I just finished a wonderful few days with colleagues and fellow Presbyterians at the Next Church Conference in Atlanta. The theme of this year’s conference was “Faith At The Crossroads.” Early on, we understood in just how many ways the church is at a crossroads. While that has many possibilities, it also has many dangers. As our first preacher, Mark Davis, said, “When you stand at the crossroads you can get hit from any direction. It’s not a sustainable place to be.”
What’s next? That depends on what road we choose to follow – and many paths were laid out before us at Next. I can’t answer what’s next for the larger church, but I know what’s next for my congregation.
At this conference, Bob Lupton challenged me in how my church does mission. We do many things right in our community partnerships, but there are ways we can better job serve and partner with those we desire to help. The first thing that’s next is reciting “An Oath For Helpers” at the beginning of every mission committee meeting. We need to rethink about how we hold our annual Family Christmas Shop, so we no longer address a chronic need with crisis intervention. We need to start believing and acting like everyone has something to contribute – and then accept, honor and appreciate those contributions. That’s what’s next for our mission committee.
What’s next? Inspired by Jeff Krehbiel and Don Meeks, I want to find someone who I disagree theologically and politically in my presbytery and have a conversation of gracious inclusion. We won’t try to change each other’s minds, but will truly listen to one another in an effort to understand. I want us to acknowledge the weaknesses of our own points of view and the strengths and virtues of the other’s.
I plan to approach the committee on ministry of the Presbytery of Great Rivers (where I currently serve as the gap presbyter) and present to them the idea, shared by Lori Raible and George Anderson, of older and more experienced pastors investing in younger and newer pastors. I’d love to create a symposium for all pastors who have been ordained less than three years and invite experienced pastors to lead a workshop on an area of ministry they are passionate about. I want to explore how we can put experienced and newer pastors together in organic situations so that mentors can be found instead of assigned. That’s what’s next for my relationships with colleagues.
I went to a workshop led by Steve Eason on a new way to do session meetings. I left wanting to expect more of the elders and deacons in my church and treat ordination as something meaningful, important and worth the hard work. I want to suggest a plan of training newly ordained elders and deacons that empowers them, expects more of them and energizes them for the hard work ahead to the church’s session. That’s what’s next for the leadership of the church I serve.
What’s next? Conflict is next. Andrew Plocher showed me the wisdom of a church staff knowing each other’s Thomas-Kilmann conflict styles and how conflict done well can be productive and even life giving.
Games are next. Ken Evers-Hood taught me the joy and community a church can experience with good games and the pain and anger it can feel when it plays bad games. I want to lead my church in good games.
Hard conversations are next. Allan Boesak, Aisha Brooks-Lytle and Jessica Vazquez Torres challenged us to own our complicity in structural racism – not as a confession of a past, but as an acknowledgement of our present. We can’t be afraid to be political and confront the powers and systems and privileges that divide, hurt and dehumanize. That’s what Jesus’ body did when it walked the earth. It’s time for his body to do it again. We have to be that body, Christ’s church.
Innovation is next. Ignite presentations about skateboarding communities, big tents and school partnerships inspired me to create new ministries, missions and partnerships. They gave me permission to dream big and the hope that transformative ministry is not only possible, but is already happening right now all around me.
Partnership is next. BUILD (Baltimorians United in Leadership Development) showed us the possibilities of partnering together to change a city by being the church in action. Power is the ability to act; it is neither good nor bad. God has given us the power to act in partnership to do God’s work in this world, but we have to be organized to use that power. They led us from conversation to participation in the cycle of listening, action and evaluation.
Hope is next. I witnessed a diverse group of believers worshipping together, serving together, supporting one another and engaging the world with the radical love and grace of God. The church today faces many challenges, but I’ve seen what the church can do. I’ve heard the marching orders. I have hope.
That’s what’s next.
STEPHEN McKINNEY-WHITAKER is pastor and head of staff at United Presbyterian Church of Peoria, Illinois.