NEXT Church

NEXT 2013: Invitation and Creation

Photo credit: Chad Andrew Herring

In my last post I briefly reviewed two thematic threads that ran through the NEXT Church gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina earlier this week, namely worship and failure.  Since then, Maryann McKibben Dana has very helpfully posted a blog roundup of the event.

This post will share two other prominent ideas at the gathering: invitation and creation.

Invitation

The great strength of NEXT gatherings is that they invite participants to experience the things they’re talking about. There’s lots of talk about new practices for worship–as we worship–, and we’re invited to practice new things (like improv) before anyone says a thing about the importance of invitation.

Which they do. Patrick Daymond gave a great talk about one-to-one conversations in the church as a vehicle not only for building relationships but also for inviting God’s people to take specific actions. He decried a culture of mass email invitations and insisted that people must re-learn the art of the face-to-face personal invitation.

Capture

I was coming out of my seat during Patrick’s talk, because my church is pushing all our chips to the center of the table on this. It’s part of a “listening campaign” made up of one-on-one meetings between church members. The Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and its philosophy of relational community organizing is the backdrop for all of this. IAF language has been part of NEXT from the beginning.

Creation

Dr. Paul Roberts (see tweet above) gave the first talk of the event and enjoined the church to fulfill its vocation of creation. This wasn’t a simple repetition of  the harmless plea for “creativity,” though. It was a plea to create: to make stuff, try new things, even if those things don’t seem particularly “creative.” He drew upon the parable of the talents (Matthew 25) to say that refusing to create draws God’s judgment. 

Given this, we created. Again led by the inqonquerable Theresa Cho, we made stoles for ourselves. Armed with Sharpies and a cloud of words, we penned our callings and then shared them with a stranger who placed it on us with the benediction, “Your calling is to . . . ” I posted mine to Twitter:

Capture

 

This calling to create is a gift from the first Creator. I, for one, am happy to be chasing down this calling with this company of folk. Thanks to Jessica Tate and all the event organizers for seriously inspiring, useful, transformative stuff. See you in Minneapolis!

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NEXT Church

NEXT 2013: Worship and Failure

2013-03-05 14.30.18The NEXT Church gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina, last week. After a 2011 inaugural gathering in Indianapolis and a Dallas follow up in 2012, many people were eager to see in Charlotte what a more organized (and much bigger) NEXT Church would feel like.

I’ve been to all of these gatherings now. I wrote about the first one here and here and here. Posts about Dallas can be read here and here. It should be obvious that I’m a fan of this movement and its emphasis on sharing life-giving practices to move the PC(USA) into the future. NEXT is built to create, not complain. I love that.

Here’s what NEXT 2013 suggested in next:

  • Worship
  • Failure
  • Invitation
  • Creation

Worship

Ashley Goff from the Church of The Pilgrims in Washington, D.C., described liturgy as “Improv,” a force for creating spontaneity, unscripted moments, and newness. We watched video clips from her church where worshipers were led on a walking meditation around the Lord’s Table and then constructed, en masse, the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving.

Casey Wait Fitzgerald became Mary, Jesus’ mother, as she showed the gathering what Biblical storytelling can do to a worship service.

And the gathering worshiped. NEXT gatherings are worship services. In fact, a person who could only come to the structured worship times at a NEXT gathering would get as clear a glimpse into what’s “next” as a person who attended every workshop. The incomparable Theresa Cho and a team of musicians, preachers, and liturgists curated four distinct liturgical events that embodied the most enduring formations of Presbyterian worship heritage as well as the most exciting emerging practices.

[A caveat: one of the preachers actually raised some hackles. Good, good, good, I say. My hackles were raised, and I was made to think, listen, protest, and then catch my breath. That’s what worship should make you do.]

Failure

NEXT wants to speak to the undeniable failure of Presbyterianism to thrive as an institution since, say, the 1960’s. “Why don’t Presbyterians build hospitals anymore?” was the question that practically gavelled the 2011 event to order.

But for all of its clear-eyed analysis of the demographics and statistics and . . . sins that have hobbled the denomination, the organizers of NEXT are offering something useful and constructive to the church: encouragement to fail. What’s more, NEXT wants to show in these gatherings what failure can do to re-birth the church.

“If you’re not failing, then you’re not learning. And if you’re not learning, then you’re not progressing in the work,” said Frank Yamata, President of McCormick Theological Seminary, on a panel exploring Shared Leadership.

The Administrative Commission has come to embody failure as much as anything in the contemporary church, and yet Bill Golderer and Aisha Brooks Lytle told the compelling story of how they have embraced and empowered an AC to do amazing work through Broad Street Ministries. Aisha took it a step further, recommending that pastors–for the sake of growth and accountability–ought to consider forming their own personal AC’s.

I’m on board. I wonder if Aisha would be on mine.

The next NEXT post will share the Invitation and Creation insights I gleaned from the gathering.

 

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NEXT Church

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.

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NEXT Church

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).

 

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