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Just A Spark

November 1, 2023

By Derek Handley

Midweek Musings is a bi-weekly Covenant blog with a variety of authors and a variety of topics.

There are many songs out there that use fire and sparks as metaphors.

"It only takes a spark, to get a fire going..." (Kurt Kaiser)

"Who got the lighter, let's spark the fire." (Gwen Stefani)

"Could a spark of your love light a fire in me?" (The City Harmonic)

As you may know, a group of us at Covenant participated in the Leadership Institute this Fall. This annual conference is put on by ShareChurch, an initiative of Church of the Resurrection (Kansas City).

"Ignite your ministry with renewed ideas, tools, and passion." This was the premise and theme of this year's institute.

I went, obviously, representing the Communications & Technology department of Covenant Presbyterian Church. There was plenty of invaluable information on what we could do more of, and what we should look into on that front (and other areas as well)... there were also affirmations of what we're already doing well. You will soon see or have already started seeing some of these ideas come to fruition. Ask me about any of the breakout sessions I went to, I'd be happy to go into detail. Topics ranged from building website to living at a sustainable pace.

#ShareChurchLI was very heavily focused on the future of the Church this year. Here are some themes I picked up, for the larger Church and locally as well:

  1. The future of the Church will rely on technology. Keynote speaker Carey Nieuwhof foresaw the Church primarily as a digital organization (with physical locations). He put emphasis on On-Demand and how it reaches people on their time. Gen Zers (and Millennials) have indicated how they would go to church, but on their own time. Jason Moore led a breakout session where he tried to get us to rethink our language around livestream. In other words, churches should not simply tolerate livestream, but embrace - include online viewers as if they were with us in person.

  2. We need to honor our Sabbath. SERIOUSLY. Carey Nieuwhof led a breakout on "Living at a Sustainable Pace" on this urgent topic. The failure to do this led to Carey's burnout (as it has for so so many ministry workers). He introduced super helpful resources based on something he calls "The Thrive Cycle." If you don't honor your sabbath, you enter burnout, which is a deep hole that is hard to get out of - that even vacation or sabbatical can't correct most of the time. Another keynote speaker Olu Brown did touch on the burnout aspect but with a little different take - "trusting God with your last bit of bread." He offered the very little bit left he had in his tank (and was on the verge of burnout) to God, trusting that the abundant resources God would give back would help him keep going.

  3. All you need is LOVE (and Jacqui Lewis is amazing). Keynote speaker at #ShareChurchLI was Rev. Jacqui Lewis, author of Fierce Love and pastor of Middle Collegiate Church - PC(USA) in New York City. I have not come across a pastor that embodies love just as much as she does. Here is how we love, according to Jacqui Lewis, which she sees as spiritual practices! 1) Candor: or speaking truth to others and being honest. We too often hide behind a façade of nice, especially (if I can say it) in white church... people-pleasing. 2) Conflict: We don't like conflict in the church, and avoid it at all costs. Jacqui Lewis encouraged us to embrace conflict. Another spiritual practice! Being in community with people that don't look like us or see things the way we do is more important than ever! 3) Community: See above. "There is nobody that is not your people." Amen, Jacqui! 4) Compassion: "to feel pathos with" is how this is literally translated. But (like repentance), this spiritual practice involves acting on this conviction.

  4. We need to start thinking outside the box! I may have resonated with this one the most. Michael Adam Beck led the breakout session "Reimagining Church in the Wild," which I assumed at first glance to be focused on Wild Church or similar (a network of faith communities that meet outdoors for worship). While that was not the case, the session offered broad scope of alternative church, and redefining what church is at the core. We went through a long list of ingredients of the traditional church, collectively picking which ingredients were essential and which were not. This was very helpful. Bottom line is that approx. 60% of Americans do not attend church today, 40% have absolutely no interest. Michael coined the "Religious Identity Cocktail." The traditional recipe up until now has been centered on first believing, but Beck said that through his ministry Fresh Expressions, he has tried shifting the paradigm, seeing great success: Believe > Belong > Behave Belong > Believe > (Behave) I.O.W., community is the integral part of church. With this philosophy, Fresh Expressions has had dozens of "churches" outside the church walls. "Tattoo Church," "BBQ Church," etc... In these churches, they discuss Jesus stories and engage with questions. So, instead of the traditional approach of inviting in, they are going out into the community. Opinion (but really fact): this is a big part of the future of the church.

I'll be honest, I had my frustrations with this conference as well. I don't resonate at all with the Evangelical church, which Resurrection still is though they have taken some progressive steps forward. But, I applaud them and ShareChurch for getting a diverse group of keynote speakers and igniting the conversations that need to be had. Overall, I feel "ignited" and energized from this conference.

I highly encourage you to ask any of the others that participated in the Leadership Institute - Charlie Berthoud, Melissa Hinz, Megan Berry, Laurie Jones, and Pete & Jane Kolakowski.

Did you know we all stayed in an Airbnb together? And we all still like each other!

As Charlie would say (last week's sermon), "don't stop improving." Let's keep thinking about what the future could look like.


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