The Public Church Framework & Best Questions [Blog Collection]

Below is a collection of blogs written by Hub staff to help congregations and innovation teams gain better understanding of the Public Church Framework.

Our research shows that young adults do not like to be ‘targeted.’ Therefore, our goal is NOT to help faith communities create flashy programs. Our goal is to help faith communities build a learning culture in which congregations are champions in leading and managing improvement, innovation, and change. A learning culture allows faith communities to get out of their comfort zones to move out to the neighborhood, actively listen to the people’s stories, and comfortably act upon these stories. These actions, which reflect the heart of the neighborhood, will naturally lead to new connections and meaningful relationships with young adults.

 

  1. Introduction to the Public Church Framework:
    Ezekiel and the Public Church: Everything Will Live Where the River Goes 
  2. How to start working on each artform of the Public Church Framework:
    Best Questions in the Public Church Framework
  3. A guide to Accompaniment:
    Accompaniment — Being The Church Beyond The Walls

More blogs will be added on this page as Phase Two of our project unfold. We try our best to respond to the needs/challenges of our partner faith communities by providing useful, relevant resources. 

Accompaniment — Being The Church Beyond The Walls

By Jeremy Myers, PhD

 

The Public Church Framework begins in accompaniment. This sounds and looks great on paper, but we have found many leaders and congregations struggle with this artform. They struggle with putting it into practice. They even struggle with the word. So, it is important to explain what accompaniment is, what it is not, why it is important, and how it might be practiced.

What is it?

icon_three arrows going outwardAccompaniment is the word we use to describe the first artform, or movement, of the Public Church Framework. It is used to describe a faith community’s movement out into its neighborhood or context. It assumes a desire to know the neighbor, and their story, in their own words. It assumes our neighbor is not just “everyone in God’s creation”, but is also those who live right next-door — people, institutions, systems, watersheds, grove of trees, herds of cattle, and other creatures around us.

Accompaniment takes seriously the location in which our faith communities are planted and challenges us to do the intentional work of getting to know these places and those who call these places home. We do this become we believe God is already at work bringing about redemption in these places. Accompaniment is a way for us to uncover the work God is already doing in our neighborhoods. Accompaniment happens as our faith communities engage their neighborhoods and neighbors in order to (1) hear how they are already experiencing wholeness, healing, redemption, reconciliation and (2) how the faith community might come alongside their neighbors as they seek these things. If our faith communities want to proclaim good news into people’s’ lives, then we first have to do the hard work of listening to our neighbors’ stories.

What is it NOT?

Accompaniment is often misunderstood in some particular ways. Therefore, it is helpful to be explicit about what accompaniment is not.

  1. Accompaniment is NOT searching for a problem to solve. It is not a way in which we look for something to fix.
  2. Accompaniment is NOT market research. We are not conducting a survey in order to discover what type of church our neighbors wish to join.
  3. Accompaniment is NOT agenda-driven. It is not a process of listening to others in order to find ways they might fit into the work you are planning. Accompaniment prioritizes the neighbor and their story.

Why is it important?

The artform of accompaniment is important for several reasons. Some theological and some practical.

It is important theologically because we confess faith in a God who accompanies creation. The God of scripture creates a world of accompaniment where humans, other creatures, vegetation, climate, etc. accompany and provide for one another — for better or worse. God’s creative word that brings about this creation becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ who is God’s word accompanying (dwelling with) us. God’s spirit continues to free us and empower us to be in accompaniment with one another. Therefore, accompaniment becomes the way in which we live out God’s mission in our world and specifically in our neighborhoods.

Accompaniment is also important for practical reasons. The reality is that fewer people are seeking to be involved in faith communities. If we wish to play a meaningful role in people’s’ lives, then we will need to seek them out and engage them in the places where they live their lives rather than expecting them to show up in our places. Lastly, if faith communities want their members to learn to live into God’s mission in their daily lives, then faith communities will need to practice this together. Our faith, and Christ’s love, compels us to accompany our neighbors.

How is it practiced?

There are endless ways to practice accompaniment and the Public Church Framework resists prescribing best practices. It is the work of God’s people to learn how to put accompaniment into practice in ways that match their context, their neighbors’ needs, and their own assets. That said, here are a few ways to get started.

  • Neighborhood Prayer Walk — Learn to practice the Ignatian Awareness Examen, a contemplative prayer exercise that guides you through an examination of your day as you prayerfully seek moments of desolation and moments of consolation. Moments of desolation are times of sorrow, brokenness, fear, anxiety, etc. Moments of consolation are times of hope, healing, courage, peace, etc. Then use this same method as you walk through the neighborhood in which your faith community is situated, asking God to show you the places of desolation and consolation in that neighborhood. Practice this with other members of your faith community and your neighborhood. Together, map the locations of those places of consolation and desolation.
  • One-to-Ones — Learn to practice one-to-ones. These are intentional listening meetings between two people with the sole purpose of getting to know the other person, their desires, passions, interests, and heartaches. Here is a helpful tool from the Episcopal Church that explains the one-to-one relational meeting and offers some great questions. Their questions to be used “with neighbors and people not in your church” are particularly rich questions for accompaniment. 
  • Listening Posts — Identify places in your faith community’s neighborhood where people gather. Places where you need to be present to meet these neighbors and hear their stories. Find ways to be in the places more often. These are great places to meet people for one-to-ones.
  • Neighborhood Storytellers — Identify the storytellers in the neighborhood. These are the people with long institutional memory about the history, events, and dynamics of the neighborhood. Take time to meet them. Schedule a one-to-one with them. Learn from them. Remember to actively seek out the storytellers in your neighborhoods who are marginalized — people of color, the poor, immigrants, etc. These folks are storytellers as well and have important perspectives of life lived in the neighborhood.
  • Show Up — Find out when important gathers are happening in your faith community’s neighborhood and show up at those gatherings. These might be festivals, neighborhood association meetings, school board meetings, election debates, etc. Show up and listen.
  • Visit — Pick some of the questions for neighbors and people not in your church from the one-to-one guide and then boldly start knocking on doors in the neighborhood around your faith community. Kindly ask if them might have a few minutes to answer a couple questions – no strings attached. If they participate, then make the most of that opportunity as a segue into a relationship with that neighbor.
  • Gather Find reasons and ways to gather people from the surrounding community either in your faith community’s space or in other spaces in the neighborhood. For example, host a debate for local candidates during election season. If there is a tragedy, gather the community together in a public space to lament and mourn. Learn more about Friendraising then partner with a local non-profit and see if they might let your faith community host a Friendraiser for their non-profit.
  • Environmental Audit Learn what the environmental issues might be in your neighborhood. What watershed is your faith community located in? What does it mean to be in an accompaniment relationship with creation in your neighborhood?

 

icon_ a starBest questions?

Again, we resist prescribing best practices for accompaniment or any of the artforms in the Public Church Framework.

Although the ones listed above are a pretty good place to start, it is vital that your faith community discovers how it can do this work in a way that matches the assets and needs present in your context. We are willing to share what we consider to be the best questions of accompaniment. What are the practices your faith community will develop in order to be able to chase after and answer these questions? These questions can also be found in an earlier blog on Best Questions in the Public Church Framework.

 

  • What is our neighborhood or parish (geographical location)?
  • Where are our listening posts?
  • What are the places and spaces in our context we are in relationship with and have a history with?
  • What are the places and spaces in our neighborhood we are curious to learn more about?
  • Who are the neighborhood historians — people who know the history of this place?
  • Who is our neighbor? What are the demographics of our neighborhood (race, socioeconomic, single family/rental units, age)? How do these compare to the demographics of our faith community?
  • How are our neighbors experiencing hope & joy?
  • How are our neighbors experiencing anxiety, fear and heartache?
  • What are our neighbors’ hopes, dreams and desires for our shared neighborhood?
  • Who cares about the things and people our faith community cares about?

 

icon_happy faceCommit to Action

  1. The most important thing is to get out there and start doing this work!
  2. You do not need to perfect it before you start doing it! 
  3. Move out into the neighborhood, ask good questions, and listen!

Best Questions in the Public Church Framework

By Jeremy Myers, PhD

 

Public Church Frame Work: Accompaniment, Interpretation, Discernment, and Proclamation (a Cycle)
The Public Church Framework

The Public Church Framework was described in an earlier blog post. This blog post shifts gears towards putting the artforms of the framework into practice, or into questions.

 

There is no one way to practice Accompaniment, Interpretation, Discernment, or Proclamation. Each faith community will determine the best way to put these artforms into practice given the specific limitations and assets of their community and neighborhood. Therefore, we use the language of “best questions” rather than best practices. By this we mean these are the questions your faith community can be continually exploring to guide your contextualized practices of accompaniment, interpretation, discernment, and proclamation. How you come to answer these questions will be unique to your setting. We believe time wrestling with these questions and their implications create space for God’s voice to stir, guide and challenge yourfaith community.

These are not questions for a leadership team of the select few, rather these are questions for the whole faith community to be pondering together. These are the questions we want members of faith communities to be pondering in their own daily lives. Therefore, it is important that we ponder them together as a faith community to learn how they feel and how to chase after their answers. This is not administrative work, it is the work of God’s people as we discern how God’s spirit it moving us to be a part of good news in our communities.

 

Best Questions for Accompaniment
  • What is our neighborhood or parish (geographical location)?
  • Where are our listening posts?
  • What are the places and spaces in our context we are in relationship with and have a history with?
  • What are the places and spaces in our neighborhood we are curious to learn more about?
  • Who are the neighborhood historians — people who know the history of this place?
  • Who is our neighbor? What are the demographics of our neighborhood (race, socioeconomic, single family/rental units, age)? How do these compare to the demographics of our faith community?
  • How are our neighbors experiencing hope & joy?
  • How are our neighbors experiencing anxiety, fear and heartache?
  • What are our neighbors’ hopes, dreams and desires for our shared neighborhood?
  • Who cares about the things and people our faith community cares about?

 

Best Questions for INTERPRETATION

  • What has been the story of our faith community? What are the significant events, changes, people, etc. that shape our identity for better or worse? Where did we experience high points, struggles and growth? How do these things move us forward? How do they hinder our innovation?
  • What are the assets and anxieties that shape our faith community’s identity?
  • How does our faith community interpret scripture and think about the authority of scripture?
  • What are the core theological claims and beliefs of our faith community?
  • What are some important biblical narratives in the life of our faith community? How have they functioned for us?
  • Put God’s story and our neighbors’ stories in conversation with one another:
  • How do these core theological beliefs and important biblical narratives help us understand the stories we have heard from our neighbors? How do they challenge them? Change them? Enhance them?
  • How do the stories we heard from our neighbors help us understand these biblical texts and core beliefs? How do they challenge them? Change them? Enhance them?
  • Where do we see the promises of God at work in our neighborhood, outside of the work of our faith community?
  • As we do the work of interpretation, what questions about the Bible and our faith community’s core beliefs are emerging? How and with whom could we go about further exploring those questions?
  • How can we engage our faith community in this interpretive work in order to deepen and expand it?

 

Best Questions for DISCERNMENT

  • Where do we see death and resurrection in our neighborhood?
  • Where are we hearing lamentation in our neighborhood?
  • Have we been part of the problem? What do we need to confess? To whom? Where? How?
  • Where and with whom do we sense the Holy Spirit pleading with us to linger, to pay more attention, to listen more closely?
  • What questions do we still have? Where might we learn more about these questions or with whom do we need to visit?
  • What are the passions and strengths of our faith community that seem to present themselves as assets in light of what we have seen and heard in our accompaniment and interpretation? (For example, space, people, finances, vision, relationships, etc.)
  • If gospel is good news, what is the good news that needs to be proclaimed in our neighborhood in order to liberate people from the bad news we have heard in the neighborhood?
  • How are we equipped to proclaim this good news? How are we not?
  • Given what we have seen and heard in our neighbors’ stories, God’s stories, and our stories – who is God calling us to be? What is God calling us to do? What might God be calling us to sacrifice or risk? How is God calling us to show up in this community?

 

Best Questions for PROCLAMATION

  • How will this new story we wish to tell bring life and human flourishing to the neighborhood?
  • How is this good news already being proclaimed in the neighborhood?
  • Does anything need to die in order for this new story to live?
  • Where is the best place for this to happen? What is the best way to do this?
  • How might Christ show up in this proclamation?
  • What do we need to do to live into who God is calling us to be, what God is calling us to do, what God is calling us to sacrifice or risk, and how God is calling us to show up in this neighborhood?
  • Who needs to be a part of proclaiming and creating this new story (individuals, organizations, existing partners, neighbors, etc.)? How do these people also becomeproclaimers  of good news?
  • Who are the stakeholders we need to engage to live into this new story? What strategies do we have to engage these folks?
  • Take some time to be honest about the potential for failure. How might our proclamation of this good news fail at the levels of tactics, strategy and vision? What are the barriers? How is our perspective limited?
  • How might these potentials for failure shape our plan for proclamation?

 

Ezekiel and the Public Church: Everything Will Live Where the River Goes

By Jeremy Myers, PhD

 

A night photo of a bridge over the Mississippi River. The Riverside Innovation Hub is convinced of two things.

First, we are fairly certain young adults do not want to be targeted by efforts to win them back to church. They would much rather be participants and leaders in efforts to target pressing issues impacting their neighborhoods and the globe.

Second, we are fairly certain innovation, theologically understood, is not the creation of new, shiny programs. Rather, it is best understood as vocation. It is that thing that happens at the intersection where we are simultaneously aware of our neighbors’ deep desires, our deep desires, and God’s deep desires. Innovation happens when we are responsive to God’s call to be in life-giving relationships with and for our neighbor. We believe the Public Church Framework offers us an effective way to engage young adults — and all people — in that life-giving work.

This document seeks to explain the Public Church Framework and the biblical imagination that serves as its engine, specifically Ezekiel’s vision of God’s abundance. 

 

The Public Church Framework

Public Church Frame Work: Accompaniment, Interpretation, Discernment, and Proclamation (a Cycle)
The Public Church Framework

The Public Church Framework is based upon three presuppositions. First, the Triune God is present and active in our world working to create a future for God’s creation. Second, God calls God’s people to join God in this work of co-creating a future for God’s creation out in the world. Third, most — but not all — of these places where this work happens are places of suffering. Douglas John Hall defines the practice of theology as the work a Christian community takes on when it is seeking to proclaim good news that will actually displace bad news, or suffering. He says,

“Theology is that ongoing activity of the whole church that aims at clarifying what ‘gospel’ must mean here and now. . . The good news is good because it challenges and displaces bad news . . . Gospel addresses us at the place where we are overwhelmed by an awareness . . . of what is wrong with the world and with ourselves in it. It is good news because it engages, takes on and does battle with the bad news, offering another alternative, another vision of what could be, another way into the future.”1

Displacement does not always mean elimination, but it does always mean the suffering no longer has center stage, it is now accompanied and challenged by a hope which changes the nature of the suffering. Therefore, the Christian community’s call is to proclaim good news that challenges bad news, simultaneously discerning and proclaiming both incarnation and vocation — how God is at work in the world and how individuals, faith communities, and institutions are called into this work.

The Public Church Framework is a method for doing this work. It is descriptive rather than prescriptive in that it describes a natural rhythm or method many undertake when aiming to clarify “what gospel must mean here and now.” It is an approach to Christian formation and discipleship that begins with a movement out into the public square rather than beginning in church doctrine. The framework walks faith communities through four movements, or artforms, designed to move the faith community into their neighborhood’s story, into God’s story, into their own story, and into a time of discerning how God might be calling them to be proclaimers of good news into their neighborhood and with their neighbor. These artforms include:

  1. Accompaniment: The movement into the neighborhood in order to hear the neighbors’ stories. In this movement we learn to engage and listen to the neighbor for the neighbor’s sake.
  2. Interpretation: The movement into God’s story and the faith community’s core biblical and theological commitments. In this movement we learn how our core theological commitments shape our understanding of our neighbors’ stories and we learn how our neighbors’ stories shape our understanding of our core theological commitments.
  3. Discernment: The movement into the space between our neighbors’ stories, God’s story, and our story. In this movement we learn how to listen for who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do in light of the present reality and God’s promises.
  4. Proclamation: The movement back into the neighborhood, this time prepared to proclaim good news in word and deed with our neighbors. In this movement we learn how to boldly speak the truth of Jesus Christ in ways that challenge the way people in our neighborhoods are suffering.

We believe the good news is always Jesus Christ, but we also believe this good news of Jesus Christ will look and sound differently depending upon how individuals and neighborhoods are experiencing bad news. Young people, actually all people, will be drawn to a faith community actively engaged in proclaiming good news and challenging bad news in its neighborhood. The Riverside Innovation Hub’s Innovation Coaches will be guiding faith communities through the artforms of the Public Church Framework. Ezekiel’s vision of the abundance of God’s creative love as it flows away from the temple provides us a compelling image for this work.

 

Ezekiel’s Vision (Ezekiel 47:1–12, NRSV)

1 Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. 2 Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate that faces towards the east; and the water was coming out on the south side.

3 Going on eastwards with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. 4 Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist. 5 Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. 6 He said to me, ‘Mortal, have you seen this?’

Then he led me back along the bank of the river. 7 As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on one side and on the other. 8 He said to me, ‘This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. 9 Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. 10 People will stand fishing beside the sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. 11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12 On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.’

Ezekiel had trained to be a priest in the temple but ends up living his adult life in Babylon, exiled around 598–597 B.C.E. In 589 B.C.E. he receives word the temple and all of Jerusalem have been destroyed. True to the Hebrew prophetic tradition, Ezekiel sees the destruction of the temple as a direct result of the peoples’ unfaithfulness. Therefore, he begins to share these visions as he prophesies against the temple, but it is a vision and a prophecy of hope, not despair. In this vision, Ezekiel encounters an enigmatic figure who, after touring him through the temple, takes him beyond the walls of the temple in order to show him exactly what happens in those places where the water flows when it leaves the temple. Many biblical scholars connect this river in Ezekiel’s vision to the river that wells up and waters the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:8–14. The temple cannot contain God’s creative force. In turn, the temple becomes a source of blessing for the entire land, rather than a fixture intended to serve its own purpose.2

In a move very similar to Hall’s understanding of good news as that which challenges bad news, Elsa Tamez claims the river in Ezekiel’s vision to be a metaphor for God’s jubilee. A jubilee that can only be proclaimed if it becomes specific in ending actual suffering.

“When one speaks of the jubilee, it is essential to have before one the concrete situation that one is experiencing: debts, poverty, unemployment, violence, discrimination, exclusion, conflicts, sorrow, dehumanizing consumerism, the lethargy of the churches. For the jubilee is the good news that supposedly puts an end to that reality of suffering and dehumanization. . . If we speak of jubilee in a generic sense, the injustice is hidden, and the jubilee loses its power and ceases to be jubilee.”3

Therefore, Ezekiel’s vision becomes an invitation to follow God’s jubilee as it flows into the world and and makes everything live where it flows. The Public Church Framework provides faith communities with a way to do this, to become blessings for the entire land on which they are rooted rather than existing to serve their own purpose. We are Ezekiel, following the enigmatic divine tour guide along the river as we learn to see the breadth and depth of God’s love flowing away from the temple and into the world.

 

  1. Accompaniment: Mortal, Have You Seen This? (vs. 1–6a) — The river flows out from the temple and towards the desolate places. We are called out of our temples and our comfort zones to follow this river and to stop and notice how wide and deep it becomes. As we hear our neighbors’ stories, we become aware of how God’s deep and wide love and mercy are at work in their lives. We learn to hear and see so that when we are asked this question – Mortal, have you seen this? – we can answer with a yes. Accompaniment is the practice of learning to see and hear God’s love bringing life to our world.
  2. Interpretation: The Water Will Become Fresh (vs. 6b–8) — As the jubilee river flows it brings fresh water into salt water. This fresh water desalinates the salt water and makes it fresh. The jubilee water dwells in, with, and under the salt water and makes it able to support and create life. The same happens to us as the stream of God’s story flows into the streams of our stories and our neighbors’ stories. God’s story begins to dwell in, with, and under our stories and our realities. This brings hope to stories that were at one time hopeless. Interpretation is the practice of learning how God’s promises (the fresh water) change the way we look at suffering in our world (salt water) and how those sufferings change the way we look at God’s promises.
  3. Discernment: Fishing and Spreading Nets (v. 9–11)  The living water brings about diversity and abundance. The fishing is good along this riverside. We have now seen the fullness of this river and we now have some choices to make. Is it time to fish? Is it time to dry our nets? Is this a place to fish? Is this a place to gather salt? There is work to be done along this riverside and we are invited and equipped to do it. Discernment is the practice of learning to hear God’s call and to know when, where, how and why to act on that call.
  4. Proclamation: Fruit for Food, Leaves for Healing (v. 12)  Ezekiel walks the riverside and notices the trees on both sides of the river and the harvest they produce. The trees are growing fruit for food and leaves for healing. The gifts of these trees create a future for God’s people. These trees do not only produce seeds that ensure the future of the trees themselves, they produce leaves and fruit for the world. Proclamation is the practice of producing and presenting our world with our gifts for the sake of the world, not for the sake of our own propagation. Christian faith communities re-engage their neighborhoods with fruit for food and leaves for healing — gifts to be given away that create a future for God’s people.

God’s creative, life-giving, jubilee river flows out from the temple and into the world. Our call is not to damn up the river and keep it in the temple. Our call is not to expect our neighbors to come to the temple to experience the life giving water of the river. Our call is to follow the river as it deepens and widens and makes all things live. As we learn to do this – to see, to fish, to spread nets, to grow and harvest fruit for food and leaves for healing — we will find ourselves in the midst of innovation. Our innovation will be the work of co-creating a future for God’s world with God and our neighbor along the riverside. Our young adults will be drawn to this work. They are not looking for the temple, but they surely are seeking what they can find at the riverside. They are looking for others who are eager to bring the fruit for food and the leaves for healing to their neighbors.

 

Resources on young adults icon+_human symbols standing in a circle embracing a heartDiscussion Questions

  1. Which of the four artforms gets you most excited? Why? Which one do you think your faith community will struggle with the most? Which one do you think your faith community will have the easiest time putting into practice?
  2. What are some examples of how your faith community is currently proclaiming good news that challenges the bad news of your neighborhood? What are some examples of where your faith community has failed to challenge particular bad news in your neighborhood? Where is there good news happening in your neighborhood beyond the current reach of your faith community?
  3. What part of the Ezekiel text do you find most inspiring? Where do you have a hard time connecting with it or understanding it?
  4. What would it look like for your faith community to follow the river of God’s living water out into the neighborhood away from the church building? Who are the guides that might accompany you on that journey? What might happen?

References

1 Douglas John Hall, “What Is Theology?” Cross Currents 53, 2 (2003): 177–179.

2 Leslie C. Allen, Ezekiel. Vol. 20–48 . Word Biblical Commentary, V. 29. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2016).

3 Elsa Tamez, “Dreaming from exile: a rereading of Ezekiel 47:1–12,” In Liberating eschatology: essays in honor of Letty M Russell, ed. Margaret Farley, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), 69.

INTRODUCTION TO PHASE 2: Equipping & Discerning (August 2018 – August 2019)

Photo of Innovation Coaches Top row (left to right): Lindsay Boehmer, Emily Kindelspire, Mason Mennenga, Baird Linke, Tim Thao, Asefa Melka Wakjira Bottom row (left to right): Amanda Vetsch, Michelé Crowder
Photo of Innovation Coaches
Top row (left to right): Lindsay Boehmer, Emily Kindelspire, Mason Mennenga, Baird Linke, Tim Thao, Asefa Melka Wakjira
Bottom row (left to right): Amanda Vetsch, Michelé Crowder

On Monday August 6, 2018, we began training our eight Innovation Coaches who will spend the next ten months coaching sixteen local faith communities into a method of discerning and generating innovative ministry with young adults (List of Partner Faith Communities). Our coaches are young adults between the ages of 22 – 30 years old. They come to us from lives lived around the globe — the Twin Cities, Iowa, Rwanda, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Argentina, South Dakota, California, Texas, Europe, Philippines, China, Missouri, and Montana. Read about Our Innovation Coaches!

 

This training included three intense weeks (August 6 – August 24, 2018). Here were some of the components of that training:

  • Morning and Evening Prayer each day
  • A day in Voyageur canoes on the Mississippi River as we explore our theme text, Ezekiel 47:1-12
  • Time with Augsburg University president Paul Pribbenow exploring the University’s call to be an institution for the sake of the neighbor
  • Learning about Martin Luther’s theology of vocation from Dr. Mark Tranvik
  • Learning to practice one-on-ones with Harry Boyte from Augsburg University’s Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship
  • Finding our type in the Enneagram with Tyler Sit from New City Church
  • A Salon Dinner and day-long training on creativity, change, and welcoming resistance with Rev. Marlon Hall — pastor, filmmaker, storyteller, and anthropologist
  • Intercultural competency assessment and training
  • Immersion into the Public Church Framework

The goal of this training was to equip our coaches to be able to walk into two faith communities and help them engage young adults in their contexts in new ways, creating opportunities for the faith communities to listen and learn. We understand innovation to be that thing that happens when we are responsive to both the movement of the Holy Spirit and the demands being placed upon us by our neighbor in a particular place at a particular time. Our coaches learned to help faith communities locate themselves in these places and respond with hope.

Our work with these faith communities launched on September 18, 2018.

 

FOLLOW OUR JOURNEY

Read the Summary of our Phase One: Research!

 

Riverside Innovation Hub Track 3 Application

Augsburg University’s Riverside Innovation Hub is reaching out to faith communities in and near the Twin Cities to create learning partnerships around ministry with young adults. This is a collaborative effort sponsored by Augsburg University’s Christensen Center for Vocation and supported by Lilly Endowment, Inc.

The first round of applications closed in the Spring of 2018 and all funded partnerships have been selected for Track 1. However, our Track 3 option will remain open throughout the remainder of the project – Dec. 2021. Track 3 faith communities commit to be learning partners with the Riverside Innovation Hub and with the other Track 1 and Track 3 faith community partners at the table. This includes a commitment to:

  1. Complete and submit the application.
  2. Recruit a team of people from your faith community to steward the learning with RIH, determining ways it can inform the work and ministry in your own faith community and context.
  3. Participate with your team in 3-4 learning events each year hosted by the Riverside Innovation Hub.
  4. Participate in other collaborative learning opportunities with Track 3 faith communities with support from Riverside Innovation Hub staff.
Application - Track 3 Covenant - Track 3

 

Applications will be received on a rolling basis and reviewed monthly.

Any questions can be directed to Program Manager, Kristina Fruge at frugek@augsburg.edu.

 

Authenticity and Christian community

In our learning with faith communities and young adults, the word “authenticity” found its way into many conversations and interviews. There are big important words that sometimes can risk losing their impact as they become more commonplace in our vocabulary. Authenticity is one of these words and it is worth pausing and digging deeper into how this word lands and shapes Christian faith and community.

A big thank you to Rev. Mark S. Hanson, with Augsburg’s Christensen Center for Vocation and former bishop of the ELCA, for putting thought to paper and sharing his reflections on the notion of “authenticity” with our learning community.

 

Reflections on Authenticity

by Rev. Mark S. Hanson

What words would you use to describe your congregation? When I ask that question I hear a variety of responses but rarely the word “authentic”. Yet when I listen to young adults describe the communities they value, authentic is the word I often hear.

It is more than a choice of words. I hear in the longing for authentic community a criticism of churches that seem more preoccupied with institutional survival, denominational identities, theological categories and structures of authority than with being communities of faith in which one can be vulnerable in one’s humanity and transparent about one’s identity without fear of judgment or exclusion.

It is understandable that a generation that has grown up with intense debates and divisions over who is fully welcome to participate in and lead Christian communities would long for communities that begin not with establishing criteria for acceptance but with a commitment to a radical hospitality that welcomes all.

Furthermore, I hear in the calling for authenticity a rejection of the pervasiveness of a culture of self-deception and manipulation. A culture that is often labelled “post-truth” is rejected as being antithetical to authentic community in which “my truth” and “your truth” are heard and respected. The violation of trust through sexual misconduct by those in positions of authority contributes to this distrust and disconnect from the church.

What might the longing for authenticity mean for a congregation? I believe it calls for a clear commitment that our first priority is to attentive listening rather than “we need more young people in order to help our church survive.” The yearning for authenticity begins with empathy for the challenging circumstances of another person’s life. It calls for appreciative curiosity and compassion rather than judgment. For many, authentic community will occur only after trust is established, expectations are named and wounds from painful relationships begin to heal.

Is there validity in the perception that in worship our words of confession and absolution, our pleas for Christ’s mercy and our prayers of intercession can be heard as more formulaic than heartfelt, more prescribed than authentic? The desire for authentic worship calls for more conversation than simply offering the option of contemporary or traditional worship.

I do not find it helpful to label people “Nones”. Think about what we are doing. We are describing a person as “no-one” in relationship to how we define ourselves as people of faith, religious, church members etc. An authentic community begins by letting others describe themselves in terms of their own convictions and self-understanding.

In the longing for authentic community, I hear a rejection of a culture that ascribes power and privilege on the basis of economic prosperity, gender and racial identity, sexual orientation and citizenship. I think Millennials are seeking communities –Christian and others- that are fully human which is to say communities growing more and more into the image of God whose vulnerability led God to experience the fullness of our humanity in Jesus. It is understandable why many young adults seem far more interested in Jesus than in the church. For Jesus embodies authenticity. In Jesus birth, in his tensions with family, followers and those in authority, in his weeping and pleading for mercy and in his death we see our own humanity. Jesus faithfully, graciously and tenaciously extended the embrace of God’s reign of forgiveness, love and reconciliation to those deemed unworthy, unacceptable and unlovable. It is Jesus who calls us and the Holy Spirit who empowers us to be the Beloved Community for which so many yearn.

As I listen and learn from those calling for greater authenticity I want to explore questions such as these:

  • When authenticity becomes the highest ideal for which one strives and the basis upon which others are judged, what becomes of a sense of wonder, mystery and humility in response to humanity’s complexity and capacity for both good and evil?
  • How do we create safe space for people to speak the truth of their lives without making authenticity, vulnerability and transparency rather than the grace of God freely given on account of Christ the basis for our being community?
  • How is social media serving the longing for authentic community and changing faith communities?
  • Is it possible that a priority given to striving for authenticity can lead to a life more turned in on myself than turned outward to my neighbor and God’s creation? How can the focus on authenticity keep us connected to those for whom daily bread, the cessation of violence and the search for a safe haven is their daily task?
  • How do we explore the tension created by a culture described as “post-truth”, a generation yearning for authentic community calling us to respect “my truth” and “your truth” and the gospel proclamation that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life?
  • How does baptism, the sacrament of beginning and belonging, shape the yearning for authenticity in personal lives and community?

I am grateful that the Riverside Innovation Hub provides a marvellous context for continued conversation on how a longing for greater authenticity might transform lives of faith, communities and ministries.

Rev. Mark S. Hanson

Christensen Center for Vocation

Augsburg University

Discernment Questions for Faith Communities

Consider these questions an opportunity to engage your leadership, young adults and other key people in your community as you discern your faith community’s possible call into deeper ministry with young adults. Have some cups of coffee. Make time for a happy hour. Imagine and wonder where God is present in these questions and what that might mean for your faith community.

 

Describe your faith community’s capacity for risk-taking. What do you think your faith community is willing to risk or sacrifice in order to pursue a clear call from God?

 

How would you describe your congregation’s current relationship with young adults and attitudes about young adults?

 

Who in your faith community (staff and members) could be potential champions and leaders for a new effort to innovate ministry with young adults? Who would you want on your team to steward this partnership?

 

How are you equipped to support an additional person on-site during the coaching phase? Consider space availability, access to printing and communication systems within your congregation, culture of your staff and congregation.

 

What relationships do you have outside your faith community that could be an asset to innovating ministry with young adults?

 

Innovation by nature will involve success and failures and a willingness to take risks that may or may not produce the hoped-for outcomes. What do you imagine faithfulness to look like whether experiencing success or failure in this work with your faith community?

 

What do you sense God is already up to…

  • In your faith community?
  • In your community?
  • With young adults you know?

 

If you have the opportunity to talk (but mostly listen) with young adults consider asking them…

  • What gives you hope? What gives you anxiety?
  • What matters most to you?
  • What has or would draw you to be a part of a faith community? What has or would make you want to stay connected to a faith community?
  • What has or would make you not want to engage with a faith community? What do you think keeps your peers away?
  • How is God or faith influencing your life in the public places you live, work and play?

Innovative Ministry Partnership Application Criteria

Whether faith communities are currently engaged in meaningful ways with young adults or not, what we are looking for in our Innovation Ministry Partnership is evidence that faith communities sense a call into deeper ministry with young adults – a call rooted in hopefulness and not anxiety or wishfulness. Consider this list as you explore your own community’s capacity and willingness to partner with the Riverside Innovation Hub in innovative ways with young adults.

Selection Criteria for Innovative Ministry Partner Congregations

We think that “evidence” might include some of the following….

  • Hopeful Honesty: Faith communities honest about the realities and challenges at play – both within the congregation and within the larger cultural contexts of the day. Leadership recognizes that the landscape of our communities and the ways we are called to be church in this time and place has shifted. In spite of the anxiety this current context creates, we are looking for congregational leadership that is making decisions and moving to action from the place of hopefulness.  
  • Spirit-filled Imagination: Faith communities that have imagination for ministry that is not simply more and bigger of the same. That have imagination for creative ways to cultivate life-giving relationships with young adults. That have imagination for something beyond hiring a new staff person or setting up a new program. That have imagination which leaves room for the Spirit to show up.
  • Humble Openness: A culture open to a coaching relationship with a trained young adult through the Riverside Innovation Hub. The Innovation Coach will not be coming on board to take orders or share in the existing workload, but rather to coach faith communities through listening and discernment work in their community and with their neighbors. The Innovation Coach may potentially be younger than the faith community’s existing leadership and therefore present a twist on more common power dynamics. Faith communities will need to demonstrate an openness to learning in new ways with new people.  
  • Broad Congregational Buy-in: Faith communities will need to show that there is buy-in among the various leadership structures in their context – staff, councils, and other key leadership – to the vision and spirit of the Riverside Innovation Hub. The partnership lasts four years, but we hope this partnership will stir up something that outlives this four-year period. Long lasting transformation will require continued leadership and support from the congregation among all types of leaders and influencers.  
  • Eager Curiosity: Faith communities with a genuine curiosity about what God is up to in this current context at the intersection of young adults and faith communities. A curiosity and eagerness to learn new ways to do ministry and be church. A curiosity that seeks meaningful and messy insights rather than easy answers. A curiosity that could liberate faith communities to embrace how God might each, challenge, and transform them throughout this four-year experiment.
  • Collaborative Spirit: Faith communities willing to share their success and failures with a larger network of leaders and communities so that we learn together. When we are collaborative and innovative, successes and failures are both equally valuable spaces for learning.  
  • Commitment to the project: Faith communities with the capacity and willingness to participate in every aspect of this project over its entire length, following through on the tasks and presence required to do this collaborative work well.  
  • Called to ministry with young adults: Faith communities who sense a deep call to engage with people in the 22-29-year-old age range. This would be meaningful engagement and not simply a desire to have 20-somethings showing up at church again. Do you love young adults and do you love all the reasons why they stay away from church?

 

  • What will not be selection criteria?  
    • The size of your faith community.
    • Your faith community’s denomination or lack thereof.  
    • How long you’ve been around as a faith community.  
    • Whether you have young adults involved currently or not.  
    • Your faith community’s budget.
    • Your faith community’s location, with one caveat. Track 1 Partners will be limited to faith communities within a 30-minute drive of Minneapolis because we need sites to be relatively accessible for our Innovation Coaches. However, location is not a factor for Track 2 Partners or Track 3 Associate Faith Communities.

Innovative Ministry Partnership for Faith Communities

In order for this work to have the greatest impact, we have crafted several different pathways for interested faith communities to participate in the Innovative Ministry Partnership.

On Jan. 15, 2018 our Innovative Ministry Partnership Application was made available for faith communities with a willingness and capacity to explore their call into deeper ministry with young adults. Applications for Track 1 opportunities closed Apr. 15, 2018. Still interested? We accepts Track 3 applications on a rolling basis.

 

Innovation Ministry Partner Faith Communities – Track 1 (Closed)

  • Work with the Riverside Innovation Hub for four years from the summer of 2018 through the summer of 2022.
  • Year One (summer 2018 – summer 2019): Commit to working 15-20 hours a week with a Riverside Innovation Hub young adult Innovation Coach who will walk with your faith community through a year-long process of reimagining its ministry with young adults.
  • Submit a sub-grant proposal at the end of Year One to the Riverside Innovation Hub to receive $25,000-$30,000 for innovative approaches to ministry with young adults in your context over the following two years.
  • Years Two – Three (summer 2019 – summer 2021): Manage the funds granted to your faith community and implement your plan for engaging young adults in your context in new and innovative ways.
  • Year Four (summer 2021 – summer 2022): Work with the Riverside Innovation Hub to evaluate the three previous years of learning and creating in order to learn what worked and what did not. Faith communities will also work with the Riverside Innovation Hub to share collective findings through written projects and seminars.
  • Attend regular learning cohort meetings and trainings offered by the Riverside Innovation Hub throughout the four years of partnership with the Hub.
  • Track 1 faith communities need to be located within a 30 minute drive of Minneapolis in order to be accessible to our Innovation Coaches.

Innovative Ministry Partner Faith Communities – Track 2 (Closed)

  • Identical to Track 1 with two main differences…
  • First: In Year One, faith communities will identify their own young adult Innovation Coach from their community to guide the faith community through the work of reimagining its ministry with young adults. The faith community’s Innovation Coach will participate in training at Augsburg during the weeks of August 6-24, 2018 with other Riverside Innovation Hub coaches, be a part of an Innovation Coach cohort, and invited to attend all workshops and training aimed at equipping Innovation Coaches in Year One.
  • Second: No funding will be available to Track 2 faith communities. However, they will participate in all other aspects of the partnership with Track 1 partners. They will be included in all training & learning cohorts throughout the partnership, create their own ministry proposal in Year One, implement and adapt their ministry in Years Two and Three, and participate in evaluating the learnings in Year Four.
  • Faith communities may choose to be considered for Track 2 on their own because they believe they have the resources internally to support the work or they may be located more than 30 minutes from the Twin Cities. The Riverside Innovation Hub may choose to invite faith communities who apply to be Track 1 Partners to consider Track 2 based on the fact that there are a limited number of spots available for Track 1.

Innovative Ministry Associate Faith Communities – Track 3 (Open)

  • Some faith communities may share a deep passion and curiosity for this work but not currently be in the position to dedicate the needed resources of time, leadership, and potentially funding to commit to a four-year partnership with the Riverside Innovation Hub. An Associate Faith Community is committed to following the project, eager to be a part of the learning the flows from it, and willing to commit to being a regular participant in the learning opportunities offered through the Riverside Innovation Hub.
  • Associate Faith Communities would commit to attending Hub Seminars and workshops as the project unfolds and have opportunities to learn alongside the efforts taking shape at Partner Congregations.