A Public Profession of Faith

This month, our blog series is actually a vlog series – a video blog, that is! We’re calling it “The NEXT Few Minutes.” Over the next several weeks, we’ll share with you short, 2-3 minute videos from a variety of folks around the country with the hopes they spark your own imagination. We hope you’ll learn about some trends, ask questions, and think deeply about the practice of ministry in your own setting.

Jeff Krehbiel, pastor of Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC, reflects on faith in community as part of NEXT Church’s video series “The NEXT Few Minutes.” What might a public profession of faith look like for you? Who or what are the “Caesars” in your life? Join the conversation by commenting on this blog post or on our Facebook/Twitter pages!

To see all of our videos in our “The NEXT Few Minutes” series, check out our playlist on Youtube.

Cultivating Political Judgment

NEXT Church regularly pulls on wisdom from community organizing as we think about being the church in the 21st century. You can read more about organizing here. For our purposes this month, we focus on the way in which congregation-based community organizing places emphasis on developing new leaders. Having been trained in community organizing through the Industrial Areas Foundation early in his ministry, Jeff Krehbiel (pastor of Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC and member of the NEXT Church Advisory Team) views congregational life through the lens of organizing. Jeff pulled together a community organizing cluster in the presbytery to continue to develop leaders who have discovered the power of community organizing principles for congregational development, spiritual formation and significant community engagement. This piece is representative of the kind of reflective work done by this group.

By Jeff Krehbiel

I’ve always thought the conventional wisdom that you should make no changes in the first six months of a new call to be rather silly. The congregation has called you to be their pastor, and then you sit on your hands for six months? Trust that they saw something in you that they were waiting for, and then offer it. In my experience, at that moment of transition the congregation is ready to try something new, and is just waiting to see what you will bring to the mix.

On the other hand, most of us know pastors who arrive on the scene and push too hard and too fast with their own agenda, and the honeymoon is over even before it began. What’s the difference? It comes down to a matter of political judgment. When we are new, we have no choice but to act. The question is: Which actions are appropriate?

Learning from Community Organizing

In an earlier post, I offered this maxim from my experience in broad-based community organizing: the authority to lead comes from the strength of your relationships not the power of your ideas. There I wrote that the most important task of leadership is building relationships of trust that make change possible. Leaders are much more likely to listen to your good ideas when you have taken the time to really know them. People who trust one another are able to take great risks together.

In a new community organization, the organizer spends months, sometimes years, building relationships, identifying and training leaders, listening in individual and small-group meetings for issues the organization might take on, and conducting research with those leaders to vet ideas and narrow options. But eventually the organization needs to act. But how? And when? Wait too long, and the organization begins to atrophy. Act too soon and fail, and the organization may flounder before it even gets started.

Power Analysis

An important step in organizing—and equally important in congregational life—is doing a power analysis. In organizing, there has to be an assessment of the organization’s power in relation to your intended target so you can evaluate the campaign’s chances of success. In a new organization you build on early victories as the organization develops its political muscle. You don’t want to lose your first political fight or leaders will not be willing to engage the next one.

photo credit: dgray_xplane via photopin cc

photo credit: dgray_xplane via photopin cc

For many church leaders, asking who has power in the congregation seems crass. We’re not in a battle, this isn’t a fight, and we all just want to follow Jesus. Yet we also know that in every congregation there are leaders who can stop something from happening without even raising their voice. Often those with power in the congregation are not those who are most obstinate or opposed to change. (Often the loud complainers turn out not to have any real power at all.) More often those with power are the ones who are most loved and trusted. A power analysis is simply figuring out the pattern of relationships within the congregation. Who is in relationship with whom? Who are the people that others most trust? That people listen to? That they look to in times of controversy and change? In a small congregation, it might be a matriarch or patriarch. In a large congregation, there may be several centers of power.

This doesn’t mean that you never act in a way that challenges powerful people. It means that you never act without taking powerful people into account. Every pastor has certain leaders they are in closer relationship with than others. A power analysis helps you determine which leaders you need to connect with more closely, including those who may be outside your usual orbit. Change that is supported by a broad base of key leaders is much more likely to succeed.

Redefining Success

In organizing, deciding which issues to take on is not simply a calculation about whether you can win. Organizers also ask what impact this issue will have on the organization’s health and future. Will taking on this issue enhance our power? Will it develop new leaders? Will it help prepare us to take on the next issue? What are the consequences if we are not successful? How can we use this campaign to develop new allies?

In the same way, when pastors and other leaders are contemplating change, they need to do more than determine if they have the authority to make this change happen. (A corollary to the above maxim: the authority given to you in The Book of Order is not sufficient to sustain change in congregational life.) The process of change is as important as the change itself. How can we use this problem or issue before us to develop leaders? To cultivate relationships? To strengthen the congregation as a community of trust and risk-taking? Defining success is broader and deeper than asking simply “Did the change happen?” A more important question is, did the change contribute to the congregation’s health and future?

A Case Study

Before I was even called to be pastor of Church of the Pilgrims, a member of the PNC asked my thoughts on rearranging the sanctuary. There were many in the congregation anxious for new experiences in worship, and he hoped I would bring about change. When I began, changes in worship were introduced gradually, with lots of input from church members in the planning process, often in the spirit of experimentation: “Let’s give this a try.” But raising the issue of renovating the sanctuary seemed premature. In my third year, rearranging the sanctuary came up again in a planning meeting. Immediately it was clear that some people loved the idea and others did not, meaning there was no decision the Session could make that would make everyone happy.

In response, the Session determined not just to listen to the loudest voices (a bad habit from the past) but to listen to every voice. Over the next three months, we studied the history of sacred space, and held a series of congregational dialogues, in both large and small groups. Then we appointed a diverse team of leaders, representing several different constituencies in the congregation, and asked them to engage the services of an architect and explore options. The Session listened to congregational input strategically. There were pockets of resistance. All voices were honored, but leaders took special note that some of our newer, younger members experienced the sanctuary as cold and uninviting. The leaders helped these newer voices to be heard by the entire congregation. People felt listened to and respected, even though not everyone was on board. At the end of the process, when we presented a plan for a new design, we raised the $80,000 needed to carry it out with a single fund-raising letter.


Jeff KrehbielJeff Krehbiel is Pastor of Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, D.C., a member of the NEXT Church Advisory Board, and a coach in the NEXT Church Paracletos Project.

Adding to the Offering

By Tom Tate

[Editor’s Note: Plaza Presbyterian Church was one of the pilot churches in NEXT’s Paracletos Project.]

Our worship service has changed a great deal over the year to create some new patterns that give life to our worshipping community:

  • forty-five minutes rather than sixty,
  • two hymns rather than three,
  • scripture being “told” like a story more than “read” like a treatise,
  • moving furniture to get an “in the round” feeling, and conducting worship from the Communion Table.
photo credit: miuenski via photopin cc

photo credit: miuenski via photopin cc

But, the offering was the same as it always had been. Ushers came through the congregation with offering plates. The choir sang or the organist played. Worshipers put something in the plate or didn’t. We usually sang the Doxology while the full plates were brought forward.

Recently, in a conversation with Jeff (who has served as my coach this last year) I began to wonder what we could do differently?

What could we do to engage worshipers, during worship, to make a different kind of offering?

Last January Plaza’s leaders wrote a purpose statement describing the kind of church we want to be and have printed it in the bulletin ever since. It reads,

“At this moment in time, God is calling us to be a living testament to Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Gospel;

to better serve others as Jesus taught us;

to be present in the community, identifying and responding to the needs of others and ourselves;

to be all-accepting;

to be a renewing resource for worship, education, and ministry for all; and to communicate in a way that stimulates us with creative ideas for embodying the values of the Gospel everywhere we go.”

Prayers have been based on the commitments in the statement. We’ve read it in unison. Sermons have been preached on individual sections and on the statement as a whole.

A few Sundays ago we began to use it in the offering.

A bulletin insert was prepared that reads,

“At this moment in time God is calling us to better serve others as Jesus taught [or one of the other sections of our statement].”

Instructions are also printed:

“As part of your offering today please write a sentence or phrase describing how you will seek to live into this commitment from our NEXT Church statement. Please put this in the Offering plate.”

The response has been fascinating – and more numerous than we expected, with almost 75% of worshippers participating.

Here is a sampling of what we have received thus far:

At this moment in time God is calling us…to be a living testament to Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Gospel.

  • Helping a friend through grief.
  • With my limitations of distance, age, and financial resources, I will continue to use my talents to the best of my ability.
  • I will do my best to be an active Christian in Plaza Presbyterian Church, and a “neighbor” to those about me.
  • I just began mentoring a new teacher at the high school. I hope to share my faith and love for Christ with her.
  • I am going to listen to my co-workers and be calm as a new school year begins.
  • To sing praises to God everyday.

At this moment in time God is calling us … to better serve others as Jesus taught us.

  • To say or do something for someone else every day!
  • I will call and pray for some close friends who are going through a very difficult time right now.
  • Help certain ones at Plantations Estates who are experiencing dementia.
  • Pray that The Lord will show me how to serve others around me if I can’t see them.

At this moment in time God is calling us …to be present in the community, identifying and responding to the needs of others and ourselves.

  • Ask seniors in my neighborhood how I can help them.
  • I will reach out to Shamrock Gardens Elementary and Plaza Place Family Shelter to welcome them to our fitness classes that I teach.
  • I will continue to coordinate the medical transportation service, help my mother after her surgery, and support my friends in their endeavors.
  • Lend an ear when someone needs to “vent.”
  • To possibly retire and get more involved in the homeless population.
  • I will try to learn to pray without ceasing.

The offering statements written by the congregation are being incorporated into prayers, proclamation, and announcements on subsequent Sundays. But more importantly, each and every Sunday people are seeing their lives as ones of discipleship and they commit themselves in very particular ways.

photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc

photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc

Our theology of worship teaches us that,

The Christian life is an offering of one’s self to God. In worship the people are presented with the costly self-offering of Jesus Christ, are claimed and set free by him, and are led to respond by offering to him their lives, their particular gifts and abilities, and their material goods. (PCUSA Directory for Worship, W-2.5001)

We’ve always offered material goods. We’re starting to offer our lives.

Tom Tate is the pastor of Plaza Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC.

Biblical Storytelling from the 2014 National Gathering

One of the highlights of the 2014 National Gathering was the biblical storytelling that took place in worship.

Jeremiah 29 was told in a variety of ways–

In 22 voices:

By Jeff Krehbiel:

Then we learned to tell it:


There were additional stories told in worship, too:

Casey FitzGerald tells Matthew 10

…and Luke 2

Jeff Krehbiel and Casey FitzGerald tell John 16

MaryAnn McKibben Dana tells part of Jeremiah at the start of her sermon


Thanks to Casey FitzGerald, Jeff Krehbiel, MaryAnn McKibben Dana for sharing their gifts this way. If you want to learn more about biblical storytelling, check out Casey’s blog Faith and Wonder.

From the Files – Community Organizing, TBT Edition

filesHere are a few posts from the past NEXT blogs that are worth a re-read:

Andrew Foster Connors suggests that good stewardship requires more than better preaching and shares how their congregation has used discipline of organizing to create a relational stewardship campaign.

Jessica Tate explores how the organizing universal of Organize, Dis-organize, Re-organize, Repeat helped to give new life to the deacons’ ministry.

Patrick Daymond shares the power of relational ministry in this video from the 2013 NEXT National Gathering.

And if you haven’t yet looked at the community organizing bibliography Jeff Krehbiel compiled last year, here it is.

photo credit: nhighberg via photopin cc

Community Organizing and Congregational Leadership

Each month we assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, we’re curating a conversation around congregation ally based community organizing. Many of us in NEXT Church leadership have found the disciplines of community organizing to be helpful as we engage in ministry, work toward glimpses of God’s kingdom in our communities, and shape our congregations. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here. If you like what you read, subscribe to our blog (enter your email on the right sidebar) and receive an email when there is a new blog article. To see all that has been written on this topic, go to the blog main page.

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5 Questions with Jeff Krehbiel

This series highlights participants at the national gathering in Minneapolis on March 31st – April 2nd, 2014. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Minneapolis and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. 

Jeff Krehbiel is one of the Paracletos coaches who will be co-leading a workshop on the learnings thus far in this church revitalization project.

5 questions

1.     Tell us about your ministry context.

Church of the Pilgrims is a small, historic, largely young adult congregation in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC, with a long history of social justice, and a recent history of creative worship.

2.     Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

In Epiphany, we asked four members of our congregation to preach, telling their own journey of faith and vocation. They were beautiful and awe-inspiring. It’s only when pastors get out of the way that liturgy truly becomes the work of the people.

3.     What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

My passion is helping people discover their own agency—as leaders, as citizens, as disciples.

4.     What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

Being inspired by great stories of churches doing bold things, and being with beloved colleagues (OK, that’s two things).

5.     Describe NEXT Church in seven words or less.

Living into the church that is becoming.

Worship: Style vs. Substance

by Jeff Krehbiel

Among my Presbyterian colleagues, several articles have been making the rounds this summer about millennials and the church. The most popular was by the evangelical writer Rachel Held Evans, published in the CNN Belief blog, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church.”

Here’s the money quote:

“What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance… You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.”

David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church, posted an equally popular post on Patheos titled “Why traditional churches should stick with traditional worship.” He writes about skipping his usual mega-church one Sunday for a smaller, more traditional church closer to home, and being put off by their attempt at being “contemporary.” He concludes:

“When traditional churches try to be contemporary it usually comes across as forced, stilted or artificial. This dissonance jerks people back into the mundane world. Worshippers focus on the distraction instead of the Lord. So here’s my advice to every church: be who you are. Do what you do well – and do it over and over.”

What Evans and Murrow write, of course, is sound advice. All people, regardless of their age, value authenticity over pretense, substance over style. Here’s my worry:  What we are really thinking when we read these articles is “Whew! Thank God I don’t need to worry any long about making any changes in worship. Now we can go back to focusing on the things that really matter and leave worship alone.”

Change Without Conflict?

My colleague Molly Douthett, pastor of Furnace Mountain Presbyterian Church, posted this enigmatic little entry on Facebook the other day:

Two Myths:
We can grow without changing.
We can change without conflict.

That, it seems to me, gets to the heart of the matter. As conflict-averse people we want to reach new people without conflict, so we hope against hope that we can grow without having to change anything about how we do church.

Style and Substance

Our experience at Church of the Pilgrims over the past thirteen years, as our average age has gradually shifted from over 65 to less than 45, with Sunday worship peopled by a lot of twenty and thirty-somethings, is that style and substance are not so easily separated. Not only has the participation of young adults in worship been transforming for them, it has changed who we are as a community of faith.

One of the most helpful pieces of advice I received as a young pastor came from former moderator John Fife, long-time pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson. At an urban ministry conference following his moderatorial year, he spoke about the lessons he learned in leading Southside into deeper engagement with its changing local community. He said that no matter what new demographic you are trying to reach (a different age, race, gender, ethnicity, whathaveyou), when people come to worship they want to see their own people in leadership and hear their own sound.

In subtle, and sometimes not so subtle ways (“You’re in my pew!”), we often communicate to newcomers that this is a place for us, but not a place for you. If the only ones required to change in bringing newcomers into the church are the newcomers themselves, we have a problem. Brian McClaren has often observed that there are scores of disaffected evangelicals who would easily find a theological home among Presbyterian and other mainline Christians congregations, but those congregations are often not experienced as hospitable places to those outside their fold. The message is often this: This is how we do things. If you are going to fit in here, it’s you who has to do the fitting.

Experiments in Wiki-Church

Howard Hanger, founder of the Jubilee! Community in Asheville persuaded me long ago that the big divide in worship is not between traditional and contemporary, but between passive and participatory. We learn in seminary that “liturgy” is the “work of the people,” but too often it is primarily the work of the pastor’s word processor. More recently, Landon Whittsit in his book Open Source Church, has suggested that in our Wikipedia culture, young adults increasingly expect to help create the experiences of which they are a part.

At Church of the Pilgrims, that begins in worship planning, where we invite a diverse group of worshipers to help us imagine worship together, including newcomers to our community who are not yet members. Then, in our planning, we make sure that worship provides meaningful opportunities to participate in ways that involve more than standing up to sing a hymn or sitting down to read a unison prayer printed in the bulletin.

Transformation and Our Comfort Zone

I love what Corey Widmer wrote in Presbyterian Outlook, that in his culturally diverse congregation in inner city Richmond, they have concluded that no one should be happy in worship more than 75% of the time, because if you are happy and comfortable with more than 75% of what is going on, it most likely means that your personal cultural preferences are being dominantly expressed. Too often, the only ones worshiping outside their comfort zone are those who are new.

What if we began to conceive of worship as a place where transformation takes place, not just for newcomers but for everyone? What if personal and corporate transformation were at the heart of congregational life? When everyone finds themselves in that liminal space, we all enter worship on the same vulnerable footing. A few months ago, MaryAnn McKibben Dana shared this wonderful little diagram on her blog:

 where the magic

Worship that is EPIC

There is no cookie-cutter approach to creating transforming worship. However, we have found this simple rubric from Leonard Sweet to be helpful in our worship planning. He suggests that worship for postmodern people should be EPIC: Experiential, Participatory, Image-Driven, and Connectional. So when we plan worship we talk about what we want the overall experience to be like, and how we can shape worship in a way that engages all of the senses (and not just worship from the neck up). We look for ways that worshipers can participate in meaningful ways. (For rich examples of participatory worship, Theresa Cho, co-pastor of St. John’s Presbyterian in San Francisco, is the master of interactive prayer stations.) Then we ask ourselves if there is a central image that can help ground the service and provide a focal point. Finally, we focus on what is happening in the service that will help worshipers connect with those who are around them.

This isn’t about traditional vs. contemporary, it’s about creating ancient-future patterns that engage in richer ways. (What exactly is contemporary, anyway? Is a new hymn contemporary? Or a praise chorus written in the ‘90’s? Where exactly does a Taizé chant fit in that traditional-contemporary schema? ) So, for example, at Church of the Pilgrims we often begin worship with short songs from Iona, not because they are new, but because singing a cappella in harmony creates community in powerful ways. I would also note that the sacraments, rightly celebrated, are an EPIC experience—there is bread and wine, plate and pitcher; there is taking, breaking, pouring, tasting; and most importantly, there is sharing. It’s all there.

For a recent example at creating worship that is transforming and EPIC, see this.

Jeff1_8x10Jeff Krehbiel is pastor of Church of the Pilgrims in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC, where he has served since 2000. He is a member of the NEXT Church advisory board, and a coach in NEXT’s Paracletos project.