Growing Power by Sharing Power

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate and Linda Kurtz are curating a series written by participants in the first-ever Certificate in Community Organizing and Congregational Leadership offered by NEXT Church, Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, and Metro Industrial Areas Foundation. You’ll hear from clergy, lay people, community leaders, and others reflect on the theology of power and how organizing has impacted the way they do ministry. How might you incorporate these principles of organizing into your own work? What is your reaction to their reflections? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Jan Edmiston

As a person with power in Chicago Presbytery, I sometimes saw my role as one in which I tried to share power with young pastors who didn’t think they had much – either because of their age or levels of experience. My hope was to get out of the way when it was clear that the Spirit was working and to shift the culture from a “gotcha” mentality (i.e. those pesky oral exams on the floor of presbytery just before ordination) to a culture of curiosity (i.e. what can we learn from this person?).

This brings me to the unnamed woman in Matthew 26 who poured expensive oil over Jesus head as he reclined with his disciples. The woman never said a word but the men immediately expressed their indignance. Everybody was talking about her. Nobody talked to her. But then Jesus said something that has been dissected and studied for generations:

“Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

Jesus shared power with her despite her gender and their historical context. He lauded her theological chops, finishing with this:

“Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

The community organizing training I have received through NEXT Church has shaped the way I’ll be stepping into a new role in Charlotte Presbytery in the coming weeks. I’ve learned that building coalitions – both in and outside the institutional Church – is essential if we hope to transform the world for good in the name of Jesus. When we share power, we find that our impact for good grows expansively.

Developing coalitions involves organizing the power of obvious leaders and the power of not-yet-obvious leaders together. As I look towards starting my new call on May 1st, I have collected a list of people recommended by my General Presbyter Nominating Committee with whom I plan to have one-on-one meetings with in my first six months. It’s interesting what names they have suggested. Some are well-known leaders (e.g. the mayor, a retired college president) and some are lesser-known leaders (e.g. a long time elder from a rural part of the area, a person from a small congregation with strong ties with the school board). Instead of decrying that the world is increasingly chaotic, we can take this opportunity to face the chaos, united in authentic relationships with many different kinds of neighbors. Serving together, we can do more.

I hope to continue to grow power by sharing power. And I hope that power results in deeper relationships and broader justice for the people of God. This feels especially right as I consider how Jesus lived.

Jan Edmiston is co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the PCUSA. She is a Teaching Elder member of Chicago Presbytery, soon transition into a new role as general presbyter of Charlotte Presbytery.

Continually Growing

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 Andrew Whaley

“They didn’t teach us that in seminary!” How many times have pastors shared this phrase when relating the beautiful and confusing and frustrating stories of ministry? The truth is, though, that there is no way three years of study can help us to gain even rudimentary exposure to the biblical knowledge, theological skill, questions of pastoral presence, and leadership ability needed to navigate this lifelong calling. In fact, most of those experiences that seminary did not train us for are only learned in the daily practice of ministry in the Church.

Photo from Raleigh Court Presbyterian Facebook page

In August of 2015, I accepted a head of staff position at Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia. I told the Pastor Nominating Committee during our season of discernment that managing a church staff and daily church administration was the area in which I would need to grow the most.

I was incredibly grateful, then, to learn about the Trent@Montreat conference that I attended in April of that year. Trent@Monteat is a unique conference where participants can sign up for a particular “track” that explores a specific area of practical ministry while participating in worship and social times as a large group. I was overjoyed to learn that one of the tracks for the 2016 conference was titled, “Staff as a Gift Instead of a Headache.”

In sessions with several others pastors who found themselves in similar situations, we met with the Rev. Millie Snyder, the Executive Pastor of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Millie led us in team building exercises we could use with our own church staffs. She walked through how you could lead weekly meetings, conduct regular evaluations, organize requests for vacation time, write job descriptions, observe appropriate boundaries, schedule ministry, and go through hiring processes. She sent us links to particular documents that she uses in her ministry for things like scheduling vacations and policies around personnel issues.
Millie then welcomed our questions, and she and the group helped us to develop strategies to address particular challenges in our congregations. Then, after we had been back in our contexts for a month, she e-mailed the group to follow up and see where we were in our plans.

Having these resources, peers, and an experienced leader is such an asset as I navigate these questions for the first time! Learning in this way is essential to our continual growth as pastors in congregations, and learning experiences like Trent@Montreat are most appropriately offered to us once we have completed our formal theological education. Without the practical experience and the frequent feelings of failure and inadequacy that regularly accompany days in pastoral ministry, lessons about team-building and staff management are hollow. You cannot manufacture these experiences in a classroom or in an internship. They must be learned by necessity and because we are continually called to grow.

Our continual growth in the practice of ministry is one of the ways we live out our sanctification, a theological concept that we do learn in seminary. The Holy Spirit is continually calling us to into deeper faithfulness, not complacency. We need peers who push us beyond ourselves to realize God’s call on our life, mentors and coaches who can give us practical tools to utilize in our ministry, and ongoing opportunities for learning so that the Church might continue to become the fully-functioning Body of Christ.

Andrew C. Whaley is the pastor and head of staff at Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia. A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, he is a graduate of Rhodes College where he double majored in theatre and religious studies. In 2011 he graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary. Andrew previously served the First Presbyterian Church of Jefferson City, Tennessee. He is married to Rebecca and they have two children, Simon (5) and Joanna (2.5). He loves to eat good food, hear hilarious stories, play bad golf, run slowly and regularly, and cheer for lackluster sports teams (the University of Tennessee football team and the Atlanta Braves).

Why I “Trent”: Attending Trent@Montreat

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 Loren Mitchell

As mom of a toddler and as pastor, I don’t get to travel to as many conferences as I’d like. It is important to me that a conference be easily accessible, cost effective, and worth the precious time away from home and office. Trent@Montreat fits squarely into these three categories and I strongly urge you to look at this excellent opportunity. It will renew your sense of call and strengthen your ministry in your individual context.

Here’s why I “Trent.”

Community. Trent at Montreat is accessible in terms of both physical location and online presence. I live in Virginia, so Montreat Conference Center has always been my favorite location for conferences. I can drive there in a few hours and find myself in a beautiful, familiar location not far from Asheville and enjoyable amenities. The conference is set up to be simple to navigate and makes wonderful use of space so conferees are not spread all over the campus. The leadership of Trent@Montreat also makes excellent use of social media and has a strong online presence. Registration is a breeze, as are introductions to conference leadership and selecting the track that best suits your needs. By utilizing online platforms, Trent@Montreat feels like a community before you ever arrive and maintains a thread of connection after you leave.

The best bang for your buck. You can attend Trent@Montreat without breaking your continuing education bank. Some conferences present five-star leadership and amazing networking opportunities, but they require your entire budget to attend. Not so with Trent. Because the mission of Second Presbyterian Roanoke’s Trent Fund aligns so beautifully with those of NEXT Church, Macedonian Ministry, Union Presbyterian Seminary, and Montreat Conference Center, what you discover is leadership that is committed to providing practical education for today’s church leaders in ways that are innovative yet create a comfortable space for learning. You’re getting focused, quality time with other pastors, educators, and leaders that is relational in nature. Combine this with the beautifully renovated Assembly Inn and delicious meals that can be included in your package and this is a great deal.

One track mind. The greatest gift that Trent@Montreat gives you is time. The schedule of the conference allows you time to focus on one track that is of most interest to you. You are contacted ahead of the conference by track leaders and invited to bring resources and ideas that will be pertinent to your group discussions. You are asked to share questions or challenges in your own ministry that might shape the conversations. In addition to this, you are given time to yourself to break away from these groups and work on your own plans for effective ministry moving forward in your own context. I have never attended any other conference with that type of model and I truly believe that it works! At the end of the conference you are given lists of resources and contacts with peers and conference leadership who are willing to continue a relationship with you. In addition to this quality time, you can experience meaningful worship each day with your peers and a keynote speaker that changes each day with a focus on different interesting topics that range from music in worship to Christian education, to outreach ministries.

I attended Trent @ Montreat in its first year and the overwhelming response from attendees was “please host this conference again.” I am so pleased that it is returning in 2018 and I am looking forward to returning and trying a new track. If I have not sold you on this event, take a leap of faith and try it; you will not be disappointed.

Loren Tate Mitchell is currently serving as Associate Pastor of Christian Education at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, VA. Loren has a Bachelor’s degree from Hollins University and two Masters’ degrees from Union Presbyterian Seminary in divinity and Christian education. Loren currently serves as chair of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry in the Presbytery of the Peaks and sits on the board of the Presbyterian Community Center. You may occasionally see her writing in The Upper Room and Devozine devotional magazines or Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Storypath; an online children’s book review page. She also has a blog at Loren, her husband Michael, and their three year old son Kemper very much enjoy spending quality family time together in the Roanoke Valley.

A Time and Place Set Apart

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 Brandi Casto-Waters

Outside the Sally Jones Pottery Studio in Montreat, NC, there is a sign that says, “Encountering God through relationships, renewal, recreation, and rest.” As a PC(USA) Pastor, I have had that experience in Montreat more times than I can count. During times of grief, conflict, peace, and great joy, Montreat has been for me, as I pray for you, “a place set apart.”

Several years ago at the NEXT Church National Gathering in Chicago I was flipping through the conference program and the page for Trent@Montreat caught my attention. Not only did it include the word Montreat in the title, but it promised to be a “different kind of conference” with tracks related to worship and music, Christian education, pastoral care, preaching, youth, mission, and more. So often as church leaders, we go off to different conferences or continuing education events related to our specific interests or areas of service. I love the Festival of Homiletics. Our church educator is a faithful participant in APCE. The director of music looks forward to Worship and Music at Montreat all year long. The list goes on. Trent@Montreat seemed to offer something for everyone.

At our next staff meeting, we talked about it, registered, and for the first time in the history of First Presbyterian Church, Greer, the church staff went to a continuing education event together. Rather than planning and carrying out all the details related to worship, we worshipped together. Rather than managing the volunteers and ordering the food for the meal, we ate together. Rather than remembering all the materials and arranging the classrooms, we were students together.

It is a little crazy to consider that although we had worked together in the church for ten years, we had not once all sat in the same pew to sing, pray, and hear the word of the Lord proclaimed together.

During the day we all went to our individual tracks. I went to the preaching workshop entitled, “The Relentless Return of Sunday.” The director of music went to the music and worship workshop led by Eric Wall and Theresa Cho. The church administrator and associate pastor spent their time with Pete and Margaret Peery discussing the joys and challenges of pastoral care. The list goes on.

I realize the thought of the entire church staff leaving town at once might make some people nervous but it was good for us and it was good for the church. Elders were happy to offer congregational care and volunteers were glad to tend to building while we were away.

Each member of our staff learned something different through our experience. We all agreed that the workshops were meaningful, the worship was creative, and the leadership was top-notch. Most importantly, we were all grateful to be together in a time and place set apart for encountering God through relationships, renewal, recreation, and rest. Your context may different than ours. You may be a solo pastor, or chaplain, or church professional serving in a non-profit, but the thing about Trent@Montreat is that it is a different kind of conference, so it could be exactly right for you too.

Brandi Casto-Waters has served First Presbyterian Church, Greer, since December of 2006. She received a Bachelor of Science in Religion and Sociology from Presbyterian College, a Master of Divinity from Columbia Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from Columbia Seminary. She is married to Rev. Andy Casto-Waters. They have two children, Ella and Lucy.

Not Alone

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 Felipe Martinez

A special opportunity is coming to Montreat Conference Center April 16-19, 2018, where new pastors will gather for training, worship and fellowship as they embark on the journey of pastoral ministry. The event, Trent@Montreat, is a partnership between the Trent Fund of Second Presbyterian Church, Roanoke, Virginia; Union Presbyterian Seminary; Montreat Conference Center; and NEXT Church.

The first few years of ministry represent an important time in the development of a new minister as pastor, and in the life of a congregation excited about its recently ordained leader. A training like Trent@Montreat comes at the right time to help new pastors with tools, perspective, a community of fellow travelers, and needed time away for reflection. Conference organizers are offering several learning tracks, and they invited me to teach a track which I have entitled “On Your Own But Not Alone – Solo Pastoring.” Other tracks are: Mission, Preaching, Education, Worship, Staff/Team Development, Leadership in Conflict, Strategic Planning, Pastoral Care, Youth, Young Adults and Exegeting Your Community.

I remember my first church as a solo pastor. I turned 26 years old the day my wife Tracy and I moved into the manse at the First Presbyterian Church in St. Anne, Illinois. I was fresh out of seminary in Chicago going to a small town of 1,200 people for my first call as a pastor. To say I was in culture shock and wet behind the ears does not begin to convey the challenge I had ahead of me. But fortunately, the members of that congregation were gracious, patient, and willing to enter into relationship with that young city-dweller whom God had called to be their pastor. They nurtured my pastoral instincts, helped shape my preaching, and partnered with me as we ministered together. I like to tell people McCormick Theological Seminary trained me, but that St. Anne Church made me the pastor I am.

Felipe and another cohort he’s a part of: the NEXT Church strategy team.

A conference like Trent@Montreat, with its many tracks to choose from, gives new pastors an opportunity to go contextualize their seminary education, and wrap their heads around the on-the-job training which emerges as ministry takes place in church and community. When I started in pastoral ministry, I had mentors and teachers who helped me as I grew into the role (I was a part of a weekly lectionary group with seasoned preachers and I participated in the Synod of Lincoln Trails three-year support program for new pastors). As I celebrate the silver anniversary of my ordination, I am now in a position to encourage and challenge new pastors, as well as lift up the wisdom and unique perspective they each bring to ministry.

I can’t tell the new pastors at the conference to go to a church like First Presbyterian in St. Anne. What I can tell them is that they can seek opportunities for partnership in their ministry context. I’d warn them against doing everything themselves (solo pastor does not mean they’re alone!). I’d remind them to focus on God’s abundance, and connect with the strengths and passion of their congregation members. I would challenge them to ponder what is at the center of their pastoral identity (do they feel like a pastor, teacher, chaplain, community organizer, etc.?). What I won’t have a chance to do is to speak with the churches where those new pastors are serving. If I could, I would invite them to see their pastor as a leader and partner in ministry. I would also encourage them to keep a sense of anticipation about whatever new thing God is doing in them and through them, because God is always doing a new thing, and we’ll spot it if we are willing to perceive it.

Felipe N. Martinez has been a solo pastor of a small and a medium sized congregation, as well as an Associate Executive Presbyter and Interim Executive Presbyter. He is currently the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Indiana.

Sage Training or Saint Training?

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 George Anderson

What’s your pleasure, pastor: sage training or saint training? Before having that Reformed theologian’s knee jerk reaction that rejects the idea of saints – or gives our tradition’s “everyone gets a trophy” spin that we are all made saints by God’s grace – I invite you to consider the question in light of how the Jewish philosopher Maimonides defines sages and saints.

From the Roanoke Times

For Maimonides, a saint (hassid) is not someone who is perfect but someone who is unwavering in her or his defense of a virtue. A sage (hakkam) is someone who understands that politics is the “art of the possible.” The saint will take a stand despite the cost. The sage will consider the costs, is willing to compromise, and can accept losing. The saint leads by taking a stand. The sage leads by holding the middle.

Often, sages are deemed weak and are open to ridicule. I remember a Canadian pastor poking fun at his own country when he reported that the winning submission for a slogan for Canada was: “As Canadian as can be, under the circumstances.” Tweak that a bit, and you have Maimonides’ description of a sage: “As virtuous as can be, under the circumstances.”

Here is the surprising thing about Maimonides: while he says that there are times for both saints to take their stands and sages to hold the middle, most of the time faith communities need sages over saints. The reason is simple: The Jewish (and Christian) community is best served, under normal circumstances, by empathy, patience, compromise, mediation, and balance; all with a spirit of humility and generosity. Jonathan Sacks defended Maimonides’ preference by saying, “The saint may be closer to God, while the sage is closer to doing what God wants us to do, namely bring [God’s] presence into the shared spaces of our collective life.” [1]

In some ways, I see my outstanding seminary education as being largely “saint training.” At seminary, I was given a vision of the Gospel and what the church can be. The more pragmatic aspects of leading a church were considered in the classroom but the emphasis was on the elegant beauty of the Gospel and what the church is called to be in bearing it witness. It was “saint training,” and I’m grateful. If I ever lose a longing for what the church ought to be beyond what it is, someone needs to let me know that it is time for me to retire.

Yet I have come to value and appreciate what Maimonides says about sages. Maimonides says that the lingering traits of God are not of the saint (demanding unblemished sacrifices) but of the sage: “compassion and grace, patience and forgiveness, and the other ‘attributes of mercy.’” [2]

NEXT Church, in seeking to equip leaders for the church of the future, wants to be a support for the sage as well as the saint. In support of “sage training,” NEXT Church is one of the sponsors of the Trent@Montreat 2018 conference. This conference is designed to inspire with its worship, but also equip and support pastors with its tracks that focus on day to day ministry. It is designed to help pastors who want to lead over the long haul and so want to;

  • deal with staff without being consumed by staff issues,
  • or deal with conflict in a way that calms rather than inflames,
  • or encourage generosity both to support missions,
  • and pay the church’s bills,
  • or preach sermons worth listening to Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

For those who risk disappointing a holy God through the compromises that come of loving and leading God’s imperfect people, this conference does more than support them. It celebrates their ministries as reflecting, in their own way, the image of a gracious God.

If you want to know more about Trent@Montreat, visit the conference website or find the Trent@Montreat 2018 Facebook page.

George C. Anderson is the seventh senior pastor in the history of Second Presbyterian Church (Roanoke, VA). He began preaching at Second on February 22, 1998. Previously, he had been the Senior Minister at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS, and an Associate Minister at First Presbyterian Church in Kingsport, TN. He is a graduate of St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, NC, and Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. George and his wife, Millie, have three daughters: Paige, Rachel, and Virginia. George is one of the creators and conveners of the Trent Symposium and is among the leadership for the Trent@Montreat conference in 2018.

[1] Sacks draw my attention to Maimonides’ definitions of saint and sage in his book, To Heal a Fractured World; The Ethics of Responsibility. This quote is on p. 247.

[2] Sacks, p. 246.

Hospitality, Manna and New Pastors

By Glen Bell

The LORD spoke to Moses and said, “In the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.”

In the morning, there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another,

What is it?

Exodus 16:12-15

We live in the worst of times. The so-called Islamic State advances across the Middle East, and Ebola ravages West Africa. Wages are stagnant, and millennials worry they will be a permanent economic underclass. Our Western church has lost its way, and the spiritual but not religious search for a word of hope.

We live in the best of times. Beyond the spotlight, global democracy is expanding. Unemployment continues to drop, and the value of American firms remains strong. The church grows rapidly in Asia and Africa, as thousands discover the great Good News of Jesus Christ.

photo credit: cbmd via photopin cc

photo credit: cbmd via photopin cc

What story will we tell? What song will we sing?

Page after page, the Scriptures declare God’s deliverance, even through the worst of times. Amid oppression, God promises a new day. In the wilderness, God guides. In every moment, the Lord saves.

Sometimes we are not able to recognize God’s salvation at first. We ask, “What is it?” Only when we recall the journey, bring to mind God’s faithfulness, and place our trust in God’s promises can we tell our story and sing our song.

The leaders of First Presbyterian Church, Sarasota are similar to so many others in the Reformed tradition. We recognize the many challenges facing the church, globally, nationally and locally. But we have been blessed and are determined to bless others.

This congregation has resolved to share encouragement and hospitality with new pastors from across the United States,

  • welcoming them to renewal and recreation in Sarasota,
  • pairing them annually with a gifted seminar leader, and
  • providing them with the opportunity to learn from a noted speaker and teacher.

Pastors from Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland, Mississippi, Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Florida have been participants the first two years. They come with hope and dreams, concerns and questions. Here they have the opportunity to pray and ponder, to reflect and recreate, to build friendships with one another for years to come.

On this journey, even in those moments when the wilderness presses close and our destination seems far, far away, we sing of God’s goodness. We tell the story of salvation. We trust our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We welcome and encourage and nurture.

This question is pressing for each of us:

  • How will we offer hospitality and encouragement to growing pastors, in order that the next church may grow and flourish?
  • What are the particular gifts that our congregation can offer?

As we trust the Holy, what story will we tell? What song will we sing? What is it?

Glen Bell is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Sarasota, Florida. He is a member of the NEXT Church Strategy Team.

A Letter to Those Pastors with a Certain Amount of Experience and Wisdom

This month, NEXT Church is highlighting passionate leaders within the Presbyterian Church (USA) who are committed to equipping and supporting new pastors, alongside those up-and-coming leaders with whom they have connected or mentored. We kicked things off this week with a post by George Anderson, the co-convener (along with Ken McFayden from UPSem) of the Trent Symposium for new pastors. Today, Lori Raible, a past Symposium participant contributes a parallel piece.

Lori Archer Raible is an associate pastor at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. A graduate from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte, Lori is passionate about connecting people to one another through faith and community. Married to Rob, they have two children Joe (8) and Maeve (7). Most of her free time is spent running both literally as a spiritual discipline and metaphorically to and from carpool lines. Deep within her is a writer vying for those precious minutes. Currently Lori’s vocational work includes work with NEXT Church and the Trent National Conference, which is being created in support of pastors in their first 7 years of ministry. Sponsored by the NEXT Conference, Macedonian Ministries, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Montreat Conference Center, and Second Presbyterian Church, Trent@Montreat (April 18-21, 2016) will join large group worship and keynote with small groups focused on specific areas of need and coached by experienced practitioners.

One generation shall laud your works to another, 
and shall declare your mighty acts. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. Psalm 145: 4 & 13

To Those with “A Certain Level of Experience and Wisdom,”

On behalf of those who have recently entered this peculiar and glorious calling of pastor, I write with humility, gratitude, and respect for the tenacity with which you have served and cultivated our good churches of the PCUSA.

safety net copyMine is a deep conviction and desire born from the early years of ministry. There have been holes of loneliness created by the weight of this vocation, which threatened to swallow my soul. It took both personal mentors and trustworthy peers to pull me from the depths with nets so strong that with them, I know I will not fall again.

Mentors have the power to equip new pastors with a sense of security and patience otherwise unknown. Mentors have the wisdom to guide and encourage pastors toward authentic and responsible ministry. Mentors have the unique opportunity to bolster a new generation of clergy who will be strong and bold enough to lead our Church through the transformation we are all experiencing yet unsure how to navigate.

Mine is a deep longing. A hope. A request. A plea for you to cast the net.

We have inherited a church that looks very different than the one you inherited. New clergy are okay with that. This wonky, unpredictable Church is all we have ever known. Spotty attendance, shaky budgets, and bare pews sadden us, but we aren’t afraid. If we were foolish enough to enter seminary at this point, than you can assume our optimism, foolish as it may seem, is of the Jesus sort.

We acknowledge the realities, but we don’t believe placing our old institutional model on life support[1] is what Jesus had in mind when he proclaimed, ‘new life.’ We are called to thrive together.

Our lives are not ordered the same way yours were early in ministries. Out of the 12,807 active pastors of the PCUSA, about 20% are in our first 7 years of ministry. 70% of our full-time pastors will retire in the next 10 years or so.[2] That means, for now at least, many newly ordained carry creative titles such as: bi-vocational, temporary supply, and ‘outside the bounds.’ Oh, and well over half of the candidates for ministry are now women. [3] It’s just different.

Money is an issue. Jesus doesn’t pay a whole lot these days. A majority of us serve congregations smaller than 300 members. So if we are married, our partners usually have careers too. Our families reflect the realities of making ends meet both financially and as parents (if we have kids). Like other professionals we will change jobs about 7 times in our lifetime, and 50-80% of us will ‘hang up the robe’ within 5 years.[4]

This means it is more difficult to pursue and maintain the long-term peer relationships imperative to the longevity of a healthy pastorate. We know we need them, but we struggle to find them and commit.

Yes, we love our phones.

We are connecting in broad ways.

No, it doesn’t replace the real stuff.

We know need to work on it.

It’s just a lot to juggle.

The call remains. We love to preach, and teach, and care.

Because of these rapid shifts, cultivating, planting, and renewing communities to engage those sacred privileges will require all of us. At the core of our identities as pastors is passion for the Reformed tradition, and love for the Gospel as it has been and always will be. We rely on them to root and guide us from generation to generation.

Problem is, we feel a gap.

Traditional pathways to trustworthy and organic cross-generational relationships have eroded alongside the cohesive and purposeful nature of the local presbytery. The fragmentation of both our regional and national networks increases the difficulty of accessing both practical knowledge and vital resources needed beyond seminary.

We need to know you.

We need to know what you know, because 

We don’t know, what we don’t know.

But you do.

Be patient if we seem too bold or not bold enough, too risky or not risky enough, too passive or too aggressive, too needy or too brash. Belonging breeds identity. While we are still getting used to our robes, it’s hard to trust when the communities and institutions around us feel unstable and fractured. Our ‘doing’ and ‘being’ are just beginning to click.

We need to be known, by people we can trust, in places we truly belong.

Yes it’s an investment, but if you are asked by a young pastor for your ear its because you are respected, honored, and valued as someone with something sacred to share. We need access to that. These relationships can’t be manufactured, but they can be cultivated.

There are NO WORDS to describe the gratitude for such a gift as a mentor’s attention and time.

Model grace, creativity, and hard work in your leadership, but don’t pretend to be Jesus. Show us what Sabbath looks like. Be honest. Any tips on how to work through a conflict are greatly appreciated. Tell the story of when you botched the funeral, forgot your sermon, or dropped the Cup. Teach us. Learn from us. Collaborate. Encourage risk. Support us when we fail. Share the sacraments and pulpit. Say YES. Listen. Hold us accountable. Most of all, expect the best for the future of our denomination and her churches.

We do.

With Great Hope,



(PS- To my mentors, there are no other words than, Thank You.)

[1] Yaconelli, Mark.

[2] Merritt, Carol Howard. The Christian Century blog. August 23, 2014

[3] PUCSA, research services. Comparative Stats Report, 2012.Pg. 10, Tables 7, 10.

[4] Hodge. The Pew Project. Duke Divinity School. Presented to the Religious Research As. Norfolk, GA. 2003, t.5-11.



A Letter to New Pastors

This month, NEXT Church is highlighting passionate leaders within the Presbyterian Church (USA) who are committed to equipping and supporting new pastors, alongside those up-and-coming leaders with whom they have connected or mentored. We kick things off this week with a post by George Anderson, the co-convener (along with Ken McFayden from UPSem) of the Trent Symposium for new pastors. Tomorrow, Lori Raible, a past Symposium participant will contribute a parallel piece.

george andersonGeorge C. Anderson is the Head of Staff of Second Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia.  George and the congregation he serves are heavily invested in programs for newly ordained PCUSA ministers.  Thanks to a Lilly study grant, George spent his recent sabbatical studying effective church programs in and outside of various denominations that nurture new pastors.  Through grants from the Kittye Susan Trent Endowment, Second Presbyterian hosts an annual week long symposium for new ministers that is co-sponsored by Union Presbyterian Seminary led primarily by experienced pastors and laypeople as well a colloquy for new ministers within the Presbytery of the Peaks that is spread out over three years.  Planned for April 18 through 21, 2016, a national Conference will be held called Trent@Montreat.  Sponsored by the NEXT Conference, Macedonian Ministries, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Montreat Conference Center, and Second Presbyterian Church, this conference will join large group worship and keynote with small groups focused on specific areas of need and coached by experienced practitioners.

George preached a sermon in which he explained his passion for this effort.  It can be accessed at:

photo credit: H is for Home via photopin cc

photo credit: H is for Home via photopin cc

Dear Newly Ordained Minister,

These are challenging and exciting times to serve the PCUSA, and you would like to serve it for a long time.   You can’t do it alone. You need a network of support to help you get started and to keep you going. That network of support is out there, but don’t expect it to be given to you.

Many new ministers do not understand this and feel abandoned after they leave seminary and begin their work in the field. They assume that the instruction, support and structure of seminary will continue in a new kind of way. Some efforts are made by presbyteries and, here and there, some are helpful. However, the PCUSA, like other mainline denominations, is having something of an identity crisis compounded by fiscal constraints, so there is a “hit and miss” aspect to what is officially offered.

For your own good, accept the reality of that right now. Remember that you are ordained and that means taking on personal responsibility for your own support. Just as medical ethicists encourage patients to be proactive about their own health care, I am encouraging you to be your own advocate for “Ministry Care.” Be proactive and seek out what you need.

So, what is it that you need? Based on what has sustained me over three decades of ministry and based on sabbatical research done on what sustains new ministers, I suggest the following:

  • Keep the Sabbath. Worship, rest, play.
  • Find coaches. They tell you how to do. What do you need to learn? Find someone who is really good at it. Then be a coach because by teaching, you learn.
  • Find mentors. They teach you how to be. Then be a mentor, because by leading, you find a new way to follow.
  • Seek out best practices. Most times it is easier to improve on something than invent something. Then share best practices because by giving away you gain colleagues and build the church you will need tomorrow.
  • Find or form a peer support group. If in a year it drains you more than feeds you, find or form another one.
  • Keep seeking to develop. I would say, “Keep seeking to improve,” but that may not be accurate. Let’s say, “Stay ahead of the stagnant curve.” The world, culture, the congregation, the church, and your life are going to keep developing. Ministries adapt or die. So read, attend continuing education events, self-examine, and seek critique and counsel. By doing so, you can help keep the expiration dates on your ministries in the future.
  • Be humble. That means pray, because humility is a gifted virtue and not an achievement. Keep praying the core of the prayer Jesus taught us: “Not my will, but thine.” Keep praying that prayer because if you are made a humble pastor, you will have staying power. A humble pastor knows she does not have all the answers. A humble pastor knows that on his own he will do more damage than good in the churches he serves. A humble pastor continually seeks out support, guidance and critique. A humble pastor better deals with and learns from failure. A humble pastor is more willing to share the credit with, and receive critique from, others.

When you have a good network of support in place, treat the network like a garden and tend it. Nourish what feeds you, weed out what doesn’t, and plant something new when it is time.   Tend the healthy garden and you will not only be nourished over a long ministry, you will share what you have with others and help them too.

I hope in these NEXT Church blogs, you’ll find some helpful gardening hints.

Grace and Peace,








Make Ready for Use

By Jessica Tate

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

I was installed into my first pastoral position seven years ago this month. During the sermon at the installation service, Frances Taylor Gench humorously suggested we install pastors the same way we install appliances. We “fix them into position” or “make them ready for use.”  That is exactly what we were doing at the installation of a pastor, she said.


As I think about the path of ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA), there’s much demanded of candidates to make them ready for use. Our church requires:

  • seminary education
  • psychological exams
  • continual discernment on the part of the candidate
  • validation by a candidate’s “home” church and presbytery
  • internships
  • written and oral statements and conversation with a Committee on Preparation for Ministry
  • ordination exams
  • a lengthy process of discerning a sense of call to a particular place—and hoping the nominating committee shares that sense of call
  • examination by the ordaining/installing presbytery

After that, a pastor is installed—we are made ready for use.

And then, at least in my experience, comes the hard part. We actually have to pastor a congregation.

It is a wonderful calling. It is grace-filled, transformative, and an immense privilege.

It is also hard.
To faithfully proclaim good news every week.
To navigate church conflicts and budgets and committees.
To learn a 24/7 rhythm and care for oneself in the midst of it.
To carry the emotional weight of the deepest parts of peoples’ lives—both the joyous and the jagged.

Many of us don’t survive the transition well.

According to Into Action: From Seminary to Ministry (which is a great online resource for new pastors), a recent study of PC(USA) pastors suggested that within five years of ordination, 22.5% of newly ordained pastors “had no valid call” or “were no longer ordained ministers in the PC(USA).” These categories include people who have retired, been defrocked, switched denominations, were unemployed, taking a break for personal reasons, as well as those who had chosen to permanently leave congregational ministry.

As best I can tell, these statistics are in line with other denominations and professional vocations, such as doctors and lawyers. Making the move from preparation to living out vocation is a hard transition.

Personally, I don’t know what I would have done in my first years of ministry if I didn’t have wonderful resources to call upon:

  • My father, who is a pastor, and who I could call at any hour, day or night, to say, “what do you do when a church preschool teacher commits suicide?” or the more mundane, “what resources do you have for stewardship?”
  • Mentors and seminary professors who were willing to puzzle through things with me. “Help me think about this conflict we’re dealing with in this committee.”
  • A wonderful colleague, Henry Brinton, the Head of Staff who patiently and gently guided me, supported me, and gave me plenty of space to stretch my wings.
  • Two peer groups I quickly joined—one locally that meets twice a month for spiritual practice, support, and accountability and one that meets annually to work on lectionary texts for preaching (and shares ideas the rest of the year via email.)
  • Community organizers who pushed me to grow as a leader and gave me the skills to become a better leader.
  • A cadre of spiritual directors, therapists and coaches to whom I turn periodically when I’m stuck or running on empty.

It was (and continues to be) this whole constellation that has enabled me to grow into my pastoral identity and practice. Most healthy pastors I know (regardless of how long they’ve been in ministry) have such a constellation. They’ve sought out these supports on their own and they’ve been given opportunities to be formed in pastoral identity and practice. This October, NEXT Church is highlighting passionate leaders within our denomination who are committed to equipping and supporting new pastors, alongside those up-and-coming leaders with whom they have connected or mentored. We’re trying to show some of the shape of the constellation in hopes that more and more of us will find and put together the networks we need to live into our calling in life-giving, gospel-proclaiming ways.

During the sermon on the occasion of my installation, Frances Taylor Gench referred back to the risen Lord’s command to his followers in the last scene of Matthew’s gospel: to make disciples of all nations. Our operating instructions, once we’ve been made ready for use, she said, is to make disciples, to disciple-ize. It is arduous work, she said, requiring stick-to-itiveness and endless repetition. “It means taking your time with people — bringing them along — working carefully with each other over a long period of time in the educative process of teaching and learning the pattern of life embodied and empowered by Jesus.”

This month, I honor the anniversary of my ordination. I am grateful for all those who taught me and continue to teach me how to disciple-ize, how to stick with it when it is hard, and find joy in the midst of this calling.  And I am hopeful for all those who are “made ready for use” and the ways in which we support them, form them, and are led by them.

Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church.