During a recent visit to the Pension Boards in New York City, the Rev. Alexis Fuller-Wright, pastor of the Christ Congregation in Princeton, New Jersey and a participant in the Next Generation Leadership Initiative (NGLI) class of 2024, shared ways NGLI is providing the necessary tools for church transformation.
What circumstances in your life and ministry led you to apply to NGLI?
I applied to NGLI when I was just finishing my first year of ministry out of seminary. I was living in a very small rural community in Western Maine and was the only full-time pastor of any denomination in the county. I was by far the youngest person in ministry of any of my local peers, many of whom were thinking of retiring.
I was thinking about how we can transform the church, so I was looking for “thought” partners and people who were interested in the same kinds of transformational work that I knew the church was capable of.
It was very clear that even though I knew how to preach, do pastoral care, and exegete scripture passages, I did not know how to take my congregation from where they were to where I could see God was calling us. So, I applied to this program looking for peers who shared the same language and passion for church vitality, as well as the tools and tactics to help me understand the system, how to navigate it, and move us from point A to point B.
How has NGLI made a difference in your ministry?
When I started NGLI, I had just finished a visioning year with my church. It was such a wonderful year where it seemed like we were tracking well together. We unveiled this vision and there was huge pushback. It was amazing to have the skills and understanding to know that the pushback wasn’t coming from just one or two people, but we had uncovered a system within the church that was unhealthy and needed to be addressed. NGLI gave me the tools to not only be non-anxious myself, but to understand and help equip others to meet that anxiety with calm and clarity, so we could move forward in a healthy way.
By the second year of the program, we were implementing many of our hopes and dreams for the new vision, but we reached a place where we were stuck. At that point, we were talking in class about how to move toward an end that we can’t yet see; how to move through the “swamp” together; and understand what was needed to turn up the heat in our congregation and push them in way that might make them uncomfortable [for growth]. I came back from that second January event refreshed and excited to equip my leaders to navigate [the way].
By the time we reached our fourth year, many of my colleagues had begun to transform their own ministries. The shared learning experience was so incredibly rich. Many of us saw huge shifts in our churches.
[At my church] we had a new bench of leaders, we saw a huge amount of growth in our congregation, but we also listened for where God was leading. We discerned that we needed to turn our parish house into an outpost for mission for the community. The church was doing some tremendous work in terms of meeting the needs of those in the community who were without resources, those on the margins—those whom Jesus called us to connect with.
We were known as the rich church in town and we learned to see that we were rich in a lot of things, although not money. We were rich in people, in passion, and we were rich in our desire to serve God. The work they are doing right now is transforming that community.
With this program, we had tools to discern where our deepest gladness as a congregation and the deepest needs of our community met.
Learn more about the NGLI or support this ministry with your gifts to http://bit.ly/UCBMA_GIVE.