Creative Leadership

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


Ruling elders are so named not because they “lord it over” the congregation, but because they are chosen by the congregation to discern and measure its fidelity to the Word of God, and to strengthen and nurture its faith and life. Book of Order G-2.03

The greatest challenge of our congregations is not financial, age, or theological location. The greatest challenge is a lack of religious imagination. Congregations that are struggling often are challenged to envision who God is calling them to be, how can they become a welcoming community (beyond donuts, cookies, and punch), and how to be a viable connected part of their community. Leadership is the key to a congregation’s future. We put great emphasis on pastoral leadership, as we should. But the leadership provided by ruling elders is the pipeline of vitality that runs throughout the congregation.

The upcoming Education Day is entitled Re-Imagine. Two of the workshops will focus directly on training of ruling elders. These two workshops are for newly elected elders, weather they have had training at their church or not. The other workshops focus on church growth, the use of digital media, leading during times of transition, becoming open and sensitive to the LGBTQ+ community, rebooting Christian Education, and using creative liturgy. We’ve added a workshop just for folks who handle buildings and grounds. Ruling elders are responsible for leading ministry in all of these categories. Finally, we have two workshops for Deacons who are new or need a new way of seeing the ministry of compassion.

My vision of the church is one of good pastors with a strong session. The church can only go as far as prayerful, discerning leadership can take them. If you want to increase your knowledge, talk with others who are doing the same work, and find creative pathways forward for your congregation, then attend Education Day. It will be on Saturday March 21. It will go from 10am – 2pm at Ladue Chapel. Lunch is included. It is free for all, and all are welcome! I guarantee you will be inspired. Bring pencil and paper because you will be taking notes! I look forward to seeing you and your colleagues there! Register by clicking here.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Focus

I am so excited about the many activities going on in the presbytery. We have Education Day on March 21st. This is an opportunity for the entire congregation to come out and listen, learn, share, fellowship and get to know other members of the presbytery. The workshops are designed to entice everyone to imagine and re-imagine what the church can be.

In addition to Education Day, Dismantling Racism and Privilege (DRAP) has created Presbyterians Care. This program encourages congregations to work inside and outside of the church building, reaching out to the community through various service projects. The first big focus weekend is March 20 – 22.

And then there is Matthew 25, a denomination wide attempt to have congregations commit to dismantling systemic racism, poverty, and doing activities to promote congregational vitality. The presbytery is encouraging every congregation to be a Matthew 25 congregation and is providing financial incentives of $250 – $500 by completing the presbytery’s check list.

When put together, this can be confusing. This is a lot. My concern is that it may be too much. We’re becoming like the performer on the Ed Sullivan Show who used to balance the spinning plates on a long pole. We find ourselves running back and forth making sure nothing stops moving and crashes!

The solution is to focus. I have a poster on the wall in my office that in part reads, “. . . feel overwhelmed, (feel) crazy. Feel uncertain. Feel angry. Feel afraid. Feel powerless. Feel frozen. Then focus!”

Matthew 25 is the focus of this presbytery. Everything flows through Matthew 25, and is centered around Matthew 25 for the year 2020. This means developing a fluid and less rigid way for congregations and members of the presbytery to participate in Matthew 25. It means creating and developing new ways to fight against poverty, racism, and being a vital congregation while doing it.

Perhaps congregations should determine what they would like to do in order to get credit toward the Matthew 25 incentives. For example, Webster Groves is doing work on Gun Violence Prevention. Their work goes toward Matthew 25 credit. Another example is having several members attend a DRAP meeting, or doing a community project for Presbyterian Cares. These all count toward Matthew 25 participation. If we focus on Matthew 25, the overwhelming amount of activity swirling around the presbytery will feel more like oxygen to breathe and less like water to drown in. Later, I will say more about Matthew 25 and how to complete the checklist. Until then, keep getting excited about what we are doing as a presbytery and what you plan to do as a church or other organization.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Creative Church

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


How do you come up with ideas? I was having lunch with a pastor who was describing an “aha” moment. I asked her what brought about the aha? She said she’d been thinking and praying about the topic for 8 years. Then this big idea struck her. Her moment of inspiration was years in the making. This pastor’s story aligns with what Kevin Ashton writes about in How to Fly a Horse. He argues that creativity is not magic, and often does not manifest in moments of clarity. Creativity comes from hard work. He writes, “To create is to work. It is that easy and that hard.”

Creativity and imagination are the challenge for our congregations and our presbytery. I remember talking with one of the most gifted pastors I’ve known. He was explaining why he was retiring. “Craig, I’ve just run out of ideas.” This is the same statement I hear while sitting around tables with discouraged session members and heartbroken elders. The problem of congregations dissolving is not just financial or aging out, we often lack creativity to see new solutions, opportunities, and breakthroughs.

Ministry in the 21st century requires imagination and creativity. The first step in creativity is to try something. Take an action. Take a risk. Do something. One creative expression of ministry is New Worshiping Communities (NWC). Imagine these as seeds for the future of the church. Our presbytery has birthed four NWC in the past three years. We currently have three remaining: UKirk, Haus Church, and Light for the Darkness. I had a conversation with Rev. Thirza Sayers who is the organizing pastor of Light for the Darkness. I asked Thirza, who is very creative, what is the source of her creativity. Her response? The Holy Spirit! She then added that coming out of a deep depression helped her to see how the light of the gospel brightened her darkness. For Thirza, and for us, our personal experience with God is also the source of our creativity. Our testimony is the key to the door of evangelism.

Education Day on March 21 at Ladue Chapel is about imagination and reimagination. It is about getting our creative chops going as we imagine leadership, church in a digital age, creative liturgy, and doing ministry in the in-between time. We will have training for ruling elders and deacons as we imagine the future church they will serve in. Registration forms will be sent later this week. I encourage everyone to come out and experience the Holy Spirit as we are moved to imagine the church God is calling us to be.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

Presbyterians Care

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


The Dismantling Racism and Privilege (DRAP) team is still seeing fruit from their trip to the Legacy Museum in Alabama. Although the trip happened last October, the waves are still flowing outward from the initial event. There is energy in the presbytery that is triggered by the enthusiasm and focus of DRAP. An example is the pre-session at the presbytery gathering on this coming Thursday February 6th. Ordinarily, we anticipate 125 people at our gatherings. We already have 140 registered! We have over 110 planning to participate in the pre-session. Wow! We anticipate about 25% of the participants will be first time visitors to a presbytery gathering. These members are showing up because they are both excited and curious. They are excited about what DRAP is doing. They are curious about who we are as Presbyterians and how we live in life together beyond their particular congregations.

At the gathering you will see many people wearing Presbyterians Care shirts. This is part of the DRAP initiative designed for each congregation to reach in and reach out with acts of compassion and caring. Congregations and individuals are being asked to volunteer in community activities like visiting a Ronald McDonald House, neighborhood clean-up, or a local food pantry. They are asked to do internal mission like hold a career day, create an intergenerational event, or host a read-a-thon for children. They are asked to wear their Presbyterians Care shirt while involved in acts of compassion, peace, and justice. The idea is to raise awareness of Presbyterians in action, and to witness through the wearing of the shirts.

Simply wearing a shirt that identifies us as Presbyterian may generate conversation. It may become an entrée to sharing our faith, witnessing for Christ, and inviting someone to church. In a time where the most shocking clothing seems to be the most popular (did you see the red carpet on the Grammys!), it may be easy on the eyes for someone to see a simple and honest message. It would be even more powerful if this message is connected with an action of compassion and community service.

Rev. Craig M. Howard