Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

2/3 2016

A Tip to Engage Your Congregation in Ministry: Ask Questions

community ministryMy three year old daughter just entered the “Why?” phase of childhood. Everything around us provides endless possibilities for questions. Why is it dark out? Why do I have to go to sleep? Why don’t we eat boogers? As I’ve listened to her unending curiosity, I’ve become convinced that this inquisitiveness is one reason why Jesus called us to become like little children (Mt 18:2-4). Childlike curiosity actually enables us to more faithfully participate in what Jesus is doing around us in the world.

That means that for pastors, ministers and churches in rapidly changing ministry contexts, questions are far more valuable than more static programs or tools. Asking questions puts us in postures of humility and dependence, a posture where we wait upon God and learn to listen to the Holy Spirit. Once we adopt that posture, it’s time to think critically about what kinds of questions we ask. Here are three kinds of questions which can help you engage your whole congregation in more vibrant mission and ministry:

Who is our congregation?

A recent blog post at “Hacking Christianity” tells the story of Brad Laurvick, a Methodist pastor in Denver whose vision for ministry was transformed when another pastor identified himself as pastor to the people of a whole city, not just pastor to a church. That expansive vision of a parish led Laurvick to look for opportunities to serve the community outside the church, including serving ice cream for charity at a local creamery. His thinking demonstrates the ideas of the book The New Parish which encourages churches to recapture their mission to serve and witness to their immediate geographical contexts.

Who is included in your parish? Would the members of your church include their unchurched neighbors in their “congregation”? Do you define yourself as pastor of First Presbyterian Church, or as pastor to the town of Indiana, Pa.? To whom has God sent you?

What is right in our church/neighborhood/town/community context?

It’s too easy to identify and dwell on what is not going well in and around the Church. But what if we asked what is right? This practice is called appreciative inquiry. Consider it an application of Philippians 4:8 to your parish or your ministry context: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable – if there is any excellence or anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Look at your community: Where do you see truth, justice, and beauty happening? How can we lift up the people, events, or parts of a neighborhood culture that are commendable? A world that often hears the Church pointing out what’s wrong might be pleasantly surprised to encounter Christians with eyes to see how God’s latent goodness within the culture we inhabit.

What actions is God calling us to take?

Scott Belsky, argues in his book Making Ideas Happen that most great ideas never come to fruition because we lack the discipline to translate them into action items. My own denomination – the Presbyterian Church – is often caricatured for forming committees to talk, plan, debate, brainstorm, and discuss various ideas, but then failing to translate those ideas into action.

If you lead a church, pay attention and ask these questions in your next meeting: What concrete actions need to be taken in response to our discernment together? Who will take those actions? This doesn’t mean that you need to act on ideas haphazardly. Waiting, praying, and learning are all actions that we can take to ensure more well-informed decision-making. But there always comes a time to move from waiting to going, from praying in the church to praying in the street, and from learning with our heads to learning with our hands.

 Lastly, a question for you: What questions have you found to be clarifying or empowering for your ministry?

The Rev. Christopher Brown moved to Pittsburgh from Colorado to pursue a master of divinity (MDiv) degree at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He currently serves as the coordinator of the Church Planting Initiative at the Seminary along with pursuing his master’s in sacred theology. Chris is the organizing co-pastor of The Upper Room Presbyterian Church, a church plant of the PC (U.S.A.) in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Chris regularly blogs at https://christopherbrown.wordpress.com and tweets at @brwnchrstpher.


11/3 2015

Ministry and Social Media: 5 tools, 5 minutes each

increasing reach for ministry through social mediaChances are that as a pastor you wish you had time to increase your presence on social media. You know that’s where conversations are taking place these days—and not just the kids from your youth group. You wish you had a dedicated volunteer or staff person to focus exclusively on things like blogging or Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, not to mention Vine, Snapchat, and Instagram.

But, chances are you don’t.

Even if you do have someone working on your social media presence, you may feel like there’s more you could be doing to increase your reach, more ways to connect with new people. Regardless, there’s always the one recurring problem.


It takes so much time to write a thoughtful, helpful, and insightful blog. Not to mention trying to be clever or pithy while staying theologically faithful. Then you have to post it, and ideally promote it. There’s no time!

So, with that in mind, here are five things you can do in less than five minutes to increase your social media presence. Don’t aim for all of them. Pick one. Then, just see what happens.

  1. Blog – Post your sermons / lesson notes.

For many people, the hardest part of blogging is the writing. Buy you’re already doing that! Take those lessons, notes, outlines, or manuscripts, and make them public.

If you don’t have a blog, it is very easy to start one for free with any number of websites. Try wordpress.com or blogger.com. The initial setup will take a little bit of time, but after that, you should be able to cut and paste your existing sermons or lesson notes in just a few minutes. Do that once a week, and all of a sudden you’ll be able to direct people to your material regardless of where they are!

  1. Twitter – Tweet a short prayer every day.

Do you do daily devotions? Have an active prayer life? Twitter restricts your tweets to 140 characters—not words, but characters. How hard would it be to write a prayer of 140 characters as part of your morning devotions? If you don’t have a Twitter account, it’s very easy to set up.

  1. YouTube – Record your lessons or sermons.

This one is more like five minutes a week. I’ve talked about this before here. You put an unbelievable amount of time into your sermons or lessons. Chances are someone in the room has a smartphone; if not, voice recorders are relatively inexpensive (seriously check Amazon; they’re like $50).

Record the lesson, and put it on YouTube. You already did the hours of preparation. Why not extend its usefulness?

  1. Facebook – Include a recap.

I’m surprised at how few ministries do this. Obviously Facebook is a great spot for pictures, prayers, insights, and announcements. But what if you don’t have time to snap photos of everything? What if you missed the upcoming events beforehand?

Try taking five minutes each morning to recap the previous day’s events.

Instead of just telling people what’s coming, tell us how it went. Mention the book that the Bible study is reading and what they thought about it. Tell people how the youth trip went. If you don’t have pictures of everything, that’s fine. Some days are slower than others, but an occasional recap will go a long way to show folks what’s happening in your church and encourage them to join you for a future event.

  1. The multiplier.

Here’s the trick that tends to be daunting to people. Even just using these four platforms seems like a lot of work. After all, five minutes apiece, times four, times five days a week puts you at 100 minutes.

But it’s actually not that tough to do all four of these platforms.

When you update the blog or upload a video, link to it from Facebook or Twitter. Big brands do this all the time. In fact, you may well have found this blog from the Seminary’s tweet or post. Announcing an update takes seconds, and can give you presence across multiple channels.

Using these five tips can help your ministry enhance its social media reach in five minutes a day. Pick one platform and try it—you’ll be surprised at how easily you can work it into your daily schedule!

The Rev. Derek Davenport ’05/’17 now serves as director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and digital marketing analyst. Derek is also a PTS alumnus of the Master of Divinity (MDiv) Program after which he served at a church in Orlando, Fla., for five years. Besides working with youth ministry leaders, he serves as a guest preacher in Western Pennsylvania, researches church symbolism on his website, and tweets at @DerekRDavenport.


2/5 2015

Church Leadership Lessons from the Super Bowl

Super Bowl1I have to admit that I was disappointed by the ending of the Super Bowl. Not only did I want the Patriots to lose, but I have become a Seahawks fan the last two years. They show the kind of energy and resilience that I wish my own team (the Pittsburgh Steelers) would find.

The big question of the game has been the play call that ended the game with a Seahawk interception on the goal line. Why didn’t the Seahawks hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch and let him do the work that earned him the nickname Beast Mode? That question has been all over the TV and the radio. It has dominated social media. Deion Sanders called it the worst play call in Super Bowl history.

Coach Pete Carroll has attempted to explain the logic of the play call. He was reacting to what the Patriots were doing and trying to conserve the clock. Carroll has also taken the blame for losing the game. Many analysts and commentators seem to have lowered their opinion of Coach Carroll. I personally cannot defend the call. I would have given the ball to Lynch. But I am having the opposite reaction to Pete Carroll as I am watching him handle the situation. My opinion of him is going up. I think he is doing three things that many leaders fail to do. He made a decision, stood by that decision, and took the blame when that decision did not work out.

First, Pete Carroll made the call. He read the situation, saw an option, and made the decision. It may sound foolish, but you cannot be a leader if you don’t lead. Carroll was decisive when it counted.

Second, Pete Carroll stood by the decision. He admits that it did not work out but he still stands by what he saw and why he made the decision in the moment. It is easy to judge a decision after you know the results. Leaders have to make calls before they know the outcome.

Finally, Pete Carroll took the blame for the loss. He is not blaming other people. He is taking the shots so that his team does not have to. He is shouldering the blame and keeping the brunt of it from hitting his young players.

Maybe it was the wrong call, but the way Pete Carroll is handling this is showing exactly why the Seahawks have one championship win and two championship appearances. It is this kind of leadership that helped the Seahawks mount one of the greatest comebacks in NFL playoff history against the Packers to get to this year’s Super Bowl.

Perhaps it is a lack of this kind of leadership that is crushing many of our churches in Pennsylvania and across the US. Many pastors and church leaders don’t make decisions, don’t stand firm in their decisions or convictions, and pass blame when they lose. Pastors and elders are paralyzed by fear and will not make any decisions. Churches stay the same for years and years even though they desperately need to try new things. When a decision is made, church leaders are not resilient enough to stick with those decisions when the going gets tough and others start to question the decision. And when an idea fails, church leadership is often quick to blame others rather than shoulder the blame themselves. In fact, many church leaders don’t experience failure because they aren’t trying anything that might fail.

The mainline church has been in maintenance mode for a while. We have tried to keep our churches looking like and functioning like the church of the 1950s. While we are holding still, the world is moving at a pace unequalled in history. The church leadership of tomorrow will require more action, more experimentation, and more failure than ever before. Only that kind of leadership will produce churches of Super Bowl faithfulness.

People will be questioning that play call for a long time, but I have a feeling that Pete Carroll will redeem himself sooner rather than later. I just hope that more pastors and church leaders can learn to lead like that soon.

Jordan Rimmer ’12 is the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in New Brighton, Pa. He is a husband and father of four children. Jordan earned a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently earning his Doctor of Ministry degree. He blogs at jordanrimmer.com. You can also download his sermons on ITunes or at http://jordanrimmer.podbean.com.

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