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Cultivated Ministry: A New Approach

by Jessica Tate

A few years ago, NEXT Church convened some creative, talented leaders to talk together about the ways in which the church is collaboratively starting and supporting new ministries. In the room were leaders from large, established congregations, leaders from small upstart ministry ventures, and everything in between. There was energy in the conversation as we heard about ministries in places and with people often overlooked in mainline protestant circles. But the conversation got heated quickly when it turned toward resources, sustainability, fundraising, and accountability.

One talented leader of an exciting and creative new ministry likened it to The Hunger Games. “You come up with a good — even proven — ministry,” she said, “and everyone is excited about it. When you ask for help in paying for it, there are three larger churches and a couple of grant programs to go to and these creative ministries end up fighting each other to our own death to get any resources.”

A little while later, the pastor of a large congregation with a multi-million dollar budget said, “What I hear you asking for is a blank check and we simply can’t give that to you. In a season where we have many resources, but are facing budget cuts of our own and laying off staff, we have to justify every dollar we spend.”

Another leader chimed in, “Our presbytery has money to fund new ventures but we expect them to be growing numerically and financially sustainable within five years.” “What if we’re working in a community that is financially incapable of being self-sustaining?” was the immediate reply.

What became clear in the conversation is that there is much creativity and leadership in the present-day margins of the church. At the same time, the resources needed to fertilize that growth often rest in the established, traditional communities of faith and in denominational structures. Many of these traditional communities of faith are interested — even eager — to invest in the emergence of new faith communities that may look and feel radically different from their own. Yet these partnerships can become stymied because there exists no agreed upon metrics for measuring faithfulness and success.

Traditional metrics — such as membership counts, financial totals, and worship attendance — have proved inadequate for measuring the effectiveness of traditional communities of faith, much less emergent ones, but other metrics have not risen in their place. Thus, we revert to what we know, perpetuating a status quo that serves neither partner in the new church development process and hinders the leadership development and experimental learning the church needs now in abundance, if we are to make the move into new, thriving models of church life.

Over the course of the last eighteen months, with support from Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School and the Texas Presbyterian Foundation, we have convened a talented group of leaders to tackle this issue within the life of the church. What results is Cultivated Ministry: Bearing Fruit through Theology, Accountability, Learning, and Storytelling. Cultivated Ministry is a culture and process of ministry that does not rest on traditional metrics nor does it abdicate accountability altogether. It is a commitment to four interlocking means of assessment, evaluation, and (re)design aimed at nurturing thoughtful expressions of God’s mission in the world.

This month, we are excited to share some sneak peeks of the 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!

And a huge thanks to the talented team of people who have worked on this project:

Designers and Writers

Shawna Bowman, Pastor & Artist, Friendship Presbyterian Church
Chineta Goodjoin, Pastor, New Hope Presbyterian Church
Becca Messman, Pastor, Trinity Presbyterian Church
Frank Spencer, President, Board of Pensions, PC(USA)
Casey Thompson, Pastor, Wayne Presbyterian Church
John Vest, Professor of Evangelism, Union Presbyterian Seminary
Jen James, Cultivated Ministry Project Facilitator

Consultants

Andrew Foster Connors, Pastor, Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church
Christopher Edmonston, Pastor, White Memorial Presbyterian Church
Billy Honor, Pastor, The Pulse Church
Charlie Lee, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church
Carla Pratt Keyes, Pastor, Ginter Park Presbyterian Church
Jessica Tate, Director, NEXT Church
Landon Whitsitt, Executive and Stated Clerk, Synod of Mid-America
Rick Young, President, Texas Presbyterian Foundation


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

Grants? Genius!

by MaryAnn McKibben Dana

This past week the MacArthur Foundation named 23 new MacArthur Fellows as recipients of their so-called “genius grants.” These fellowships were awarded to a mandolin player, an arts entrepreneur, a neurobiologist, a pediatric neurosurgeon, and a “stringed-instrument bow maker,” among others.

The award is $500,000 over the next five years and comes with no strings attached. According to the MacArthur website, fellows are chosen based on three criteria: “exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.” The award is not a reward for past accomplishments, but an “investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential… for the benefit of human society.”

Could the church be doing this? Could NEXT be doing this?

Surely we have people of exceptional creativity in our churches… people who, with a bit of seed money and no strings attached, could be free to experiment, dream, and explore. Who knows what kind of creative ideas for ministry could be hatched as a result of a Presbyterian Genius Grant?

Of course we have grant-making entities in our churches that fund deeply important work. My own presbytery (National Capital) funds new church developments and other projects. The assumption, however, is that people are expected to produce something pre-determined and measurable—all the grant applications I’ve been a part of ask the program to provide clear goals, objectives, and a timeline.

But the reign of God is not pre-determined and measurable.

What if we added to the mix a series of grants that were grounded not in a theology of predictable results, but in a theology of God’s abundant and unpredictable grace? One of our seminaries had a tagline years ago: “We are equipping pastors for a church we cannot yet envision.” A Presbyterian Genius Grant would be a powerful affirmation of the need to imagine ministry differently for the 21st century.

But how do we find the time and space to envision such a church? As a previous year’s MacArthur recipient put it, “[The award] means the freedom to explore. It’s a long time since I’ve been allowed to be purely an explorer in my life. I’ve had to do other things in order to be an artist. I have a family, and I have to put food on the table. I have had to take lots of jobs just to eke out a living.” Can I get an Amen from those pastors (or ruling elders, for that matter) who have creative gifts to offer but who feel like the everyday tasks of ministry (while important) don’t provide much space for dreaming?

The closest thing we have to a genius grant is a sabbatical grant, but it’s not quite the same thing. Sabbaticals are short-term, and they center around rest and renewal, not necessarily striking out in new directions with intentional creative work. And they are only granted to pastors. A Presbyterian Genius Grant could go to laypeople in even greater numbers than pastors, and probably should… What if the photographers, astronomers, and “social services innovators” in our pews were empowered to imagine Christian ministry and mission through a program that prizes experimentation and risk? (Teaching elder and blogger Jan Edmiston has some suggestions of folks to tap.)

There are plenty of road blocks to a genius grant. Money is the obvious one. Budgets are tight, and half a million dollars is steep. But what about $5,000? $10,000? The Ecclesia Project is helping spark entire worshiping communities with grants of $5,000. Jud Hendrix shared about Ecclesia at the 2012 NEXT Gathering and it was a stimulating and hopeful presentation, saturated with faithful religious imagination.

Good stewardship is always important, and a trusty Presbyterian virtue. But has hunkering down stemmed the tide of membership decline? Maybe it’s time for something bold.

I for one think it’s genius.


MamdMaryAnn McKibben Dana is on the strategy team of NEXT. She is teacher elder at Idylwood Presbyterian Church and the author of Sabbath in the Suburbs. She blogs at The Blue Room.