Partnering with the Seminary and Local Church for Revitalized Gospel Witness: Ministry and Leadership Incubator 2018

Rev. Greg Klimovitz

In the midst of trending conversations about church decline and irrelevance, the Ministry and Leadership Incubator serves as a vital initiative within our Presbytery to revitalize and empower congregational witness to the gospel in the twenty-first century. Launched in 2015, this program has included an eight-week training series for church officers, numerous workshops and fishbowl conversations sponsored by the Presbytery of Philadelphia, and the exploration of a 2018 residency in Chester alongside the PCUSA’s 1001 New Worshipping Communities movement. However, the most notable extension of the Ministry and Leadership Incubator has been our seminary partnership with Princeton Theological Seminary.

The Incubator’s seminary partnership recruits a cohort of six seminarians to serve as pairs of ministry practitioners alongside three of our congregations, typically less than 100 in worship attendance, and their committed pastoral leadership. In the 2017-18 academic year, our seminarians served at Oxford, Aston, and Newtown Square Presbyterian Churches. Aware seminarians are often eager to intersect theological studies with real experiences in church and community, members of the cohort were charged to frame their nine-month placement as a year of experimentation, innovation, risk, and faithful questions. This framing empowered the seminarians, pastoral supervisors, and receiving congregations to explore, birth, and sustain new and relevant ministry possibilities that extended beyond their brief collaborative relationship. “This program was a good experience for both the congregation and the interns,” remarked Rev. Ethelyn Taylor, pastor of Oxford Presbyterian Church. “The seminarians were able to experience the practical and daily ongoing work needed to be done in the church and at the same time they were given many opportunities to be creative at trying out new ideas of ministry as they would like to experience them.”

The collective ministry of this year’s seminarians strengthened confirmation programs, enhanced the use of digital platforms for community formation, coordinated collaborative spiritual renewal retreats using the Enneagram, leveraged community-wide and ecumenical worship events, and stimulated congregational conversations about how to move the church from static place to generative network of disciples with a localized missional presence. The addition of the seminarians also provided fresh insights to existing programs within the congregation. As Rev. Dr. Graham Robinson noted, “It has enriched our bible study and provided a different model for Sunday morning study.”

However, as commonly shared by pastors of participating churches in each year’s program, one of the most beneficial aspects of the program was the opportunity for solo pastors to experience a renewed level of collegiality that energized them for the next season of ministry. “I treated Ryan and Lauryn as colleagues in ministry, and enjoyed their perspectives and witness,” added Rev. Dr. Jeanne Thomas, pastor of Newtown Square Presbyterian Church. “My initial goal was to help them more than they would help NSPC, but it turned out that I learned just as much from them.”

In addition to the practical ministry experiences afforded by the Incubator, seminarians also participated in a Leadership Lab, gatherings of the full cohort on three separate occasions during the year. The Leadership Lab provided opportunities for the seminarians and supervising pastors to engage panels of experienced local leaders within the Presbytery who addressed topics the seminarians developed and questions they raised about ministry in the twenty-first century. This year’s conversations included: Tending the Soul of the Prophetic Pastor, Developing and Sustaining Intentional Relevant Neighborhood Ministry, and Cultivating Community and Meaningful Stories Worth Sharing. The Leadership Lab also expanded to include Ministry Snapshots, mappings of perceived assets and challenges of the church and surrounding neighborhood designed to spark contextualized ministry through the congregation. These presentations were developed by the seminarians, shared with the cohort at the beginning of the year, and reframed at the program’s midpoint after gaining ministry experience and pertinent insights from their congregation. In the end, as seminarians, pastors, and presbytery staff engaged one another in these formative leadership labs, all were reminded of how God’s Spirit remains active in and through the witness of the local church and God’s people in every age.
As the seminary partnership of the Ministry and Leadership Incubator enters its fourth year this fall, the program continues to exist as a pivotal extension of our presbytery as partner in revitalizing congregational witness and empowering the next generation of leaders. In our regular commitment to collaborate with both the academy and local congregations, we trust the gospel will be incarnated through new ministries that speak into the communities gathered and scattered throughout Greater Philadelphia.

Learn more about our seminarians participating in the Ministry and Leadership Incubator Program

Check out the videos below to see what this year’s seminarians have been up to, the questions they are asking, and why they think you should be a part of this enriched field ed opportunity.

Serving at Oxford Presbyterian Church are Emily Lueder and Eric J. Hearst:

Serving at Newtown SquarePresbyterian Church are Lauryn Schrock and Ryan Pearce:

Serving Aston Presbyterian Church B.J. Chain and Hannah Sikes:

Additional information and resources for our Ministry and Leadership Incubator Program: