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Vital Congregations event to help churches develop resilience

‘Canoeing the Mountains’ author will be keynote speaker

By Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Kathryn Threadgill, coordinator of Vital Congregations for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), says participants in the April conference will explore “what it means to be a Vital Congregation that is transforming through the power of the Holy Spirit!” Michael Whitman

LOUISVILLE — Registration has begun for the 2020 Vital Congregations Gathering in Austin, Texas.

Dr. Tod Bolsinger, author of “Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory” (InterVarsity Press, 2015), will be the keynote speaker for the April 27–30 event, which is open to anyone interested in learning more about Vital Congregations.

“This conference is an opportunity to experience the hope and joy of the Vital Congregations initiative for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A),” said the Rev. Dr. Kathryn Threadgill, coordinator of Vital Congregations for the PC(USA). “We hope people will come join national staff, seminary leaders, vital congregation coaches and others as we explore what it means to be a Vital Congregation that is transforming through the power of the Holy Spirit!”

The Vital Congregations Gathering is expected to attract pastors, presbytery leaders, officers of the church and lay leaders who “are aware that the church in 21st century North American contexts and communities is changing, and they are awakened to the fact that Christ is doing a new thing in the church,” Threadgill said.

The Office of Congregational Vitality, which is part of PC(USA)’s Theology, Formation & Evangelism ministry, started a Revitalization Initiative in 2017 to help existing congregations increase vitality through intentional spiritual practices that take them deeper into following Jesus Christ.

“As we seek to be a Matthew 25 church together, we are walking with presbyteries and churches that desire to have more vital life together in Christ,” Threadgill said.

As part of the Revitalization Initiative, congregations focus on 7 Marks of Congregational Vitality: lifelong discipleship formation; intentional, authentic evangelism; outward incarnational focus; empowering servant leadership; spirit-inspired worship; caring relationships; and ecclesial health.

Bolsinger, a vice president and associate professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, will speak on two related topics during the April gathering. The first is “The Painful Normal Road to Congregational Change: Sabotage and Conflict” and the second is “Tempered Resilience: Formation for Facing Resistance.”

Participants will hear that it’s common to encounter some pushback when attempting to make changes in churches.

“It’s a really normal human experience that we prefer the status quo we know, even if it’s not great, to the possibilities in front of us that are unknown,” said Bolsinger, vice president and chief of leadership formation at Fuller.

Bolsinger will discuss strategies for facing resistance and sabotage and also explain how to develop resilience, he said.

“Mostly, I am just interested in supporting the work of Vital Congregations and supporting and coaching the work of congregations that really are serious about changing so that they can make an impact in their neighborhoods and in their communities,” he said.

The Rev. Dr. William P. Brown, a professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, will lead two Bible studies focused on Isaiah 43:19, which reads, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

“My aim through Bible study is to show pastors, presbyters, and lay leaders that even in this ‘wilderness’ time of uncertainty and great challenge and even despair, there are realities of renewal,  and resilience  to live into, realities in which God in Christ is doing something new for the church,” said Brown, who is active at North Decatur Presbyterian Church and is a member of Presbytery de Cristo.

The Vital Congregations Gathering will take place at Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church in Austin.

For more information and to register, click here.

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