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Scripture, Poetry, and the “Irrational David”

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Linda Kurtz is curating a series we’re affectionately referring to as our NEXT Church book club, which aims to share insights on a variety of texts – and how they have impacted our bloggers’ ministries. Understanding that reading in and beyond one’s field is important to offering good leadership, we offer this series to get your juices flowing on what books you might read next. What are you reading that’s impacting how you think about and/or do ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jenny Warner

When I get stuck, I call Ken Evers-Hood.

And when you read his new book, you’ll know why he’s on my speed dial of advisers.

Ken and I met as pastors in the same presbytery in Oregon. As a new pastor, serving three hours from the hub of most other churches, I had few true colleagues. Ken invited me to sit in the back row with him, included me in the irreverent commentary of the younger pastors (by which I mean those under 55), all the while sharing with me a great love of the presbytery and its process.

I learned to trust Ken’s perspective, and so when he invited me to join him in a yearlong leadership cohort with the poet David Whyte in 2015, I said yes. The experience changed both of us. We found a community and a construct that took us further in ministry, our lives and our future. Our collective engagement with David’s work taught us to bring our whole selves to bear in our vocation. We learned to trust where vulnerability leads us, which is perhaps the most radical move a leader in contemporary America can make, religious or not.

Ken found another companion in this wholehearted journey in David of the Bible – a shepherd, king, musician, poet, friend, lover, and full-throated human. In this book, you will see David with a lens that opens fresh possibilities of being faithful, not perfect.

In his first book, The Irrational Jesus, Ken offered his doctoral research on decision-making and leadership in the church. In this book, The Irrational David, Ken dives deep and has “a real conversation,” as David Whyte would say. He brings Scripture, philosophy, theology, poetry, literature, and psychology into a conversation that puts us all at ease because of Ken’s profound vulnerability.

For those who are struggling to articulate a faith that is not either/or in the aftermath of the liberal/fundamentalist battles, Ken masterfully articulates a faith that honors the complexity of postmodern understandings in a way that is grounded and undefended. He doesn’t let either side get away with defended polarities and invites us into faithfulness and wholeness instead.

My copy of this book will be full of underlining and coffee stains as I return over and over to see what Ken has to say about the text I’m preaching on. His words often say what I intuit, but am not yet able to articulate. As a gift to preachers, he brings along references from literature, history, and life that will make Scripture come alive week after week. This book is a trusted dance partner in the rhythm of life with God.

Editor’s note: The Irrational David is not available yet, but you can sign up to receive an email from Amazon when it is available there. This post will be updated when the book is available (any day now!).


Jenny Warner is pastor at Valley Presbyterian Church on the western edge of the Silicon Valley. She loves the challenge of pastoring on the West Coast. She and Chris have two teenage daughters and a Bernese Mountain Dog named Holly.

2018 National Gathering Ignite: Jason Santos

Jason Santos, Mission Coordinator for Christian Formation at Presbyterian Mission Agency, gives an Ignite presentation at the 2018 NEXT Church National Gathering.

His Ignite presentation is called “Killing Church Softly.” For the last half-century, we’ve increasingly formed our children and youth through developmentally-centered, age and stage, peer-oriented ministry programs that essentially removed them from the corporate life of the church–this ignite presentation highlights the failure of those efforts through generational and identity formation theory.

2017 National Gathering Keynote: Rodger Nishioka

Rodger Nishioka, Director of Adult Educational Ministries at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, KS, gives the final keynote of the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering.


Rodger Nishioka is the director of Adult Educational Ministries at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, KS. Born in Honolulu and raised in Seattle at the Japanese Presbyterian Church, Rodger is the son of a retired Presbyterian minister. He is one of the most sought-after and inspiring preachers in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Rodger taught at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta for 15 years. In that ministry, he taught pastors to be teachers and leaders in the church’s educational ministry, specializing in particular on youth and young adult ministry.  

Prior to teaching at Columbia Theological Seminary, Rodger was the national coordinator for Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (1986-1999) and taught English and Social Sciences at Curtis Junior High School (1983-1986). Rodger received his Doctor of Philosophy degree in Social and Cultural Foundations of Education from Georgia State University. He earned his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (with an emphasis in biblical studies and theology) from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, and a  Bachelor of Arts in English with Minor in History and a Teaching Certificate for Secondary Education (grades 6-12).

Becoming Who You’ve Always Been

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a series identifying books that Presbyterian leaders are reading now that inform their ministry and work. Why are these texts relevant today? How might they bring us into God’s future? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri

“What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been!” These words by author Parker J. Palmer – a teacher, writer and member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) – exemplify part of the insights I gained reading his book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

Let Your Life Speak was recommended to me at a time marked by endings: service in a committee nearing its end, my father’s terminal cancer diagnosis, deciding whether or not to quit a job… I was feeling somewhat lost and wondering what was next, spiritually and professionally; where and how to best serve God, contribute to the church at large and the community.

Teaching about the gift of vocation and writing about his life experiences, including times of depression, Palmer conveys the message of claiming one’s truth and explains the concept of “true self.” His candid approach is refreshing and challenging. It encourages the reader to dig deep, recognizing limits, potentials, even failures and mistakes, as starting points in discerning “what’s next?” I recommend this book to all those who, like me, find themselves at a crossroads or for those who feel “true self” is still to be discovered. It is not a book to read over a weekend as it calls for honest reflection.


Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri serves as the moderator of the Presbytery of Tropical Florida and works part-time as an ESL teacher and trainer. She is also part of a CREDO faculty team. She has spent spent most of her adult life teaching teenagers and adults and serving in the church context. 

“Spirit in the Dark” Examines the Boundaries of Religious Life

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a series identifying books that Presbyterian leaders are reading now that inform their ministry and work. Why are these texts relevant today? How might they bring us into God’s future? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Derrick McQueen

The book that is providing theological perspective and inspiration for me these days is Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics by Josef Sorett. It is a work that examines the African-American cultural movements and their artistic offspring. From the New Negro Renaissance of the 1920’s through the Black Arts movement, Dr. Sorett examines the pervasive effect religion plays on these commonly seen as secular literary visions. This work is exciting because it puts religion in conversation with the secular and in doing so allows the church/religion to erase the divide between what is inside and what is outside of the church walls, or the boundaries of religious life.

Spirit in the Dark does not attempt to answer the question, “How does the church make itself relevant in the secular world?” It lays claim to the ways in which the division between the sacred and the secular is an artificial one. In fact, it sees the religious as an integral ingredient in the African-American literary tradition.

Church book study group leaders will find this book extremely helpful in training the eyes and ears to the religious undercurrents in the secular literary tradition. As Dr. Sorett’s work deals with the African-American experience, the culminating lessons are also applicable or at least adaptable for many different communities. It is just that in Spirit in the Dark, Sorett’s impressive research makes clear that the African-American experience is one that able to be clearly defined and claimed as such in this rich tapestry of literary tradition and can serve as a model to other communities.

Specifically, it frees the preacher up to understand that the literary resource of the African-American literary tradition is ripe for bringing in texts to be in conversation with the Bible and the community. It also provides a way for preachers and pastors to parse culture without giving in to the demand to “do something new to fill the pews” by watering down the theological foundations upon which their churches and communities are built. This is an important book and readers will definitely find their own jewels within.


Rev. Derrick McQueen, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Director for The Center on African American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice (CARSS) at Columbia University. He is also serving as pastor to St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem, N.Y., and is an adjunct professor of Worship and Preaching at Lancaster Theological Seminary. Derrick has been actively involved in work for LGBTQ inclusion in churches and society, facilitating dialogues and serving on the boards of such organizations as Presbyterian Welcome, That All May Freely Serve, More Light Presbyterians and Auburn Seminary. Recently he served as the Moderator of the Presbytery of New York City.

Living So God Can Use Me

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, our blog features reflections on vocation, offered by people who are engaged in ministry and work outside the church. What is God’s calling on our lives outside of the church? What is difficult about being Christian in the working world? How do our churches nurture a sense of Christian vocation? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Suzanne Newsom

I am a veteran teacher in a public school. I do not recall lining up my teddy bears and baby dolls as a child and teaching them in my pink bedroom. The catalyst of my teaching career was a mission trip to Haiti sponsored by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Presbytery. As an 18 year-old recent high school graduate, I traveled there in service to a remote village with a group of 14 others. At the end of that summer, I would attend UNC-Chapel Hill with plans to obtain a degree that would more than bring me financial security. The person who applied to go on that month long trip was a feminist who saw that only young men had traveled there on missions before. I traveled to Haiti to prove that women are strong. I returned with a stronger spirit for social justice and a humbled heart. That spirit moved me to become a teacher.

img_0338“I want to live so God can use me.” These are the words to one of my favorite hymns. God uses me everyday at Olympic High School where I teach English.

My faith supports me every day, all day, helping me to make decisions that, I hope, are ordered by God’s will. Each morning as I drive to work, I turn off the radio on the final leg of my journey. When I am at a loss for words and am afraid that I will lose my usually calm composure, I set my mind right with “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, oh, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” That little silent prayer is long enough that I can take a few deep breaths and then say what needs to be said in a tough situation.

While we public school teachers are not to talk about our faith or our politics, it is my hope that my students know that I am a Christian because what of what I show them. Curriculum is everything that happens in a school. Students see teachers when they are before the class and when they are not. Their eyes are watching us as we help each other and help them. I can make my faith a part of their curriculum without having a lesson plan about it.   

My life is rich as a result of teaching thousands of students in Charlotte. Their resilience is inspiring. My hope with each class is that we can build a community of people who feel welcome to share their questions and challenges as we learn together. Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church is a place where I can share myself and learn with others. I am challenged each week to apply what I glean from each sermon preached and hymn sung. I have learned that the more involved I am in church, the more the church is involved in me. So, I take my faith with me into my classroom and try to make each day an act of worship.


suzanne-newsomeSuzanne Newsom teaches English at The Renaissance School of Arts and Technology at Olympic High School in Charlotte, NC.  She was raised in the loving arms of Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church, where her family still worships.