21stCenturyMinistry

A Year of Lessons Learned at Bearings

With an Eye to the Road Ahead

In our most recent issue, we invited contributors to explore the lessons they’ve learned throughout their lives that speak to the opportunities and challenges of ministry in these times. Nicole Lamarche, a self-described “spiritual entrepreneur,” shared the joys and heartaches of getting a progressive community of faith off the ground. Her reflection on nearly a… Read More

Learning From Hearts Broken Open

Lessons from 25 Years of Ministry on the Growing Edge

My nephew was a bright, ascending star. His academic acumen was extraordinary. His athletic ability was astounding. Musically, he was captivating with a repertoire and skill that could have landed him just about anywhere. And on July 14, 2018, he took his own life. Journalist Roxanne Roberts was right when she wrote of her father’s… Read More

Not a Dirty Word

Administration as a Spiritual Practice

I only signed up for the class because my seminary required it. Church Administration sounded boring. I associated “administration”” with business. It seemed unlikely that I would go to work for a large church, and even if I did, the jobs I would apply for as a new seminary graduate would be associate positions. “Administration”… Read More

Achieving Failure

Lessons Learned from a Progressive Church Start-Up

With a big smile, a bit of money raised, and enough naiveté to blind me, I showed up to the office of the Conference of the Northern California Nevada United Church of Christ. It was the fall of 2010, and I had left a beautiful village church in New England to follow the call to… Read More

Getting Our Bearings: Ministries of Coping

A Guide for Reflection & Conversation

If you look up the words “cope” or “coping” in a dictionary, you’ll find entries like these: “to struggle or deal with, especially on fairly even terms of with some degree of success,” “to face and deal with problems or difficulties, especially successfully or in a calm or adequate manner,” or “to have the capacity… Read More

Finding the Face of the Church Becoming

Can a Renewed Pluralism Nurture a ‘Church on the Way’ that Engages Young People?

It was May, 1965 when a group of African-American Episcopalians from the Episcopal Society for Culture and Racial Unity, also known as ESCRU, attempted to enter an Episcopal Church in St. Augustine, Florida for Sunday mass. As explored in United By Faith: The Multicultural Congregation As An Answer to Race, these Episcopalians were blocked from… Read More

Becoming Digitally-Integrated Church

A Media Scholar and a Church Staff Advisor Reflect on How Our Online Lives are Shaping Religious Practice Today—And How Churches can Respond, Connect, and Engage Online and Off

A decade and a half ago, Heidi’s book, Exploring Religious Communities Online, documented how traits of early forms of online religious communities emerging in the late 1990s posed both a potential challenge and opportunity to offline churches. These early “virtual communities,” as they were referred to, grew out of the web 1.0 era of email… Read More

Generating Church through Sound

Showing up, Listening Deeply, and Practicing Together

I teach community singing and chanting as a spiritual practice. I travel around the country meeting and singing with people in different denominations, teaching and learning new songs and insights, and moving on to the next community. Through more than 30 years, the singing together has become as much a metaphor for noticing our internal… Read More

Small Is the New Big

A Guide for Reflection & Conversation

The articles in this month’s Bearings magazine, “Small Is the New Big,” illuminate questions raised by the realities of small church ministry. In them we read eyewitness accounts of the spiritual energy in churches described as “small”—small that is, when the metric applied is a numerical count of members or weekly worship attendance. The articles… Read More

Small, But Not Alone

Collaborative Parishes Offer Hope and New Life for Small Churches

With few exceptions, Christian churches in America are in trouble. Membership has been trending slowly downward for decades with the most pronounced declines occurring in churches in the mainline Protestant tradition. I am not writing, however, to sound the alarm about the shrinking numbers of the faithful. I would guess that none of it is… Read More

Small Church Magic

A number of years ago I found myself sitting in an auditorium, surrounded by colleagues, listening to a speaker talk about church growth. It was not the first time I had found myself in this situation: A speaker from an urban center telling people in a judicatory that is predominantly rural and low-income what they… Read More

How Many Crockpots Does It Take to Keep a Small Church Afloat?

Small Is the New Big Issue

We sit quietly in a 125-year-old, former Methodist church sanctuary (now a space used for art events). A cello, violin, and guitar lead us with instrument and voice. We sing one line of one psalm 108 times. We sing the line 108 times because the musician who leads us is also a yogi, and that… Read More

Making Peace with Peacemaking

Nick Nagy, “Peacemaking in the Middle” Over the winter break, our editorial assistant, Nick Nagy, took a close look at people of his home state, Indiana, and by association the rest of the Midwest, who, especially since the 2016 election, have been characterized as “hopelessly isolationist and dismally Trumpian.” Nick’s lead-off article in our January… Read More

An Inconvenient Incarnational Peace

Real peacemaking doesn’t start with abstract concepts for me, but with faces. I see faces of children in Salvadoran refugee camps and Mothers of the Disappeared I met in 1989. I see U.S. war veterans: Debbie, Jim and Miguel, who willingly served their country and came home emotionally, spiritually wounded. Jim was a parishioner who… Read More

Where Can I Run To?

Creating Sacred Space as a Black Woman

The 1990s R&B girl group, Xscape, has a famous song entitled “Who Can I Run To?” The song discusses the complexity of whom to rely on when one needs love. I can relate. I entered my thirties this year full of hope, only to be hit with three significant losses in a six-month time span.… Read More

How the Grinch Told Christmas

Or, Sacred Space is Where It Finds You

The end of the year is upon us. And end is where we shall start: this tale will end with poorly described travelogue of where to find your sacred space hidden in this year’s festivities, mostly through the process of elimination. Or maybe not. Actually you might want to stop reading now. I wouldn’t trust… Read More

Giving Thanks in Thankless Times

A Guide for Reflection & Conversation

Editors Note: Each month, Bearings contributors offer insights on a key theme in the practice of life-as-ministry. As the final installment in the issue, The BTS Center’s scholar-in-residence Pamela Shellberg, PhD reflects on the articles in the issue and poses questions for further reflection by Bearings readers and the communities in which life-as-ministry plays out for… Read More

Finding Deep Gratitude in Ordinary Time

My Sunday night yoga class is an anchor in my week. It grounds me and prepares me for the week ahead. The teacher is wise and the community that gathers is special. Recently one night a couple I hadn’t met before showed up. A bit older than me, they looked to have shared many, many… Read More

Radical Gratitude as Resistance

I’m going to put a whole lot of honesty on the table: I find the age we live in very disturbing. Perhaps you share my concern or, worse yet, have been the object of concern from the likes of me. The truth is, my peace has been disturbed. As an African-American man, fighting for dignity… Read More

Jesus is the tweet. You are the hashtag.

Reflecting on Life in the Digitally-Integrated Church

Editors Note: Each month, Bearings contributors offer insights on a key theme in the practice of life-as-ministry. As the final installment in the issue, The BTS Center’s scholar-in-residence Pamela Shellberg, PhD reflects on the articles in the issue and poses questions for further reflection by Bearings readers and the communities in which life-as-ministry plays out for… Read More