Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

7/18 2014

Bivocational Ministry: Barista, MDiv

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Chris Brown and Mike Gehrling, Church Planters for The Upper Room in Pittsburgh

I came to Pittsburgh from Colorado to get a Master of Divinity. I wanted to be a pastor. But three months after graduation, I was serving espresso in a local café. For the next five years, the 61C Café in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh would be my employer, my community, and my mission field. This wasn’t a mistake. It was exactly where God had called me to be.

Thus I was baptized into the world of bivocational ministry and church planting. Bivocational ministry is often called “tentmaking,” following the example of the Apostle Paul at times supported his ministry through the trade of making tents (Acts 18:3). Paul’s trade provided an income for him, but it also put him in touch with a diverse group of travelers and traders every day, giving him many opportunities to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When my friend and fellow alum Mike Gehrling and I answered God’s call to plant a new church in Squirrel Hill, we chose to follow Paul’s example and pursue bivocational ministry for the same reasons. We wanted not only to lighten the financial burden on a newly emerging congregation, but also to work in places that put us in relationship with the people to whom God was sending us.

So Mike took a part-time job with InterVarsity doing campus ministry at Carnegie Mellon University, building community with graduate students and faculty. And I took a job at a neighborhood café, where I became intimately acquainted with Squirrel Hill’s eclectic and eccentric population.

I didn’t need an MDiv to serve espresso or bake muffins, but I did need theological education to prepare me for the conversations that took place every day at the café. What was I to say when a regular customer told me about her struggles to care for her aging mother? Or when another customer asked for help fighting an addiction? Or when a college student plopped a book about Wicca on the counter while I make her drink? Or when coworker told me he couldn’t accept the idea that there is only one Truth?

These were real people, with real struggles, in need of real Gospel. And that’s precisely why I wanted to be there, rather than inside the walls of a church office. Over five years, our congregation, The Upper Room, has grown slowly from a small group to a house church to a chartered congregation, but I know without a doubt that some of the most important ministry I’ve done was in the café.

In February of 2014, I left the café to serve at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary as the coordinator of our Church Planting Initiative. Here I have the joy of supporting students in our Church Planting Emphasis MDiv. I’m still bivocational – serving part-time at PTS and part-time at The Upper Room – but now I have the joy of encouraging and supporting church planters as they embark on similar journeys.

In fact, two of our Church Planting Emphasis students now work at the same café where I served. There they encounter real people, with real struggles, in need of real Gospel. As students, they’re engaged in bivocational education, practicing ministry both in and outside the Church. In so doing, they’re both being formed for the future of the Church and following in ancient apostolic footsteps.

Written by the Rev. Christopher Brown (MDiv, 2008), Church Planting Initiative coordinator at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and co-pastor of The Upper Room Presbyterian Church.


5/30 2014

Why We’re Not Interested in Your Sunday School

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AndreaYoung adults seek new forms of Christian education.

This article was originally published in the May 2014 special edition “Guide to Young Adult Ministry” of Presbyterians Today magazine. To
subscribe or read more articles from this issue, go to www.pcusa.org/today.

Battered by a constant torrent of news stories, online media, and social networking feeds, millennials have grown up with a “super highway” of information. They also are on track to be the most educated generation in history.

Millennials no longer need (or believe they need) experts—including those in the church—to pass information from on high. They can listen to a TED talk for cutting-edge information on a wide variety of topics. Christian education, therefore, has to offer something that no YouTube video can: whole-life transformation.

Regrettably, many congregations continue to employ the traditional Sunday school model—designed to transmit information that millennials no longer seek. Maybe it’s not incidental that many congregations are experiencing declining participation, especially among millennials and their children.

The Sunday school model may no longer be the most effective way to reach young people in the United States. Here’s why.

Yesterday vs. Today

In many congregations, Sunday school is the main opportunity, aside from worship, to share faith with adults and children. Congregations spend a great deal of time, money, and energy on that hour, with the hope that their curriculum, volunteers, and excitement will convey all that anyone needs to know to live as a Christian.

Decades ago, there was little need to learn how to apply faith in the surrounding culture, because everyone (at least outwardly) shared the faith. So, the church set aside a time for individuals to learn more about their tradition’s understanding of the Bible and doctrine.

Today, many different values, lifestyles, and beliefs visibly pervade our culture. Christians now face having to integrate their faith in work and social environments that often bear few signs of Christian influence. One hour of Sunday school does not transform their lives; it segments their lives. Millennials wonder, “If the gospel is true, shouldn’t it saturate every area of life and not occupy our minds for only an hour each week?”

Church vs. Home

It used to be that children learned about Jesus at home and in public schools. Slowly, teaching about Jesus became less common in school and, sadly, at home.

Many millennials would like to see that latter trend reversed. They seek training to be educators in their respective contexts. They don’t just want to be taught; they want to be taught to teach. Millennials want to be empowered to learn on their own and shepherd their children.

Hearing vs. Expriencing

“The Western church has more information about Jesus and the Bible and the church than we’ve ever had,” says BJ Woodworth, pastor of the Open Door, a missional Presbyterian worshiping community in Pittsburgh that consists largely of millennials and their children. “And yet we’re not seeing deep, soul-level transformation happening in people’s lives.” Millennials do not see the value in memorizing information that is available at their fingertips. Instead, they want to know why something matters and how it affects them and the world around them.

New Models

It might be difficult for churches to break their Sunday school habit. The following examples, while not blueprints, may spark ideas for more effective models for millennials and their children.

1. All-encompassing

Nathan Van Patter, 26, attends the Upper Room, a PC(USA) church plant in Pittsburgh. Recently, he led a weekly Bible study on Mark with 8 to 10 other young adults. To put what they learned into action, the group brainstormed ways to bring Mark’s Gospel to bear in their community.

Like many millennials, the group wanted to connect the study with their everyday lives in a truly meaningful way. They wanted the group to become a place where they could be Christians together and make an impact in their community. This shows that educational endeavors within the church must convey meaning or impact. Millennials have little interest in programs that seem to have no effect on God’s kingdom.

2. Focused on everyday practices

At the Open Door, all are encouraged to adopt rhythms and practices for their everyday lives. Woodworth says congregations need to create a situation where millennials, rather than being “dependent on the church for the program to feed them, to nurture them, to transform them, . . . become self-dependent, independent, interdependent.”

In addition to keeping the Sabbath, everyone is challenged to do the following each week: set aside one time of silence to listen to God; read Scripture at least once; eat with at least two people with whom they do not live; encourage two people through words, gifts, or actions; and look for ways to give time, money, and skills to others.

The community also is committed to being intergenerational in worship and does not emphasize specialized children’s programs. “The less program-dependent we are, the more moms and dads can raise their kids in the way of the Lord,” Woodworth says.

3. Multisensory

Millennials are accustomed to educational experiences that are interactive, and they expect similar spiritual experiences.

Rodger Nishioka, associate professor of Christian education at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, says millennials connect their experiences of God with times when more than one sense is engaged.

In the past, he says, we knew God “by just having someone tell us about God. Well, I don’t think that’s how it works anymore. . . . Congregations have to be thinking about an experience.” Nishioka recalled a time when a student at Columbia preached on the potter and the clay. The student placed a pottery wheel in the chapel and threw a pot while she preached.

Congregations need not be so creative. A simple recovery of regular celebration of the sacraments may be all that millennials need to engage their senses in worship. But for those congregations looking to be creative, options abound: think about ways to incorporate tastes and scents into a lesson; invite questions after a sermon (either voiced publicly or tweeted); encourage movement in worship; incorporate ancient or cross-cultural contemplative practices or liturgies that include silence; or structure a class to be a conversation rather than a lecture.

It Shouldn’t All Change

Taking even small steps away from the traditional Sunday school model may be met with resistance. It might help to remind the congregation about what must never change.

“What shouldn’t change? Jesus Christ as the center. No question,” Nishioka says. “We are the church of Jesus Christ. That’s who we are. Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, thanks be to God.

“But that doesn’t mean that our teaching about Jesus Christ or our worship of Jesus Christ is going to be the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow,” he adds. “It’s going to be different, because we are a people who are given imagination and who are given a call by God to lead into that. And so, things change, but Christ doesn’t change. And that is the good news for us all.”

Andrea Hall ’07 is a certified Christian educator in the PC(USA) who resides in Greenville, Pa. She is a member of the PTS Board of Directors and is an independent educational ministries consultant.http://andreahallconsulting.com/


4/5 2012

Stations of the Cross on Good Friday

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The Open Door (a Church Plant started by two PTS graduates) is sponsoring the Stations of the Cross Art Exhibition on Good Friday. One of our own students, Will Jackson, has an original piece that will be presented. The station that he has chosen is the one in which Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns. This piece will reflect the pain and suffering that goes on in the world. It will reflect the nations, thus he gives it the title, Missio Dei, or the Mission of God. He will be presenting an airbrushed scroll which will be newly unveiled for the community.

By His Wounds is an invitation for artists to participate in The Open Door’s 7th annual Stations of the Cross exhibition, on view Friday, April 6, 2012, 11:00 a.m.- 9:00 p.m. at the Union Project 801 (N. Negley Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206). Held on Good Friday each year, this exhibition is intended to encourage contemplation and artistic response to the last hours of Jesus’ life, leading up to his crucifixion. By His Wounds invites artists to create works in response to one of the traditional Stations of the Cross. In doing so, artists are welcomed to consider the reality and cost of suffering — both personal and global, as well as its transformative (and even healing) power. Artists are encouraged to consider how such suffering intersects with the wounds of Jesus. All attendees of the exhibition are invited to engage the works on view and participate in a collaborative artwork. This exhibition is free and open to the public. It will be featured as part of the First Friday art gallery openings.

The Rev. John C. Welch, MDiv graduate, and Vice President for Student Services and Dean of Students

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