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Practicing Vulnerability

At the 2016 National Gathering, Roy Howard and Shelby Etheridge Harasty led a workshop called “Practicing Vulnerability – God and Us.” The description of that workshop and its accompanying slides (in PDF format) follow:

What does the vulnerability of God teach us about faithful practice at the crossroads? We will combine theological and Biblical reflection with the insights of Brené Brown to develop models of Christian practice that display vulnerability and courage. The practical ways that vulnerability can influence pastoral leadership and congregational ministry will be explored. Finding courage to be vulnerable – as God is – can deepen the ways we lead our congregations and live our lives.

It’s Our Job to Tell The Story

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating reflections from our 2016 National Gathering. Watch this space for thoughts from a wide variety of folks, especially around the question, What “stuck”? What ideas, speakers, workshops or worship services are continuing to work on your heart as you envision “the church that is becoming?” We’ll be hearing from ruling elders, teaching elders, seminarians, and more. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Martha Spong

As a pastor who is also a writer, I’m fascinated by how ideas circulate and how easy it can be to feel you missed the moment for getting in on a conversation.[1] What can I add to the public discourse? Maybe it’s enough to stay quietly where I am and plug away diligently at my sermons, being careful not to offend anyone with my theological stances or political opinions. I don’t really feel that way, but perhaps you see the point: it’s easy to stay small and safe.

Aric Clark is a friend-I-had-never-met-before, a fellow blogger (Two Friars and a Fool) and an author (Never Pray Again). I attended his workshop, “LectionARIC: The Art of Hermeneutical Vlogging,” in which he made the case that the basic work of hermeneutics is part of what it means to be a practicing Christian. He asked, “How is it we with the best story to tell are the worst storytellers?” I know I often stop at the idea level; unless I have the absolute deadline of a Sunday morning sermon, I may let a thought float away. Aric makes the point that there are plenty of people thinking about ultimate matters (pain, suffering, death, climate change, war) without the framework our beautiful and redemptive story can offer, and we are letting the conversation happen without us. Aric commends Vlogging, or video blogging, as a way to meet people where they are and start a conversation. If we want to share our story, we need to use the medium that will reach people.

What if we find that prospect daunting? T. Denise Anderson is a blogger (SOULa Scriptura) who is also an “in real life” friend and colleague; we’ve worked on the RevGalBlogPals blog and book together, so I know she has important things to say and a powerful writing voice. I was excited to hear her preach at closing worship. She did not disappoint as she sent us out with a message reminding all present that we are appointed by God and do not need to worry about going out there alone to do God’s work, nor to be embarrassed by it. We must not give this crossroads in the life of the church all the power. God is with us in the work. And we’d better not try to talk ourselves out of doing God’s work; “staying stuck and staying stagnant is not an option” for us.

It’s our job to tell the story.

[1] See Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic for a story about a book concept she set aside only to hear that a friend was now writing on the same somewhat eccentric concept.


martha spongMartha Spong is the Executive Director of RevGalBlogPals, an ecumenical ministry engaged in creating resources and community for clergywomen.

Permission to Say “Yes”

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating reflections from our 2016 National Gathering. Watch this space for thoughts from a wide variety of folks, especially around the question, What “stuck”? What ideas, speakers, workshops or worship services are continuing to work on your heart as you envision “the church that is becoming?” We’ll be hearing from ruling elders, teaching elders, seminarians, and more. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

This post is an expansion of one originally shared on the Union Presbyterian Seminary RSGA blog.

by Rosy Robson

As a self-proclaimed over-programmed, very busy, major to-do-list-keeper, always-behind-on-reading seminary student, I’m often told that I need to start learning how to say “no.” Yet I appreciate NEXT Church for giving me permission to say “yes.”

rosy_ng_reflectionTo say “yes” to admitting our fears and lamenting over the parts of the church that we must say goodbye to, and to the parts that bring us pain. To say “yes” to confessing as to where we’ve gone wrong and to whom we’ve done wrong. To say “yes” to dreaming about where God is calling us to go and about who God is calling us to be in this crazy century we find ourselves in. To say “yes” to pastoring communities, not just parishes, in ways that are innovative, unique, inclusive and creative. To say “yes” to building meaningful relationships with colleagues and mentors. To say “yes” to daring to be a prophetic witness to God’s love for the world.

But now, the hard part awaits… How will we go forth from the NEXT Church National Gathering, and proclaim “yes”?

Since returning from the Gathering, I have tried to look over a few pages of my conference notes each day. In my prayers, I’ve been asking God and myself what am I being called to do next, in response to the insights, thoughts and challenges that filled my mind at NEXT and in the days following. The things that have come to mind include:

  • Getting serious about the elimination of racism and white supremacy and examining my own privilege.
  • Forging stronger relationships with those whom I call mentors.
  • Exploring how churches and communities are being partners in ministry together.
  • Daring to shape the rest of my time in seminary in ways that are transformative and eye-opening and, that ask me to examine what the church that I will one day serve will look like (and to practice some of that over the next two years).

This is no easy question, nor is it something that a few extra additions to my to-do list will satisfy (though, perhaps that’s a good place to start). NEXT Church asks a larger question of the church, about its identity and its future, one that we must continue to ask as we dare to follow Jesus in an uncertain world.

Asking these questions takes us along a winding and long road, but I pray a prayer of “yes” to God’s Spirit guiding me along the way.


rosy robsonRosy Robson is a second-year M.Div/M.A.C.E. student at Union Presbyterian Seminary. Rosy is passionate about creating spaces where people can come together and build relationships, whether that’s worshipping together in a pew or over a basket of tacos at a local eatery. Rosy feels called to parish ministry and is looking forward to discerning how bonds between church and community can be forged and strengthened.

New Life for Dry Bones

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating reflections from our 2016 National Gathering. Watch this space for thoughts from a wide variety of folks, especially around the question, What “stuck”? What ideas, speakers, workshops or worship services are continuing to work on your heart as you envision “the church that is becoming?” We’ll be hearing from ruling elders, teaching elders, seminarians, and more. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

This post was originally shared on Carolyn’s blog, “Deep Thoughts of a Common Household Mom.”

by Carolyn Gibbs

I sat down at the table. The man next to me muttered, “Might as well hang me now.” The woman to the right of me picked up the block of clay in front of her and started kneading it enthusiastically. I looked at my block of clay and waited for instructions, like a proper Presbyterian. Yep, that’s the gamut of likely responses in an “Arts in Worship” workshop at the Next Church National Gathering.

fear creativity crossroadsI was eager to attend this workshop, thinking it would give us ideas on how to incorporate various kinds of art into our worship service. It turns out we were going to make art ourselves! How fun! Or how threatening! Or both!

Despite the fear, I immensely enjoyed responding to scripture through painting, even though I have zero artistic skill. I feel a great longing to be creative in connection with worship. I think that I am the only one who feels this way. To paraphrase the prophet Ezekiel, “my bones are dried up, my hope is lost, I am cut off completely.” God’s creative breath of life is in our worship, mostly through music, but perhaps we are missing out in not exploring other forms of creativity.

A longer description of the workshop is below, for those who are interested.

How do you like to express your creativity? If you are part of a worshiping community, would you be willing to participate in an art project as part of worship? Or would you make sure you had to be out of town that day?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As the workshop started, we were encouraged to fiddle around with the block of clay in front of us. We had no instructions regarding the clay. We continued to work with it if we wished, as we started the discussion. There were two tables, with about 8 people at each table.

First we discussed how non-artistic adults generally feel about doing art. Art (and any creativity, really) is viewed as fine for kids, but adults just don’t go there. This workshop was about why adults should go there.

The workshop leader must have had a time machine on my life. She described exactly what happened to me in second grade art class, when we painted a scene on a tile. I was quite pleased with my scene of ducks and grass. The art teacher denigrated it; the words are long forgotten, but the feeling is not. Almost all of us encounter something similar on the way to adulthood. Our human capacity for judgment and comparison takes over, and those of us who don’t have artistic talent stop making art at all. It’s just too scary and painful to endure the judgment from others and ourselves.

Then we talked about confronting that fear and leaping into creativity. Making art unleashes freedom, joy, and wholeness, and that’s just for starters. If you believe that you are created in the image of God (the original creativity maven) then exercising your creativity is an excellent way of showing it. Why should only kids be able to do this?! Why should only those with innate artistic talent be able to do this?!

In our workshop it turned out that the clay was just a warm-up to our main activity – painting a large banner. Like most art, our painting was to be based on other art, and was to follow rules. We were instructed to base our painting on our response to the Bible passage about Ezekiel’s vision of God breathing life into dry bones (Ezekiel 37).

We had a few minutes to discuss what images the passage evoked in us. I think this discussion helped a lot, when it came time to start painting. But before starting to paint, the rules:

  • First, paint on the space in front of you. Paint your own response to the passage.
  • After a few minutes, everyone is to move two spaces to the left and continue painting. You may not erase, obliterate, or cover up what the person before painted in their spot. You may embellish and extend their painting, or start painting in a new spot. After a few minutes, go two more spaces to the left and extend that person’s painting. Finally, return to your original spot and fill in spaces as you see fit.
  • No talking! This meant we could not collaborate. We could not form a committee to plan what to paint, or where. (That is extremely un-Presbyterian.) It also meant we could not offer any evaluation of each others’ art. We could not issue comments on our own efforts. This was crucial – no compliments, no criticisms. A compliment of one person’s art could be construed by someone else as an implicit criticism of their own art. (“You liked her art, but didn’t say anything about mine.”)
  • The workshop leader told us where the top of the banner would be. She also said that there were pieces of tape running across the canvas, and she had prepared our canvas by painting blue over the whole canvas. After our art expressions had dried she would be pulling off the tape, creating bold lines across our art work.

fruitful_worship artWe started painting. At first I felt that familiar sense of self-criticism. I started by drawing a kindergartenish slab of grass, thinking of “the fruitful land” from the passage. Being more of a “words” person than a “drawing” person, I wondered if I could dare to write a word instead of just painting shapes and colors. I dared. But which word? I chose “fruitful”. I felt I should paint it upside down (my area was at the top of the canvas) so that the word would be displayed right side up. This was challenging.

After a bit it was time to switch spots. I was perplexed after switching. It felt wrong to mess with what someone else had painted. It almost felt as if that spot was now sacred. Instead of painting within that person’s area, I tried to extend from that area, reaching more into the middle of the canvas.

By the time we switched again, I was feeling more bold, and reached into the middle to start a new shape. I painted the words “new life” in the middle of the canvas. Then I decided to paint a cell to represent a form of life and honor my sweet Younger Daughter and her interest in cells.

When we were finished we had a great sense of ownership and accomplishment at having created a work of art together. I do not know or care if it is beautiful in the eyes of the world, but it is ours, our expression of the scripture. When our canvas was displayed in the worship space the next day, I again felt like a kindergartner, proud to have my work up on the refrigerator.

new life worship bannerI just have to add that I believe that it is good and right to have beautiful art, created by truly talented professional artists, in our worship spaces. It can be appropriate to evaluate sacred art and display what is inspiring. In fact, if we non-artists are to do art, we need the professional artists, who figure out things like how big the canvas should be, what kind of paint is best, how long to let it dry, how to display it.

Our workshop group did not create our banner in order for it to be evaluated or compared to professional art. It is valuable in that we ourselves made it as an expression of our connection to holiness. For me personally, it felt like new life for my dry bones which are longing, aching, yearning to be creative in worship.

To see more photos, visit Carolyn’s blog.


Carolyn 2016-02-29Carolyn Gibbs serves as a ruling elder at Hiland Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA. She blogs at commonhousehold.blogspot.com and enjoys expressing her creativity through writing, raising children, and trying to figure out what to make for dinner.

Pursuit of the Faithful, Creative and Non-Traditional

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month we will be featuring reflections from our 2016 National Gathering. Watch this space for thoughts from a wide variety of folks, especially around the question, What “stuck”? What ideas, speakers, workshops or worship services are continuing to work on your heart as you envision “the church that is becoming?” We’ll be hearing from ruling elders, teaching elders, seminarians, and more. We invite you to join the conversation  on Facebook and Twitter!

This post was originally shared on the Union Presbyterian Seminary RSGA blog.

by Owen Gray

Spending four days in Atlanta for the NEXT Church National Gathering was a great reinvigorating jolt of caffeine in the mist of our ongoing class work. Hearing from well-known figures like Allan Boesak (South African Dutch-Reformed cleric and anti-apartheid activist), Robert Lupton (author of Toxic Charity) and preacher Denise Anderson (DC-area pastor standing for co-moderator of the PC(USA)) was powerful. Even more powerful, for me, was hearing from folks serving in super diverse ministry contexts that are redefining every day what successful ministry looks like.

union at nextFor example: Miriam Mauritzen from First Presbyterian Kalispell, Montana. Her church, like many in the denomination, was aging, shrinking in membership and resources, and seeking identity. Several years back they began partnering with a local unaffiliated ministry called Serious Ju Ju. Serious Ju Ju is a weekly weekend gathering of area teenagers for skateboarding and fellowship. Many of the kids come from broken homes where parents are in and out of prison, experiencing substance addiction, or dire poverty. For some, Ju Ju is their only stable place for meals on weekends. After a while, kids who would never step foot in a sanctuary started calling Ju Ju home; calling it their church. It was equal parts comical and inspiring to see retirees from First Pres fellowshipping and serving teenage skaters in the church’s barn where they had set up a mini skate park.

To so many, a successful church is marked by a healthy choir, extensive Christian Ed programs, abundant fellowship opportunities, a large budget and staff, and dynamic local and international missions. NEXT gives permission to move beyond that understanding (not that it’s bad, it just isn’t realistic for LOTS of contexts) and replace it with a pursuit of faithful, creative, and non-traditional ways to be church. Sure enough, First Pres Kalispell found new life in embracing a ministry that is, without a doubt, non-traditional.

You hear stories like this hourly at NEXT, many centered on congregational contexts, but many others completely unrelated to parish ministry. It’s almost impossible to leave the gathering feeling pessimistic about the future of the church. It speaks completely counter to the ever-present narrative that the church is dying. Doing all that in the presence of 500 other Presbyterian friends (and a huge group of Union folks!) was well worth the drive.


owen grayOwen Gray is a second year M.Div student at Union Presbyterian Seminary. A cradle Presbyterian born and raised in Kansas City, he is currently discerning a call into parish ministry.

What is the NEXT Church Reading?

by MaryAnn McKibben Dana

Happy March! This month on the blog we will be featuring reflections from our 2016 National Gathering. Watch this space for thoughts from a wide variety of folks, especially around the question, What “stuck”? What ideas, speakers, workshops or worship services are continuing to work on your heart as you envision “the church that is becoming?” We’ll be hearing from ruling elders, teaching elders, seminarians, and more.

We start with a list of books and blogs collected during our authors’ lunch, in which writers and book-lovers came together on Tuesday to share favorite books, websites, and other resources. What is the NEXT Church reading? What is the NEXT Church writing? Here are a few answers, in the order they were shared. Bold items are books written by NEXT attendees and leaders.

A list like this one is by nature incomplete, even inadequate. What would you add?
  • Aric Clark, et al — Never Pray Again
  • Martha Spong, editor — There’s a Woman in the Pulpit
  • Denise Anderson — Soula Scriptura blog
  • Kathleen O’Toole — Meanwhile (poetry)
  • Andy Weir — The Martian
  • Mark Douglas — Confessing Christ in the 21st Century, Believing Aloud: Reflections on Being Religious in the Public Square
  • Christian Wiman — My Bright Abyss
  • Ta-Nahesi Coates — Between the World and Me
  • Marilynne Robinson — The Givenness of Things
  • @ This Point — journal from Columbia Seminary, theological investigations in church and culture
  • Adam Copeland, editor — Kissing in the Chapel, Praying in the Frat House: Wrestling with Faith and College, Stewardship Made Whole (forthcoming)
  • Jenny Lawson — Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
  • Mark Davis — Left Behind and Loving It
  • MaryAnn McKibben Dana — Sabbath in the Suburbs, Improvising with God (forthcoming), theblueroomblog.org 
  • Theresa Latini —Transforming Church Conflict
  • Jennifer Harvey — Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation (Prophetic Christianity Series)
  • Scott Dannemiller — The Year without a Purchase (blog: Accidental Missionary)
  • Fredrik Backman — A Man Called Ove
  • Lynn Miller — The Power of Enough
  • Samuel Wells — Nazareth Manifesto
  • Charles Freeman — blog: Way More Important Than That (A blog on where faith and sports intersect … or don’t …)
  • Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru — League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth
  • Diane Roberts — Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America
  • Jessica Vazquez-Torres, contributor — Church Responds to Racism 
  • William B. Sweetser Jr. — A Copious Fountain: A History of Union Presbyterian Seminary, 1812-2012
  • Atul Gawande — Being Mortal
  • Diana Butler Bass — Grounded: Finding God in the World-A Spiritual Revolution
  • Ian Haney López— Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class
  • Amanda Palmer — The Art of Asking
  • Stephen King — On Writing

mamd profile picMaryAnn McKibben Dana is a teaching elder in the PC(USA) whose ministry consists of writing, speaking, and freelance writing/consulting with non-profit organizations on their social media needs. She is a member of the NEXT Church Strategy Team. Connect with her at her website, The Blue Room.

Engaging the Space We Worship In

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Jess Fisher is one of our presenters. Learn more about her workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Jess Fisher

Growing up, I found God at summer camp: sitting around the campfire, praying in the chapel in the pines, and singing spirituals a cappella under the night sky. There was a mystery about God in the woods, something all around you, yet untouchable.
My experience of God in church was quite different. The mystery wasn’t there. It might come once in a while in Communion or a Baptism, or at the Christmas Eve candlelight service, but that was about it. Instead of being invited into the wonder of God, I was asked to sit quietly in an uncomfortable pew, facing forward where others did all the action.

Jess Fisher-2Years later, I began to see the arts as a means of bringing the wonder and mystery of God into the sanctuary. I started out with prayer stations looking for something interactive that might help each of us, with our different learning styles, to be involved and active in worship. In my seminary internship at Church of the Pilgrims, I explored art installations as a new kind of proclamation. We also talked about improv and body work as new ways to engage the mind, body, and spirit in worship and life.

All of this has added up to a new perspective for me on how to engage the space we worship in as a means to bring grace and wonder. Rooting what we do to ancient traditions, risking new ways of being, and reflecting on how it has impacted our spiritual walks brings me back to the mystery of God I experienced in those summers at camp.

In Atlanta at the 2016 National Gathering, I invite you to join me in a conversation about worship spaces. We’ll talk about incorporating experiential elements, the visual and dramatic arts, and movement, all while considering the permanent and temporary physical setup of our sanctuaries.

Come with your stories, questions, and ideas. You’ll leave with a process, sanctuary map, and resources to continue the conversation back in your faith community. I hope to see you there!


 

Jess Fisher, a liturgical artist and graphic designer, brings the visual arts into the church, hoping to help others find new connections with the Holy One in and around them. Follow Jess at LiturgyBeyondWords.com.

Jess’ workshop, Holy Ground: Thinking About the Spaces Where We Worship, is on Thursday during workshop block 3. 

When Our Screw Ups Are Met By God’s Grace

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Shavon Starling-Louis is one of our presenters. Learn more about her workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Shavon Starling-Louis

“Oh crap!” “I can’t believe I got myself into this situation. (…. Again.)” “I can’t do this!”

Those are the words that I hear from the bell tower of my mind when the reality of my f– ahem…. flub-ups hit me like a ton of bricks.

Here’s a truth about me.

I fail.

And when I do, I often feel like poop.

2014 communion tableI don’t often share this sentiment so bluntly with others, but there it is – in black and white no less. On a regular basis we as leaders of faith communities find ourselves lonely, embarrassed, confused, and suffering in bad head and spiritual spaces in light of our fragility and failures.

In the church (and the wider society), we have a stigma around failing.

In the PC(USA), we have a tendency to call leaders who are the best of the best. While this is generally considered a good thing, this way of thinking about leadership means we can lose the creative and spirit-led openness to new types of leaders and leadership. The “best of the best” often equates to the safest of the safe.

But the other problem is that we, as leaders, internalize the pressure to be the “best of the best.” Which means we feel a pressure to perform and assimilate to expected norms of what the best looks like, acts like, leads like.

(Sidenote: As a creative, young woman of color, the unspoken yet acclaimed “best of the best” in the PC(USA) rarely looks, acts, or leads anything like me, and that can feels crappy!)

We can lose or minimize the God-given unique combinations of interest, talents, and gifts that make us who we are because we aren’t the best in certain areas.

We can feel like imposters, failures, and frauds. Everything but the sons and daughters of God.

It’s a reality that a part of being growing creative people means that we will fail – especially when we try new things.

Unfortunately, the reality that we can strangely attempt to avoid or hide. And it’s a reality that can quickly turn from guilt to shame.

Thankfully, we have the theological terminology to name the reality that that “all fallen short.” Through the words and wisdom of our reformed tradition, we can name that are we are all guilty; we all fail. And we can confess in our words and actions that it is only by God’s grace that were are able to move forward as forgiven people.

But the stench of guilt and shame for things done and things left undone as we lead others has the ability to stick to us. Yet, as seen over and over, the stench often dissipates when allowed to come to air and light, love, and compassion.

And in the greater mysteries of God the very situations that once made us say “Crap!” are where we discover the grace and power of God in new and exciting ways.

I am so grateful that as the body of Christ, we are empowered to wade into any place of fear or anxiety compassionately together with hope.

You are invited to join me and my friend Glen Bell at the 2016 NEXT Church National Gathering for an open conversation about leading change, embracing failure, and naming the gifts of Holy Spirit that arise.


shavonShavon Starling-Louis is co-pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Providence, Rhode Island. Glen Bell is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Sarasota, Florida. In spite of failures and falls (literally and figuratively), they are committed to developing their gifts in leading change with God’s help – but sure enough, they are as human as they come. Shavon and Glen’s workshop, “Leading Change: Epic Fails and Spirit Surprises“, is offered during workshop block 1 on Monday.

Our 2016 Ignite Presentations

Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 10.31.05 AM

We received more than a dozen submissions for Ignite presentations – and we’re thrilled to share the five we’ve selected for the NEXT Church National Gathering in just a few weeks!

These Ignite presentations will occur at 1:45pm on Tuesday of the National Gathering. And without further ado, here are your previews of the presentations!

Farm Church (@revallenbrimer)

Robert Hay, Jr. (@HayJr)

Tim Hughes and Gwen Brown

Danita Nelson

Trinity Presbyterian and Herndon Elementary (@TrinityHerndon)

But that’s not all! There is a second block of Ignite presentations on Tuesday at 11:30 am. Here are the Ignite presenters we invited to share with us:

Miriam Mauritzen
Michael Mair (@MichaelMair)
Jeff Krehbiel and Don Meeks (@jeffkrehbiel)
Lori Raible and George Anderson (@lraible)

Finally, here are our participant-submitted runners up:

  1. Hunter Farrell – https://youtu.be/ocUwDrdRfpU
  2. John Vest – https://youtu.be/GvUyV8Vwn5Q
  3. Renee Roderer – https://youtu.be/Q9Dq6DVdxaw
  4. John Cleghorn – https://youtu.be/l2XMLacIGGw (congratulations also to John who won our drawing for a free registration!)
  5. Blake Collins – https://youtu.be/iwauTQ4_oJU
  6. Alice Tewell and Angela Williams – https://youtu.be/vT-83TbP1Jo
  7. Greg Allan-Pickett – https://youtu.be/lspMsQ0zBoI
  8. Laura Kelly – https://youtu.be/4-rZdQlaSvQ
  9. Leslie King – https://youtu.be/bb66yZzA8K4

Plowing the Ministry Road

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Nate Phillips is one of our presenters. Learn more about his workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Nate Phillips

Unlike the rest of us, Bill was thrilled to hear about the incoming Snowzilla blizzard that buried the Mid-Atlantic.

This was because Bill doesn’t manage snow with a plastic shovel or a finicky snowblower – his weapon of choice is a silver 3/4-ton truck and a snowplow, which, as you might imagine, makes Bill a very popular guy after a snowstorm.

snowy roadHe gets calls from neighbors and messages from Facebook friends begging him to sweep through with his plow.  When they can’t get through to him, they harass his wife and pile on the guilt.

During one of the heavier waves of the storm, Bill was out clearing a residential development when a man walked right out in front of him, risking his life to try to get Bill to stop 3/4’s of a ton of metal on wet snow.  Bill squinted his eyes, pumped the brakes, and rolled down his window.

The man was gruff with him, “I need you to plow my road!” he demanded, “I’ll pay you cash.”

When Bill told me that story, I laughed and said, “That’s not how it goes in my line of work.”

I remember when I started seminary thirteen years ago (time flies) and hearing about a “pastor shortage” in the PC(USA).  I felt confident about being able to find good work in a church, something that could last a lifetime.  That is still the case, for sure.  There are many places where a call is extended and accepted in a very traditional fashion.

However, it is not a stretch to say that there are fewer and fewer churches running out at pastors, stopping them in their tracks, desperate for pastoral services and ready to pay.

During our “Do Something Else” workshop at the NEXT National Gathering, we will discuss the current “job market” and set it alongside a consideration of call.  We will talk about actual needs in churches and actual dreams of pastors and discover that there is more possibility than might first meet the eye.

I will be joined by my colleagues John Molina-Moore and Edwin Estevez as facilitators in this workshop.  John and Edwin have joined me in the last few years in the work of cobbling and creating to work around the “one-church/one-pastor” paradigm and find ways for churches and pastors to be re-energized in plowing the ministry road together.

We look forward to sharing our stories and we hope you bring your story, your church’s staffing needs, and your sense of call for mutual reflection in our brief time together.


Nate PhillipsNate is co-pastor at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware.  He is the author of the upcoming book for churches and leaders, “Do Something Else: The Road Ahead for the Mainline Church,” and a devout Red Sox fan. You can pre-order his book on Amazon.

Nate’s workshop, “Do Something Else,” is offered during workshop block 3 (on-site) on Tuesday.