The Presbyterian blogosphere and twitterverse have been busy today conducting a postmortem on the NEXT conference. Check out these first reflections (and let me know if I’m missing any):
- #NEXTChurchIndy is the ongoing conversation on Twitter.
- Jeff Lehn
- MaryAnn McKibben Dana
- Rocky Supinger
Much of the conversation has been about the lack of diversity among the conference leadership. The “next” church, it seems, looks a lot like the old church. Indeed, with some notable exceptions, there were a lot of white male pastors from big steeple churches. (Full disclosure of the obvious: I am a white male pastor from a big steeple church.) Since this was also my impression at the smaller gathering in Minneapolis (which I was invited to because of my big steeple connections), I was surprised and disappointed that three out of four preachers were white men. There was, of course, more diversity in some of the other conference and worship leadership, which I don’t think should be discounted.
I think it is helpful to keep in mind that this was intended to be the beginning of a conversation, not a presentation of solutions or a vision of what the next church might actually look like. The fact is that this particular conversation—and we all know that it is one of many—was started by a group of big steeple pastors—many of whom have been colleagues, mentors, and friends to me—who thought it would be helpful to expand their conversation by organizing a big conference. And look what happened: 350 people showed up, including 70 seminarians, and through online videos and social media many more people are participating.
Yes, the next NEXT conference should model the kind of church and leadership we would like to be—not what we have been for so very long. Yes, it should have less of a traditional, big steeple conference/worship vibe. Yes, churches of all sizes and missional contexts should be represented. Yes, it should include more voices from the full theological spectrum of the PC(USA). Yes, it should be even more conversational.
But I think this was an important beginning—one of many beginnings. The very fact that it has provoked such good questions in the first 24 hours after its conclusion is a good sign of things to come.
And, I think it is actually significant that there were so many big steeple pastors involved in this particular conversation. Big steeple pastors—especially those involved in denominational leadership—are the least likely to be asking the kinds of questions that were asked at this conference because big steeple churches are closest to the center of the Christendom establishment we are emerging from. Seminarians have been having these conversations for a long time. Emergents—and Presbymergents—have been having these conversations for a long time. Faith communities on the margins have been having these conversations for a long time. Now this iteration of the conversation has brought in some big steeple pastors of churches that would survive just fine if the rest of the PC(USA) were to fade away—or go away—tomorrow.
That is no small thing. The next church that is emerging will take all of these people and many more. The conversation has expanded and will continue to expand.