But come on. Polar Vortex will be a distant memory by then! The weather will be just fine in early April…
NEXT Church is a conversation within the Presbyterian Church (USA) that seeks to inspire and nurture creative and vibrant ministry for a changing cultural context.
That’s a mouthful. Here’s the gist: The way we do church is changing. It must change, it will change. What better way to live toward that change than to gather with other pastors, church professionals, ruling elders and other leaders to celebrate, think, grow, and challenge one another?
What does NEXT mean to me? I cherish the support, inspiration, accountability and ideas that the NEXT conversation offers me as a small-church pastor. But there’s one phrase from the mission statement that tugs at me above all:
...the church that is becoming.
The national gathering March 31-April 2 will be focused on the church that is becoming. There’s a spirit of adventure in NEXT Church, an excitement and trust that our best days are still ahead of us.
We’ve got a great keynote team, several workshops around the themes “lead, create, discern,” testimonies of how the church is stepping out in bold faithfulness right now, and lots more. What’s probably most vital about the NEXT gathering is the community that gets built “in the margins” of the schedule. The conference team has built even more time for breaks, informal conversations, and Open Space than in past years.
I invite you to come to Minneapolis this spring. You will dream big and come home energized.
Improv doesn’t come naturally to me. I know a number of accomplished improvisers, and read this blog for a while, but it’s a struggle for me personally. I am a first-born Presbyterian Girl Scout (to use my friend Meg’s phrase) and an off-the-charts J on the Myers-Briggs. I live by Evernote and Things. Even my leisure is relatively structured—I do Sabbath.
And yet try as I might, the universe does not conform to my meticulous management. The nerve!
But improv is also fun. It’s good to get messy. It’s important to risk, and to step into a place where you don’t know what’s going to happen. Improv is joyful and generative.
As my Facebook friends know, I’m a muffin-maker. It’s kinda my thing: Automatic portion control. Good for breakfast or a snack. “Maximum impact, minimum effort,” as my father-in-law says about his cooking.
But I’d never improvised on my muffins until the other day, when I improvised some low-fat banana-blueberry muffins with streusel topping. They were awesome.
I suspect a few of my readers are first-born Presbyterian Girl Scout J’s. Here are a few things I learned that might help all of us be more improvisational leaders/parents/individuals:
1. You don’t have to start from scratch. I wouldn’t know where to start to make up a muffin recipe. But I know how to take an underlying structure and build on it—to yes-and it. In this case, I adapted a recipe from the Williams-Sonoma cookbook for my banana-berry beauties.
Maybe you’ve watched Whose Line Is It Anyway, or been to an improv show that starts with prompts from the audience. Then there’s TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi, who don’t take audience suggestions. Instead they walk out on stage and stand in silence for several moments. Eventually and without fail, they pluck a story out of thin air and improvise a two-man one-act play.
My point is, you don’t have to be TJ and Dave.
2. In fact, starting with some constraints helps. I recently quoted Leonard Bernstein, who said to achieve great things, you need a plan and not quite enough time. Creativity thrives on constraint: Pick a recipe, any recipe. What can I do with this recipe and the contents of my pantry?
My seven-year-old loves to make things with paper and tape. We’ve bought various glues and epoxies for her, and there’s all kinds of random glue-ables in bins in our blue room, from bottle caps to craft foam. But she always comes back to paper and tape.
2. It helps to have the skills.
I had to throw in some flour at the end of mixing because my batter was too gloppy. After so many batches of muffins, I know what proper batter looks like. (BTW, the Food Substitutions Bible is a useful tool for food improv.)
We did a lot of experimentation with liturgy in seminary, with varying results. I’m not saying those novice efforts weren’t fruitful—they were. But there’s something very freeing about being a decade into this ministry thing. You get to know the order of worship so deeply—not to mention a congregation—that you know what can be pushed and pulled, folded and spindled.
3. Risk from a place of abundance. This is a big one for me. I’ve been tempted to play around with my muffins, but have hesitated up to now, because what if they don’t turn out? When I say “risk from a place of abundance,” I don’t mean to trust that something good will come of your experimentation… though it probably will, just not what you expected. I mean that improv becomes easier in a context of abundant creativity.
If I’m only making muffins every month or so, I don’t want to mess with the tried-and-true recipes because if they fail, then there’s no muffins for a long time, and I have a sad, and my kids have to resort to boring old Corn Chex. But if I’m making muffins once or twice a week, why not play around? If something turns out to be inedible, something new will quickly come to take its place.
Last year at the NEXT Church national gathering, we heard a leader from the Ecclesia Project in Kentucky talk about starting new worshiping communities. The old model is to spend a few hundred thousand dollars trying to get a new church development started. But instead of spending $100,000 on one community, they give 20 grants of $5,000 each to small, diverse projects. The assumption is that many new initiatives fail, whether it’s a business or a church. So we should sow our seeds as widely as possible. Our denomination currently has the 1,001 Worshiping Communities initiative. But instead of 1,001, we were told at NEXT, we should be starting 10,000 worshiping communities!
That’s risk from a place of abundance. I like it.
Now the trick for me is to keep improvising low-fat muffins, so that I do not gain abundant weight.
First off, I’ve worked out my technical issues with the site that was preventing folks from getting to the blog post. It was user error *cough*. Many thanks to the Paraclete Web Design folks for being both diligent and patient.
Anyway: I’m in Charlotte NC for NEXT Church, learning what it might mean for congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) to Be Born Again. Lots of fantastic speakers and workshops. I’m on the Strategy Team for NEXT but am very much a supporting player here. It’ll be nice to bask in the brilliance.
Folks who attended my workshop last week at NEXT: things have been pretty crazy around here since then, so I haven’t had a chance to play around with uploading my Keynote slides to the Blue Room. But if you’d like me to send them to you, e-mail me at maryannmcdana at gmail and I’ll pass them along.
However, I can post the case studies easily and have done so below.
During the workshop, after I’d done a short overview of agile as I understand it, we looked at these case studies and answered these questions in small groups:
Where do you see intersections between this church’s processes and agile process?
Where do you see places that agile methodology might help them?
What impediments do you see standing in the way of this church becoming more agile?
What next step would you suggest?
Here are the case studies. These are adapted from actual churches I queried. Hope they prove helpful.
Agile Church: Case Studies
Case A. Edgy Urban Church with a Smooth Traditional Center:
Medium-Sized Pastoral/Program Oriented Church
elders chaired committees
session meetings were run as committee of the whole
meetings were “terrible”
elders were burning out
elders do not run committees; in fact they do not even serve on committees
new system of volunteer staff coordinators who oversee the ministries of the church
volunteer staff are empowered to get the work done any way they want (individually, through teams, regular meetings, online), but they have written job descriptions that describe their work
volunteer staff are also empowered to spend within their budget without session approval
the week before session, volunteer and staff meet for dinner—each coordinator prepares a one-page report for session containing basic information, actions taken, any major items requiring session approval, and examples of transformation/new growth that have occurred
these reports are compiled and given to elders several days before session meeting—elders are expected to get any questions answered prior to meeting
session meetings involve 30 minutes of business; the rest of the time is spent on prayer, equipping/study, and visioning “big picture” tasks for the congregation
Case B. Church of the Leafy Suburb: Large Program-Sized Church
Session consists of fifteen elders that are divided into pairs or triads for partnership, support and accountability—for example, children, youth and adult education elders form a triad; small group elder and fellowship elder form a pair; facilities and office operations elders form a pair.
Elders chair the committees and ensure that the ministry gets done, using whatever means they wish (regular meetings, retreats, “divide and conquer,” etc.)
Elders are expected to report back to session whenever there are items requiring session input or approval
In addition, each month a different ministry is highlighted as an order of the day: the elders prepare a more in-depth report, seek feedback, basically delve deeper into their ministry so elders are well versed in it
Session meetings consist mainly of business, but with 30 minutes of study/discipleship each month.
Same as Case B but with the elders serving as a liaison to the team rather than the chair. As liaison, they have no power on the committee other than a vote when one is required.
Case D. Our Ecumenical Neighbor: Governance Model from Another Reformed Denomination
Ministers, elders and deacons
Elders=church council. Deacons=board of deacons. Combined elders and deacons=consistory
Elders are understood to be responsible for the spiritual life of the church, including pastoral care.
Deacons are responsible for the physical life of the church, mostly the finances and the charitable and social justice life of the church.
Major financial decisions are made by the consistory
“Elder districts”: each elder is assigned a certain group of people in congregation, often alphabetical or geographical. Every person in the congregation has an elder. If a person lands in the hospital, they would expect to see their elder and their pastor. These districts are sometimes small groups.
Not every elder is assigned to a committee. Committees report to council, but sometimes they don’t have a member seated on council. Councils will often have someone assigned or asked to be on a committee, but not to run it necessarily.
Council meetings were usually focused on worship; education; and even a review of what was going on with people in your elder district. And, of course, anything else that needed to be dealt with. Often, Council and Deacons met concurrently so that they could check in with each other if needed.
Elders team together (three panels of three elders) to coordinate ministry areas
Ideas for new ministries (from congregation members) would be referred to the Elder relationship area panel (and the full Session if necessary) for review as to whether they fit into CPC’s current mission/vision
Case E. Church on the Highway: Medium-Sized Program Oriented Church
If approved, the Elder panel will identify a task leader to create a taskforce for implementing the program
If no leader or volunteers can be found for an approved taskforce, the program is not implemented
Ministry Initiation Form is completed by congregation member or group desiring to implement a new ministry, event or “task”
Ministry Status Reports include:
Submitted by Task Leader to Elder Relationship Area Panel
Monthly Status Reports when there is an activity or issue to be resolved
Ministry Completion/Annual Report at the completion of a short-term ministry task, or annually for long-term and on-going ministries
One of the most interesting happenings at NEXT was Open Space. After a presentation that included a description of the topic, people shouted out topics they wanted to discuss, then people clustered to the conversations that interested them and we were off! There were probably 30-40 discussions going on around the room.
We’ve implemented Open Space in our presbytery, National Capital. Here is a good description from our website. Note that the purpose of OS is not to deliberate on an issue or to seek consensus on something. The point is for people to come together to share ideas and potentially even form partnerships. (See the video at the NCP link about “flipping the presbytery.”)
Robert Austell had a good “friendly critique” of the process at NEXT. Some of his comments reflected limitations of the conference: the space was not ideal, and it’s hard to start from a place of trust when you don’t know one another. Some of the discussions were better facilitated than others. However, his post provides a good overview of what we did and some ways it could be better.
Rather than provide a broad description of Open Space, I want to share two moments I witnessed in OS recently, one in our own presbytery and one at the NEXT Conference. I share them for people who may be looking to implement Open Space. They are not huge moments, but I found them revealing in their own way:
1. After our first OS at National Capital, we had one of the crankiest meetings I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience. (There’s a reason I call us National Crankypants, but this was cranky even for us.) People were pulling out all the Roberts Rules of Order stops: Division in the house! Substitute motions! I think we were even wordsmithing a motion en masse at one point. Blech. Now granted it was a contentious issue we were dealing with (I can’t even remember what it was) and there was some confusion too. But I am certain that Open Space played a role in this dynamic. It’s like things were so unstructured that people just clamped down afterwards.
Some people find Open Space exciting and refreshing. Others find it scary in its sheer open-endedness. If you get a bunch of Presbyterians in a room together and ask them to be open source… to go off the agenda… to meander around in a topic to see what generative stuff might result… there is going to be blowback. It is such a different way of being that some folks will overcorrect. That is basic family systems stuff right there. We should have anticipated it and planned for it in our meeting, in retrospect. (I say that as a member of the committee that plans presbytery meetings.)
2. Following the NEXT conference Open Space, there was a report back of “harvestings.” These were supposed to be short sentences that reflected some aspect of the discussion. One person got up and, instead of sharing the results of the discussion, launched into what felt a lot like a public service announcement. It felt like talking points. Don’t get me wrong; the information was really important. But the difference between this report-back and the others was obvious and it shifted the energy palpably. I found myself wondering what that group’s discussion had been like.
Not sure what the takeaway is there, though it seems related to number 1. You can’t shift a culture overnight. There will be pockets of resistance. And resistance doesn’t always appear as frowny crossed arms. Sometimes resistance is friendly, but still speaking the old language.
It’s OK. But be aware of it, plan for it, correct and redirect as necessary… but don’t let it stop you either.