That much of the speaking that was done in Indianapolis on Monday and Tuesday was done by white male pastors did not go unnoticed by the event’s participants. Their observation is accurate. Out of three sermons, two were given by that demographic; two of the three “testimonies” offered after the worship liturgies were also delivered by white male pastors.
In addition to the speaking that went on in the sanctuary, many of the leaders of small groups were also, you guessed it, non-female, non-ruling elder, non-non-white people.
So in the event’s final hours, when event-goers were invited to share their thoughts about the goings on, this got pointed out. And pointed out. And pointed out some more.
The qualification has been given by John Vest that, though this characteristic was something of a flaw at NEXT Church, the gathering was clearly a beginning to an important conversation, and a very good one at that. If the next NEXT event looks the same, then the movement may have a serious systemic limitation.
In addition, I want to point out two things, one by way of explanation and the other by way of correction. First the explanation. The NEXT Church gathering was conceived of and organized by a group of progressive pastors, many of whom serve tall-steeple churches. It’s a largely white male group. That at its first denomination-wide gathering the leadership gave most of the prime speaking time to itself makes organizational sense. They were framing the conversation, and since it’s a conversation they started and then invited everyone else into, they were the first to speak.
Second, it shows a bad understanding of what the NEXT conversation is aiming at to criticize the makeup of the small group leadership. A personal anecdote will illustrate my point.
One of the leaders (a white, female pastor) had her plane diverted to Louisville on Sunday night due to weather and so was not able to lead her Monday morning small group. She texted me and asked me to fill in as facilitator. I replied, “Sure, but would you rather ask an expert on the topic?”
Her answer was simple: “The facilitators aren’t meant to be experts, only listeners and recorders.”
So at least one of the white male pastor small group leaders was there by accident.
But all the others were put there for a reason: to let other people talk. I attended a Monday afternoon small group in which the white male pastor facilitator hardly said three sentences in the allotted hour, all of which were for the sake of clarification and invitation. The most frequent voices in that group came from a female seminary graduate looking for a call, a female deacon, and a female pastor (all white).
NEXT is trying to provide a platform for lots of different voices within the PC (U.S.A.). I for one am assuming the best about its intentions, intentions which were on display during its inaugural conference, especially in the role played by its small group leaders.