Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Faith at the Crossroads: Reflections on #NEXTChurch2016

“Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” (Luke 13:9)

Let it alone until next year?

This Sunday’s lectionary is fitting for those of us who convened this week at the NEXT Church National Gathering at First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.  We have asked a lot of questions, pondered critical and urgent realities of our polarized and fractured world, exposed hard truths related to racism, exploitation, and injustices near and far, networked with church leaders and ministry innovators, and talked a whole lot about where the Spirit may be leading our churches and the broader PCUSA at the crossroads of faith in the midst of the complexities of the twenty-first century world.

But we did not resolve to let our world or church alone until next year to bear fruit. “Crossroads are where we can get run over from multiple directions,” remarked Mark Douglas in opening worship. “Standing at them is not what we are called to do."

The temptation for the church is to rest in the familiar, even spread supposed-fertilizer on old mission methodologies, paternalistic charitable practices, and concerns for church programs that primarily target those who are in the pews, which are becoming more and more vacant.  So when the tender of the vineyard suggests pruning what we or those before us planted and make space for what is new to sprout up, it is far easier to say, "Let it alone until next year. Can’t me just spread some manure on it one more time and see if we can make it work? 

And Jesus does not suggest we let it alone until next year. Jesus calls us to move and make a way for new life to be birthed out of the vineyard that belongs to God. Again, what's next is now.  And in the now we need new forms of collaborative action as a we bear fruit together reminded God’s vineyard is never about a single plant. 

After a week of workshops, keynotes, conversations, presentations, and films, it is quite evident that God’s people are responding to this call to collaborate with creativity, compassion, contextualization, and solidarity with our most vulnerable neighbors. Which is what Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak reminded us is the very work of the church today, "We are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to the benefit of others...The more I say justice. I will have to say Jesus. The more I say Jesus, the more I will have to say justice. Because I cannot do this work on my own."

So as we leave this place and return to the crossroads in our communities, we dare not wait until the next year. Our next is now. As Rev. T. Denise Anderson closed NEXTChurch out, "My job is to send you home because after all this ’sho'nuff preaching you have to go back home and bear fruit...We have zero excuse not too move at the crossroads."

NEXT Church Faith at the Crossroads
The 2016 NEXT Church National Gathering is just over a week away! We're excited to have Lisle Gwynn Garrity (A Sanctified Art) serve as our artist in residence during our time together. She created a visual meditation on this year's theme, "Faith at the Crossroads." We hope you'll pause for a moment to watch it and reflect as we inch closer to heading to Atlanta. Art & film by Lisle Gwynn Garrity ( credits: "Flicker" by Origamibiro (
Posted by NEXT Church on Friday, February 12, 2016

For more resources and links to presentations and keynotes: 

Check out a great film on immigration and deportation through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance:

Also, check out the #nextchurch2016 for the dialogue that took place over Twitter