Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

10/23 2020

INSIDE THE PTS CURRICULUM: Planting and Leading New Faith Communities

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The “Inside the PTS Curriculum” series gives you an inside look at what students are learning in their courses at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Each article focuses on one class, its subject matter, what students can expect to learn, the required texts, and the kinds of assignments students can expect. We’ll let you know whether the course is required or available for the Master of Divinity (MDiv), the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), or Master of Theological Studies (MTS). Each article will include the professors’ bio.

This week’s course is: “Planting and Leading New Faith Communities.”

Scott Hagley planting and leading new faith communities

About Planting and Leading New Faith Communities

During this term, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary students will be learning about church planting with Dr. Scott Hagley in the class “Planting and Leading New Faith Communities.” This course is required for students in the Master of Divinity (MDiv) with Emphasis in Church Planting program, and it is open to all students in the Master of Divinity (MDiv), Master in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), and Master of Theology (MTS) degree programs.

In this course, students will adopt a biblically/theologically rooted approach to planting mission-shaped churches. They will be formed as church planting leaders able to cultivate these new mission-shaped Christian communities in specific contexts. Students will develop the capacity to be theologically reflective leaders from within concrete personal and communal postures, habits, and skills of initiating and leading the formation of new Christian communities. To these ends, students will engage in interpretation and imagination of particular contexts, reflect on their vocation, grow in their leadership capacities, and develop spiritual habits of discernment.

Assignments include weekly reflections based on required readings and an important final project. This project will ultimately represent a proposal for a new faith community and will include a rule of life, neighborhood report, and experience in the context. The five required texts are The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods by Peter Block and John McKnight; Missional. Monastic. Mainline: A Guide to Starting Missional MicroCommunities in Historically Mainline Traditions by Elaine Heath and Larry Duggins; The Pentecost Paradigm: Ten Strategies for Becoming a Multiracial Congregation by Jacqueline L. Lewis and John Janka; Brian Bantum’s The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World; and Christopher James’ Church Planting in Post-Christian Soil.


About the Instructor

Dr. Scott Hagley is associate professor of missiology and joined the Pittsburgh Seminary faculty in 2015. He received a B.A. in youth ministry and communication from Bethel University, an M.Div. from Regent College, and a Ph.D. (with distinction) in congregational mission and leadership from Luther Seminary. He has served as director of education at Forge Canada in Surrey, British Columbia, where he worked to develop curriculum for the formation of missional leaders in hubs across Canada. He also served as teaching pastor at Southside Community Church, a multi-site church in the Vancouver metro area organized around neighborhood-based missional communities. Dr. Hagley has  taught courses at Augsburg College, Rochester College, Bethel University, and Luther Seminary, and previously he was a consultant and researcher with Church Innovations Institute. He has lectured at denominational meetings and retreats on topics such as missional communities, faith, and spiritual formation. His most recent book is Eat What is Set Before You: A Missiology of the Congregation in Context.


8/28 2020

Evangelism: Asking the God Question and Listening for the Answer

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listen to God in church planting

I have a spiritual director. She is someone I meet with monthly who asks the “God question” in my life. I’ve learned a million things from this little practice of ours—several of them life changing—but the first thing I learned is that I hear God better when someone is listening with me. I see God more clearly, when someone is looking out at the world with me, also expecting to see God there—moving and offering and welcoming. Often in our sessions—when I start to assume all is lost—she asks again, “so where is God?” And I am forced to imagine again that there is some way out of this human mess I am in other than my creativity, diligence, or strength. And that is not easy work. I don’t know how to imagine a hope that doesn’t come from a concrete, plausible likelihood. When I most need the Good News, I really struggle to imagine that God is working and will show up when I need it, even if I see no evidence of that coming toward me through a familiar, practical, or logical channel.


God is Moving in the World

My spiritual director sits quietly and waits—sure that I will be given what I need, sure that I will be able to see God moving somewhere and be able to call it out. And while this exercise is hard, while it sometimes even feels delusional, there is always a moment in there, when something starts to shift in me. I start to think—“okay God, wherever you are, if ever you are—I actually can’t get out of this human mess with my creativity, diligence, or strength. I know, because I’ve tried, I’m frustrated, and it isn’t working. That is why I’m talking about it in spiritual direction. So where are you? What are you going to do about it?”

Now God never says, “I AM HERE! I am doing exactly what you wanted! It is fixed! Go have a snack!” But something happens. I start to remember that it is not all mine to fix. I start to remember that it is God’s world and God is moving in it. I start to be able to breathe next to all the things I’m worried about, and I learn how to live alongside all the things I can’t fix. They belong to God and not to me.


Listening to God in Church Planting

When I talk about church planting, this is the evangelism space I hope we as conveners might be able to open with each other, and with the people in our communities. As we gather, can we watch together for God to move? As we listen closely to each other’s lives, can we dare to ask the question—where is God? What is God doing here? Can we find comfort in asking it together? Could new faith communities be new spaces of courage to look together at what God might be up to?

This is my prayer for this work—that we might have eyes to look for God and ears to listen as we do the work of gathering those who trust, those who doubt, and those who are willing to bravely ask the questions. For it is in those holy spaces that I have encountered the converting truth of the Gospel.


The Rev. Karen Rohrer is director of the Church Planting Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Before joining the CPI team, Karen was co-pastor and co-founder of Beacon, a Presbyterian Church in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. The saints of Beacon taught her contextual ministry, the joy of being church, and the unique grace of being a lady pastor and boss in a neighborhood of matriarchs. The building of Beacon taught her amateur handy-woman and moisture remediation skills and that a particular space really can be a reminder that you are loved. As director of the Church Planting Initiative, she is excited to vision new ways the church can bear good news to the world and to support and resource the leaders God is calling forth to make it so.



4/2 2020

Clergy Self-care During a Pandemic

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clergy self-careA couple of weeks ago, I e-mailed my pastor to ask how he was doing. He wrote back, “I’m good – just trying to figure out the most effective way to ‘be church’ in the midst of this time.” My pastor’s words capture well what I’ve heard from so many clergy colleagues over the last few weeks: how do we do this sacred, embodied work when we can’t be together in the same room?

The fact that “normal ministry” can’t take place right now is difficult for many reasons, but it doesn’t mean that clergy suddenly have more time on their hands. In fact, planning worship may take additional time and energy because clergy must learn and deploy new technology for a dispersed congregation.  Ministers may also feel that they should be in more frequent contact with their parishioners; conversely, fearful and anxious parishioners may reach out to their spiritual leaders more often, seeking comfort and hope. In these circumstances, ministers could potentially work many hours every day and still feel that they are falling short.


In the midst of a crisis, it can be tempting for clergy to forego self-care practices because everything else feels like an emergency.


But right now, self-care for clergy is more important than ever because this crisis will last a long time—weeks or months, at least.

Intense work patterns simply will not be sustainable in the long term and will likely lead to burnout. So, what might good self-care for clergy look like in these very unusual times? Here are a few suggestions:


Don’t forget the basics.

These days, there are lots of tips on the Internet for practicing good self-care in the midst of a pandemic: Establish a routine. Limit your intake of news and social media. Eat well and exercise. Take time to play and create. This is all good advice, for everyone (not just clergy) – follow it, as much as you can.


Conserve energy for what is most important for you and your congregation right now.

In the early phase of this crisis, many pastoral leaders have (understandably) focused on figuring out how to facilitate remote worship and educational experiences. This is important work – but in the coming weeks, pastoral care demands will likely increase as more people in our communities contract the virus and fall ill. (Check out these guidelines about how to provide pastoral care during this crisis.)

This will mean that clergy will have even less energy to devote to the usual tasks of ministry. If you are feeling especially stretched by the pastoral care needs in your community, consider the following:

Don’t reinvent the wheel.

This may not be the time to produce an original set of daily devotions for your congregation when there are so many other resources available online. Consider sharing outside resources with your congregation rather than trying to create them all yourself.

Leverage partnerships to share the load.

If your community is experiencing increasingly intense pastoral care needs and you are feeling overwhelmed by trying to facilitate weekly worship or Bible study, consider partnering with a neighboring church to share leadership. This might also help your faith community to connect with another congregation in the neighborhood.

Ask, “What is most important right now for the people I am caring for?” and, “Am I the best person to provide that?”

Use the first question to help you discern where to focus your limited energy and time. Use the second question to help you figure out when to activate your network of resources, especially if referral is indicated (for serious mental health needs, for example).


Recognize that some boundaries may need to change for a while – but boundaries are still important.

Right now, you may feel it is important to be available to congregants via phone, e-mail, or text message more often than you typically would. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t set any boundaries at all. It’s OK to stop working at a certain time of day; after that time, only respond to communications if there is a true emergency. And taking regular time off will be even more important than usual to give yourself a break from the intensity of ministry during this period. Give yourself some time each week, even if it is only part of a day, to rest and renew yourself spiritually.


Practice self-compassion.

No one really knows how to do ministry well in these circumstances. We can certainly learn from those who have ministered in the midst of other communal traumas, but we are all trying to figure this out as we go. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Offer yourself the grace that you typically offer to others.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that what your congregation most needs from you right now is not a new virtual Bible study or seamless online worship—what they most need is you, as healthy and whole as you can be. Self-care practices are vital for keeping us all grounded during a very stressful time; ignoring self-care at a time like this will likely only hurt us and our ministries in the long run. As the Rev. Matthew Crebbin put it in a recent blog post about ministering during disasters, “Do not surrender to the temptation of believing that God needs your own personal destruction to save the world. It’s not only bad personal self-care, it is bad public theology.” Let’s resist that temptation, and instead remind ourselves and those we are in ministry with that each of us is a beloved child of God, worthy of respect and care.


A graduate of Vanderbilt University (Ph.D.), Vanderbilt Divinity School (M.Div.), and Furman University (B.A.), the Rev. Dr. Leanna Fuller is in her element when teaching about caring ministry. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, her most recent book is titled When Christ’s Body is Broken: Anxiety, Identity, and Conflict in Congregations (Wipf and Stock, 2016). Fuller has earned numerous fellowships, awards, and honors. She concerns herself with church conflict, and her book uses two case studies to examine the issue toward constructive outcomes. Fuller advises pastors to develop an intentional plan for dealing with congregational conflict—before the conflict arises! Some of the first steps, she says, include acknowledging that anxiety will be present in such circumstances and that the more serious the conflict the more time it will take to resolve it constructively.



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