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Newton’s First Law of Motion and the Church

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 Mick Hirsch

Nobody knows what to do with Newton. You see, Isaac tested not only the laws of physics – he also tested how far Christian orthodoxy could bend until it simply breaks. Today, most people think of Newton as a brilliant physicist, the guy who came up with the Three Laws of Motion that we all had to learn at some point during our educational journeys. But, back in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, people didn’t know where to put him. If we’re honest, we all know how comforting it feels to label someone, to put them in a category, which we can either love, hate or discard as unimportant. This is what happened to Newton. The guy who discovered the Laws of Motion was put. And still today, among an itsy-bitsy group of historians and theologians who dabble in esoteric subjects, people are still arguing about where to put poor Isaac.

Let the name-calling begin: Newton’s a born-and-bred Anglican; no, he’s an antitrinitarian Arian heretic; impossible, he’s certainly somewhere between a Socinian and the Eastern Orthodox communion; seriously, let’s get real – he’s a deist; for God’s sake, it’s so obvious – he’s a latitudinarian-millinarian, duh!!! Oh, and we mustn’t forget… he’s one of the greatest physicists of all time.

We’re always looking for an easy way out, but if we think seriously about it, it’s really, really hard to put someone somewhere. Can you relate? Has it happened to you? It’s certainly happened to me, perhaps nowhere as intimately and personally challenging as the my own mercurial faith background. Like Isaac, I, too, have been called a lot of names and put in a lot of places.

Here’s the story: I was baptized Roman Catholic as an infant, just a year or two after my mom converted to Catholicism in order to marry my dad. But, by the time I was about two or three, my mom had had enough of Catholicism, and wanted to return to her Protestant roots. So, she took me to the “community church,” which happened to be American Baptist. Soon afterwards, my dad succumbed to some kind of Protestant temptation and followed along. It so happened, that by the time I entered junior high school, the Baptist youth group had diminished to a small handful of kids. So, the three of us abandoned ship and joined in with the Methodists. All fine and well, except for the fact that when my grandfather – my best friend – died during my sophomore year of high school, I was devastated. My “to be expected” teenage angst turned into a fierce atheism. With all apologies to any lawyers out there, it took working as a paralegal at a cutthroat Chicago law firm my year after college to reorient myself to a life of faith.

I felt something moving in my heart (John Wesley, referring to his own experience, said, “my heart was strangely warmed”). Coincidently, the only place I knew was the United Methodist Church (the one Wesley “founded”). So, I went there… and this time, I was pretty sure that my heart was strangely warmed. One Easter morning, I woke up and went to church. I knew all about Easter – the rabbit who lays chocolate covered eggs… cool. But, when the congregation belted out the hymn “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” well, I broke down in tears. It was an Isaiah 6:8 blast of what Methodists call “justifying grace” – the type of grace where God pardons and restores a person back to God. Before I could even think, there I was proclaiming, “Here I am. Send me!”

Bam! I entered Yale Divinity School on track to become ordained in the United Methodist Church (UMC). (By nature, I am curious – despite my affiliation with the UMC, I worked at a Congregational Church and completed my requisite internship at an Episcopal Church – once again, I was put… x 2.) Nevertheless, within the UMC, I felt on top of my game. I was young, clever, capable of entering the denomination from the inside, so that I could champion UMC-awesomeness, but also change some of the things with which I struggled about the Church.

Well, that didn’t happen. Instead, I found myself faced with a very difficult decision: either I take the vows to follow United Methodist doctrine, which would mean denying my LGBTQ friends the opportunity to profess their love for one another through marriage, as well as dissuading my LGBTQ friends from following their authentic call to ministry because they would be denied the same ordination I was about to receive. After many years of study, jumping through all the hoops, interviews, essays, paperwork, background checks, etc., etc. – I walked away. He who strived to be an insider now found himself an “outsider.”

But, that’s when I realized something monumental, something so very important, something incredibly powerful, life-giving, meaningful, purposeful… something real and inspired, all in one!

I was part of the laity.

Let’s go back to Newton. Our friend Isaac became a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge in 1667 at the age of 24 – the same age I was when I entered Yale Divinity School. Isaac was on the ordination track in the Anglican Church. Like me, he, too, walked away. There were things with which he didn’t agree in the Church, and he felt it impossible to commit to things about which he felt strongly.

Even more importantly, despite the fact that others immediately tried to put him into certain categories – heretic, anti-this & anti-that, etc. – he didn’t stay put. Rather, he discovered the laws of MOTION!

Think back: do you remember Newton’s First Law of Motion? “Every object persists in its state of rest (i.e., inertia) or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it.”

I’m going to make an assumption: like me, you learned this First Law of Motion as a phenomenon of the science of physics. Well, I’m going to suggest something else: Newton’s First Law of Motion is equally a phenomenon of APOSTOLIC MISSION!

Christians – the ordained, yes, but even more so the laity (they are few, while we are many!) – Christians are, by definition, MOVED! When we open our hearts to God, God responds with a blast of grace, and that blast is the “force impressed on [you and me]!!!” That blast is God’s call to us to abandon the comforts of inertia – the comforts of “here” – and instead, pack up our faith, our hope, and our love, and go “there” – wherever “there” may be. For, there is always a need “there.” There is always a place, a people, a neighbor, someone who needs us “there.”
God’s grace fosters, nurtures and empowers us, every single member of the body, which, for Isaac, is another way of saying, “God moves us!” And, for Jesus our Savior, is another way of saying, “go and make disciples of all nations…”


Mick Hirsch is the President & Executive Director of THRIVE Gulu, a non-governmental organization that delivers mental health and psycho-social support services to survivors of the genocide in Northern Uganda and South Sudanese refugees displaced to Uganda.  He is a graduate of the University of Chicago, the Yale University Divinity School and the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma. He has no particular denominational affiliation apart from the fact that he loves Episcopal liturgy, Orthodox iconography, United Methodist hymnody and Unitarian Universalist social justice.  

Exegeting Culture for Ministry

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 Melodie Jones-Pointon

I first felt the call to professional ministry in the church when I was 21 years old. At the time, I made a “deal” with God: I would go anywhere God called (almost). I imagined this deal with God would lead me to ministry in Hawaii. But that has not yet been the case. So far, my calls have led me from my hometown in Idaho to Washington State, from Arkansas to New Jersey, from Michigan to Mississippi. Currently I call Lincoln, Nebraska my home.

In the Presbyterian call system, church professionals are often called far from home to lead in congregations and communities that have unique cultures. Discovering those cultures and naming them help us navigate those cultures in ways that make our leadership connected and effective.

Here are three insights I have gleaned over the years:1

If you want to know how something really functions, ask the custodian. Okay, so my current church has a professional cleaning company, so this doesn’t always work. I would happily insert the office manager, administrative assistant, or maintenance/security personnel in this spot. The larger point is that oftentimes the pastor and leadership aren’t around for some of the important happenings at the church.

Here’s the truth – as the senior pastor, I love to rattle off the list of things we support and believe in at the church. I am proud that we currently are a meeting site for AA and Girl Scouts, non-profit board meetings and senior citizen groups. I read the calendar every week and am thrilled at how we are growing into using our building better. It’s my job to look at the big picture.

But I don’t always know what is really happening. I recently learned that our new AA meeting is growing quickly in number and that our food pantry is hosting their first volunteer staff and client picnic where they anticipate at least 40 people. I learned this because our office manager brought up details for set up at a staff meeting so she could pass these details on to our maintenance staff.

Sometimes the most important conversations and decisions are made outside of the committee meeting. I learned this in my second call, in a small town in Mississippi. I found myself frustrated that I would sit at committee meetings where items were discussed, decisions made, and then changed later in the week.

I started paying attention, and discovered that the most important discussions in the community took place at the ball field and the grocery store parking lot. That particular congregation and community was (and is) relationship-driven. So they couldn’t make decisions without those conversations. In other areas of the country, the Catholic or Lutheran church has been a large community influence, and committees would never make a decision outside of a meeting with a pastor present. These are issues of culture and influence that affect how we lead.

Cultures aren’t “one-size fits all.” I am often asked how I like my current call and current city. The truth is, I love it. And I know why. It’s a growing larger-sized farming community with an emphasis on higher education. It is very similar to my home congregation and community. I’m comfortable here because I understand the culture.

But it’s just a culture. There’s no one ultimate right or wrong way to run a church. In today’s culture of change, it’s important for us to focus on the vision and mission of our congregation and community. As new people move into the community, they bring different experiences and ideas that are valuable. Don’t let the established culture run them off! Pay attention to it, be able to name it, and learn to either work within it (if it works) or change it (if it’s toxic).

For further reading and reference, see the works of Eric H.F. Law, Nancy Tatom Ammerman, and Israel Galindo.

1 These are in chronological order of discovery, not in order of importance.


Growing up in Idaho, Melodie has always had a great love for Christ and for the church. Melodie received her Doctor of Ministry degree from McCormick Seminary in May 2017 and has served at Presbyterian churches in Idaho, Washington State, Arkansas, New Jersey, Michigan, Mississippi, and finally here in Nebraska! Her pastor husband, Steve, is from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and together they have two children, Phoebe and Eli, and a 4-legged friend named Pebbles.

Theocademy is here!

One of the exciting Ignite presentations at the 2014 National Gathering was Landon Whitsitt’s presentation on Theocademy, short video resources to help Presbyterians form their faith anytime, anywhere. There are two sets of lessons right now–one for new members and one for ruling elders and deacons.

It’s a great resource. Check it out! Here’s the first video in the New Members’ series.

Officer Training for the NEXT Church

by Tom Are, Jr.

They said “yes,” which is no small thing. They had been asked to serve as Elders in my congregation… a three year commitment. It would mean a lot of meetings, more than a few conversations, a growing “to-do list” and perhaps some debate. They would be asked to provide leadership for the church in a time when it is hard to discern the best direction to move. So, they would need training: Officer Training.

Officer training needn't be like this.

Officer training needn’t be like this.

They had ordination questions to answer about Confessions and doctrine and would make commitments to do nothing less that work for the reconciliation of the world! That’s a pretty big job.

When I began teaching Officer Training over twenty years ago, I was pretty clear regarding the purpose. They needed to know about these Confessions they would promise to be guided by. They needed to be able to articulate a doctrine of scriptural authority and confess scripture as holy revelation. They needed to know about synods and commissions and that serving in “governing bodies” meant they would go to Presbytery.

It is a lot to learn; a lot to know. And to my pleasant surprise, because these were the types that would say “yes” to being an elder, they kept coming to officer training and telling me how “interesting” the classes were.

Mission accomplished, right?

Nope.

I blew it, to tell you the truth.

Where did I get the impression that being a disciple of Jesus was primarily a matter of knowing the right information? Oh, I know, we don’t say it that way. We say it’s important to have good theology. Or believe in essential doctrine. Some might even say it’s a matter of knowing the truth.

I like knowing the truth, when it can be known. My shelves are filled with theology, both the formal and informal kinds. Doctrine matters to me. But, when Jesus was asked what’s the most important thing in our lives, he didn’t say, I have some things I want you to think about. He said, love God with all that you are and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus was essentially relational.

I have changed my mind, my heart and my ministry. The church is not the church because we think the right things. We are not the church because we have found the right language to describe the difference Jesus makes in the world. Jesus does not come simply into our heads. The truth is, he doesn’t come into our hearts either….that’s far too narrow. He comes into our relationships.

So, in Officer Training we still gather around the scriptures and the Confessions but it’s not simply to gain information. It is to discover a new lens through which we learn to see ourselves and one another. After all, our primary offering and witness to a hurting world is not information we have, but love we give. It was Jesus who said, “They” shall know that you belong to me by your love for one another. Now in Officer Training in addition to learning doctrine, they learn to be a friend among their colleagues in ministry.

It’s not rocket science—the truth is, my approach to Officer Training might not seem any different than before if you weren’t paying attention. We just spend more time telling our own stories, praying together for the church and one another. We spend time exploring not only the Confessions of the saints who have gone before, but offering our own “confessions” working to find the language to describe what God is doing among us. It’s pretty simple, but it has made a difference.

We asked newly elected officers to share about their faith journey. They spoke of their grandmothers and youth leaders and Montreat. A few mentioned moments in worship and others mentioned the birth of children or trips in nature. But recently when some of these were asked the same question after they had completed their time of service: “Tell us about an important moment in your faith journey,” they mentioned serving on the Session together. That’s no small thing.


Tom AreTom Are is pastor of Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, KS and is co-chair of NEXT.