KANSAS CITY, MO – Iconic North American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s “church of the future” proved a fitting setting to introduce DisciplesNEXT, a new framework for church growth in a pandemic-informed ministry context.

The three-day Leadership Academy, a hybrid event held at Kansas City, MO’s historic Community Christian Church in late October, drew more than 50 participants, including clergy, laity, and regional ministry leaders, with designs on starting, growing, or reimagining congregational ministry for today’s context. The event was led by the New Church Ministry team of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada.

Victor Perez shares his thoughts about Leadership Academy on Instagram.

Clergy and laity gathered online and in person to explore DisciplesNEXT’s core competencies: contemplative action, prophetic advocacy, and faith-rooted organizing to expand the Disciples witness. The new framework claims the best of the Disciples’ identity and history as a “movement for wholeness” even as it seeks to counter the church’s historic tendency to colonize as a means of growth. 

“I’m taking a lot of tools with me, including not only how to be a leader inside my congregation, but in my community,” said Victor Perez, a member of Casa de Refugio Christian Church in Covina, CA. “Leadership Academy is taking us outside of our comfort zone, outside of the four walls of our church.”

In his opening remarks to the gathering, Rev. Dr. Jose Martinez, Minister of New Church Strategies, made the point that “we are all new church” as we learn anew to be the church in a pandemic-informed context. DisciplesNEXT is a framework that supports congregations, regardless of their stage in the church lifecycle.

Rev. Dr. Jose Martinez discusses DisciplesNEXT.

Rev. Chad Delaney, Senior Minister of Mantua Center Christian Church in Mantua, OH, introduced participants to NCM’s coaching service. As an NCM coach, Rev. Chad shared what role he and his colleagues play in the first few years of a new church leader’s ministry. Coaches can be confused as consultants or therapists, but he pointed to the distinction.

“Therapists are like archeologists; they dig deep into the history of how we understand ourselves. Coaches are like architects – present- and future-focused,” he explained.

For Rev. Jose the success of emerging congregations depends on coaching — and coaching depends on trusting relationships. Having coaches on-site to meet participants provided a deeper familiarity with the value of this service, he said.

Rev. Brian Frederick-Gray delivers his keynote address.

Participants also heard from keynote speaker Rev. Brian Frederick-Gray, Director for Justice and Advocacy Ministry with Disciples Home Missions, who delved into the meaning of embodied and resilient faith. Workshops by Disciples Church Extension Fund staff covered topics ranging from marketing to building needs and opportunities.

Rev. Wesley King, NCM’s Program Coordinator, plays the organ at IBCC.

On the third day of the event, Independence Boulevard Christian Church (IBCC), welcomed a site visit to share their journey as a church transformation in an urban setting. The small faith community uses its aging facilities for multiple outreach ministries addressing issues affecting the neighborhood, including food insecurity, lack of access to medical care, and homelessness. 

Between Rev. Chad’s presentation and the tour of IBCC, participants found fellowship amongst their peers in various cohorts, which were designed for core teams and their leaders at different stages of the church launch process.

Leadership Academy participants gather outside of IBCC.

“It’s always energizing to be with people who share similar vision and call into a church community’s setting,” shared returning participant Rev. Tiffany DeTienne, Community Engagement Specialist at Church World Service.

In concluding the event, Rev. Dr. Jose reminded participants that the model for Jesus’ ministry “was never meant to be just pastors leading congregations.”

Rev. Bill Rose-Heim, Regional Minister for the Kansas City region, sings at the opening worship service.

“Christ is our pastor. We are the laity. We are helping each other become empowered to lead for the common good,” he said. “The Spirit moves us forward in this.”

DisciplesNEXT is scheduled to be the topic of discussion in the December 6 IMPACT episode.

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