More NEXT Church Summary: In Defense of White Male Pastors

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.

12 thoughts on “More NEXT Church Summary: In Defense of White Male Pastors

  1. I’d concur with this assessment, Roc, though one small quibble. The sermon divergence was really 1 in 4, when you add the host pastor’s sermon at closing worship.

  2. Rock Dawg,

    Shoot, I was ready to be very enthusiastic about this gathering…but if the big upshot was whining about the race and gender of the leadership….I do fear for the remnant left after our denomination divides finally on the homosexuality issue. You ran into precisely what I told you I feared at lunch the other day. We are dead if we are stuck with 60’s interest group liberalism bent on finding discrimination and establishing quotas. The questions must be: Have we chosen the best people we can imagine to stimulate our thinking and guide our process? How did those people do? What feedback do we need to give them and what do we need to remember next time we chose? Any time spent on the question, what percentage of these people were X or Y? is worse than time wasted, it is slow suicide. Rex

    1. Sexy Rexy (if we’re using pet names, that’s fair game, right?),

      I think the critique of race and gender has been aired and processed. I’m not worried it will stymie further work.

      As for the right-ness of the people leading, I have no doubt of that.

      The best thing I’ve seen so far in terms of processing the event and proposing a way forward is on MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s blog. It’s a great post, and the comments are from a few of the NEXT leadership. Well worth reading.

    2. Really? Wow…

      I wasn’t alive in the 60s. And I spend 90% of my work thinking about the future of the church.

      I certainly don’t see people asking questions about whether women and people of color were heard as suicide.

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