The Practice Discipleship (PD) Initiative has been one of the most powerful and influential faith formation ministries to take hold in the ELCA in the last 30 years. This is not exaggeration, nor is it hyperbole. It’s just real.
Literally tens of thousands of people have participated in training and education for leadership in congregational faith formation since the program began as a part of the 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering.
The original intent, as envisioned by Catherine Anderson, was to prepare adult leaders to bring young people to the Youth Gathering by training them in basic youth ministry and faith formation skills. The the bar on preparation and training was to go up, groups would have a better Gathering experience, and at the end of the day, leaders would serve in their congregations more effectively. New curriculum was developed, coaches in just about every synod were trained and hundreds of in-person and on-line training events took place.
Through all this work, the PD Initiative helped to foster a culture of faith formation throughout the church.
The ELCA Churchwide Organization saw the value of the PD Initiative, and funded the program generously for 3 years. The PD leadership team actually stretched that grant to cover the program for 4 years, and now we find ourselves in the position of discernment.
There are several different elements that put us in the position of discernment:
- The funding from the Churchwide has run out
- Tammy Jones West, who has done a fantastic job directing the initiative, is stepping back to assume a team leadership role with the ELCA Youth Gathering. (We’re so grateful to Tammy for her leadership that there are barely words to adequately say ‘thank you.’ More on that another day.)
- The Board of Directors of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network is in the process of creating a new strategic plan, which will be “unveiled” at the Extravaganza this year. It will guide our growth and development over the next 3-5 years. While we’re not in a position to release details, I can say that we believe that this has the potential to directly reach and strengthen the ministry of every member of the Network.
So then, what’s the PD plan?
We believe Practice Discipleship is going to be a crucial element in the life of the ELCA into the future. And we feel like God is giving us an opportunity to think and dream about new ways to effectively strengthen your ministry, and we want to get that right. We don’t want to just find funding and continue what we’ ve been doing when we think there might be a whole new “thing” that PD can grow into.
We are going to take the upcoming year as a “hiatus” year…an opportunity to pray, think and talk. Our goal is to pull together some funding to hold a couple of meetings to talk about how PD and the Network’s new strategic plan can effectively interconnect with each other.
There will not be a coach’s training event at the Extravaganza this year, as we’re not totally sure yet what they would be being trained in. However, we are planning on a training event at the 2018 E in Houston. We do want to thank our current coaches for their great work and keep them connected. So we will be offering them a discount for the 2017 E in Louisville. (We also may invite those who are there into a meeting to help us think and plan for the PD future while we’re in Louisville. As much as we’d love to fly them all in for the E, that funding doesn’t exist right now. So we’ll just have to settle for inviting those who are able to be there.)
Details on the coach’s discount to the E will be coming in a separate e-mail.
I think it’s good that we occasionally stop what we’re doing, to talk, think and prays. Too much in the life of the church we find ourselves in the position of trying to change the car tires while the car is in motion. We feel strongly that God is calling us to “pause,” and to work through our options, and to discover what God is calling this thing called “Practice Discipleship” to become.
We’ll release updates here as we know them.
Thanks for your support, your prayers and your partnership!
There is change happening in the church. Maybe it’s a new awareness…perhaps it’s a new reformation…I’m not sure what to call it. But something is different. There are new conversations taking place. There are new questions being asked. When I enter into conversations with those who do ministry alongside young people and their families, the first question I hear is no longer “what should I do at youth group on Sunday?” or “How do I do fundraising?”
The questions that I hearing now are more along the lines of:
- “I’m wondering where God is calling us to go?”
- “We’re trying to figure out what’s working?”
- “How do we understand God’s mission in this place?”
- “What is faith formation?”
While these may not seem like they should be new questions, in the world of faith-formation with the young, they kind of are. The primary concern used to be with technique…strategy…programs. The assumption was that faith language was not foreign to young people. My sense is that the landscape has shifted and that folks are now taking a 10,000 foot view, and are wondering much more fundamental questions. This because the world in which we live is changing, and the landscape the church occupies is so radically different than it was even 10 years ago. The old assumptions clearly don’t apply anymore.
These are the issues the Extravaganza tackled this year (Form: Faith Formation in a Missional Age). These are the issues that the Practice Discipleship Initiative are tackling. These are the issues that are being talked about on the Network’s Facebook group, in the webinars and other resources from Vibrant Faith Ministries and our other partners. This is what the SYMBOL Network (Synod staff people who work in children’s or youth ministry) is talking about. Outdoor ministries is looking for new directions. Our seminaries are stepping directly into the path of these conversations and are offering much research and wisdom. And our churchwide organization is figuring out how to re-invent itself, that it might serve well in this new, missional age.
Are any one of these things either the “cause” or the “cure” for figuring this out? No.
But my sense is that really for the first time in a long time, all of these different organizations are beginning to “paddle in the same direction” in terms of figuring this stuff out.
Some people look at the indicators of these changes in our culture and speak of the end of the church. I don’t think so. I have a much more hopeful view. I don’t believe God is done with the church yet. Though it doesn’t come naturally to the institutional church, I believe that we will change. I believe we will adapt to a shifting world. And I think the key for these changes lies right in our own sandbox. It is, I think, the world of faith formation with the young that is going to lead the change. The culture we inhabit together realizes that the old must pass away. We cannot be afraid to continue asking the questions and seeking God’s call for our ministry. As faith formation reinvents itself, I believe the rest of the church will follow. Really I do.
I believe that someday we’re all going to be able to say “we were there when…” and describe how God’s Holy Spirit moved within the world and within the church.
I am hopeful and excited for the future. And I am grateful to God for what God is up to, and for this community in which questions can be asked, and new directions discovered. Thanks to you, for being a part of it!
Networked in Christ,
Today, members of the Network’s Board of Directors are traveling to Denver, Colorado for their annual fall meeting. The vision, direction and policies of the Network are overseen by this Board. Seven individuals are called to serve in this role, and meet for prayer, discernment, visioning and policy setting three times a year.
The Network is an adventure. As both our culture and our change are changing, and as the needs of those who do ministry with those in the first third of life shift, a dynamic board is more essential than ever. We’ve all been to meetings of committees, boards or congregations where there is a certain level of…shall we say…micromanagement. As in “why did we spend $123 more in paper napkins for fellowship between services this year than last year?”
This isn’t that kind of Board. Yes, monitoring of our state and condition are important. And our board manages to have, but not focus its energy on these conversations, choosing instead to focus on asking good questions:
- Where is ministry with young people headed?
- Where is God calling this Network to go?
- What kind of support do adults who work with children and youth need?
- How do we create the infrastructure to move forward with this ministry?
- What should our goals for the next 1 year, 3 years and 5 years be?
The Network is blessed to have a good Board of Directors. They are gifted and passionate people. And at our meeting over the next three days, we are going to be working on (and hopefully coming close to completing) a new strategic plan, on thinking about the new Practice Discipleship Project, and on looking at strategies for growing our Network. Details of these items will come out in upcoming weeks and months.
Please pray for those who serve Christ and the Network through its Board of Directors. They will need your prayers as we delve into these important conversations.
Your Board members are:
- Julie Miller; Denver, Colorado
- Rev. Ben Morris; Detroit, Michigan
- Yvonne Steindal (AiM); Rapid City, South Dakota
- Valerie Taylor Samuel; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Erik Ullestad; West Des Moines, Iowa
- Rev. Larry Wagner; Thousand Oaks, California
- Rev. Mike Ward; Asheville, North Carolina
- Rev. Todd Buegler; Maple Grove, Minnesota (Network Exec. Dir/non-voting member)
- Mark Burkhart (AiM); Chicago, Illionois (ELCA Staff/non-voting member)
You can get more information about the Network’s board, including looking at minute of their meetings, by going to their web page.
Networked in Christ,
There is a new webinar that has been added to the catalog of webinars that are a part of the “Practice Discipleship Project” done
cooperatively by the Network and the ELCA Youth Gathering.
I’m really excited about the webinar. It is titled “Compassionate Justice and Service Learning.”
I’d like to give you the description, and then tell you the ‘backstory’ behind it:
This webinar will explore the concept of compassionate justice as part of “Practicing Justice,” one of the ELCA Youth Gathering’s central themes. The language of compassion, justice, and accompaniment will be introduced, along with a biblical overview of justice and what it means to serve in Christ’s name. In addition, leaders will learn a practical, four-step service learning model that can be used in preparing their groups for service and mission experiences, including how to adequately prepare a group, guide meaningful reflection, and share stories and experiences with others. We will end this session with an important conversation about what comes next – the Gathering is not a destination event, it is a preparation for ministry in your own neighborhood and the world around us!
The webinar will be led by Dr. Dave Ellingson and Mark Jackson, both of Trinity Lutheran College, and Peggy Hahn of the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod.
So here’s the deal: As a church, Christ calls us to serve. We all know this. Often, however (and I have been guilty of this…I think all of us have at some point) those with whom we serve become objects of service instead of subjects.
Don’t get me wrong…I love short-term mission trips. I love taking the young people in our congregation into different geographic and cultural settings, embedding ourselves in a community for 10 or 12 days, and getting deep into a service project. There is, however, a risk involved in this: without intention, the focus of what we’re doing can shift and we can start to serve not because of the needs of those in the community in which we work, but because of our need to serve…our need to feel good about ourselves…our need to swing a hammer/build a house/feed a homeless person/feel good about our faith…
To be really honest, sometimes these experiences can even reinforce a class system that we all talk about wanting to break down. We can approach service like an us/them, with “us” being the benevolent ones.
When we approach service this way, even unintentionally, real relationships of integrity do not form. The relationships are unequal.
I heard many, many great stories of powerful, relational service and accompaniment in New Orleans after the 2009 event. I also heard a few stories of folks who were upset because their kids were assigned to service that was more about listening or learning than it was about building/cleaning/working/etc… “So our kids didn’t get to serve!” they cried.
Sure, that’s true…if you have a narrow vision of service. But the service Christ calls us to is one that draws us into relationships of integrity. It calls us to listen first and to act later. It calls us to do whatever needs to be done, whether that’s swinging a hammer or sitting on a porch listening to a story.
It’s shouldn’t be about our need to serve. It shouldn’t be about us.
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12: 23-25.
I think we need to be willing to take the expectations and hopes of what we think service is going to be this summer, and let it fall and die, and open ourselves up to how God’s Holy Spirit might just work in the lives of both the people we encounter in New Orleans, and into the lives of the young people that we will shepherd there. We all need to remember, it’s not about us. It’s about this new community that the Holy Spirit is going to create this summer of us and them…together.
Our challenge is going to be teaching this understanding of service and service learning to the young people we bring, so that they can come with open minds and open hearts. That is what the webinar will tend to. I strongly recommend that you watch and participate in it. It’s going to be really good, and really helpful!
If they are open to the work of the Spirit, I believe it will produce many, many good seeds.
I hear it actually all of the time. Somebody will send me a question about a ministry topic, or perhaps about a resource, and I’ll drop back a quick note to them and say “you should check out _______________’s talk from the Extravaganza a couple of years ago…there was some stuff said there that I think would really be helpful.” I’d send them the weblink, and then go on to something else. But a day or two later, I almost always get an e-mail back. “Wow…I had no idea that all of that stuff was on there!”
We forget the resources that are available to us all of the time.
The Network web site has a ton of video resources that are available to Network members to access and use. There’s some great stuff here! I think we often just straignt-up forget what’s available to us. So I thought it might be helpful to get a reminder.
(Note: To access the video resources, go to the video home page. To access the webinars, go to the Practice Discipleship Home Page. For 3rdTuesday Conversation (3TC) recordings and webinars, go to the 3TC home page.)
Here are Some of the titles we’ve got online:
- Dr. Terri Elton; Opportunity or Despair – The Landscape of Youth Ministry
- Shivon Miller; Events as Ministry Part 1
- Heather Hansen; Events as Ministry Part 2
- Dr. Jeremy Myers; Lutheran Theology – How God Works in the World
- The Network: Come and See
- The Network: Vision
- Video Essay: “Are You Indespensible?”
- State of the Network 2009
- State of the Network 2010
- State of the Network 2011
- Rev. Dave Daubert; Extravaganza Keynote 2005
- Doug Fields; Extravaganza Keynote 2005
- Rev. Kirk Jones; Extravaganza Keynote 2005
- Kusuma Paul; Extravaganza Keynote 2005
- Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean; Extravaganza Keynote 2006
- Dr. Rollie Martinson; Extravaganza Keynote 2006
- Dr. Rollie Martinson; Preaching 2006
- Dr. Rodger Nishioka; Extravaganza Keynote 2006
- Michael Pritchard; Extravaganza Keynote 2006
- Dr. Leonard Sweet; Extravaganza Keynote 2006
- Dr. Reggie Blount; Extravaganza Keynote 2007
- Rev. Michael Breen; Extravaganza Keynote 2007
- Bishop Mark hanson; Preaching 2007
- Rev. Carol Scott; Extravaganza Keynote 2007
- Rev. Karen Ward; Extravaganza Keynote 2007
- Rev. Tania Haber; Extravaganza Keynote 2008
- Dr. Patrick Kiefert; Extravaganza Keynote 2008
- Rev. James Lobdell; Extravaganza Keynote 2008
- Rev. Jose Valenzuela; Extravaganza Keynote 2008
- Jason Wilkinson; Interview 2009
- Rev. Kelly Fryer; Extravaganza Keynote 2009
- Leslie Hunter; Extravaganza Keynote 2009
- Dr. Adina Nack; Extravaganza Keynote 2009
- John “Nelllie” Nelson; Extravaganza Keynote 2009
- Dr. Mindy Pupolo; Extravaganza Keynote 2009
- Dr. Christian Scharen; Extravaganza Keynote 2009
- Rev. Ann Svennungsen; Preaching 2009
- Rev. Bill Bixby; Preaching 2009
- Rev. Patrick Keen; Preaching 2009
- Dave “Agape” Scherer; Interview 2009
- Father Greg Boyle; Extravaganza Keynote 2010
- Rev. Becca Stevens; Extravaganza Keynote 2010
- Rev. Julio Cruz; Preaching 2010
- Rev. Kelly Chatman; Preaching 2010
- Rev. Dr. Dick Hardel; Interview 2010
- Tic Long; Extravaganza Keynote 2011
- Mark Yaconelli; Extravaganza Keynote Part 1 2011
- Mark Yaconelli Extravagnaza Keynote Part 2 2011
- Nancy Feniuk Nelson; Extravaganza Keynote 2011
- Enuma Okoro; Extravaganza Keynote 2011
- Bishop Paul Blom; Interview 2011
- Recorded Webinar; Dr. Jeremy Myers – “Lutheran Theology; How God Works in the World”
- Recorded Webinar; Dr. Jeremy Myers – “Lutheran Theology; How Lutherans Read the Scriptures”
- Recorded Webinar; Dr. Terri Elton – “Your Role as a Leader”
- Recorded Webinar; Dennis “Tiger” McLuen – “Strategic Planning”
- Recorded Webinar; Dennis “Tiger” McLuen – “Leading a Small Group”
- Recorded Webinar; Dennis “Tiger” McLuen – “Faith Conversations”
- Recorded Webinar; Dennis “Tiger” McLuen – “Preparing for the Unexpected” (being released this coming Sunday)
- 3TC: Dr. Andy Root – “The Promise of Despair” (Audio Only)
- 3TC: Dr. David Anderson – “The Role of the Family” (Audio Only)
- 3TC: Dr. Terri Elton – “Rethinking Mission Trips” (Audio Only)
- 3TC: Dr. Elizabeth Marquart – “Working with Children of Divorce” (Audio Only)
- 3TC: Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean – “Almost Christian” (Audio Only)
- 3TC: The Extravaganza Team “Prepping for Extravaganza 2011”
- 3TC: Enuma Okoro – “The Reluctant Pilgrim”
- 3TC: Dr. Rollie Martinson – “New from the Exemplar Youth Ministry Study”
- 3TC: Celia Whitler – “Ministry with Young Women”
- 3TC: Mark Matlock – “Working with Parents”
- 3TC: Dr. Dave Ellingson and Mark Jackson – “Framing Mission Experiences”
- 3TC: Heidi Hagstrom – “The ELCA Youth Gathering: What You Need to Know”
- 3TC: Rev. Karen Stevenson – “Talking with Young People about Sexuality”
- 3TC: Bishop Mark Hanson – “Young People and the State of the Church”
- 3TC: Health, Wellness and Ministry
- 3TC: Michael Sladek; “How to Make Your Stuff Look Good”
There are moments when you suddenly realize that you are in the middle of an organizational “sweet spot.” Things click. Visions are realized. Goals are achieved. And you look around and say to yourself “I can’t believe that I’m here, in this spot at this time. I will always remember this time.”
I’ve experienced that a bit this past week as I’ve been blessed to have a front-row seat at the launching of a really cool new initiative. The “Practice Discipleship Project” is a joint venture between the ELCA Youth Gathering and the Network. The Gathering has always been a wide river, uniquely capable of bearing the width and breadth of the church. It’s the largest single gathering of young people in the church…make that, almost any church. And it’s the largest single gathering of adults in the church as well.
I’ve noticed that for the last 4 or 5 cycles of the Gathering, in addition to being a wide river, it has gotten progressively deeper. It has become more informed by our theology. It has become more intentional in its design as a method of faith formation. It has become more committed to supporting the work of the congregations who bring young people. It has become more dedicated on the gifts of young people being focused upon issues of justice and reconciliation in a broken world. It is becoming more.
That’s why I love to be a part of the Gathering. That “more”? It is God’s Holy Spirit at work.
There are huge implications in this. The adults who bring young people to the Gathering from congregations across the church have to be better prepared to tend young people as they struggle to interpret their experiences. My greatest fear is that a young person walk away from the Gathering and when asked how it was they say “it was cool.” I want it to be so much more than cool. And young people need the presence of caring adults as they give language and voice to their experiences.
So the “Practice Discipleship Project” was born.
It is about the “Practice Discipleship” Day that all congregations will participate in at the Gathering, together with their neighbors from their synods.
But it’s also what is happening right now in synods and congregations. It is really good training for adult leaders of all shapes, sizes, ages and experience levels.
- It is 3 live training sessions with synod coaches
- It is 7 webinars
- It is the webinar topics being presented live at the Extravaganza.
- And it is a whole lot more.