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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

nextchurch, pt 1 - christian communities

I have been in Dallas, TX, the past few days, at a conference called "NEXT Church."  There was much to reflect on, so I'd like to offer a couple of posts over the next few days.  One aspect I'd like to explore is how NEXT relates to (and doesn't relate to) the Fellowship of Presbyterians.  But before going there, I'd like to reflect on what was probably the stand-out speaker for me and that was Judd Hendrix, from Mid-Kentucky Presbytery.  He is part of the ecclesia project, a "vision of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery to cultivate a culture of creativity and innovation in Christian community."

I'll have to admit that when Jud first started talking, I thought, "This is out there!"  He shared an example (in his presbytery) of a church that closed and gave $100,000 to the presbytery from the sale of the building.  The presbytery used that to give out twenty $5000 grants to all manner of creative expressions of Christian community.  He talked about a culture of experimentation and the value of the word "prototype" to describe these efforts... really, there was no such thing as 'failure' because every outcome taught them something and moved the greater experiment (and adventure!) forward.  He talked (I think this was still Judd?) about the limitations of a "professional clergy class" - in terms of the built-in self-protection we (as clergy) can't get around easily.  Pausing for editorial comment here... this is where I really thought, "This is really going to scare the establishment!"

And then where he went next caught me by surprise and is really where I connected.  He talked (voluntarily?) laying aside the professional clergy class in order to empower the laity... not only could a Christian community survive without professional clergy, but might even thrive!

And my mind was swirling... he was using different words and phrasing things differently, but I realized that what he was describing was, in many ways, the kind of ministry that has been percolating in and around my own congregation at Good Shepherd.  I thought about the creative arts community that has developed in multiple directions around our music/songwriting/recording, our visual arts, and our theater/drama ministries... each of them studying/praying/learning/offering communities led by laypeople (okay, I am involved with the music).  I thought about the way I have instinctively looked to elder leadership rather than outside clergy leadership for preaching... recalling the seven folks or so that regularly preach when I am gone, including the twelve-week sabbatical in 2009.  I thought about the "Wednesday Night Experiment" and the Christian communities that have formed and re-formed as we left the church building on Wednesday nights and met in nearby bookstores, coffee shops, playgounds, and more to interact more with our neighbors.

When Jud referenced the GAMC challenge to form 1001 new worshiping communities and laughed (as if that was nothing) and suggested we aim even higher, I though, "He's right... we've probably formed 8-10 expressions of Christian community in the past two years... at our church of 220 members."

NEXTchurch offered us a new way of thinking, a new way of being, and lots of stories and testimony to what God is already doing in the Church for the world.  And I'm excited to be a part of what God is doing!

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