next-churchThe fourth NEXT Church national gathering is next week in Minneapolis. I’ve been to each of these gatherings so far, and I’ve come away each time with lots to think about and experiment with. This week we’ll look back at the first three NEXT gatherings and suggest things I’m looking forward to at this year’s gathering.

The NEXT experience in Charlotte was rich in worship (led by Theresa Cho and her merry band). It was also the first national gathering run by a National Director, the incomparable Jessica Tate. Top to bottom, Charlotte was as good as it gets.

My two posts about the gathering are here and here.

A year on, the thing from the Charlotte gathering that has made the most difference in my work is the worship stuff. Ashley Goff’s plea for a more improvisational sensibility in preaching in liturgy has been in my mind every time I’ve preached in the past year. I tried her “Yes! Let’s!” benediction the very first chance I got. Also, Casey Wait Fitzgerald’s performance of Biblical story telling encouraged me to bring something of a Godly Play feel to Scripture reading in worship and in my work with students, and I put that to work right away.

Pleas for creativity, risk-taking, and even failure were abundant in Charlotte, and I expect that trajectory to continue next week. NEXT has always succeeded at putting those sensibilities on display though, and not just dangling them as ideals that most people (and churches) can’t reach. When people like Aisha Brooks Lytle and Joe Clifford describe the things they’re trying, you come away with concrete ideas. It’s constructive.

What I’m most looking for in Minneapolis is the development of a school of leadership within NEXT. I’m eager to hear distilled some broadly agreed upon ideals and practices among people leading churches in a NEXT-y way. Chad Andrew Herring, I’m looking at you.