Prototypes and Process Modalities: NEXT 2012, part 2

My previous post lifted up the idea of a prototype advocated in Dallas by Jud Hendrix, an idea that has quickly set up camp at the forefront of my brain and is coloring everything I’m thinking about (see Jud’s presentation here)

The other major contribution that NEXT 2012 made for me was an exploration of process modalities, led by the likes of Theresa Cho and Yehiel Curry.

Theresa described an Urban Ministry Convocation that she and some of her colleagues orchestrated with 22 urban churches in a seven mile by seven mile stretch of downtown San Francisco. The gathering required getting commitments from leaders in all of the churches to come to something that wasn’t required to do they weren’t quite sure what with people they didn’t know and organized by an entity they didn’t trust. 19 of the 22 churches sent leaders. The process of recruiting participants was itself nuanced and creative.

Since it was a new thing they were doing, Theresa and her  colleagues decided early in the planning that they would need a new kind of process, a process that they would have to create themselves. What they ended up with was something that invited participants to listen to one another and share their own story, something that allowed them to sit quietly as well as move around and interact, something that gave voice to the past while also sharing the struggle of the present and prayerfully prodding people toward God’s future.

That process isn’t, I’m sure, in any book. Parts of it are, but surely not the same book. The people behind the Urban Ministry Convocation in San Francisco had to decide what they thought the gathering needed to accomplish, then they got creative about crafting a process–their own process, not somebody else’s–to make that happen. Read more of Theresa’s thoughts on it here.

The 600-or-so NEXT participants didn’t just hear people talk about process modalities, though. We were were led through one that most of us had never experienced before: Open Space. I won’t labor to explain it here, but kudos to NEXT’s organizers for allowing the time and potential confusion of such an experiment.

Finally, Yehiel Curry described an alternative process for ordination developed by the ELCA called Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM). Curry is the pastor of Shekinah Chapel in Riverdale, IL., but he didn’t start at that church as its pastor. Rather, he became involved as a church member and ministry volunteer and was invited by the ELCA to pursue ordination and become the church’s pastor. He was ordained as a result of the TEEM process and installed as the pastor in 2009, and he’s currently finishing his seminary degree (view Curry’s presentation about TEEM here).

What struck me about this was how much more responsive to a congregation’s needs it seems to be. Rather than forcing a congregation to select someone from completely outside of their system to lead them, the TEEM process allows the church to select from within the non-ordained leadership of the church candidates who may be equipped, ordained, and installed as pastor. It’s a contextual solution to a contextual problem.

For almost two years now I’ve been using Moving Beyond Icebreakers as a tool for structuring interactive gatherings. I’m using it with youth groups, presbytery teams, and retreats. Only after being in Dallas this week do I now realize what I’ve been doing with it: experimenting with process modalities.

I feel smarter already.

Prototypes and Process Modalities: NEXT 2012, part 1

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?

Stay tuned for part 2 of my NEXT review (teaser: it’s heavy on Yehiel Curry and Theresa Cho).