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Re-post: Back to the Future: A Sankofa Moment

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis, NEXT Church interim communications specialist, will be sharing particularly timely past NEXT Church blog posts. These posts point to hope and wisdom for these days that you might have completely forgotten about but are faithful reflections. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

This article was originally posted on December 27, 2013. The author’s ministry context may have changed since then.

by Paul Roberts

17 If you say to yourself, “These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?” 18 do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, 19 the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the Lord your God brought you out. (Deuteronomy 7:17-19)

13 So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14 After I looked these things over, I stood up and said to the nobles and the officials and the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your kin, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes. (Nehemiah 4:13-14)

And Stephen replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran” (Acts 7:2)

These are just a few snapshots in the life of Israel, moments when they are commanded to go forward into new and sometimes dangerous places and circumstances. Each time, the people of God are challenged to first look back, to remember, to be confident not in themselves but in the God who is constantly sending and rescuing and delivering and saving and calling and loving.

sankofaIn the African-American community, we have embraced the concept of SANKOFA, from a West African proverb. SANKOFA teaches us that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. SANKOFA is visually represented by a bird that is in forward flight while looking back, with the egg of the future in its mouth.

At Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, our tag line is “called to create what’s next.” But to create what’s next, I believe we do well to first look back, gather all the best in preparation for exploring what’s next. Should theological education today resemble that represented in scripture? Many would question whether that is even reasonable, but, if it should, then it seems that that education must be less about the accumulation of knowledge and more about the formation of a way of life, of being.

Pastoral education should not take place in an isolated academic environment, but in the midst of the world for which the disciple is being prepared. It should, at least in part, take place at a point within which there is a seamless integration of spiritual, intellectual and practical concerns; there should be strong mentoring/partnering relationships with individuals who have not just experience, but are themselves active learners, willing to push against and test the status quo, who themselves embody faith rather than just imbibe knowledge about faith. These mentors should be men and women who can exegete the culture as effectively as they can exegete Scripture and are able to guide the disciple in how to weave both exegeses together.  So, pedagogy should move outside the walls of academe and into the world of the missioning God where people live and work and worship. The interaction between academy, church and community should be always in flux.

Looking back for one more moment, Gregory of Nazianzus (who fled the pastorate four times and was finally forcibly ordained by his congregation) noted that pastoral formation is a life-long endeavor: “Not even extreme old age would be too long a limit to assign.”). Becoming a pastor is the work of a lifetime. Theological education needs to give pastors a better start on becoming a pastor.


Roberts

Paul Timothy Roberts is president-dean of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary and a member of the NEXT Church Strategy Team. You can watch his keynote to the 2013 NEXT Gathering here.

Wandering in the Wilderness

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jeff Bryan is curating a series reflecting on the 2018 National Gathering in late February. You’ll hear from clergy, lay people, community leaders, and others reflect on their experiences of the National Gathering and what’s stuck with them since. How does the “Desert in Bloom” look on the resurrection side of Easter? What are your own thoughts of your National Gathering experience, or on what these reflections spark for you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Megan McMillan

Back in September, I read Brené Brown’s new book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. Just like all of her other books, TED Talks, and podcast appearances, I was in tears by the end. Brené Brown is basically my personal life coach. Thus, I have been ruminating on the idea of wilderness for a few months. In her book, Brown tells us that the wilderness is a place of belonging and a sacred place, “[The wilderness] is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place sought after as it is feared. The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can’t control it, or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into that vastness or not. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, it’s the bravest and the most sacred place you will ever stand.”

Thanks to Brown, I feel the wilderness is a place that can be lonely and terrifying, yet it can also be so beautiful and exciting. The scripture we focused on during the gathering reassured us of that. “The wilderness and dry land will be glad, the wilderness will rejoice and blossom (Isaiah 35: 1).”

As a denomination, the PC(USA) has been wandering in the wilderness for a while now. As a seminary student, I am so sick of hearing people say that the church is dying. Prior to my seminary career, I served as a youth director for six years. People always say that the youth are the future of the church, but I firmly believe that young people are the church right now. How can anyone possibly think the church is dying where you are amongst 6,000+ youth at Presbyterian Youth Triennium? How can anyone think the church is dying when you’re sitting in Anderson Auditorium with over 1,000 college students at Montreat College Conference? How can anyone think the church is dying when our seminaries are full of eager twenty-something’s ready to serve our church? If you think the church is dying, you are looking in all the wrong places. We are simply wandering in the wilderness.

I really resonated with the sermon on Tuesday night by Jennifer Barchi. Rev. Barchi shared my feelings in that the wilderness is not always an undesirable place. The church is merely evolving into something different. As people of God, we must evolve with it and transform it into something new. There is death in the wilderness, but that gives us the opportunity of holy rising. This dying will not kill us. This dying will resurrect us. As a denomination, I have full confidence that we will use this death as an opportunity to rise into new, hopeful, and creative people of God. “The Church is dying, thanks be to God!” As we continue to wander in the wilderness, thank you NEXT Church National Gathering for renewing my hope in this church that I love so deeply.


Megan McMillan is a student at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Currently, she is serving as the Chaplain Intern at Presbyterian Mo-Ranch in Hunt, TX, for her SPM until the end of the summer. She will then head back to Austin to finish her final year of seminary. A graduate of Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC, Megan also served in Columbia, SC as a youth director before her seminary career. She has two adorable dogs that love the outdoors as much as she does, and is an avid South Carolina Gamecock fan.

A First National Gathering

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jeff Bryan is curating a series reflecting on the 2018 National Gathering in late February. You’ll hear from clergy, lay people, community leaders, and others reflect on their experiences of the National Gathering and what’s stuck with them since. How does the “Desert in Bloom” look on the resurrection side of Easter? What are your own thoughts of your National Gathering experience, or on what these reflections spark for you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Jojo Gabuya

The NEXT Church National Gathering, themed “The Desert in Bloom: Living, Dying, and Rising in a Wilderness Church,” was my first ever opportunity to meet, dine, and interact with 675 Presbyterian pastors, lay leaders, and students. I was one of the students who registered and got a scholarship to be able to participate in the event. Although I heard some disturbing news about the Maryland’s current peace and order situation from a young man who I happened to sit with on the Metro train en route to the City Centre, it did not deter me from fully participating in the 3-day conference.

The superb venue, the warm hospitality, the healthy lunches, the out-of-the box worship services, and collegial atmosphere, made my first three days in Baltimore an unforgettable and worthwhile one.

On the first day of the National Gathering, Rev. Billy Honor brought the house down with his humorous yet insightful sermon. The altar, covered with used Amazon boxes and filled with baskets of bread and dozens of juice-filled cups, rekindled my sense of the Holy and Sacred. In his keynote presentation, David Leong, who describes himself as an accidental academic, talked about Detroit as an urban desert. He posed this challenging question, “What if abandoned places of empire and other places associated with decay or neglect are actually fertile soil for renewal?” He shared the story of Vincent Chin, whose murder gave opportunity for Asian Americans to come together in Detroit. So, he stressed the importance of speaking about one’s experience of racism. “Not to speak is to speak and not to act is to act”. And, I was impressed with the story of Grace, a Chinese American who finished her PhD in 1940. He stressed that the desert in Detroit was about the lack of resources for the common good.

The heavy Vegan sandwiches for lunch were a welcome treat that got me through the first session of the workshop on “Creating and Planning Worship for Freedom.” The succeeding two sessions gave me more ideas on crafting a worship service, grounded on people’s struggle for freedom. And, I had the honor of being the only MDiv student/seminarian and UCC member among ten other workshop participants, who are Presbyterian pastors and lay leaders of their own Presbyteries around this country.


Jojo V. Gabuya is a Master of Divinity student at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA. They are an international student, who identifies as an Asian non-binary transgender person. They are also a Member in Discernment for Ordained Ministry in the United Church of Christ. And, they are currently serving as Minister in Training at El Cerrito, where they have been trying to dance the Word of God, instead of reading it.

2018 National Gathering Ignite: Christin Thorpe

Christin Thorpe is the Fellows and Community Engagement Coordinator at Metro-Urban Institute at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and gave an Ignite presentation at the 2018 NEXT Church National Gathering. Christin’s ignite presentation on Interactive Theological Education aims to get you to think about how academic institutions can bridge the gap between day-to-day realities faced within our very complex communities and our classical theological training.

Big, Uncertain Moments

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 Katherine Norwood

Editors’ note: Trent@Montreat is created for people in their first ten years of ministry. Why is that relevant? As they saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know” and seminary can only teach you so much. Most people get into their chosen profession only to realize that there are things that they are not prepared to deal with. This post and the previous post are from two people on the cusp of this transition, reflecting on their time in seminary and sharing their hopes for their future ministry.

Often the events that stand out most clearly in our mind are those big, life changing moments. Those turning points where a decision you made or an event that occurred launched you down a new road: graduation, the birth of a child, a milestone achievement, a big move, a discernment process, a calling.

For me, it was the day I moved to college. It felt like everything I had known, every comfort I had for the last 18 years was gone; I was leaving it all behind and starting over. In the months leading up to the move, I tried to imagine what college life would be like: my dorm room, eating in the cafeteria, learning in a huge auditorium. But every time I would try to picture these snapshots of my future college life, my mind came up blank. I had no idea what my dorm room would look like, who my friends would be, or what I would study. My life would be unlike anything it had ever been before, in a good way, I hoped.

Photo from Louisville Seminary Facebook page

Similarly, when I entered seminary, my mind was blank as I tried to picture what it was exactly that I would be learning. Greek and Hebrew, Bible, theology, and then three years later I would graduate totally ready for ministry, right?! What I couldn’t have been able to picture about my seminary education was how my worldview expanded and was shaped. Theology and social justice intertwined in a way I’d never known before. As I learned about racism, liturgy, the Old Testament, sexuality, and ethics, I began to see the world in new and different ways.

I have one year left of my seminary education; one year remaining in this bubble of intensive learning and then out into the wide world I’ll go. Again, I’ll find myself on the precipice of a big life moment, one where nothing is certain about what my life will look like.

But what I have found in these big, uncertain moments is that there are new experiences to be had and a whole lot to learn. When I moved to college, not only was I learning in the classroom, but I was also learning how to navigate the world as an independent adult. When I began seminary, my learning lead to a transformation in my understanding of faith and ministry. After I graduate from seminary and begin ministry, I know there is more learning to be done because no matter how well I think I may have grasped the concepts in seminary, there’s a depth of knowledge I have yet to uncover about real life, hands on ministry. I have been warned about this gap of information from pastors who often like to spout, “they don’t teach you that in seminary.”

I am bound to uncover this knowledge not all at once, not in three years or even ten, but over the course of my life. I believe that the learning that began in seminary will never stop. Whether I am navigating big transitions or the daily grind, my hope is that I will never stop learning and growing because to continue to learn and grow is to lean into the person God is calling me to be.


Katherine Norwood is a 3rd year Masters of Divinity student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and a candidate for ordination in the PCUSA. In her free time she enjoys cooking, yoga, and being outside.

Without Training Wheels

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 Jessie Light

Editors’ note: Trent@Montreat is created for people in their first ten years of ministry. Why is that relevant? As they saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know” and seminary can only teach you so much. Most people get into their chosen profession only to realize that there are things that they are not prepared to deal with. The next two posts are from two people on the cusp of this transition, reflecting on their time in seminary and sharing their hopes for their future ministry.

The slightly cooler September air whips through my ponytail as I gain speed, pedaling confidently down the quiet street. A bit awkward on the bike, I make a clunky gear change that slows me down a bit and causes the tires to wobble. Looking down, I suddenly realize that my training wheels – those helpful crutches I had depended on for months, even years – have been removed! Even more surprising, I glance behind my shoulder and realize that I am completely alone on the road, miles away from home. I slow to a stop to breathe for a few minutes and get my bearings.

This is the embodiment of my first three weeks of ministry. And this reflection is the slowing, the stopping to breathe, the trying-to-get-my-bearings.

In many ways, seminary was the best experience of my life thus far. I spent the last three years profoundly reflecting on what Christianity means in the world today, creating some of the most meaningful relationships I’ve ever had, and intentionally cultivating my gifts for ministry. I’ve been biking down this road for awhile now – writing papers, receiving feedback, going to counseling, working in congregations, preaching and leading worship, completing CPE, winding my way through the ordination process. When I graduated in May, I felt a healthy sense of accomplishment; I felt capable and confident, eager to begin my call.

I’m not even sure when the training wheels came off. Were they unscrewed in the middle of my summer internship after I preached my fifth consecutive sermon? Perhaps they were left in the dust when I sat with an anxious and grieving family at the children’s hospital. Regardless, I didn’t notice their absence until this week, until I asked myself for the umpteenth time, “am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?”

It’s not an exaggeration to say that I have the dream “first call.” As the Monie Pastoral Resident at Preston Hollow Presbyterian, I am responsible for creating and coordinating a brand new worship service on Sunday evenings, for writing all of the church’s liturgy, for teaching a well-established bible study, and for exploring the many other ministry areas of the church over the course of two years. I feel incredibly lucky to have this opportunity, and to work alongside so many people that I admire and respect.

And still, every day so far, I’ve looked around my still unsettled office asked myself, “am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?” Of course I’m attending scheduled meetings; acquainting myself with the building, staff, and congregation; leading in worship; meeting deadlines; and so on. I feel equipped to fulfill these responsibilities, and for that, I am grateful.

What has been completely unanticipated, and somewhat terrifying, is knowing that I am capable and called, and still feeling like I’m faking it.

Many people in the last few years have reflected on the “imposter syndrome,” the feeling of self-doubt and fear that leads to asking the question, “what if they find out that I’m just faking it? What if they realize what a fraud I really am?” I have realized that I might be especially prone to imposter syndrome as an Enneagram Type 3 (The Achiever) because I am both goal oriented and image-conscious. Certainly there have been moments this month where I have felt confident in myself, but often, they have been overshadowed by this syndrome, this tendency to downplay what I am doing

So here I am, feeling like I’m faking it, all the while being introduced to people as “the newest pastor here at Preston Hollow!” Here I am, finally realizing my own grief that seminary – an incredible chapter of my life – is over, all the while forming a beautiful new community here in Dallas. Here I am, repeatedly asking myself an unhelpful question, all the while doing the work of ministry, the work God is calling me to do.

And as I look down toward the tires of my well-loved bicycle, I realize my knees are shaking but my muscles are strong. Maybe it’s time to trust myself a little more, to trust the training I’ve received and to recognize that I’ve been biking without my training wheels for a long time. As I start to pedal again, I look forward once more, and enjoy the breeze.


Jessie Light completed her Master of Divinity at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in May 2017, and is currently serving as the Monie Pastoral Resident at Preston Hollow Presbyterian in Dallas, TX. Jessie is also a graduate of Vanderbilt University. Prior to serving at PHPC, Jessie worked in various capacities at Village Presbyterian Church (Prairie Village, KS), University Presbyterian Church (Austin, TX), and North Decatur Presbyterian Church (Decatur, GA). Jessie serves on the Executive Board of Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, and finds joy in baking sourdough bread, writing poetry, and being outside in God’s good creation.

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.

Stewardship as Intentional Caring

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jordan Davis

When I was a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary, “stewardship” might as well have been a four-letter word. My understanding, at the time, was that stewardship meant a request for money (of which I had very little!) and stewardship month was the most painful month of the church.

When I was asked to write about stewardship and the seminary student, I groaned but also prayed that maybe my experience was a unique one. I have learned a great deal about stewardship since those early years, but also I have been working on a capital campaign at Union Presbyterian Seminary for three years. I knew that our students have heard a lot about money and I hoped that we hadn’t clouded their minds in the recent months.

And so, I took to social media and asked “What do you think of when you hear ‘stewardship’?” Preparing for the worst but hoping for the best, I began to read the responses and y’all… the future of the Church is in good hands!

Rather than worrying about money, seminary students are worrying about — wait for it — caring! An overwhelming number of responses came in highlighting that stewardship is about caring for God’s creation through the use of our time, talents, influence, and (of course) money. Special concern was shown for stewardship of the earth, in the way that those resources are both cared for and used.

One word that was used in these responses was “intentionality.” I think that this is what sets seminary students apart from so many: their intentionality. Our seminarians are being taught to think critically and act intentionally. Papers and actions are dissected as every word and movement is looked at through the lens of an “other” in hopes that they can learn more and therefore model better. Seminarians are learning that ministry is not just about preaching on Sunday morning and visiting hospital rooms during the week. Ministry in the 21st century is about breaking down barriers as we both look at and refine the way we live with one another in God’s creation. This intentionality, this thoughtful care, is quickly becoming the new face of stewardship.

I spend a great deal of time with congregations of all shapes and sizes, and I have heard my (not so fair) share of stewardship sermons and campaigns. I am always so disappointed at the focus placed on money, especially in areas where I know that money may not be the best or most accessible resource for that particular congregation. I have grown weary and frustrated with the idea that no ministry can happen without someone sitting poised and ready to write a check! If we will give these students a chance, if we will welcome them into our congregations and give them the space they need, they just might change the way that we minister in the 21st century.

Yes, Jesus spoke of money, but he mostly spoke of care and love for one another. I fear that many of us have lost focus of this crucial message in our attempts to “save the church.” Every year when the “ask” is made for a financial pledge (which IS vital, but maybe not the most important), more members grow tired and our congregations grow weaker. If we give these students space as they begin their ministry and heed their advice in our own ministries that have already changed multiple times, maybe our congregations will find new energy and endurance in their care for one another and God’s creation!

I also asked current seminary students how they are involved in stewardship.  One of my favorite answers was simply, “Through immersion.” I think of the students I regularly see in my work, and I think of the time they spend carrying compost buckets, serving in multiple capacities within congregations, cleaning kennels at the animal shelters, and hosting prayer vigils. They help to fundraise and they remind those of us who are so focused on money the importance of coming together to play.

Stewardship is about caring, and I think it is time that we allow these students to be our teachers.


Jordan B. Davis received her Master of Divinity from Union Presbyterian Seminary in 2014 and has a passion for building relationships within the Church and the world. Jordan devoted her time at Union to finding ways to strengthen the community through fellowship and worship. Taking a call as a Church Relations Officer for the seminary was a natural next step after graduation. She enjoys working in a setting allows her to continue learning both from congregations and students, recognizing that the church is already very different from when she started on this journey! Learn more about her ministry at www.congregationalcorner.wordpress.com.

2017 National Gathering Ignite: Ann Hartman

Ann Hartman gives an Ignite presentation at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering about her experience interning at a Presbyterian church in Yukutat, Alaska.