whether God might be calling them to sponsor a refugee family and ultimately decided the answer was yes. In fact, the family Ginter Park and Union Presbyterian Seminary are supporting arrived in the United States two weeks ago!

As a student at the seminary, I gathered several of my classmates and other members of our seminary community to discuss the extent to which we could partner with Ginter Park in this ministry. To facilitate that conversation, I turned to Tom’s testimony.

Here’s a reflection exercise appropriate for any faith community who might be engaging in similar discernment.

First, watch the entire testimony yourself. Since it’s just over 18 minutes long, I suggest selecting the most pertinent clips for your community to show others. I showed the video from 2:03-3:05 and 4:53-7:27.

Then, discuss:

  • What is your reaction to Tom’s reflections in this video?
  • What do our scriptures and confessions say about the refugee and immigrant? [See Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:34, I Peter 1:1-2; BoC 9.45 for starters.]
  • How might refugee resettlement fit into our broader mission and ministry?
  • If not sponsoring a refugee family, what are ways we can live out our call to care for refugees and immigrants?
  • How might our faith be impacted by this work?

Tom also helpfully provided a comprehensive guide for churches, individuals, and organizations looking to start such a program in their own context that assist with some of the more practical details.

But this isn’t the only way this testimony might be used. Sponsoring a family might not be feasible for your faith community for any number of reasons, but I find Tom’s heartfelt commitment to loving his neighbor — even his newly-arrived-from-another-country neighbor — inspiring. This video could also prompt a good discussion about how faith can be changed by encounters with people outside of our faith community or be used to facilitate conversation amongst a mission committee discerning where God is calling them next.

That discussion might be prompted by:

  • What is your reaction to Tom’s reflections in this video?
  • When have been some of the most faithful moments of your life?
  • How are we called more generally to love our neighbor in this community?
  • How do the people we interact with outside this faith community impact our faith?
  • How might we provide opportunities for members of our faith community to live out and experience their faith as Tom has?

Has your church discussed the possibility of sponsoring a refugee family? What was your discernment process like? How else might you use Tom’s testimony to spark conversation in your ministry context? Share with us in the comments!


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

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.

Collaborative Creation

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Kate Morrison is curating a series featuring reflections on Advent and Christmas from our 2018 National Gathering workshop and post-Gathering seminar leaders. Over the course of the month, we’ll hear what this season means to them through stories, memories, and favorite traditions – and how they see the themes of Advent connecting with the work of NEXT Church. We invite you to share your own memories and stories on Facebook and Twitter!

Editor’s note: Paul is co-leading a post-Gathering seminar (a 24-hour opportunity to dig deeper into a topic, new this year!) called “Manna for the People: Cultivating Creative Resources for Worship in the Wilderness.” It will take place from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday morning following the 2018 National Gathering. Learn more and register

by Paul Vasile

It’s a gift to catch glimpses of God-with-us in workshops and planning gatherings I facilitate for pastors, musicians, and worship leaders. As we read, sing, and improvise with scripture and liturgy, the Word takes on flesh in unexpected and beautiful ways, often with refreshing directness and authenticity as individuals bring their voice and story into dialogue with sacred text.

This fall, leaders of a newly bi-lingual congregation gathered for a day of worship, reflection, and worship planning. We used the morning to strengthen community through practices of listening and discernment then divided into small groups, each assigned an Advent lectionary Psalm and a part of the liturgy to create (call to worship, community liturgy, prayer petitions, etc). There were a few anxious asides as we began but energy and ideas quickly flowed in Spanish and English. Twenty minutes later, we reconvened to share the thoughtful, hand-crafted pieces of liturgy they created together. A feeling of mutual support and care was tangible, as was the joy of making something specifically for their community.

Wholeness and beauty are found in creative spaces like these, where individuals and groups create space for new ideas and visions to bubble up and out of our imaginations. There is also something profoundly risky and anxious about it. Creating is vulnerable work and can be chaotic and unresolved. Sometimes we take what we’ve created, set it aside, and need start over. It’s humbling.

But there are profound gifts to be found in creating collaboratively, especially for leaders of faith communities. How might our ministry shift as we practice being in the present moment, as we deepen our listening skills and trust our God-given instincts, and as we shift from an often-obsessive focus on product and outcome to appreciation for (and even delight in) the process? How might we learn to dialogue with voices of judgement or critique that often lead us to shut doors that need to be left open or even walked through?

This is what we’ll explore at our National Gathering post-Gathering seminar “Manna for the People.” We’ll burrow into Eastertide scripture passages through improvisation, singing, and play, with lots of space for individual and group reflection. We’ll create a gracious, generous space where our creative instincts are welcomed and affirmed, where we stretch and grow into new ways of leading and living. And we’ll find joy and pleasure in making something together, as we offer our voices and ideas to shape worship for our faith communities.

Like Mary, who welcomed unknown possibilities with a bold “Yes,” we’ll use the phrase “Yes, and…” in our improvisation work and see what unfolds. Like the shepherds watching their flocks, we’ll hear the proclamation “Do not fear!” and reflect deeply on ways the love of God liberates us from judgement and anxiety that prevent us from taking creative risks. Like the Wise Ones, we’ll listen to our intuition, trusting the wisdom of God and the community to take us where we need to go.

As the mystic Meister Eckhardt wrote, “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is ever waiting to be born.” We hope you’ll join us at the NEXT Church National Gathering in February as we make space for the Holy One to be known in our work and play. Join us for an extra day of exploration, growth, and collaboration, and discover new skills and practices to enrich your ministry. It will be a renewing, life-giving experience!


Paul Vasile is a freelance church musician, consultant, and composer based in New York City. A multitalented musician and dynamic worship leader, he is committed to building, renewing, and re-shaping faith communities through music and liturgy. Paul brings over twenty years of ministry experience to his work as a consultant, workshop facilitator, and teacher. He is excited to help congregations broaden their repertoire of sung prayer and praise, and to demonstrate how participatory music and liturgy can energize and unify worshippers from varied backgrounds, cultures, and traditions.

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.

Skipping A Step: Resisting the Quick Fix and Embracing Evaluation

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. In this month’s series, we are excited to share some sneak peeks of NEXT Church’s forthcoming “Field Guide for Cultivated Ministry,” alongside articles and stories that reflect on the importance of mindfulness, discernment, and learning as crucial to the flourishing of ministry. We can’t wait to share the whole thing with you this fall! We invite you to share your own thoughts on Facebook and Twitter

by Charlie Lee

How can we fix it? This is a question posed in our congregations every day. Common elements of decline such as sagging attendance, diminished donations, or a general lack of excitement can create significant anxiety among church leaders and create a sense of crisis in our congregations. Well-intentioned church leaders who observe these crises are often quick to call for and implement solutions that are designed to directly address these problems.

This is what we did in my own congregation. We observed a decline in giving and attendance, the metrics that have traditionally defined a successful congregation. Therefore, we gathered leaders together to design a solution to our crisis. We started a new worship service, added a new staff member, and even made plans to remodel a portion of our building. While these steps were successful in granting us some temporary gains, in time we learned that our solutions were not lasting ones and eventually we found ourselves right back where we started.

So what went wrong? Why did our well-thought-out solutions not have a lasting effect on our problems? As we wrestled with these questions, we learned that we had skipped a step in our efforts to quickly address our congregational crises. We had moved directly from the observations of our perceived problems to interventions we thought would address them. What we failed to do was to put in place practices that might help us interpret our initial observations so that we might gain new learnings that could then be applied in the design and execution of future interventions.

My guess is that our congregation is not the only one who is skipping this important step as we struggle to adapt in these times of rapid change. However, we can no longer afford to do so if we hope to face the adaptive challenges that lay before us and remain faithful to God’s collective calling on our communities of faith. We must take on the task of developing practices of assessment and evaluation within our congregations, and if we do so they can help our congregations do three things:

  1. Discern: The metrics of attendance and financial giving have for too long defined the success or failure of a congregation. Vital ministry is about so much more than counting “butts and bucks.” It is about faithfully following the calling that God places upon us. Churches by nature are “heliotropic,” meaning that just like a plant leans towards the direction of the sunlight, a church will move towards the source of energy or focus that is present in the system. If we continue to focus on outdated metrics, then this will only continue to produce anxiety and a feeling of continual crisis in our congregations. However, if we utilize tools of assessment and evaluation, then we can better focus on continually discerning the dynamic calling of God upon our congregations, and therefore begin to define success in our ministries with an eye towards fruitfulness rather than fear.
  2. Learn: “You don’t know – that you don’t know – what you don’t know.” This was a favorite line of one of my undergrad college professors. He repeated it often to us in an effort to encourage our curiosity and inspire our learning. His point was that there are always new things to learn and opportunities to go deeper in that learning than we ever thought possible. The same is true in our congregations. Tools of assessment and evaluation are the key to opening up new realms of possibilities in our ministries. They help keep us from moving immediately to towards implementing solutions to problems and instead take a deep dive on the issues behind what we have observed. Often, in this process, we discover that the perceived problem we were so focused on in the beginning is really just a symptom of a much larger issue. It is these new learnings that make it possible for us to address not only the technical challenges of ministry, but the more adaptive and complex issues facing our congregations.
  3. Tell the Story: It has been a few years now since the congregation I serve began experimenting with different practices of assessment and evaluation. The most successful practice by far that we have adopted has been the practice of storytelling. An important part of assessment and evaluation is capturing data; however, if all the data that is captured is merely quantitative, then it will not give a complete picture of all that is occurring within a congregation. Numbers and statistics can only communicate so much. Qualitative data is required in order share those things that cannot be measured but can be observed. The assessment practices we put in place gave us the tools to begin asking our congregation to tell us their stories. As much as possible, we began sharing these stories in worship and through our publications so that all could hear the good news of how lives were being transformed through Christ and how God was at work in and through the ministries of this congregation. The practice of storytelling has changed the conversation within our congregation, enabling us to operate from a place of abundance rather than scarcity.

I am grateful to the leadership of NEXT Church and the individuals who have worked so hard to produce resources for assessment and evaluation. I believe the utilization of these resources can help keep us from looking for the next quick fix and instead provide a consistent way for us to become more attentive to God’s calling.


Charlie Lee is an Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, North Carolina. He received a Doctorate of Ministry Degree in 2015 from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. His primary focus of study was on the implementation of formative evaluation in congregations.

Vocational Discernment Paradigm, Part 1

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month will focus on the art of coaching and the practice of ministry. Some posts will layout insights or frameworks of coaching and some will be stories of coaching that transformed a pastor or congregation. We hope they will inspire you. We hope that inspiration will turn into actual movement in your own life and ministry so that we might move closer to that vision of the church we long for, closer to the vision of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Peter Hazelrigg

As a professional coach and a former university chaplain, I am often invited into conversations with people who are looking for jobs, or thinking about changing jobs. Over the years I have realized that the questions people ask can impact career discernment.

“What are you going to do?” is often a question that is asked when someone is looking for a new job. The question is asking what is the “task” you will be engaged in. But simply asking, “what you are going to do?” does not make for quality discernment. There are many factors that need to be considered before looking at a job description (a list of tasks) and deciding if it will be a good fit that will provide an opportunity for sustainable success and personal satisfaction.

Sustainable success and personal satisfaction are criteria that many people use to evaluate their career. In order to make quality career decisions that will lead to these outcomes, it is important to begin with the question, “Who are you called to BE?”  This might sound like a simple turn of phrase, but it is a question that has very different answers than “What am I going to DO?” It is important to address the “being” question first.

Hazelrigg pictureHazelrigg pictureThere are many ways to explore vocational discernment. What will follow over the next few days on this blog is a model of career/vocational discernment. It is simple in structure and difficult in practice. It starts with Being, takes into account Knowing, and finally ends with Doing. BE, KNOW, DO. Start at the bottom of the paradigm and build your way to the top.

BE:  Many people that experience dissatisfaction in their professional work (52.3% according to a Conference Board report) describe it as being uninspired, restless, bored, and even frustrated. These feelings can come from experiences where we are not acting in alignment with their values. This can be a moment when we are asked to act in a way that goes against our values and we experience a momentary crisis. Or it can be more subtle, just a slow realization that we are uninspired and longing for something we vaguely describe as “more.” Below the surface is a value and a need that is not being met.  The question people often ask at this point is “what else can I do?” I would suggest they first need to ask “who they are called to be?” This is no small task.  It is a complicated question. It may well be that a coach, pastor, counselor, or other professional can be helpful in uncovering this answer.

The foundation of discernment is built on self-awareness. At its simplest level, this is about preferences and values. The most frequently used tools for understanding our preferences are the varieties of personality assessments on the market (Meyers Briggs Type Indicator, Firo-B, WorkPlace Big 5, DiSC, SDI, and others). Understanding our preferences and tendencies can help individuals determine what kinds of tasks and interactions give them energy or take extra energy (a key to sustainability), what experiences and interactions help us to feel a sense of self worth (a key component of satisfaction).

Another aspect of understanding who you want to be is gaining clarity about your values. Some values are easy to identify (I value being employed), some are values are clarified over time through experience (I value working with a consistent team of people). Some of the values we hold can be in conflict with one another and need to be prioritized (I value more time with my family and advancement at work which will require more out-of-town travel). Exploring previous work experiences and reflecting on what was valued, and not valued, about that experience can be helpful.

Values are more than just things we like, they can also be ways we want to experience others. For some people there is a spiritual dimension that provides value and direction. In the church, we understand this as “a calling,” a way of being for which God has made us. There are many facets that can make up the broader concept of “values.”  The challenge is doing the hard work of reflection and self-exploration to be able to identify and become aware of how these values impact your experience of satisfaction.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the next building block — knowing.


Hazelrigg headshotRev. Peter Hazelrigg is Senior Partner at the Pilgrimage Professional Development Group, www.pilgrimpro.com

“Just Listening” for Deeper Discernment

by Andrew Foster Connors

The worst part of hosting a listening session on church mission was the work it took to get ten leaders together in the same room for an hour. That was my immediate task last December as one of the 50+ trained facilitators for NEXT’s church-wide listening campaign. It proved harder than I first imagined. Talented leaders understand the value of their time and therefore resist putting themselves in situations where it will be wasted. So it’s hard to convince leaders used to “getting things done” that their time will not be wasted in a house meeting where the primary objective is listening.

I explained to each participant that many of us in NEXT, trained in the tools of community organizing, had learned the power of this relational tool. Unlike a survey, this kind of listening should lead to the deepening of public relationships. Unlike a complaint session, this kind of listening often led to deeper discernment. Unlike a debate, this kind of listening was designed for mutual learning that always happens when stories and experiences are shared with purpose and direction.

photo credit: ky_olsen via photopin cc

photo credit: ky_olsen via photopin cc

NEXT decided to launch a listening campaign in light of the changes occurring in leadership at the Presbyterian Mission Agency (with the departure of Executive Director Linda Valentine) and the Office of General Assembly (with the coming departure of Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons). Transitions are always crossroads moments for the church. Our conviction is that any agenda we might have for direction for the future resides within the leadership of the Presbyterian Church (USA) as it’s lived out in congregations. Only by listening broadly could we hope to have anything helpful to contribute toward the church’s discernment.

In the first house meeting I hosted, the energy in the room was palpable. Mission that is rooted in relationships was a common theme that both inspired congregations and fed back into their vitality. “It’s hard for people not to swing a hammer,” one leader observed, but then went on to share a story of the transformation that happened to them when they found a different way to encounter the Spirit. The trust in the room quickly led to a safe space for opening wondering. “More and more young people are participating in our missional engagement work,” one leader said, “but not as often for our worship. I’m wondering if the next church is going to look more like a community of people engaged in mission who worship here and there rather than a group of worshipers who engage in mission from time to time. And, is that a good thing?” Others wondered about strengthening the capacity of their people to share the good news of Christ in and through their missional engagement.

There was healthy criticism but no blaming. For example, several mentioned how important the PC(USA)’s “New Beginnings” process had been for their congregations, but named an important gap: “New Beginnings got us to a place where we announced to the world with joy, ‘Yes! We are called to live!’ And then we had to go and figure out on our own what to do next.”  thers chimed in and acknowledged how they, too, had wished for guidance at that point in the congregational discernment process. These same leaders also recognized that “another national program isn’t necessarily the fix.”

In other words, what was happening in our listening session was that leaders were encountering each others’ wisdom, experiences, struggles, and dreams, and were feeding off each other. They were engaging some of the challenges that our denomination faces on a congregational level with strategic thinking, imagination, and intelligence. In the process, I gathered more than just “data” to be fed back to someone in Louisville. Relationships of leadership were deepening, ideas were coming out of the isolation of individuals and into community where they could be played with, improved upon, and shared.

It’s precisely this kind of discernment tool that NEXT is hoping to offer to our church. It fits nicely with our view that the if the church is first and foremost a community of relationships rooted in Christ, then the nurturing of those relationships needs to be at the center of our work. When we first announced this listening campaign, many people had a hard time believing there wasn’t more to the campaign than “just listening.” Even the statement “just listening” makes listening sound as though it has little value or worth.

I don’t know yet whether the common themes expressed among the ten folks who gathered in the group I led are shared beyond the region where I live. But I know that the time we spend listening together in a strategic, directed way is never wasted. It’s relationships like these that give rise not only to the ideas for change, but also the power to make it so. I look forward to coming together at the NEXT Church National Gathering with others who have been listening so that together we can share what we’ve learned.


Build_GOTV_14.2Andrew Foster Connors is the pastor of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD and the co-chair of the NEXT Church Strategy Team. 

Evangelism Roundtable: Resources

Here are the comics, books, videos, and other media that Church Leaders’ Roundtable participants found useful for conceptualizing and discussing evangelism during a recent Roundtable: COMICS For approaching a prickly subject via humor: Pearls Before Swine (Click to view larger) 

February 18th, 2013 by Stephan Pastis

February 18th, 2013
by Stephan Pastis

  Whyatt
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by Tim Whyatt

Along the same lines, Frank Wood has curated some helpful clipart graphics about evangelism.   BOOKS *Please note that these links are to Amazon for your convenience in reading a more detailed synopsis and comparing reviews. We encourage you to connect with your local independent bookstore or to the bookseller of your choice if you purchase your own copy!

  1. Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening poses that belonging leads to belief and that people are seeking a community that welcomes and engages their lived experiences.
  2. Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith helps readers wrestle with the theology (both good and bad) that has stuck with them. Borg shares his journey towards more authentic faith as he seeks to find out for himself, “Who is this Jesus?”
  3. Loren Mead’s The Once and Future Church series (particularly The Once and Future Church: Reinventing the Congregation for a New Mission Frontier) focuses on the idea that the modern mission field is the street outside of the church building itself.
  4. Joan S. Gray’s Sailboat Church: Helping Your Church Rethink Its Ministry and Practice urges us to shift away from a “row boat” mentality where churches are driven by human effort to a “sailboat” mentality where the church is driven by the spirit. Gray writes for those who are discouraged and distressed by declines in church attendance and participation.
  5. In The Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (edited by Darrel Guder), six authors analyze the United State’s secular culture and present North America as the missional field in need.
  6. Marth Grace Reese’s Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism reminds us that praying can be more important than doing.
  7. Christian A. Schwarz’s The ABCs of Natural Church Development (available as both a pamphlet and as a book) shares research on what makes a church grow. Schwarz encourages churches to first focus on the health and well-being of their own congregations and objectively evaluating what they are currently doing before beginning to expand.
  8. Tim Suttle’s Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture is a beautiful book that speaks to the church’s need to become local, challenging, and smaller.
  9. Martin Thielen’s What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?: A Guide to What Matters Most and The Answer to Bad Religion is Not No Religion: a Guide to Good Religion for Skeptic, Seekers, and Believers engage with those are questioning their beliefs and may be leaning towards “spiritual but not religious.” The former deals with Christian identity, and the latter takes on religion as a whole.
  10. William O. Webster’s A Place of Grace: A Resurrected Church’s Journey to Vitality shares the story of a PCUSA church that was able to turn things around through simple acts of faith and community engagement. This success story is inspirational but also shows that such a turn around is achievable.

  CURRICULUM PCUSA’s Engage guides participants in crafting and sharing their faith journeys to foster discipleship.   VIDEOS

  1. Simon Sinek’s “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” takes on how successful brands like Apple have created legions of fans through marketing. What would have if churches used the same attitude of starting of starting with the “why” and moving outwards?
  2. First Presbyterian Church of Englewood’s video ministry, 90 Second Sermon, found a way to restructure their message to a format best suited to reaching people via social media. Their website includes a guide to create your video.
  3. The Skit Guys provide many helpful videos to supplement services as well as scripts and downloads to let your own ideas take flight.
  4. Film can be a successful medium for unchurched groups to discuss sacred themes without church-y vocabulary. One participant suggests using the Wizard of Oz for women’s groups and Field of Dreams for men’s groups to spark the sharing of deep spiritual stories.