Dear friends and colleagues,
At the outset of this new year, we wanted to express several pressing things to you.
First and foremost, thank you. Thank you for the faithful, inspired, life-changing work you’ve given yourself to over the past year. You’ve been sharing in God’s radical mission of love for the world in Christ, and you’ve attended to the work of the Spirit in ways that are wholly unanticipated and deeply challenging.
Certainly, for many of us, there is a sense of relief to get beyond the holidays and into the new year. Even so, 2021 promises to present another set of incredibly complex challenges that remain largely unclear and unpredictable. With that in mind, we not only want to share with you what we’ve been working on over the past several months; we also want to reiterate our commitment to attending to the movements and voice of the spirit, listening carefully to you and all those who are engaged in ministry, and remaining responsive, nimble, and flexible as we come alongside you.
We’ll outline for you here what we’ve been working on as we try to support your ministry. But equally important, we will change any or all of this and redeploy our resources and imagination to new challenges and opportunities that haven’t yet become clear to any of us. Please email us at any time and let us know what you most need. We are always ready to respond!
Webinars. Webinars were a strong “go-to” for us in 2020, perhaps even more than we anticipated. After hosting about a dozen, we quickly realized these webinars were meeting a very real need, in “real time,” and there was a demand to continue. In an effort to support our vast network of friends and colleagues, the webinars continued, and at the end of 2020 we had hosted over 20 webinar conversations for the year. We’ve had an outstanding list of guests on our panels, and we’ll continue to host these, as long as it seems beneficial to do so. Lookout for details regarding upcoming webinars in 2021, and our past webinars are available to watch on demand, here, on our website.
Podcast. We are thrilled by the rollout of our podcast over the past several months, both by the content of the interviews and conversations, and also by its reception. Much of this is a credit to Marthame Sanders who is producing it for us, and Laura Long who has done a fantastic job packing and promoting the podcast online and through other avenues. The podcast is turning out to be a great conversation starter for webinars, sprint cohorts, and consults we do with pastors and congregations. It’s also been an efficient and productive means of broadening our network of conversation partners and the types of conversations we’re engaged in. Our weekly podcast episodes are released every Wednesday on various platforms, and can always be found, here, on our website.
Blog. Our weekly Tuesday articles continue to reach more and more people. The shift we made a couple of years ago to focus our articles more specifically on the work we’re doing within the context of our culture and society, has proven fruitful. In addition, our Thursday articles, focused on board development, continue to generate conversations that at times have led to our leading workshops, retreats, and other engagements. It is rare that a week goes by that we don’t receive encouraging and affirming notes from blog readers. Our Tuesday articles can be found, here, on our website, as well as our Thursday Church Board articles, Digging a Deeper Well.
Additional Program Updates:
At the onset of the pandemic, we very intentionally accelerated several experiments we had already been considering while also developing new experiments that seemed appropriate and beneficial for the context that was (and is still) emerging.
Conventional three-year cohorts. Our existing three-year cohorts (including those that started in early 2020) have continued to meet, mostly virtually (though some in person with safety measures) and all of them with adjustments and adaptations that best suit their needs. For example, some cohorts have started to meet more frequently but for shorter periods of time – others, at different frequencies and durations. We have been in much more frequent contact with our facilitators as we try to curate content, pedagogy, and process in real time. Working so closely with our facilitators has been a joy for us this year as we’ve encountered such high levels of creativity, concern, and care for their colleagues.
New long-term cohorts. Staring new three-year cohorts has mostly been on pause, for the simple reason that people are unable to meet together in person. One exception to this is in the Presbytery of Northeast Georgia, where we are working in more of a consulting (not primarily a funding) role for two new cohorts. They’ve been in an “assembling” mode for a couple of months; one of them is meeting socially distanced, the other virtually. More broadly, we are still able to press forward, with some modification, with our strategic plan for cohorts up and down the East Coast, across the Midwest, in multiple Texas locations, and in the Pacific Northwest. We are especially drawn to Baltimore, Richmond, Charlottesville, and a few other Atlantic locations where we have strong contacts and interest. Some of the approach and time-tables for these will of course shift depending on guidelines for social distancing, travel, and other factors. We may also be shifting some of the new cohorts to a two-year model.
Rural-Urban Divide and other growing concerns. Much related to the development of long-term cohorts, we are acutely aware of the urban-rural divide and how it is impacting economics, social dynamics, politics, and religion across the United States. Some of you have likely read that voting trends show how this division is accelerating. We are still aiming to construct cohorts that reflect this divide and hope that the three-year cohort experience can begin to model ways to bridge such differences. We are emphasizing from the outset the importance of each cohort reaching out and addressing the needs of its community together. We have also developed resources to address the anger that often gets displaced onto pastors from the general dis-ease active in our culture. And we are initiating conversations with cohort groups about the economics of church buildings and operations—trying to help them think through the challenge and urgency of un-economic church buildings and the potential assets that even small struggling congregations may have that can be invested for community good.
Sprint Cohorts. While the pandemic makes it difficult to start cohorts that reflect the conventional three-year model, we have started and will continue to start short-term virtual “sprint” cohorts (generally 6-8 weeks long) that in many ways, build off the momentum from our ongoing series of webinars. We have already run and completed three cohorts in 2020: one focusing on multiple angles of leadership called “Wholehearted Leadership,” another focused on white pastors in predominantly white contexts trying to push on racial justice called “Leaving Pharaoh’s House”, and another on recovering a deeper and broader practice of sabbath called “Reclaiming Sabbath.” We are also developing a cohort for ministers of color in predominantly white contexts and will likely repeat some of the ones we’ve already developed. We are learning a ton from these cohorts, not least because they are providing such short learning cycles. We’re increasingly convinced that there is enough value and demand for these sprint cohorts that we will likely continue to provide them indefinitely, alongside our conventional model and other offerings.
Lilly Thriving Congregations Grant. We were recently awarded the Lilly Endowment’s “Thriving Congregations” grant (hooray!), which will allow us to develop several cohort models that include combinations of pastors and lay leaders at multiple sites across the country. In agreement with a number of other trusted partner organizations in our field, we are convinced that this multifaceted approach, working with a broader variety of congregational leadership, is emerging as essential for church leadership development in the coming years. We are in the midst of nailing down the structure and plans for this grant, including identifying individuals who will help coordinate and oversee its implementation.
Lay leader engagement. Both the webinars and podcasts have led to an increased rate of consulting and retreat leadership with mixes of pastors and congregational leaders. We generally jump on these opportunities because the learning is so valuable to us as an organization, and because we’ve seen how our perspective can be eye opening for folks who, understandably, might not otherwise see beyond their particular ministry context. We are continuing to pursue these opportunities, and because the rate of interest continues to increase, we’re sensing the need to start outlining and structuring more clearly how we want to go about this aspect of our work.
Immersion Experiences. You will recall that we have expanded our immersion experience offerings, which now include the 13-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land as well as week-long trips to Glacier National Park in Montana, the Frontera de Cristo border ministry in Douglas, Arizona, and a Civil Rights tour centered in Georgia and Alabama. We’re still convinced that these immersion experiences, whether conducted abroad or stateside, play an important role in providing our pastors with opportunities for spiritual rejuvenation, vocational discernment, and deepening bonds of fellowship within their cohorts. These immersion experiences also play a pivotal role in helping our pastors shift their ministry perspectives and paradigms as they learn, reflect, and worship in contexts different from the ones they normally inhabit. As you can imagine, 2020 (and for some, 2021) immersion experiences have been delayed due to the pandemic. We are committed to providing these trips for those cohorts when it is possible to do In the meantime, as we’ve listened to our facilitators and their cohorts, we’ve decided to offer short-term immersions – or perhaps extended retreats is an appropriate description – in the nearer future. Many of our cohorts are expressing the deep need of pastors to get away for a few days. So, we’re looking at tailoring possibilities for several cohorts in 2021.
While this brief update is simply a snapshot of our work, never hesitate to reach out to any of our staff with questions, requests, creative ideas, and for sharing stories of what God is doing in your midst. In many ways, these sorts of conversations are the heartbeat of this work. As we embark on this new year, know that our prayers are with you, and we remain committed to faithfully coming alongside you in ways that are pleasing to God and which offer peace, love, joy, and hope to a world that longs for it.
The TMC Team,
(Pictured below from left to right and top to bottom)