What it Takes to Transform

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate and Jen James are curating a series featuring videos from National Gatherings and suggestions for how they might serve as resources for ministry. We’re revisiting speakers from this most recent National Gathering in Seattle as well as speakers from previous years. Our hope is that inviting you to engage (or reengage) their work might invite deeper reflection and possibly yield more fruit. What is taking root and bearing fruit in your own life and ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

In their testimony at the 2019 National Gathering in Seattle, Heidi Husted Armstrong and Scott Lumsden talk about the story of First Seattle Presbyterian Church – a church that went from being one of the biggest churches in the country to total membership collapse. This 30-minute video is a resource for any church group – the session, committees, or teams – to dig into what it takes to transform into the new thing in which God is calling them.

Heidi talks about three things that keep her “hanging in there.” Consider those three things below.

1. I have never been more free to say “I do not know what I’m doing.” How many 5 year plans have been run through this place? Like I’m going to come up with the one that works?! The phrase solvitur ambulando has been attributed to Saint Augustine, which translates as “it is solved by walking.” It means to just take the next step, and the next step, and God will show the way.

What is the hard thing before you in ministry that you need to take the next step toward? What might be an initial first step?

2. Letting go of “churchiness” so that I can embrace the quirkiness, the uniqueness, and the messiness that is in this place. Let me be present for what you have for us today. Let me show up. Help me show up for what is.

What is quirky, unique, and messy about what is in your place? How might you be more present to show up for what is?

3. Remember God is a God of resurrection. Resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing (Frederick Buechner). Being in a struggling church mean there’s lots of room for God to show up! There is one Lord of the Church who is still in the business of raising from the dead what is dead in us. Raising what is dead through us. Raising what is dead around us. Raising what is dead in spite of us.

What is dying around you? What might God be resurrecting and raising up in your midst? What are the spaces in your context where there is room for God to show up?

Scott closes their testimony by saying that the church has to admit we no longer have all the answers and instead need to start asking questions of ourselves, of our neighborhoods, and of God.

What questions do you need to start asking of yourself, of your neighborhood, and of God? What questions keep you up at night?

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.

Experiencing and Creating Sacred Ground

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month will focus on the art of coaching and the practice of ministry. Some posts will layout insights or frameworks of coaching and some will be stories of coaching that transformed a pastor or congregation. We hope they will inspire you. We hope that inspiration will turn into actual movement in your own life and ministry so that we might move closer to that vision of the church we long for, closer to the vision of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Jan Nolting Carter

My friend Mark turned to me in our small group at CREDO. I had just shared with them how I thought I had discerned what my next steps in ministry would be. Then he said, “Jan, you are forgetting something. I’ve watched you. You are a natural coach. You should consider exploring coach training.” Was that the voice of the Spirit? That was October. Could this be how God is calling me to help others find their giftedness?

24701264781_dd0d40ddf1_zNot entirely familiar with coaching, I did some research. I thought about the arc of my experience. When I taught social studies before I went to seminary, my primary image of teacher was coach—I saw myself as the one who was charged with drawing the gifts of my students out. Later, I found myself listening and encouraging colleagues as I served on the Committee on Ministry. Now nearly twenty years later, I have encouraged, essentially coached, folks in and out of the church. Perhaps Mark’s voice was indeed the voice of the Spirit, drawing attention to something that dwelled within me.

In January, I participated in a week-long residency with Auburn Theological Seminary and now I continue towards certification with 28 hours of teleclasses and 100 hours of student coaching. With some jest and a measure of seriousness, one of our teachers from Auburn closed our time together in Florida asking us to say our name and identify ourselves as coach.

“My name is Jan and I am a coach,” I heard myself saying as I claimed my place among our cohort of coaches-in-training.

What have I learned? Coaching is a valuable part of a tool box that offers pastors possibilities towards transformation. In this church-world that we live in that on dark days feels very discouraging, it has the potential to help pastors and church leaders identify the gifts that dwell within, pointing towards a future that is filled with hope, covenant and promise. The fine art of asking open-ended and essential questions. Through coaching, there is the possibility of being the vessel of the message of how God is nudging people and congregations towards the future that God envisions for us.

As a pastor engaged in intentional transitional ministry, using coaching skills to help leaders of congregations discover the potential within has the possibility of turning discouragement to hope and confusion to clarity. Beyond my interim work, it has the possibility of creating a coaching practice that helps me serve the church by creating a viable tent-making ministry that is both fulfilling and vital.

But that is the interesting thing. You may have noticed, to this point, I have been using the language of potential and possibility. Future-oriented. The reality, is, however, that I already am a coach. If I am really quiet, I can turn myself over to the work of the Spirit. It’s a humbling experience.

I mentioned the International Coaching Federation requires 100 hours of coaching. Three-quarters of it must be with renumeration. Peer-to-peer coaching counts—it’s bartering. A number of us in our cohort are coaching one another. So far it has been a profound experience.

Just this week, when I put the phone down, I took a deep breath. The first thought that entered into my head was, “Wow. I just experienced holy ground.” Through careful listening and asking open questions, my friend had experienced a kind of “aha” moment. She has found that what she says she really wants to do is not supported by the choices that she makes about her time. Journeying with her in her discovery felt sacred. By serving as a witness to the moment, I shared her wonder and her joy. Then, in reciprocity, as my friend coached me, I found a clarity about a question about direction that had eluded me. I felt a kind of certainty in my heart that had not been evident before.

At its best, coaching offers an invitation to be our best selves, to identify the giftedness that dwells within and to move us to action. I add my voice to the voices of Jessica Tate, Jeff Krehbiel, Laura Cunningham, and JC Austin to encourage you to seek out a coach and give it a try.

Jan Nolting Carter is a Transitional Pastor serving St. James Presbyterian Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. She is currently engaged in Coach Training through Auburn Theological Seminary.