NWC Rural Impact Leadership Conference Webinar – Living in the Middle of Everywhere

Ben Winchester is a rural sociologist with the University of Minnesota- Extension. For the 2024 Rural Impact Leadership Conference, Winchester provided a pre-recorded workshop called “Rewriting the Rural Narrative,” which was available to online participants. On April 4, Winchester provided a free follow-up webinar to RILC attendees called “Living in the Middle of Everywhere.” An overview of the presentation, related resources and a recording of the webinar are provided below.

The notion that rural residents live “in the middle of nowhere” continues a negative narrative that is not based on the reality of community life. Modern life is complex as we live, work, shop and play in a wide region. At the same time, most of our planning is done at a city or county level. In “Living in the Middle of Everywhere” we will explore the implications for tourism, marketing, transportation planning, resident recruitment, housing, community development and the Church. One specific way of gaining a better understanding for this web of regional activity as it varies by age and interests is through an Asset-Based Community Development exercise that has some simple, but deep, learning outcomes.

Resources:

 

A  primary basis for all these webinars is the realization that ministry is always geographically, culturally, and locally contextual. Therefore, the rural church is a unique contextual ministry category with its own set of relationships and dynamics. So, in this webinar we unpack further how rural churches think and operate in order for us to lead the church more effectively in its mission.

To help inform this particular conversation, Dr. Jeff Clark, Director of the Rural Matters Institute at Wheaton College, joined us as our guest presenter. Some of the areas addressed within this conversation are: the distinctives within the rural church compared to the suburban church, insights on how a person raised in an urban or suburban setting can succeed in ministry within a rural setting, the required process to gain acceptance for a pastor by the church and its community, the importance of learning the relational interplay within rural communities and churches, and what are most asked questions from new pastors just starting in a rural church.

The webinar concludes with a time of questions and answers from the participants.

Leading missional change for kingdom impact is essential to fulfilling the purpose of the Church. In this webinar we explored this critical leadership task in a conversation with Dr. Rick Weinert, based on his new book, “Four Essentials: Leading Effective Change in a Rural Church Setting.”

As implied in the title, Weinert introduces four essentials for leading effective change. He then offers further detail into establishing clarity of direction and exegeting one’s congregation and community.

In the final section, the whole group engaged in shared reflections around the formation of spiritually/emotionally/relationally healthy leaders for congregational health and leadership effectiveness.

Download Webinar transcript with additional resources

 

Building off Part 1, in this webinar we explore additional contextual factors that impact our understanding of leadership in the rural church. We give primary attention to unpacking the growing phenomena identified as reverse migration—that being growing numbers of people moving from urban/metropolitan settings now into the countryside. With this migration we observe a newer cross-cultural intersection for rural communities to navigate—the intersection or collision of the rural mindset with the urban (metropolitan) mindset. It’s within these relational encounters that dynamics like contrasting cultural assumptions, lifestyle distinctives, and varied perspectives on resources, decision-making and leadership surface and must be led through well.

In addition to this featured area of the webinar, participants identified and discussed other contextual factors like the pace of change and the related levels of grief and loss experienced within communities/congregations; competing political and sociocultural voices/movements outside and within the church; dramatic shifts to the scope and scale of farming and other land-based enterprises; and generational differences also being critical areas for leadership awareness and approach.

The following links provide access to the supporting presentation and other resources provided:

In this Part 1 webinar we begin to look at some key rural contextual dynamics and related leadership principles for leading the rural church well. Because of a high relational value within smaller communities we explore the importance of trust, collaboration, facilitation, tenure, influencers, time, learning, etc. in establishing healthy leadership posture and effectiveness. In addition, we touched some on matters of decision making, social exposure and relational risks around conflict situations, conflict avoidance, closed systems and change.

 

This webinar gives recognition to the fact that for rural congregations to thrive, the congregation—in partnership with lay leadership and the pastor—must share the work of the ministry. Therefore, churches need to develop effective ways to equip their people for doing the ministry.

This webinar highlights the importance of current leadership modeling a learning posture, insights on the mobilizing, training, and empowering of laity for ministry, along with generational considerations for effective leadership development.

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:11-12

A few Resources for Life-Long Learning by Pastors

Thoughts on the recruitment, training and deployment of lay leaders in ministry- Giese

 

Based on the experiences of the past several years, this webinar recognizes the need for discerning a “new normal” as “mission critical” for pastors/leaders and for congregations as a whole. So, in this webinar we look specifically at intentionally calibrating the real tensions of Being vs. Doing and of Competing Expectations—both personally and congregationally—as vital to the establishment of sustainable rhythms, ministry expectations and plans that foster greater missional health and momentum for the church.

Book references related to the Being vs Doing

Rural Webinar Notes- Sep 22- Dr. Weinert

Rural Webinar- Sep 22- summary reflections on expectations- Dr. Giese

 

The prolonged nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related social/cultural forces that emerged from it have been identified by many as “the Great Disruption.” Within this disruptive season came experiences of isolation, loss, dislocation, conflict, grief, change, disorientation and new opportunities to name a few.

In this webinar, we held open conversation on the direct impact all this has had on the composition and body life of the local church pre-COVID to now, along with discussion of key factors related to the renewing of our fellowships for increased missional impact.

Koinonia (Fellowship) as Framed in Scripture – Dr. Rick Weinert

 

Now that an individual with disabilities is attending our church, what’s next? Hear practical steps to welcome, learn about, plan supports and connect them to the Body of Christ.

On March 3, 2022, we were delighted to have Amie Lorence Grubidge return to the NWC Disability Ministry Connection. She shared on the topic of “On-boarding: Practical Steps to Engaging Families Impacted By Disability Into Our Churches.”

Amie has a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Bethel University, as well as a Master of Arts in Special Education with teaching licenses in Specific Learning Disabilities, Emotional Behavior Disorders, and Academic Behavior Strategies from Bethel University. She has over 10 years’ experience as a special education paraprofessional, case manager, and department lead. She is currently a Montessori educator, adjunct instructor at Bethel University, and Disability Coordinator for Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN.

Download Presentation PDF
Download Salem Covenant Church Thrive Questionnaire Sample

 

All behavior is a form of communication. When encountering challenging behaviors in our church settings, the goal is to gain understanding of the need, and respond so that everyone gets what they need.

On Jan. 6, 2022, we had the privilege of having Amie Lorence Grubidge share at the NWC Disability Ministry Connection meeting on the topic of “Tools and Strategies for Working with Challenging Behaviors.” Amie has a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Bethel University, a Master of Arts in Special Education with teaching licenses in Specific Learning Disabilities, Emotional Behavior Disorders, and Academic Behavior Strategies from Bethel University. She has over 10 years’ experience as a special education paraprofessional, case manager, and department lead. She is currently a Montessori educator, adjunct instructor at Bethel University, and Disability Coordinator for Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN.

View the entire webinar below, or download a PDF of Amie’s presentation.

 

As we have stepped into a new year, we remain mindful of how the residual effects of this past year continue to impact our daily experiences. These challenges are real. Yet even in times of great challenge, God desires for each of us to flourish within our calls for Kingdom impact.

This webinar explores three key areas to foster greater resilience and renewed motivation for ministry. The three areas covered are boundaries, support systems and fresh vision. A narrative that helps to frame this conversation is that of Elijah. In addition, the 3 Pillars of Missional Ministry construct was introduced along with several books. Those are offered below for your reference and continued learning:

Foundation for Missional Living (PPT)
Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson
Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton
Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life by Marjorie J. Thompson
Thinking, Fast and Slow by David Kahneman

 

In this video, Lilly Lewin teaches a group of youth pastors how to create participatory Advent experiences. These activities can be used with students or the whole church, online or in person. Lilly is the worship curator at Free Range Worship https://freerangeworship.com.

 

This webinar is built on the foundation established in “Let’s Talk About the Elephants in the Room, Part 1.”

Part 2 explored further how our own personal self-awareness contributes to our ability to bring a non-anxious presence into our interactions with others. Navigating interpersonal dynamics amidst contextual and cultural realities with others especially in times of conflict and challenge stretches the best of us.

This webinar provided practical insights for rural ministry leaders who desire to lead well within these times and circumstances.

 

We recognize that we are living in highly charged and complex times that have contained cycles of dislocation, division, disorientation and loss. As pastors and leaders it is of utmost importance that we frame our challenges biblically, along with practicing self-control over our own emotional responses in situations where anxiety is high.

This webinar presents different constructs to consider as ways to better frame these challenges, and better navigate relationships impacted by them. Relational wisdom practices, the Approaching Differences Framework, and Choice Map were all offered as resources to help frame the discussion. These resources, with accompanying notes, are offered below for your continued education.

Approaching Differences diagram- IV
Approaching Differences Framework- insights
Choice Map- Adams
Relational Wisdom- Relational Wisdom 360

 

Leading Kingdom Change in Uncertain Days is the second in a 2-part series on leading change in rural contexts. This webinar addresses spiritual and cultural factors that impact leading congregational change, including lingering effects of COVID-19, and technology, facility, and infrastructure considerations. Additionally, the webinar includes practical examples and rich discussion on best practices specific to discerning/leading change, congregational life, and community mission.

Download Webinar PowerPoint

 

During the 2021 NWC Annual Meeting, delegates and attendees had the opportunity to attend educational workshops hosted on Zoom. We’re pleased to be able to share recordings of three of the workshops, including: Looking Ahead in the ECC, Faith and Fake News, and Managing Finances and Facility During a Crisis and Beyond.

 

At Gather, the Annual Meeting for the Evangelical Covenant Church (June 2021), a Resolution developed by the ECC Christian Action Commission on the “Doctrine of Discovery” will be acted upon. As a prelude to this action by the delegates, the Northwest Conference is seeking to help our pastors and churches become more aware of what will be presented for action.

Alaska Conference Superintendent Curtis Ivanoff and NWC Pastor and Chair of the ECC Christian Action Commission Luke Swanson, led a discussion around this proposed resolution, and more broadly, what it means to be an ECC family that bears the pain and stories of our indigenous brothers and sisters.

You can access the ECC Resolution here. See the Resources tab below the video for more information.

 

It has been said, “If you’ve seen one rural county, you’re seen one rural county.” The reality is rural communities are complex and varied. So, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for the church. We see rural congregations occupying the center of busy town squares to churches dotting the sides or unpopulated state roads. This presence is amidst what represents a changing, complex and culturally conflicted segment of America.

It is in these settings that factors of growth, decline and change present on-going challenges and opportunities for the Church and its mission. In this webinar, we unpack a biblical foundation for change, as well personal and practical implications for the leader.

 

NWC Pastors sat down with Bill Doherty and David Lapp, founders of Braver Angels for a brave discussion on navigating divisive political conversations in our churches and communities. Braver Angels is a nonprofit organization that seeks to bring “reds” and “blues” together for civil conversation and understanding.

In this webinar, we began to unpack what this can look like in the church, and how pastors and church leaders can lead well in divisive times, while working to depolarize communities and congregations. For more information on what Braver Angels does, visit their website here. Also, view this link that shows a CNN video that features Braver Angels https://youtu.be/XipezLfJenY.

If you are interested in further conversation on the work of Braver Angels or want to explore hosting a workshop in your community, please reach out directly to David Lapp (dlapp@braverangels.org) or Hollis Kim (hollis@northwestconference.org).

 

We have observed how this past year both exposed and accelerated various issues/dynamics within rural/small town community life and congregational ministry.​ ​In light of our current landscape, we are pleased to partner with Oak Hills Christian College leaders to reflect on what we learned in 2020 that will inform our ministry in 2021.

Specifically, how do conflict and power inform leaders’ pastoral call and kingdom mission? How can pastors maintain a kingdom focus in divided times? What does self-care and resiliency look like in a season of crisis? This webinar is intended for rural leaders, but is also a helpful education piece for all ministry leaders who desire to understand how our kingdom mission plays out within our current climate and settings.

 

There is a huge increase in mental health issues with teenagers during the pandemic. Our youth pastors have been ministering on the front lines of this rise, which is getting worse in these dark days of winter.

In light of that, we hosted a pop-up training on mental health and students on Friday, Dec. 18. Tim Cryer helped us learn what questions to ask and how to do a support group with students to delve beneath the surface. We’ll actually ran a beta support group and you can see what it looks like and how to do it yourself.

Tim Cryer has a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy and has worked at TreeHouse for over 10 years working with teens, parents, and communities throughout Minnesota. He, like many of you, is struggling as a spouse, dad, employee, and person during this time.

 

Rural ministry matters. With a significant number of NWC churches serving rural communities, we want to be intentional about resourcing and equipping all of our ministry leaders and churches. This webinar is the first in a regular series on rural ministry, and includes conversation on rural contextual distinctives, discipleship and isolation.

We are grateful to the Oak Hills Christian College team for their decades of ministry experience and expertise in this area. The next rural ministry webinar will be on Jan. 13, 2021. For more information on the Oak Hills Certificate Program in Rural Leadership and Ministry, download the flyer.

 

“They don’t respond to emails, phone calls or texts. Exactly how are we supposed to reach young adults?” For those frustrated by ministry with digital natives, especially during this pandemic, there’s hope.

Mark Matlock and co-author David Kinnaman (President of Barna) spent three years researching what discipleship looks like in this age of screens. Their findings have been published in this recent book.

Matlock joined NWC staff for a webinar to unpack best practices for reaching Millennials and Gen Z, plus bonus content at the end on moving beyond “sit and stream” as a level of engagement with virtual audiences.

Matlock is the principal of WisdomWorks, a consulting firm that helps Christian leaders leverage the transforming power of wisdom to accomplish their mission. He is the former executive director of Youth Specialties.

 

In these uncharted times, our desire as leaders is that our congregations stay connected with God, each other and the mission of God. This webinar explores a vehicle for helping our communities stay connected called “Digital Neighborhoods.”

These are geographically based groups that connect online with a format that allows for rich discussion, prayer and commitment to God’s mission. Rev. Stephanie O’Brien, better known as “Pastor Steph,” co-leads Mill City Church in Minneapolis. She discusses how these groups have led their church to stay connected in this time, as well as led to a deepening of relationships organically. The tools and resources linked below the video are referenced throughout her presentation. They can be changed and shaped for your context.

Sign up for the UPDATE e-mail newsletter to learn about future NWC webinars and resources.

 

How can pandemic advice from 500 years ago inform how we’re leading today? In this fascinating webinar, the Rev. Jonathan Wilson and the Rev. Mark Stromberg explore how the writings of Martin Luther help us build a solid ethical and theological foundation for the practical decisions we’re having to make every day as church leaders in a pandemic.

This conversation was based, in part, on Wilson’s recent work, “Luther’s Theology and Ethics, and the Adapted Ministries of the Church, in the COVID Spring, 2020.”

Full Webinar

Segments

Why start with Luther? A summary of Jonathan’s paper on Luther.

Highlight:

“… If you are coaching your communities regarding social distance and putting interests of your neighbor above your own … then you are on solid ground ethically, theologically, biblically. And you are right in line with history’s first evangelical.”

What do the ethics of being a good neighbor look like in a time of crisis?

Highlights:

“The Christian ethic … in a time of disease is governed by a love for one’s neighbor.”

“… I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence,” Martin Luther

How Luther’s principles apply to today’s pandemic.

Highlight:

“As medical knowledge advances, then you follow along with the preponderance of opinion. Not the outliers, but the preponderance of the medical knowledge.”

How should we be thinking about communion?

Highlights:

“Looking back, Luther was devising this as part of pastoral ministry for the first generation of Protestants that they understood from the Catholic traditions that there was a time when communion was not taken in the main sanctuary in community with everyone else. That is a time when it’s appropriate to have communion in a private home or at a bedside.”

“Looking at Luke 24:30-35 when the disciples said that they recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread, what was the context? The context was Jesus and two disciples in a private home.”

What are the obligations of church leaders to law, authority and government?

Highlight:

“All of us need to step back and really realize that yes, we are in a different socio-political environment than Martin Luther. With that, let’s understand that the President of the United States always and ever will be for the last 200 plus years, a partisan political figure. 2020 is an election year. Partisan political figures will appeal to their base, whatever they think that might look like. There is a difference and a distinction we need to make between posture and policy.  And when you look at the federal guidelines for how churches are to reopen, in fact, from coming out of the CDC you find all kinds of measures about social distancing, wearing face masks, suggestions about not singing, and those kinds of things. Luther would have someone squarely in the camp of “you follow the policy,” Because the policy that is the law. It is not the posture that’s the law.”

How do I lead a congregation that’s divided?

Highlight:

“If you read Covenant documents relative to freedom in Christ, it speaks about the fact that our freedom is not something that we take for ourselves. It’s something that’s bestowed on others. And there’s a responsibility with freedom. This may be an opportunity coming out of crisis to acquaint some of our people in our church setting with what does it really mean when we say ‘freedom in Christ.’”

Thanks to Pastors Rose Lee-Norman and Luke Swanson for their candid, humble thoughts on unpacking what it means to be white in America today, becoming aware of power and privilege and an invitation to discipleship.

For further reflection, consider the following resources:
Sanctuary Covenant’s resources for Racial Righteousness
Engage and Respond, Evangelical Covenant Church

 

Paul Robinson is the Executive Minister of Love Justice, Do Mercy, a mission priority of the Evangelical Covenant Church. During this NWC webinar, Paul helps pastors and church leaders think through the impact of the death of George Floyd on the world. We also discuss the roots of racial injustice in Minnesota. Included are practical steps for moving forward, both for individuals and churches.

 

“When will we meet face-to-face again?”

That is the driving question in the church these days. We interviewed Paul Lessard (Executive Minister, ECC Start & Strengthen Churches) about what it means to realistically regather in-person. There were 5 priorities that emerged. One was discern and communicate with your context at the forefront. Watch the webinar for the other four, and make sure to check out the Webinar Resources tab below the video.

 

Anxiety is running high right now: among our people and among ourselves. This two-part webinar with psychologist and author Dr. Linda Solie, gives pastors practical strategies on dealing with anxiety, stress and isolation.

Part 1 of the webinar focuses exclusively on coping skills for managing anxiety. In part 2, Dr. Solie presents additional methods for combating anxiety, as well as ideas for coping with isolation.

Dr. Solie is the author of, “Take Charge of Your Emotions: Seven Steps to Overcoming Depression, Anxiety, and Anger.” She is a member of Bethlehem Covenant Church and serves on the executive board of the Northwest Conference.