What Is God Calling Us To Do?

What is a blessed church? It is a church uniquely grounded in a relationship with God that allows blessings to flow through it. It is a church with a vibrant sense of faith, hope, and love. It is a church that embraces the sacred and that is not afraid to serve God in its own way. Pastor and author N. Graham Standish describes how a church that is open to God’s purpose, presence, and power can claim God’s blessing.

Standish shares the story of Calvin Presbyterian Church in Zelienople, Pennsylvania, and its journey to become a spiritually deep congregation, one that is inwardly and outwardly healthy: spiritually, psychologically, physically, and relationally. Becoming a blessed church will help you discern God’s purpose and the path God is calling your congregation to walk. This book will help you find Christ in your midst and become aware of the many ways the blessings of God’s Spirit flow through your congregation.

Our latest course, Deepening the Spirituality of Your Congregation with Graham Standish, launches today, for both individuals and For Groups. Graham’s book, Becoming a Blessed Church (from which the above is taken), chronicles his own parish’s journey in re-placing God at the grahamcenter of all leadership, vision creation, and meetings. In Graham’s understanding, most mainline churches have come to run themselves solely as businesses, with majority-rules votes taken during meetings — and not as actively prayerful places of discernment (at least, outside worship services). He contends that a church whose leadership focuses primarily on functionality — rather than prayerful study and group discernment — is one whose decisions are made according to the will of the leaders, and perhaps not of God.

What does he mean by this? Well, consider how your church’s governing body makes decisions: if you ask, “All in favor, say ‘Aye'” and not, “All who feel that this is God’s will, say ‘Aye'” you may have slipped into the “functional” track. Sometimes those two questions can yield the same answer, but often, the first kind of question helps church leadership forget that God is in charge and that its role is to discern God’s will. It makes “secret deists” who nod politely toward God in their opening and closing prayers, but ask God to step aside for the majority of the meeting and the decision- and plan-making.

Graham’s church has tried some radical rethinking of leadership and visioning, and the results are striking. Church leaders pray more, read and study more, grow in their faith more deeply and deliberately, and this has led to a stronger and more spiritually-grounded congregation overall.

Take Graham’s course, Deepening the Spirituality of Your Congregation — and see if the way your church leadership operates could use a little rethinking. We’d be interested to hear your comments on our Facebook page. We commend this course especially to clergy and lay leaders of churches.

To learn more about Graham and to make use of his free resources, click here.

Becoming Blessed

When it comes to our own, individual spiritual lives, most of us wouldn’t say we want “business as usual” or “to just do what we’ve always done;” nor would we express a desire to treat our souls like businesses or corporations. Why then do we settle into those habits in our churches? Why do we run committees and leadership boards and vestries as businesses, with only rules of order and theories and practices? We may tend to pray at the beginning of a meeting and again at the end, to nod to God and then ask God to step aside while we create 5-year plans and budgets, but maybe it shouldn’t be this way.graham

What if we shook things up, and started spending more time praying and learning and discerning together? What if we truly invited God into every moment of our church leadership meetings? To not just say we want to do God’s will, but to actively and patiently seek it?

If you find these questions even a bit provocative or inspiring, our latest course will be of great interest. This Sunday, we launch Deepening the Spirituality of Your Congregation with Graham Standish. Graham knows what he’s talking about because his Presbyterian parish in Pennsylvania has put this mode of prayerful church governance into practice, and has seen the fruits of it firsthand. Letting go of a fixation on process and “getting business done,” as well as making room for earnest, patient, thorough prayer throughout the duration of meetings, has deepened the spirituality of his parishioners, says Graham, enriched the intimacy of their relationships as children of God, and renewed the health of his congregation. He offers practical tips on how to do what may seem impractical when running a church — because the grace of God is likewise richly impractical.

Graham’s course, based on his book, Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence, and Power, launches Sunday in both individual and For Groups format. For more information on Graham, visit his website here.

Articulating the Via Media

Embracing the mystery requires great (1)

This week, we’re pleased to launch The Episcopal Way, with Stephanie Spellers and Eric Law. If you’ve ever wondered about what makes the Episcopal Church unique, this course is a great place to start, as it’s a foretaste of a project seeking to rearticulate the beliefs and practices of the Episcopal Church. As Spellers says in the first lesson, about every 20 years the Episcopal Church commits to reexamining and defining itself as a church, as part of the Episcopal commitment to the “three-legged stool” of scripture, tradition, and reason, on which Episcopal liturgy and practice are based.

We commend this course to lifelong Episcopalians as well, since we live in a fast-paced and ever-changing culture, in which we need to feel comfortable articulating and sharing our faith tradition. Stephanie and Eric offer a working definition of “the Episcopal Way” as well as some engaging insight on why the Episcopal Church is especially relevant and life-giving in this day and age.

You may also want to take this course in a small group setting, either among newcomers to the church or those in leadership. Either way, you’ll enjoy and appreciate Eric and Stephanie’s engaging, insightful, and interesting discussions, as you think more deeply about this rich faith tradition — and its future.

TREC 3: Culture and Leadership launches today

We’re pleased to launch our third course in the TREC series (which stands for Task-Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church) today, and this is one that will get us all thinking about God’s dream for God’s church. When we think of the Church as God’s family, including all its members –and indeed relying on all its members — we also need to think of how well we are following Jesus’ example of listening to and celebrating the dignity of every human being.trec

In six lessons, various thought leaders in the Episcopal Church urge us to explore the ideas of wholeness, balance, inclusion, and relationality. Stephanie Spellers, who teaches at General Theological Seminary, presents the idea of the Gospel Flower and explores the role of women in church leadership. Lisa Fortunato, who leads a congregation in Boston, invites us to consider how minority communities such as Latinos are made to feel by well-meant inclusion practices. Bradley Hauff, who leads a congregation in Philadelphia, explains how Native American theology can enrich our understanding of leadership. Author and teacher Eric Law offers suggestions for creating and sustaining relevant communities. Isaiah Brokenleg, a theology student, invites us to more thoughtfully and reverently consider our differences and the power of listening.

What’s exciting about TREC is that part of its commission is to “gather information and ideas from congregations, dioceses and provinces, and other interested individuals and organizations, including those not often heard from; engage other resources to provide information and guidance, and … invite all these constituencies to be joined in prayer as they engage in this common work of discernment.” Taking part in these ChurchNext courses is one way to engage in this process. (See our earlier blog post here.)

Here are links to all three courses 1) Reimagining Church Leadership, 2) Mission and Leadership, 3) Culture and Leadership

All who are interested in church leadership or in the Episcopal Church will find much of interest and use in these courses. Click here for more information or to register.

TREC 2: Mission and Leadership

Our second course in the TREC series (which stands for Task-Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church), launches today, and is once again designed to spark thought, prayer, reflection, and conversation about the future of the Church.

In TREC 2: Mission and Leadership, we delve more deeply into what it means to be a good leader in the Church of the 21st century. With Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, the Rev. Jesus Reyes, and the Rev. Jennifer Baskerville Burrows, we explore what makes a healthy, Spirit-filled leader; how leaders should create and support community in our increasingly wired and global world; and what place innovation has in these arenas. trec

What’s exciting about TREC is that part of its commission is to “gather information and ideas from congregations, dioceses and provinces, and other interested individuals and organizations, including those not often heard from; engage other resources to provide information and guidance, and … invite all these constituencies to be joined in prayer as they engage in this common work of discernment.” Taking part in these ChurchNext courses is one way to engage in this process. (See our earlier blog post here.)

All who are interested in church leadership or in the Episcopal Church will find much of interest and use in these courses. Click here for more information or to register.

TREC 1: Reimagining Church Leadership launches today

TREC stands for Task-Force for Reimaining the Episcopal Church, and we’re excited to help further its mission by offering three courses, the first of which launches today, to spark thought, prayer, reflection, and conversation about the future of the Church.

TREC arose out of a charge by the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church to create a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration. What does that mean? Simply — and complexly — this means that a group of thought leaders is tasked with reimagining and reinvigorating the Episcopal Church so that “we may more faithfully

• Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
• Teach, baptize and nurture new believers
• Respond to human need by loving service
• Seek to transform unjust structures of society
• Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” (more here)

In TREC 1: Reimagining Church Leadership, we hear from three thinkers who have much to offer on the topic of reimagining leadership in the Church: Dwight Zscheile, Associate Professor of Congregational Leadership and Mission at Luther Seminary; Frederica Harris Thompsett, Mary Wolfe Professor of Historical Theology at Episcopal Divinity School; and Winnie Varghese, rector of St. Mark’s in the Bowrey in New York City. We explore Christlike leadership and innovation, our baptismal covenant as it relates to leadership and imagination, and the concept of truth-telling, both by and to our leaders.trec

What’s exciting about this Task Force is that part of its commission is to “gather information and ideas from congregations, dioceses and provinces, and other interested individuals and organizations, including those not often heard from; engage other resources to provide information and guidance, and … invite all these constituencies to be joined in prayer as they engage in this common work of discernment.” Taking part in these ChurchNext courses is one way to engage in this process.

All who are interested in church governance in general, or in the Episcopal Church in particular, will find much of interest and use in these courses. Click here for more information or to register.