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The Town that Sold Sand

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Ken D. Fuquay is curating a series featuring an eclectic group of voices responding to the question, “Does church matter? And if it matters, how, and if it does not, why?” Some of the voices speak from the center of the PC(USA); others stand on the periphery. One or two of the voices come from other denominations while some speak to us from the wilderness and barren places. “To every age, Christ dies anew and is resurrected within the imagination of humans.” These voices are stirring up that imagination in their own way. May your imagination be stirred as you consider their insight. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Erika Funk

There once was a town in Texas that made sand. Really great sand. Right there in the middle of Texas, the best sand used for fracking. Fracking? Yep. Turns out good sand is essential for the process and when fracking started to take off, so did the small town of Brady, population 6,000, which had been making great sand since the ‘50s. As fracking grew, Brady eventually had seven sand plants. The whole town bustled with people who worked for the sand company. This was sand town! Until West Texas figured out how to mine the same kind of sand cheaper and closer to the fracking projects.

The town’s economy began to spiral. Now many people are out of work and have moved away. The last sand plant closed the end of May. Even folks with high paying jobs are leaving, there’s no work for them here without the plants. What is Brady without sand mines?

Sadly, this tale all too common in many U.S. towns today. The economy has shifted, globally, nationally and locally and there’s not much we can do about it.

In other towns, distant and different from Central Texas, something similar is happening in an industry we might call “church.” The atheist church began over 12 years ago in England and has grown at the pace of Starbucks locations. Atheist churches are popping up in the US and are spreading just as fast. With names like Sunday Assembly and Oasis, the Atheist church is exactly what it sounds like. People gather together on Sunday for music, community, an inspiring word, and information on where and how to serve others. Churches like this are clear to say they are anti-supernatural. It is a no myth zone, in their words. But yes, they use the word “church” in their names.

I went to hear the founders of the Atheist Church movement in England speak once at a conference and I will admit what they described sounded like fun. They sing, they laugh, they care about each other, and they have snacks! In fact, the leader is also a stand-up comedian! She was warm and funny. Their church is a simpler, easier form of the same thing I grew up with, easier to access and without all the cost. Like less expensive and more accessible sand.

This is the truth of what organized religions face today. What we offer can now be found closer to home (even online) and with less risk, less complications. We’ve done this to ourselves, church people, and I hope there’s not too much debate about that. The church has lost her voice, her passionate and articulate voice for things that really matter. The messages heard from the church beyond the sanctuary walls are typically mean, judgmental, coded, and “siloed.” As a whole, the church is not seen to have a voice for the suffering, the marginalized, the disengaged or even people who are living full lives and dedicated to issues they really care about. We sing, we give motivational talks, we create great fellowship events, so what’s missing?

While we were trying out new Sunday School times and praise music someone else came along and found a better way to connect people and share good news. And masses of people are flocking to it. The good news for us and humanity is that people still long for community, fun, and meaning beyond one’s individual life and goals. We should accept that we are no longer the experts at community and meaning and instead need to ask “what would be missing from the world if there was no church?” That’s a hard question to answer but worth contemplating. I do not believe the church is dying. It is changing and transforming and we are living in an exciting time of re-examination. The church will not die until God releases us from that purpose.

So how will we answer the question: What’s missing from the world that faith communities can uniquely offer? What’s missing that the church knows how to help people find?


Erika Funk is the Director of CROSS Missions at Myers Park Presbyterian Church. She is celebrating her 25th year of ordination in the PCUSA by returning to youth ministry. Her love of youth knows no end – she’s also mom to a 18 year old and a 13 year old. She likes whiskey but mostly drinks coffee.

Transformative Learning at the National Gathering

by Jen Kottler and Leslie Mott

For the last several years, NEXT Church has been inviting its National Gathering participants into a new way of thinking about and doing church, challenging us to live into Christ’s calling in ways that are life giving and life affirming. NEXT Church is not about change for change’s sake as much as it is about missional change, rethinking what it means to be the church in the 21st century.

This year, we are National Gathering attendees to re-think – or at least consider – what it might look like if we used our time together to practice a new way of being with one another.

We won’t give you a system or process or list of do’s and don’ts. (We hate that kind of stuff personally.) As pastors and yogis, we have been processing how we bring the most transformational elements from our yoga practice into our work as ministers. We wonder what might change if we thought of our faith as a practice rather than a set of beliefs?

During our time together, we will introduce you to a simple yet transformational way to re-think our work in the church. How would our meetings or worship services be different if they began with a clear intention that moved us into engagement and on to reflection that did more than evaluate what was done, but really challenged us to go deeper and shift our original intention?

As people in ministry, our personal and professional lives overlap, so the questions of the heart, our intentions, our engagement and our personal and professional reflection have much to inform each other.

What do you wonder about? Bring those thoughts with you. Share them with others. Be open to meeting new friends and having a few heart-to-heart conversations – ones where you are listening to connect and grow through sharing with others.

Someone once proclaimed to Maya Angelou, “I am a Christian,” to which she replied, “Already?” We wonder how our churches might change if we focused on loving people into discipleship with the challenge of living out our faith on a daily basis, worrying less about what that looks like, and more about a fresh appreciation of wonder.  In essence moving from the ‘how’ to the ‘wow.’

This is what happened to the woman at the well. Because she was open, because she listened and wasn’t afraid, she had a conversation that transformed her life. Indeed, it transformed not only her life, but the lives of others – and is one that can continue to transform our lives even today. You are still welcome to come to the National Gathering with your to-do list and set of tasks for learning that you wish to accomplish. But we also hope that you will come with an open mind, an open heart and a desire to connect deeply with others.


Jen Kottler and Leslie Mott are pastors, spiritual directors and yoga practitioners who love Jesus, are passionate about the church and will be inviting all attendees of the 2017 National Gathering to consider a different way of being together during our plenary time at the conference this March.

Greatest Hit: Making Space to Engage Our Neighbors

This fall, in addition to sharing reflections on “what is saving your ministry right now?”, we are also bringing back some of our most popular posts over the last couple of years. We hope these “greatest hits” will allow you new insight in this busy time of year. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

This post on multicultural ministry and community engagement is one of our most popular posts in the history of the NEXT Church blog. We’ve updated it slightly below in hopes it becomes a fresh resource as you look towards December.

By Rachel Triska

Several weeks ago, I was sitting in our coffee bar during an event and overheard a conversation that made me smile. A tech company had brought 125 of their employees from across the globe to our space for a major annual meeting. One of the guests was visiting with Kevin (a Dallas cop who runs security for all our events). The gentleman asked Kevin, “So what is this place?” Kevin began to give him our elevator pitch, “Life in Deep Ellum is a cultural center built for the artistic, social, economic and spiritual benefit of Deep Ellum and urban Dallas.” Then he added, “Basically, it’s a church that opens up to the community for a lot of different things. I’m here all the time – art shows, corporate events, fundraisers.” To which the gentleman responded, “You could have asked me for a list of twenty guesses – a church would not have been one of them.”

From the Life in Deep Ellum Facebook page

From the Life in Deep Ellum Facebook page

Joel and I have been pastoring together at Life in Deep Ellum for almost six years. Deep Ellum is a historic neighborhood just outside downtown Dallas. It’s often described as the Brooklyn of the South. Basically, it’s a small neighborhood with a big personality – lots of artists, entrepreneurs and folks who pride themselves on not needing God.

It’s that last characteristic that forced us to think differently about how to engage our neighborhood – traditional methods of outreach were not working. It was my husband who first pointed out what this neighborhood was forcing us to do. It forced us to stop thinking like pastors and start thinking like missionaries.

He was absolutely right. We found that to connect with our neighborhood we had to slow down enough to learn the language, the customs, how to appreciate their sense of humor. Some people might say we’ve kind of gone native. Ministering in this neighborhood certainly changed us.

What I love about thinking like a missionary is it taught me to think beyond Sundays. To think about how we might engage our neighbors seven days a week. That’s how we reached the decision to operate as a cultural center Monday-Friday.

Every Sunday we stack all the chairs in our venue (worship space) and put them away. Our band clears the stage. We take down all our church-specific signage. We clear out because we are making space to engage our neighbors. Those very same neighbors who say they will never go to church but hang out with us in our building all the time. On Tuesday nights a dance company takes over the space. Mondays and Wednesdays we host Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. In the next few weeks we’ll host a book launch for a local author, a closing reception for an art exhibit and have 500 teens in for a spoken word event.

Each year, not including Sundays, we see between 10,000 and 20,000 people come through our building. Our coffee shop will serve somewhere around 35,000 cups of coffee this year.

A lot can happen when we think beyond Sundays. One of our friends who first engaged with us via community events says, “What happens here Monday through Friday is why I gave Sundays a chance. And what happens here on Sundays restored my faith in what Christian community can be.”

We use Monday through Friday as an opportunity to redefine for people what it looks like to be the Church on mission. And often, it does open their hearts to what happens on Sunday.


Rachel Triska is the Chief Practicioner at Life in Deep Ellum. Rachel enjoys running, reading the classics, and expressing her inner child while playing with her two daughters. rachel@lifeindeepellum.com

 

Looking for more? Check out the resources below from NEXT:

Making Space to Engage Our Neighbors

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During April, as we continue to process the 2015 National Gathering, Joe Clifford is curating a month of blog posts exploring multiculturalism in the NEXT Church. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, orTwitter!

By Rachel Triska

Several weeks ago, I was sitting in our coffee bar during an event and overheard a conversation that made me smile. A tech company had brought 125 of their employees from across the globe to our space for a major annual meeting. One of the guests was visiting with Kevin (a Dallas cop who runs security for all our events). The gentleman asked Kevin, “So what is this place?” Kevin began to give him our elevator pitch, “Life in Deep Ellum is a cultural center built for the artistic, social, economic and spiritual benefit of Deep Ellum and urban Dallas.” Then he added, “Basically, it’s a church that opens up to the community for a lot of different things. I’m here all the time – art shows, corporate events, fundraisers.” To which the gentleman responded, “You could have asked me for a list of twenty guesses – a church would not have been one of them.”

From the Life in Deep Ellum   Facebook page

From the Life in Deep Ellum Facebook page

Joel and I have been pastoring together at Life in Deep Ellum for almost six years. Deep Ellum is a historic neighborhood just outside downtown Dallas. It’s often described as the Brooklyn of the South. Basically, it’s a small neighborhood with a big personality – lots of artists, entrepreneurs and folks who pride themselves on not needing God.

It’s that last characteristic that forced us to think differently about how to engage our neighborhood – traditional methods of outreach were not working. It was my husband who first pointed out what this neighborhood was forcing us to do. It forced us to stop thinking like pastors and start thinking like missionaries.

He was absolutely right. We found that to connect with our neighborhood we had to slow down enough to learn the language, the customs, how to appreciate their sense of humor. Some people might say we’ve kind of gone native. Ministering in this neighborhood certainly changed us.

What I love about thinking like a missionary is it taught me to think beyond Sundays. To think about how we might engage our neighbors seven days a week. That’s how we reached the decision to operate as a cultural center Monday-Friday.

Every Sunday we stack all the chairs in our venue (worship space) and put them away. Our band clears the stage. We take down all our church-specific signage. We clear out because we are making space to engage our neighbors. Those very same neighbors who say they will never go to church but hang out with us in our building all the time. On Tuesday nights a dance company takes over the space. Mondays and Wednesdays we host Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. In the next few weeks we’ll host a book launch for a local author, a closing reception for an art exhibit and have 500 teens in for a spoken word event.

Each year, not including Sundays, we see between 10,000 and 20,000 people come through our building. Our coffee shop will serve somewhere around 35,000 cups of coffee this year.

A lot can happen when we think beyond Sundays. One of our friends who first engaged with us via community events says, “What happens here Monday through Friday is why I gave Sundays a chance. And what happens here on Sundays restored my faith in what Christian community can be.”

We use Monday through Friday as an opportunity to redefine for people what it looks like to be the Church on mission. And often, it does open their hearts to what happens on Sunday.


Rachel Triska is the Chief Practicioner at Life in Deep Ellum. Rachel enjoys running, reading the classics, and expressing her inner child while playing with her two daughters. rachel@lifeindeepellum.com

The Courage to Die

by Jessica Tate

I’m an Apple (computer) enthusiast. While I’ve resisted temptation of the iPhone 5, I have been paying attention to its press. In an article for the Washington Post, columnist Steven Pearlstein noted a trend in the tech world. Three of the most dominating firms have tanked in recent years.

  • Nokia was once the mobile phone leader with 40% of the global market. It had a smartphone prototype a decade before iPhone came out, but didn’t turn technology into competitive product quickly enough. Now their marketshare is cut in half.
  • Blackberry sales are down 95% and business experts wonder if Research in Motion (its maker) will survive.
  • Best Buy killed Circuit City and Sears once upon a time, but now it is getting creamed by cheaper on-line options.

“One lesson to be drawn from all three stories,” Pearlstein writes, “is the danger faced by dominant firms that refuse to cannibalize themselves–to give up existing sales in order to get the jump on next-generation products and services.”

Apple, he says, ruled the personal music player with the iPod, but realized that if someone developed a phone that could play music as well as the iPod, they’d be toast. Rather than try to shore up the iPod market, Apple cannibalized themselves, introducing the very product they feared most. The results speak for themselves.

Franklin Golden, co-pastor of Durham Church, shared the inspiring story of Durham Church’s revitalization effort at the NEXT gathering in North Carolina this summer. Durham church is a multi-cultural congregation devoted to reconciliation, service and evangelism. They have some grace-infused stories to share about overcoming racial and cultural differences and dealing with issues of power head-on.

“Other pastors say they want the deep ministry Durham Church has,” Golden said. “No, you don’t,” he replies. “You don’t what this. Not until you’re ready to give up all the trappings of church.” The hard-earned wisdom they’ve received is this: “When privilege and power come up against the reign of God you can run away or you can die.”

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  — John 12:24

I wonder what we, as a church, might be holding onto too tightly? What part of ourselves must we let go, let die, so that we might bear much fruit?


Jessica Tate1Jessica Tate is Director of NEXT Church.