When Our Screw Ups Are Met By God’s Grace

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Shavon Starling-Louis is one of our presenters. Learn more about her workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Shavon Starling-Louis

“Oh crap!” “I can’t believe I got myself into this situation. (…. Again.)” “I can’t do this!”

Those are the words that I hear from the bell tower of my mind when the reality of my f– ahem…. flub-ups hit me like a ton of bricks.

Here’s a truth about me.

I fail.

And when I do, I often feel like poop.

2014 communion tableI don’t often share this sentiment so bluntly with others, but there it is – in black and white no less. On a regular basis we as leaders of faith communities find ourselves lonely, embarrassed, confused, and suffering in bad head and spiritual spaces in light of our fragility and failures.

In the church (and the wider society), we have a stigma around failing.

In the PC(USA), we have a tendency to call leaders who are the best of the best. While this is generally considered a good thing, this way of thinking about leadership means we can lose the creative and spirit-led openness to new types of leaders and leadership. The “best of the best” often equates to the safest of the safe.

But the other problem is that we, as leaders, internalize the pressure to be the “best of the best.” Which means we feel a pressure to perform and assimilate to expected norms of what the best looks like, acts like, leads like.

(Sidenote: As a creative, young woman of color, the unspoken yet acclaimed “best of the best” in the PC(USA) rarely looks, acts, or leads anything like me, and that can feels crappy!)

We can lose or minimize the God-given unique combinations of interest, talents, and gifts that make us who we are because we aren’t the best in certain areas.

We can feel like imposters, failures, and frauds. Everything but the sons and daughters of God.

It’s a reality that a part of being growing creative people means that we will fail – especially when we try new things.

Unfortunately, the reality that we can strangely attempt to avoid or hide. And it’s a reality that can quickly turn from guilt to shame.

Thankfully, we have the theological terminology to name the reality that that “all fallen short.” Through the words and wisdom of our reformed tradition, we can name that are we are all guilty; we all fail. And we can confess in our words and actions that it is only by God’s grace that were are able to move forward as forgiven people.

But the stench of guilt and shame for things done and things left undone as we lead others has the ability to stick to us. Yet, as seen over and over, the stench often dissipates when allowed to come to air and light, love, and compassion.

And in the greater mysteries of God the very situations that once made us say “Crap!” are where we discover the grace and power of God in new and exciting ways.

I am so grateful that as the body of Christ, we are empowered to wade into any place of fear or anxiety compassionately together with hope.

You are invited to join me and my friend Glen Bell at the 2016 NEXT Church National Gathering for an open conversation about leading change, embracing failure, and naming the gifts of Holy Spirit that arise.

shavonShavon Starling-Louis is co-pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Providence, Rhode Island. Glen Bell is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Sarasota, Florida. In spite of failures and falls (literally and figuratively), they are committed to developing their gifts in leading change with God’s help – but sure enough, they are as human as they come. Shavon and Glen’s workshop, “Leading Change: Epic Fails and Spirit Surprises“, is offered during workshop block 1 on Monday.

Youth Ministry Beyond the Bubble

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Amanda Pine and Teer Hardy are two of our presenters. Learn more about their workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Amanda Pine and Teer Hardy

One of the greatest gifts for youth leaders is social media; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest (who doesn’t love the awesome games you can find there), and Tumblr.  All of these social media sites are full of resources that will aid in connecting leaders for idea sharing and tips about what works and what does not. Recently, on a Facebook youth ministry group board, there has been an influx of youth leaders asking for advice on how to handle being laid off (forced resignation), having their hours cut or increased without an increase in pay, or needing to leave congregations because they just are not able to make ends meet. This represents a troubling tone which is reflected among all of Christian education. Securing volunteer leadership is increasingly hard and financial resources to support paid program staff are also becoming increasingly scarce.

great bridge umc youthWhere is the silver lining in this? What can we possibly take away from job insecurity and financial and volunteer scarcity? “Youth Ministry Beyond the Bubble,” the workshop that we will be presenting at the NEXT Church National Gathering, will address how we can escape from our fears about ministry, and take (responsible) risks to make a youth ministry program great. Part of this involves inspiring change in our church communities in general, but part is about branching out to your mission field and partnering with community organizations and business to advance the goals of the ENTIRE community.

Using missional theology, we believe that youth ministry does not have to be the first program cut in a time of budget crisis. We do not offer any quick-fix or attractional advice for youth workers, but rather a change in mindset that we hope will inspire youth leaders to embrace challenges in their congregations with positivity, and treat their youth with top priority. We are passionate about youth ministry and church growth, specifically when the church grows to more effectively nurture the community it finds itself in.

Teer Hardy

Teer Hardy is husband, father, and brewery theologian. He serves as the Director of Youth Ministry at Great Bridge UMC in Chesapeake, VA.



Amanda Markam PineAmanda Pine is a cradle Presbyterian who currently serves the congregation of Great Bridge UMC as Director of Christian Education.

Amanda and Teer’s workshop is called “Youth Ministry Beyond the Bubble” – 

Are you constantly plagued by the “numbers” question? How many people are attending your programs? How many are new this week? This workshop will provide participants with practical, tried and true, ways to incorporate an intentionally outreaching focus into your youth ministry setting. Together, we will move beyond the traditional models of ministry and begin the practice of risk taking as a faith community. This workshop is offered on Tuesday during workshop block 3.

Focus on Workshops

Each week, we will highlight some of the wonderful workshops we will have at that 2016 National Gathering in Atlanta February 22-24. Check out all of the workshop offerings here.

Eventbrite - 2016 NEXT National Gathering

At Home with the Ministry of Reconciliation

Offered Monday in Workshop Block 1

As pastors and church leaders, we know that the ministry of reconciliation should not only be made manifest in the public spheres of our ecclesiastical and political lives. The ministry of reconciliation is also required at home. This workshop is designed for those whose families/friends (immediate and extended) are experiencing discord because of some of these ecclesiastical and political matters. Committed to the notion that our ministry of reconciliation is only as strong in public as it is in private, the facilitators will offer personal narratives and relational strategies to encourage the ministry of reconciliation at home.

Tony Sundermeier is the Senior Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta and is the son-in-law of Jonathan Miller, the Senior Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Moorestown, NJ. Tony and Jonathan are part of a politically and theologically diverse family that has seen its fair share of conflicts, hurts, and broken relationships. They have also striven for and witnessed reconciliation amidst some of these challenges.

The Church in the Street: Actions as Worship

Offered Tuesday in Workshop Block 2

Hear stories about people from the Hispanic-Latino Presbyterian Ministry of Preston Highway in Louisville, Kentucky who are “loving God and loving neighbor” in house church worship and in service to one another through construction projects, child care and mutual accompaniment through life’s challenges. Reflect on your congregation’s growing edges to “do worship” by being present to its members and others in your community, sharing the Gospel and worshiping God through acts of kindness and solidarity.

Elmer Zavala ministers a new worshiping community of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery that is comprised primarily of undocumented Mexicans. Since 1990, he has pastored in various urban and rural settings in Central America and the United States.

Always in Transition

Offered Tuesday in Workshop Block 3

*Recommended for first-time National Gathering attendees.*

Whether or not you are aware that your congregation or ministry setting is in transition, it is. Change may be overt: with an interim or transitional pastor in place, or there may just be changes in plans, in programs, in procedures in this exponentially fast-moving world. How can we live into this “new normal” of adaptive change? How can we help folks stay grounded in faith, yet become more adept at responding to change?

Leigh Gillis is serving her 5th intentional interim pastorate. She uses Bowen Family Systems Theory and teaches adaptive change, helping those overwhelmed, grieving and angry at changes in the church learn to “respond, not react.”

Eventbrite - 2016 NEXT National Gathering

Focus on Workshops

Each week, we will highlight some of the wonderful workshops we will have at that 2016 National Gathering in Atlanta February 22-24. Check out all of the workshop offerings here.

Eventbrite - 2016 NEXT National Gathering

f3 Men’s Bootcamp

Special morning event: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 7:30-8:15 am

f3 is a growing ministry for men in communities throughout the country. The three f’s stand for fitness, fellowship and faith. It is a non-denominational, cost-free community that individuals can create in their towns. It has served to reach unchurched and churched men who need any of the three elements in their life. It is a good avenue back into church and has proven to change lives. Come ready to workout!

Kyle Hite is the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Greenwood, South Carolina. He uses his certification by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) to help people live a healthier lifestyle.

Arts & Worship

Offered Monday in Workshop Block 1 and Tuesday in Workshop Block 2

Come explore visual and creative possibilities for worship. This workshop dives into ways worship can nourish our visual and kinesthetic sensibilities, and how congregations can explore theological themes artfully on a low budget. Participants will create art that will become part of the visual installations for the conference. All are welcome, especially those who proclaim they have no “artistic” abilities.

Lisle Gwynn Garrity is a recent graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta. As a “pastorist” (pastor/artist), she uses visual art to help churches explore and express faith. Learn more at or

Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love

Offered Tuesday in Workshop Block 2

Conflict has always been a part of religious communities. It is something every congregation, whether just beginning or centuries into its life, experiences. These disagreements can be forces for creation or destruction and navigating that balance is challenging. Come hear about strategies to disagree in love and to join in conversation about how conflict is changing and how we can, as a community of faith, creatively address it in our different contexts.

Andrew Plocher is the new pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Gwinn, Michigan, and a minister member of National Capital Presbytery. He has a decade of experience working with conflicted congregations and non-profit organizations. He is also working on finishing his D.Min. in pastoral counseling at Louisville Seminary.

Eventbrite - 2016 NEXT National Gathering

Call for Workshop Leaders!

Call for Workshop Leaders

at the NEXT Church National Gathering

First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA

February 22-24, 2016

The planning team is seeking workshops (75 minutes in length) that are engaging and thoughtful, sparking new ideas and approaches to ministry. These workshops can be held on-site or off-site in Atlanta. Please consider the Gathering description and questions below when discerning workshop topics and leaders.

Do you have a workshop you would like to offer at this year’s NEXT Gathering? Please fill out the online form by Sunday, September 6 to submit a proposal.

Do you have a workshop you’d like to see offered or someone you’d like to see offer a workshop? Make your suggestions here.

Questions? Be in touch with Jen James (, one of our workshop coordinators.


Faith at the Crossroads

What’s at stake?

For you? For your congregation? For your community?

This NEXT Church National Gathering — timed at the beginning of Lent — will engage questions that invite us into the transformative power of reconciliation and inspire us by the stories of those witnesses who go before us. We will ask:

  • How do we navigate the choices before us in faith-filled, Christ-honoring ways?
  • What’s at stake in the mission of the church today? Why does the church matter to the world?
  • What does it look like when the community of faith engages in reconciling work in a fractured city?
  • For what are we willing to give up the past and present form of the church we know and love? For what are we willing to sacrifice ourselves and lose our lives?
  • How do we practice the reconciling work about which we preach without giving in to partisanship or confines of ideology?
  • How do we give voice to places of sin, brokenness, and violence without becoming stuck and overcome by guilt, but able to move forward in hope and humility?
Photo credit: Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago

Photo credit: Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago

The Truth Shall Set You Free: Practicing Transformative Lament

Next Church Conference – Chicago 2015

Facilitated by, Tasha Hicks McCray (Mt. View Presbyterian Church) & Eliana Maxim (Seattle Presbytery)

The following is a collaborative poem comprised of responses from workshop participant’s to the question, Who Do You Say That I am? compiled by Glenn McCray.

I am from:



Washington DC

Wisconsin (actually, Michigan)

I am from:


McCormick (and we roll deep)

Austin Seminary but Gainesville is where home is

I am from:

Chicago…I’m not Presbyterian

Ann Arbor


I am from:

We don’t want to offend anyone but someone needs to say it

I am from:

A place of regret

I am from:

Shame; a place that exist that I am not proud of

I am…

Many things

I am…

Not Presbyterian!

I am…

Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, Irish, German, Dutch, Welsh

I am…

African American, Filipino, Spanish, Irish, Native (and some other stuff I’m not too

certain of)

I am…

An Afro-Caribbean, Sephardic, immigrant from Colombia. Spanish was my first

language, and I don’t have an accent.

I am…

A son of immigrants, fearfully and wonderfully made

I am…

A white male, top of the heap, most privileged

I am…

A Princeton Graduate

I am…

In the ordination process

I am…

Vulnerable, exposing my own prejudices and biases

I am…

A redeemed sinner

Gods own

I am…

A child of God

In process




I am…

“Re…” something…REdeemed, REformed

I am…


Grateful and troubled

Just another child of God

I am…

An aging beloved woman

I am…

A Single mother of 3 kids

I am…

Wonderfully being shaped

I am…


I am…