By Audra Abt

As a community-based priest and mission developer, I am part of many conversations about how the church of today does not look like the church of 50 years ago. Our spiritual landscapes are changing. I know many people in church who express frustration, confusion, and weariness with the uphill nature of their work, as commitment to a community does not seem to work the way it used to.

The leaders of tomorrow need to model commitment. Social media have opened new avenues for engaging spiritual communities, but options like “Maybe” and “I’m interested” seem to follow the trend of enjoying access without committing to regular participation. Showing up — for God, for each other, for a community greater than ourselves — is a discipline. It is a huge part of what it means to be the Church.

Leaders model showing up. Without eschewing social media (or relying exclusively on them) for organizing new communities, leaders in the Church of tomorrow will need to commit to gathering as members of the one body. Leaders will also need to help others see how meaningful and beautiful committed communion can be, as we show up for and so become genuine members of a diverse and beloved community.

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Leaders can help create space for this communion in many ways, through invitations, preparation, and guiding presence, as a community gathers and becomes something new through what its members do together. Church as a Sunday-morning gathering in a steeple-topped building, while still the dominant form of faith community, should not be our only option for gathering as God’s people if we’re living into our apostolic calling. One ministry I am part of centers its eucharistic life in an apartment complex where many do not have cars. Here, invitations come by word of mouth and the sound of singing from an open window. Another ministry formed around morning prayers at a bus stop where people cross paths between the night and day shifts — no Facebook invites needed!

Creating and sustaining new or old spaces for people to encounter the holy, and helping them commit to each other and to God, is often frustrating, long-term work in our shifting spiritual landscape. Visible fruits, and results, will rarely come on expected timelines. This requires leaders in the Church of tomorrow to be strong in their convictions, and dedicated to Scripture and spiritual practices that keep us imagining a new world with new possibilities. Their imaginations formed and fired by the Scriptures and Christ’s resurrection life, leaders of tomorrow’s Church will invite people to commit to a shared experience of abundant life in Christ.

The Rev. Audra Abt is a 2015 Episcopal Church Foundation Ministry Fellow and works as a missioner for intercultural and Latino/Hispanic ministries in the Diocese of North Carolina.

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One question, eight reflections

This is the first of eight essays in which The Living Church and the Episcopal Church Foundation asked eight of the foundation’s Fellows this question: How can we form faithful leaders for tomorrow’s Church?

The eight voices published here represent only a small cross-section of over 50 years’ worth of ECF Fellows whose work continues to focus on forming leaders for tomorrow’s Church.

ECF identifies and supports scholars and ministry leaders who are committed to forming the next generation of leaders, both in the seminary classroom and beyond seminary walls. The application process for the 2018 Fellowship is now open and the deadline is March 16. If you would like to learn more about becoming an ECF Fellow, be sure to visit the ECF website.

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