Exciting Opportunity for Seminarians

By MaryAnn McKibben Dana 

NEXT Church is inviting two student leaders from each Presbyterian seminary to come together with seminarians from across the country immediately prior to the 2015 NEXT Church National Gathering in Chicago.

We have been dreaming up this event in hopes of deepening the strategic impact NEXT has in connecting and developing seminarians as leaders of change in our church. We are inviting each of our Presbyterian seminaries to send two students to attend a pre-gathering from noon on Saturday, March 14 through Sunday evening, March 15, 2015. The students are encouraged to stay for the entirety of the NEXT Church National Gathering, (March 16-18) if the limitations of their class schedules allow it.

Our goals for this pre-gathering are as follows:

  1.  Connect student leaders to each other across seminaries, to seed the relational network that will support, sustain, and challenge them throughout the course of their ministry.
  2. Hear from the students about their seminary experiences and their hopes for leadership in service to the church in the world beyond their seminary careers.
  3. Invite the seminarians into relationships with innovative leaders in the NEXT network who are the peers and mentors already working in and beyond congregations to bear the fruits of the gospel in significant and inspiring ways.
  4. Hear from the seminarians about their relationship to the PC(USA) as a denomination, and, if needed, help to strengthen that relationship.

Wayne Meisel, Director of the Center for Faith and Service at McCormick, will facilitate the two-day conversation along with NEXT leadership. Frank Yamada and McCormick have graciously offered housing for Saturday night, free of charge. NEXT will cover the cost of student registration and housing for the national gathering, if students can stay in Chicago through March 18th.

We are excited about this partnership! Stay tuned for updates about this new venture.

Engaging and Changing the World

Each month we ask a different person from the NEXT Church community to assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a conversation around theological education. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here.

By Susan Fox

impossible copyThe Huffington Post recently published an article by Wayne Meisel, a Presbyterian minister whose many hats include working with the Faith3 initiative. This program is designed to support and resource the Church in its efforts to share the gospel with young adults in ways that significantly impact their lives. The title of the Post article,“Seminaries that Change the World. A Growing List of Transitioning Institutions for Transformational Times,” grabbed my attention immediately. Now, those of us connected with theological education do a lot of talking about our formative and transformative work with students and institutions (i.e., “the church”), and often that language shows up in seminary mission and vision statements. But changing the world? That’s an audacious claim, except for the fact that this is exactly what Christ calls us to do.

Since the title further suggests that there’s a list of such seminaries, of course I quickly skimmed the article to learn which ones made the cut. Sure, the organization behind this concept doesn’t pretend to be the final arbiter of seminary status and worth. It’s a tiny upstart with a big heart. Still, which seminary doesn’t want to be among the “world-changing” elect?

Being included in a list of world-changing seminaries by a program that has no official standing or power may appear to be an empty honor, but what about the underlying premise? Seminaries that change the world must engage the world. Herein lies the trajectory of theological education both now and in the future. Our charge: to understand and effectively prepare leaders to serve in a world that bears little resemblance to the world in the days when the concept of a classic theological education first appeared. The tasks that confront the new pastor or educator today include what we might describe as “traditional” ministry but set in a context that is increasingly diverse and complex. A seminary that crosses its academic fingers and hopes its graduates learn how to navigate one’s ministry context post-graduation is fortunately becoming a thing of the past.

The Presbyterian and Reformed Theological Field Educators caucus is a close-knit group of colleagues who are, obviously, passionate about contextual education. As a member of that group for twenty-four years, I’ve seen exciting developments in our discipline. To do our work we must have one foot in the academy and the other in the church and world. Our contextual settings for internships increasingly intersect the multi-faith and multi-ethnic realities of society. Targeted internships in small membership congregations promote discernment of call while introducing students to a growing denominational demographic. In one of the most exciting developments in years, our students now have the opportunity to engage in new church developments through the 1001 Worshipping Communities initiative. Through participation in this program, students learn 21st century ministry skills such as entrepreneurship, evangelism, and discipleship. Most important, perhaps, is the paradigm-shifting experience of taking the church to the people, broadening the concept of “church” to include non-traditional formats.

There is much to be excited about in theological education today and in the future. There is also much work and, yes, reforming, to be done. In an age in which the futures of denominations and seminaries are subjects of serious speculation, it seems imminently clear that stasis is not an option. The driver of the evolving and future shape of theological education is found largely in the two adjectives in Meisel’s titular phrase, “Transitioning institutions for transformational times.” Gone are the days when theological education could be limited to a three-year immersion of Bible, history, and theology and the hope that any other necessary ministerial formation would occur in the first call context. Not only is that poor pedagogy for today; it is inadequate preparation for ministry in a world that is, in popular jargon, a hot mess. Information is not enough. Today’s seminaries are charged with teaching students whose gifts may not include familiarity with the language, disciplines, and traditions of faith. Our graduates walk into ministry settings that expect them to be more than founts of knowledge. They must hit the ground able to provide leadership in a community and world that is culturally and religiously complex, technologically sophisticated, politically charged, and populated with a growing number of “nones” and aging baby-boomers.

I suspect that Meisel and his small band of colleagues in the Faith3 endeavor are onto something important. By putting forth a definition of a “world-changing” seminary, they have thrown down a curriculum-challenging ethos-examining gauntlet. Even a small “world-engaging” step is a step in the right direction. Seminaries that change the world, according to the selection criteria, develop a culture of sustained engagement on campus and offer courses and programming that integrate knowledge, faith and service. Internships—as important as they are—cannot be the sole realm of that engagement. Other professional degree programs such as k-12 education require students to participate in practicums from day one. Some seminaries are doing the same by adding diverse contextual learning experiences throughout the three years of the M.Div. degree program. Others offer young adults free on-campus housing or seminary scholarships if they participate in AmeriCorps or Peace Corps for a year before they matriculate.

Students and churches should not be the only foci for formation and transformation. Our seminaries too, fall under the same mandate. Perhaps that notion should be written into our mission and vision statements lest we fall victim to our own hubris. Nineteenth century historian Henry B. Adams wrote “Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.” Change – shifting gears – tends to make us nervous, especially in uncertain times. The exciting news is that the spirit of change is wafting through our theological institutions, the Church and through the world.

Give us open minds, O God, ready to see and embrace the new thing that You are calling us to do in our seminaries, churches, and world. May we resist the urge to cling so tightly to the past that we set limits on the future. Surprise us with new possibilities as we strive t0 make a difference in this world. In your holy name we pray. Amen.

Fox, Susan picIn November of 2013 Susan Fox entered her twenty-fifth year of service at Union Presbyterian Seminary. An administrator and faculty member, Susan directs the Supervised Ministry and Vocational Planning office. She characterizes her work today at Union as bridging academics with practical ministry during a critically important and energizing time in the life of the Church.

Image: altay

Homecoming Sundays: When Opening Our Doors Isn’t Enough

By Wayne Meisel

Here is the church smallThis coming Sunday, many churches across the country dust off “Homecoming Sunday” signs and banners. Though not part of the official church calendar, its subtext might as well be: “Summer is over, time to get back to your church!” (And get current with your pledge).

Even with all the hoopla, it isn’t likely that this upcoming event will draw many young adults. Anyone reading the religion section or blogs and posts knows that there has been a lot written about why Millennials don’t go to church.

Rather than ask for an explanation (church is boring, irrelevant, judgmental and at a bad time of day), my question is: why isn’t the church reaching out, and supporting, and loving on the Millennials?

No, this is not a covert operation to try and get converts for Jesus and to fill up our pews and collection plates in the process. I know it is hard for some to believe that there are Christian leaders and Christian communities that seek to love by showing love, but there are.

We should not just withhold our love, coffee, juice and cookies for those who come through our church doors. The pope was pretty clear about that earlier this summer.

“We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities when so many people are waiting for the Gospel!” Pope Francis said. “It’s not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people.”

We are called to welcome, invite, include and build together. When that welcome is not very inviting, it is time to change how we live. Let’s go look, listen and follow through.


Where are they? How do you find them? That is the question I get all the time when I remind church people that there are young adults everywhere, many of whom are serving in our communities. What bugs me about this question is that if they want to find an accountant, they go find one. Yet, when we are looking for the young adult community, we shut off our brains. Why do we lose our initiative? Why is it so hard? Perhaps it’s because many of us feel awkward.

Where are they? They are our own kids and our kids’ friends. They work in the schools our children attend, they work out at the Y where we exercise, they shop in the stores where we shop, and they serve at the agencies that we support through the United Way, and yes, even through our congregations.

We don’t see them because we only seek them when we are looking for someone to fill the empty seat in the pew or lead the youth group. Yet, if we are looking for children of God who are living out the call to serve, they are everywhere that you are. And if they are not there, they are not hard to find.

When opening our doors isn’t enough, we have to look, listen, and follow through.


One of the prophetic voices of our time, Rachel Held Evans, writes: “Millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.” She goes on to say, “I would encourage church leaders eager to win Millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community.”

So let’s talk: But…

Don’t assume you know what they want to talk about or what they need.

Don’t think about what you want out of it; think about they want and need from you.

Instead … Ask about:

The service that they do and the joys and challenge that come with it

What inspired them to serve?

Have they ever been a part of a faith community? Were their parents? Grandparents? Did they grow up in a church? What has been their experience (good and bad)? What are their impressions (good and bad)? If you don’t get defensive about their critique, they may just talk to you again.

Ask them what they need … it may be as simple as where is the best coffee shop and as big as struggling with mental health issues and the need for a therapist.

Ask them what social issues they care about. Offer to connect them with individuals and local organizations and people that are involved in these issues.

Ask them what they like to read and what they like to watch. What do they do in their free time?

Ask about their future plans. Where do they hope to be next? What kind of help do they need to get there?

Tell them that they are loved, that you are grateful for their interests, and talents and gifts, and let them know that you are there for them, regardless of what they believe or what they do with themselves on a

Sunday morning or any other time for that matter.

Follow Through

Invite them for dinner and ask them to bring their friends.

Bring cookies to their work sites.

Offer them tickets to concerts, plays, ballgames and other events that they might not be able to attend because of the cost.

Offer your buildings as meeting spaces for their trainings and social events and don’t bother charging them.

And if offering them your space can be received as an in-kind donation, have it recorded as a contribution, thus showing that the church was involved and supportive.

Support their service organizations with your mission dollars.

Invite them to present a moment for mission, teach an adult education class, or even to preach a sermon.

Organize a service trip with members of the church, including but not limited to the youth group, and work side by side.

Host a film series that features documentary films that highlight the social justice issues young adults care about. Create space to have conversation where ideas and beliefs are exchanged, not where they are being preached at, or judged. Look at the Faith and Justice Film Series that was created by Macky Alston of Auburn Media.

Hold a weekly meal just for community and conversation and allow them to be both light and lingering.

Invite them to live with you in your home if you have extra room, or in the church manse if you have an empty one. Or you could do what Earl Koopercamp did at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Harlem and just turn the church attic into bedrooms.

And if they do come to church for worship, here is a little advice about coffee hour conversation.

Don’t ask “How old are you?” Ask “What did you think of the service today?”

Don’t ask “Are you new here?” Say, “I don’t think we’ve met, my name is …”

Don’t say, “We need more young people.” Say, “Great to meet you.”

Wayne Meisel founded the Bonner Foundation and currently serves as the Director of Faith and Service at the C.F. Foundation in Atlanta, Ga. He is the unofficial chaplain to young adults in service through programs like AmeriCorps and Teach for America.

Answering the Call: Starting a Young Adult Intentional Community (Hospitality House)

faith3A webinar hosted by Faith3 and the Presbyterian Mission Agency on January 16, 2013 from 3-4pm EST.

At the 2012 NEXT National Gathering in Dallas, Wayne Meisel made a compelling case for offering hospitality to the young adults in our midst. Join the webinar to keep the conversation going.

Hospitality is a central theme of the Christian tradition. Our approach is to extend that hospitality to a generation of young people who find themselves in times of transition — times when they may feel particularly vulnerable or isolated. In your community there are likely a number of young adults in need of food, affordable housing, fellowship, and community — young adults serving agencies like AmeriCorps and Teach for America. Their presence provides us a unique opportunity to live out our call to hospitality.

Join Faith3 and The Presbyterian Mission Agency for an informational webinar about Houses of Hospitality. You’ll hear from leaders of existing Houses and from visionaries such as Wayne Meisel and learn about how you can transform your church and community into a space of welcome.

Join the webinar on January 16, 3-4pm EST.

Space is limited–click here to reserve your spot.


What’s in your head?

Author’s note: In the effort to spark some conversations, the following is in response to a prompt, “So, you have attended a NEXT Church event! What did you learn in Dallas (or Indianapolis or Durham or another regional gathering) that has informed your thoughts about ministry today?” Since I raised this question, it is only fair if I answer first. If you would like to share, please send your post to

wayne meiselby Andrew Taylor-Troutman

A confession: Wayne Meisel is in my head.

This is not a bad thing, really, because I found him to be delightful and engaging in Dallas at the 2012 National Gathering. Yet he challenges me too. He is at once comforting and unsettling, simultaneously reassuring yet provocative. The reasons for such paradox are found in my own story.

You see, I was born in 1981, which many designate as the cut-off between the Generations X and Y. What an auspicious year to be born, particularly if you decide to make a career in the mainline church. I look young enough to be mistaken for a member of Generation Y and, admittedly, my Birkenstocks and shaggy beard are in some ways meant to evoke such a characterization. But I grew up in a denomination that was built to appeal to Generation X, a model that was itself a continuation of baby boomer preferences. As a result, I often find myself on the cusp, pulled between this and that. I want to work for change, but don’t really want to rock the boat; I appreciate the tradition, even as I feel the burden of keeping an institution alive.

So after I left Dallas, Wayne Meisel has taken up residence in my head, stubbornly refusing to allow me to brush these contradictions under the rug. During his presentation, Meisel challenged the “next church” to listen to the younger generation. Let them lead!

Sound great, huh?

As Meisel spoke, I remember looking around, noticing that my older colleagues were nodding appreciatively. Good for them, I thought, I hope they do empower people.

That’s about the time when I realized that I could not identify with either the older or the younger generation, neither the listeners nor the talkers! And so, I felt a burden of being stuck in between. I am aware that the following is somewhat of a caricature, but as an illustration, I am too inexperienced to pastor a tall steeple church yet too imbedded in this culture to start a hospitality house. What’s “next” is neither something for me to hand down nor to pick up, not about handing over the car keys or enrolling in driver’s ed or, for that matter, learning to skateboard in skinny jeans.

What, then, is my role? What about those of us who, in many ways, have been trained to replace the old guard, except now we are all aware that, unless things change, there is not going to be much left to replace?

Wayne Meisel, that voice in my head, pushes me to be a change agent as a facilitator. I think it is inevitable that institutional transformation is painful, but perhaps from my vantage point in between, I can provide a little space for transition.

After Dallas, I came back to my presbytery and got involved with the Committee on Preparation for Ministry. Yes, dear reader, I am aware that joining a committee is not exactly the most revolutionary act that comes to mind. I don’t need Wayne Meisel to tell me that. My wife, who is Generation Y, teases me plenty!

But, in this role, I can work directly with seminary students, support them, and provide connections. Most of all, I can learn from them, and then help interpret their passion for my senior colleagues. As a transition agent, I do not view my role as gatekeeper, but rather someone who issues an invitation. Here’s where we are and some idea of where we would like to be. How can you help us? What new direction would you take us? Finally, the crucial “next” step: How can we learn from each other?

I am in between the generations; my perspective is a paradox. Perhaps my goal, then, should be to raise questions, not necessarily to answer them. Maybe such work is even a calling. Thank you, Wayne Meisel.