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Presbytery executive engages congregations in ‘missional transformation’

Sheryl Kinder-Pyle seeks to ignite relationships with neighbors.

While Sheryl Kinder Pyle recently attended closing services for two small, aging congregations—Curley and Lapwai Valley—she is helping create new possibilities as today’s churches re-ignite relationships with people in their communities.

As executive presbyter of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest, she is now applying insights from a four-month sabbatical on missional transformation.

• Knox Presbyterian, which recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of its building, is embracing the theology of the priesthood of all believers, with members sharing leadership and taking on pastoral tasks.

• Opportunity Presbyterian members recently took their Sunday coffee hour across the parking lot to the community center of an apartment complex where they sat and conversed with residents—no strings attached about inviting them to church.

• Shadle Park Presbyterian Church has a drop-in ministry, The Inn, for neighborhood youth.

• First Presbyterian has done mentoring with children at Roosevelt Elementary School.

• Clarkston and Wilbur churches are sharing pastors and services on campuses of two churches in their communities.

Inspired by the Presbyterian Church USA apology to natives in Alaska and Hawaii, Sheryl recently delivered apologies to the Nez Perce, going to Lapwai and Kamiah to listen and begin a presbytery reconciliation process.

From May to September this year, Sheryl explored missional leadership for churches. With a grant from the Louisville Institute, she studied ways regional body leaders can create a culture and space for missional transformation to happen.

“The term, ‘missional’ is common now, but I’ve heard it since the 1980s.  It has been a thread in my 30 years of ministry,” said Sheryl, who heard about it when she and her husband Scott served First Presbyterian Church in Spokane from 1988 to 1991 after graduating from Princeton Seminary.

They planted a new church near Philadelphia, where Scott grew up, and then returned to Spokane in 2006 to start the Latah Valley Presbyterian Church. In 2010, she became executive presbyter.

In the past, mission has oftenbeen about “transaction,” inviting people to come to be part of a church organization, rather than believers being transformed to live Jesus’ mission, Sheryl said.

On her sabbatical, she interviewed 21 ecumenical denominational leaders across nine systems in North America and the United Kingdom, starting with an online survey, then video interviews and then face-to-face interviews.

The systems were the Lutheran Synods of Vancouver, B.C., and Seattle, the Northwest Coast and Central Presbyteries, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, the Church of England in Birmingham, Fellowship Churches of Christ in Great Britain and Ireland, the British Methodists and the Western England Baptist Association.

She made contacts through Al Roxburgh, a consultant and author on missional transformation, who recently began consulting with the Inland Northwest Presbytery. 

Sheryl defines “missional transformation” as “becoming the people of God on God’s mission in the world, and being part of God’s work in the neighborhood.”

The difference between mission and missional is about being out in the world in relationship with neighbors, recognizing that God is at work there rather than “the western arrogance” of “we have God and will give you God.”

She further described missional transformation:

• It’s about the church discerning where God/the Spirit is at work in the world and partnering with God there.

• It’s a process, not a program.

• It’s to listen to neighbors and build relationships, not a church growth strategy to get people to church.

• It’s about listening for and seeing God in the neighborhood, in Scriptures and in each other.

• It’s also about experimenting with ways to join God in what God is already doing, then reflecting on the action. 

• It’s acting and reflecting, and then acting and reflecting again.

• It’s about humility and recognizing that we do not have all the answers,” Sheryl said.

Regional bodies often do mission programs to serve neighbors.  Missional is getting to know neighbors to be in relationship.

“Hospitality is a big theme,” Sheryl added.  “Often churches control hospitality, inviting people to come be with us within the four walls of our building.  Transformation is to go out beyond the four walls to meet people to develop relationships.

Sheryl sees missional transformation happening in presbytery congregations and the presbytery itself, as well as ecumenically.

“The UK faced the demise of Christendom before us,” she said. 

“Even Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches that grew there, as here, have plateaued.”

Ten presbytery congregations are intentionally participating in missional transformation.

 The presbytery process includes ecumenical partners. Disciples, Lutheran, Episcopal and Methodist pastors and members are in a Learning Community.

“It’s uncharted territory, gathering church folks to share stories and listen to where God is at work,” Sheryl said.

The Learning Community for pastors meets four times a year from September to May and the one for congregations and pastors meets three times.  There are 15 pastors. Fifty come to congregational learning communities to learn, try things, come back, share and reflect.

Each group picks one of two questions:

• How do we missionally engage neighbors?

• How do we live sustainably and faithfully in uncertain times?

The learning community has just started experiments and is in the first of two phases.  The presbytery is doing experiments, too.

At business meetings, participants gather in groups of three.  One with a smart phone takes a video of one telling of where he/she has seen God at work or on the road traveling with him or her. 

The video is shared on the website Emmaus 160.  That number is chosen because there are 160 miles east to west in the Presbytery from Ritzville to Montana and because the videos are 160 seconds.

Sheryl distinguished between church questions and God questions: “How can we get more young people in church? Vs. Where is God in the neighborhood leading you to partner?

 “Missional practices affect the presbytery’s culture—how we process, think and decide,” Sheryl said.  “It has made us step back and look at decisions with perspectives informed by Scripture and the Holy Spirit – What is God teaching us?”

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