Four Questions For NEXT Church 2015, NEXT Church

Will #nextchurch2015 Move The Church Toward Racial Justice?

NEXT Church is next week!

I’ve enjoyed blogging about past NEXT Church gatherings, for example here, here, and here.

This week I’m sharing four questions I’m bringing with me to my favorite annual gathering of Presbyterians [full disclosure: I helped plan this one].

So, my first question:

The fouled up racial reality of the American context is more clearly in focus today than it has been for years, at least as measured by the mainstream media discourse. Michael Brown and Eric Garner are household names, and #blacklivesmatter is necessary to state now. How will the urgency of racial justice inform what happens next week?

A colleague shared this in an email yesterday:

I still have my same concerns about the church in general and about NEXT in particular. The events of the past six months, especially events around Ferguson, have even heightened my sense of concern for organizations that are predominantly led and and membered by privileged white people, including organizations like the PC(USA) and NEXT Church. I’ll be interested to see if your conference makes any movement this year compared to the last several years I’ve attended.

One way to measure movement toward racial justice in a gathering like this is by looking at who’s up front. NEXT has always work hard at diverse racial representation among its leadership, even if the PC(USA) is a mostly white palette from which to draw.

Among others, this year’s gathering will hear from Chineta Goodjoin, the Organizing Pastor of a new African-American church in Orange County, as well as Tiffany Jana, who heads a consulting firm with her husband Matt that helps organizations harness the power of diversity (watch her TED Talk below).

This year’s theme, “Beyond: Our Walls, Our Fears, Ourselves” lends itself well to addressing the church with urgency to explicitly address its witness to a world in which police officers openly send racist emails, fraternity brothers at a prominent university chant “hang ’em from a tree” with glee, and young black men are disproportionately more likely to be killed by police.

It’s on us to push things in the direction of justice and reconciliation. I expect next week’s gathering to offer concrete ways to do that.

Monday Morning Quarterback

Monday Morning Quarterback

Note: Monday Morning Quarterback is a weekly post reviewing Sunday, the busiest, most stressful, most gratifying day in the week of a pastor/parent/spouse/citizen.

Song of the Day:

6:00. Alarm. Seriously? Snooze.

6:18. Awake two minutes before expiration of snooze alarm. Consider the relative value of two minutes of sle–alarm again.

6:33. Open laptop to finish the morning’s confirmation lesson. Face down reality: The Heidelberg Catechism, Ann LaMott, Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the story of the Rich Young Ruler, and the Presbyterian Study Catechism won’t all fit in 45 minutes. Curse the space/time continuum.

7:12. Practice sketchnoting with the cribnotes from a talk by danah boyd. Plan blog post on the talk for later in the week.

7:53. Completely rethink final confirmation project assignment and write up a new description. Plan to post it to blog later in the week.

8:11. Second cup of coffee.

9:27. Expose confirmation students to Ann LaMott and her profoundly theological profanity. Brace for retribution.

10:09. Acolyte jogs to the lectern to lead Call to Worship like he’s being introduced as part of the starting lineups.

10:10. Chest bump the acolyte.

10:17. Recognizing new crosses decorating sanctuary during Children’s Time. Tell kids that the big paper one with their handprints on it hanging in the back is to remind us that the cross is for all of us. Kid looks at me like, “For me? What did I do?”

10:29. Getting schooled on the water situation in 1st century Laodiceia by my brilliant colleague. Mentally rehearse the putdown, “Ima spit you out my mouth like Laodiceian water, fool!

11:22. Ask adult education committee members to introduce themselves by answering the question, “What are you learning?” Listen carefully as people share thoughtful, sensitive, yearning to grow.

11:58. Schedule six weeks of adult education programming in four minutes. We done here?

12:38. Return home to playdate with four year-old and her bestie. Realize I haven’t eaten yet today. Devour a pizza.

12:45. Wife is screening new show, “Preacher’s Daughers.” Hey, this could be interesti–nope nope nope nope nope. Plan blog post on horrors of the show for later in the week.

12:53. While watching show about promiscuous pastor’s daughters, serve as the groom in my four year-old’s wedding, officiated by her playmate. Riff terrifically with the hashtag #fouryearoldwedding.

1:39. Set up play tent, sleeping bag, and lawn chair for daughter and playmate on the lawn. Claim the lawn chair for myself.

2:46. Taxes. Done.

2:52. The week’s meals. Planned.

4:14. Tearful end to the playdate. Literally have to pry the crying girls off of each other. Assurances of “You’ll see her next week” are met with “But that’s too long!” Broken up.

4:37. Facing group of 14 people–junior high students and their parents–explaining with as much pastoral adroitness as I can that there’s no telling what will happen at the meal we’re all about to go serve at the local transitional housing shelter. Thinking they’re taking it well.

5:07. Sit down to banquet of chicken enchilada casserole, fruit salad, mac n’ cheese, caesar salad,  brownies, and gallons of beverages. There are 15 from the church and a single shelter resident. Awkward. Reeealy awkward.

5:24. Shelter resident and church families devolve into knee-slapping laughter around the table. Catch a glimpse of the truth: we’re called to share our community and our humanity; food’s a useful tool to do that.

5:51. Dishes. Dried.

6:32. Waiting for high school students to arrive, building to-do list for the week.

6:41. Youth group volunteers arrive with coffee for me. Kiss them both on their mouths simultaneously.

7:43. “Game of Things” prompt: “Things you shouldn’t lick.” Answer from volunteer: “The Pope.”

7:52. Student tries to tell me her mom needs her home early. Text mom. Nope. Busted. Student fumes.

8:08. Soul Pancake check-in prompt: greatest fault, greatest strength. Observe students struggling to talk about their strengths. For some it’s not a pose; they really don’t know they have any. Wince.

8:38. Celebrate student who’s question was featured on Questions That Haunt. Note this is a student who couldn’t identify his own strengths.

9:02. Practice “Yes, let’s!” improv benediction I learned at NEXT 2013.

9:05. Fuming student to me: don’t text my mom behind my back. Me to fuming student: don’t lie to me.

9:12. Whipped in foosball. Again.

9:18. Locking up, notice fuming student’s parent wandering around, looking for her. She just left. Didn’t wait for parents to pick her up.

9:22. Driving home, looking for fuming student along the way.

9:38. Texting fuming student’s mom: is she home?

9:41. Flustered response full of apologies for student’s behavior.

9:42. “Better to have her than not.”

9:43. “Goodnight.”

9:44. Plan fuming student blog post for later in the week.

NEXT Church

NEXT, Galvanize, and Institutional Change

Reading this article about alternative tech education a day after John Vest lamented NEXT Church’s apparent unwillingness to “rethink theology and ecclesiology in the rapidly changing contexts of ministry in 21st century postmodern, post-Christendom North America” is making some synapses fire.

First, John’s objection: three years into its existence, NEXT seems no more willing to grab hold of the institutional levers of the PC(USA) than it did at its inception. Leaders in the organization continue to recite a “we don’t know” mantra when asked hard questions about what they want to build. What it is contributing–and this is undeniably valuable–is “a platform for innovative and creative leaders to share ideas and best practices” (just hours after John’s post went up, NEXT’s blog published a post by D.C. pastor Jeff Kreibehl celebrating that very thing).

My first thought was to wonder why such a platform can’t be considered a tool for the rethinking John is eager to see. I wonder how else that “hard work” gets done? Position papers? Overtures to GA?

Now come to the Time article about start-up tech schools. Here’s the money quote from Jim Deters, who started Galvanize in Denver:

“In most cases, people are wasting their money on traditional education. The future of employment is small businesses that will be forced to figure things out for themselves.”

This sounds a lot like the “they-didn’t-teach-me-this-in-seminary” you hear from pastors of all stripes. Deters threw a ton of his own capital into a new school–one that teaches techies how to figure things out for themselves (my “traditional” theology professors would have said they were doing the same thing: “thinking theologically” they called it).

Let me land this plane. The platform that NEXT is constructing has lots and lots of space for men and women in theological training; the national gatherings have scholarshipped seminary students every year, and seminary presidents are prominent participants and speakers at these gatherings. John’s desire to see a more assertive direction from NEXT mixed with Roya Wolverson’s description of these new schools makes me wonder if NEXT couldn’t galvanize this kind of thing for Presbyterians.

What if:

  • NEXT grew its partnerships with Presbyterian seminaries to develop courses that help students practice the kind of relational and innovative “figuring it out” today’s context requires?
  • NEXT cultivated communities of students on seminary campuses to lead within the organization?
  • NEXT held one of its regional or national gatherings on a seminary campus?
  • NEXT inserted itself into the emergence of new seminaries, like the one sprouting in my neck of the woods, to offer courses and seminars and other events?

These are just a few ideas sprouting in the slowly fading afterglow of NEXT 2013. Of all the things NEXT is offering to today’s church, an infusion of practical and entrepreneurial learning into Presbyterian education may be the most valuable.