Mihee asked for it, so here it is: my quick-and-dirty blog post about the NEXT Church conference in Dallas. Part the first.
Terrific, outstanding, inspiring, exhausting: so much goes into a gathering for 600 people that nobody notices, and each one of those participants puts more into their time than they realize. I’ll be discovering the impact of it for weeks to come.
An event review, though, is less interesting to read than a reflection on the event’s ideas. And the architects of NEXT don’t want, I’m sure, people talking about the plumbing of these gatherings as much as they do the people and the conversations inside of them. Some people can’t get past the plumbing: what was the racial-ethnic composition?; was the music gender-neutral?; what was the age breakdown?; was there an organ?
Plumbing is critical. But the only time you talk about plumbing is when it’s faulty. Some find fault with NEXT’s plumbing, likely for good reason, and yet I don’t wish to repeat the mistake of conference blogs past by jumping into the fray of that fault-finding, either to defend or confirm.
Instead, I want to share the two most prominent ideas that I came away with. These ideas weren’t the subjects of workshops or sermons, but I heard them popping up in almost every conversation, and now I can’t shake them: prototypes and process modalities. The rest of this post will focus on prototypes; process modalities will get its own post later.
Jud Hendrix described the work of the Ecclesia Project in mid-Kentucky as a search for prototypes of Christian community. “A prototype,” he suggested, “isn’t a program (I’m paraphrasing here). It’s a runway on which the future can land.” Further, a prototype is an instrument of learning.
So his project supports six prototypical expressions of Christian community in mid-Kentucky, not a one of which would be recognizable as a traditional church. And the question they’re asking of each those communities’ leaders is not “are you growing?” but “what are you learning?”
Another prototype I heard about is an intentional Christian community of young adults supported by Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The community is made up of local Americorps volunteers, and the seminary’s role is simply to provide some spiritual and pastoral guidance to their life together, which is enabled through the use of seminary housing. It’s new and different, and the seminary is learning valuable things about ways in which different parts of the church can connect to the best yearnings of young adults.
What are some other prototypes of ministry out there? What are they learning? How can Presbyterians be emboldened to create new ones and share what they’re learning with the wider church?