[Photo By CarbonNYC]

Last week as part of the new blog from The Presbyterian Leader, I posted my first contribution, Job Creation in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Lifting up an idea from soon-to-be seminary Graduate, Jack Jenkins, that post was not meant to be the first of many parts, but after further conversations, I decided to add another idea into the mix: ministry incubators.

It is important to note that none of these incubators should be used to take advantage of unemployed church workers, ordained or otherwise. These should no be seen as a way to get cheap labor nor should this be used as a reason to discourage or exclude people from seeking or receiving full-time calls. These are simply some options for those who posses the interest and resources take part in the further support, encouragement and training of those seeking to serve as part of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I also know that all three of these options will require two things: participants who think bi-vocationally and leaders who enjoy mentoring, either of which may not always possible or attractive.

It is time for the Presbyterian Church (USA) to boldly get out there and find ways to bridge training to service for those called into ordained ministry.  What about to merging our heart for community organizing, current mission worker program philosophies and internship commitments with business incubatorsshared workspace and coaching that many start-ups use? So yeah, nothing new other than I am not sure that we are doing very well anywhere. For those who are unfamiliar with business incubators, they provide some of the infrastructure and support for folks who are entrepreneurial in spirit, but have limited experience, resources and/or time. Much like a business start-up, ministry incubators could provide some basic necessities: a desk, fiscal agency, meeting space, administrative help, an address, etc. but additionally ministry-centered training, mentoring, spiritual direction, etc. could also be available.

At the base of these ideas is that an incubator would give folks, not only some practical experience and reference building for future employment seeking, but if truly released and supported would be able to express the pastoral longing and calling that so many are feeling, but have nowhere to do so. It would be important to note that, like a business incubator, none of these are meant to build permanent relationships, but are meant to help folks discover and launch into what may be next.

I could see this happening in three ways:

Contextual Incubator – This is could be close to Jack’s idea with a group of folks gathering to go out and start stuff. An example would be for an empty/underused church building to be acquired where a number of people could be part of the incubator. For example, if there was an empty church in AnyUrbanCity, USA, the group would be folks who are drawn starting worshipping communities in that area. The incubator would provide necessary infrastructure to free  folks to be out building relationships as well as a mentor who helped to provide some guidance and structure to the process.

Congregational Incubator – In this case, a congregation, regardless of size would have to buy into the idea that they could be a teaching church. Somewhat like a fellowship or residency, participants would then be given ministry areas to which they provide pastoral support. This could operate on a rotation or could be a way for churches to also discover new ideas and programmatic realities. This could also be a way for a church with resources to help smaller churches to have pastoral leadership without too much financial burden on the smaller churches. For those looking for congregational ministry the references and experience that could come out of this would be invaluable.

Movement Incubator – This is the most intriguing for me. Providing some of the same support and resources the Contextual Incubator, this could be for folks who are looking at community organizing, issue mobilization and/or not-for-profit start-ups. For example, if someone wanted to start thinking about a faith-based community gardening project, this could be a place for them to explore that idea.

I could also see any or all of these ideas being combined with the right variables in place. For example, a church could decide that it wants to help start new worshipping communities and non-profits or someone wants to start a business that is also going to be a worshipping community. Oh the possibiltieies . . .

But . . . how will we pay for it? I think that any/all of these could be funded through individuals and governing bodies as long as the expectations are clear for the participants. There would be some basic costs to support the sponsoring body and basics would be covered, healthcare, at a minimum. Stipends and salaries would depend greatly on the particular location.  Leveraging both traditional grant writing as well as tools like Kickstarter would seem like natural pathways.

Now I realize that there are always details and variables to work out with any big idea, so if these strike you in any way as possibilities, please borrow away and let me know how it goes.

Cross-posted at patheos.com.

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