Earlier I reflected on an “AHA!” moment I had during the 2014 NEXTChurch Gathering that I attended the past week. I wanted to follow that up with some reflections about what I heard and saw there, as well as, a few takeaways from the conference.
As I said earlier, this two and a half day conference was a wonderful chance to reconnect with old classmates and colleagues, connect face to face for the first time with many in my various social media networks, expand some of those networks, and participate in some deep, heartfelt conversations about the FUTURE of the church and the NOW of the church. I’ll posts thoughts on the FUTURE of the church and the NOW of the church later.
On this post I wanted to talk a little of my experience of NEXTChurch.
This was my first NEXT gathering, for lots of reasons I have chosen to attend other conferences and haven’t paid too much attention to the work that the folks at NEXT have been doing. I have followed the hashtags over the years and been intrigued by the conversations that occur at the gatherings. This year because the event was in Minneapolis (about a 6 hour drive from Nebraska City) and I had a free place to stay. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law live about 5 blocks from Westminster Presbyterian Church (the host for the gathering) I decided I should try it out.
I was blessed with an offer to ride with my colleague and friend Leanne Masters and her husband, Mike, from Omaha to Minneapolis. We had a lot of time to talk about our calls, baseball, the election of the moderator, and the different challenges and expectation of male and female pastors. Let’s just say those twelve-ish hours (there and back) were life giving. I was also blessed with a free place to stay, this is invaluable for someone like me who has a budget that really only allows for one “big” conference a year. My budget will go much farther this year because of sleeping on an air mattress (the inaugural sleep I might add) in my relatives guest room. I also had the chance to catch up with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who I don’t get to see all that often and all within walking distance of the conference.
The preaching was amazing, Alika Galloway struck me with her fire and passion, her truth telling, calling us into “contested places”. She began her sermon with a statement that struck me and got my attention.
“I don’t want to mess up this sacred moment by telling the truth.”
Her truth telling began to enliven the sacred space and she reminded we were not lost. This was only the beginning.
One of the ways that people had an opportunity to share was with what is known as “ignite” talks. They are short presentations accompanied by a slide show. They are designed to share a person’s passion in a clear and concise manner. One of the mottos for the ignite style of presentation is “enlighten us, but make it quick.” I have quite a bit of history with Ignite Bend and ignite style presentations. If you’re interested you can find them here and here. I was excited to see NEXT incorporate that style into the conference and I look forward to helping out in the future to make them even more helpful.
There was one presentation that got my mind swirling more than others. It was Erin Dunigan talking about her work with Not Church. Her work and her time sound interesting and life giving, her building of relationships that organically produced a community of diverse people working together to bring about the Kingdom of God, as they see it. A couple of quotes she shared flipped my world, you see I’m a transplant to the Midwest and sometimes I find it hard to BE here.
The first from Peter Neilson,
“We [the church] must be prepared to go where the people are…and stay there.”
She added, “both physically, and theologically.” This stopped me in my tracks. I have some different theological leanings than many in my context and I often feel like the people I serve with are hearing these leaning for the first time. I want them to develop a deeper theological understanding, not so they can agree with me, but so they can bathe in the living water that is Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Erin’s words I heard, I have to be able to get out of myself, my own leanings, and just BE where the people are.
The second quote she shared was from Brian McClaren,
“What if we were to assume God was already at work in the world”
She added, “we are NOT bringing God to THEM.” This made me realize that God is already and has been at work in my community. God is already working on what’s NEXT, it is my call to listen and to BE there when I hear, when we hear the call to what’s next.
And the final word we received as we were sent into the contested places was from MaryAnn McKibben Dana,
“[We will] Love indiscriminately for as long as we are able…[we will] love THE HELL out of the world.”