InVESTing in the future of Evangelism

Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

JV-Profile-Border-9.9.2015-300x300Union Presbyterian Seminary and the greater Presbytery of the James have been buzzing with excitement over the welcome of Dr. John Vest, Visiting Professor of Evangelism. Dr. Vest studied at Rice Univeristy, the University of Chicago Divinity School and McCormick Theological Seminary. He most recently served as Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry at Fourth Presbyterian Church. During his time at Fourth, he co-founded the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference, a gathering for “progressive” or “liberal” youth workers to recharge and share new ideas for youth ministry.

I had the pleasure of meeting John and Anna Vest at a Union gathering for students returning for the fall semester. Much of how I interpret John Vest’s message regarding Evangelism, in our modern age, is embodied in an authentic acknowledgement of the Good News of Jesus Christ as lover and savior of the world. I believe this is characterized in our sharing with one another how our lives have, and continue to be, changed by Christ’s love. The evening of the fall gathering of students and staff, I experienced evangelism, in its basic forms, from John and Anna as they talked about their journey up until this point, their decision to leave Chicago and to follow a tough but exciting call to Richmond.

As I’ve become re-acquainted with Union’s campus, students and staff, I have noticed John’s presence around the campus. He’s active in the life of the Seminary even as he’s sharing time with professional responsibilities on the Presbytery level. He and Anna have opened their home to the staff and students, recently hosting a BBQ gathering at their new place in town. Their example of embodying the Good News to others, their evangelism, is real and tangible. I’m encouraged that with the guidance of John Vest and his role here at Union, this community of teachers, preachers, educators, and lay leaders will be emboldened to share how God’s love through the work of Jesus Christ has made a difference in our lives.

At the October Stated Meeting of the Presbytery of the James, John presented his initiatives to the wider community. His helpful handout, titled, “Cultivate a Culture of Evangelism” shared his goals and initiatives, including:

  • Working half-time as Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism at Union Presbyterian Seminary. After his initial four-year appointment, the long-term goal is for this position to be staffed by different seasoned practitioners in the field of evangelism every three or four years. The teaching load is currently half-time in order to allow for work in the presbytery.
  • In collaboration with the POJ and UPSem’s Supervised Ministry and Vocational Planning Office, John is developing evangelism internship for students.
  • John has developed and is available to offer small-group workshops for regional churches.
  • Throught UPSem’s Leadership Institute, plans are underway for an evangelism conference to be held in Richmond in September 2016.

You can check out all more about John Vest via his blog, as well as his initiatives on the Union Presbyterian Seminary campus at


From Bullet-Points to Paintings

The 5th Great End: The Promotion of Social Righteousness
The 5th Great End: The Promotion of Social Righteousness

Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

An individual going through the PC(USA) ordination process is responsible for being able to recall what seems like an endless list of definitions, facts, concepts, confessions, and political standards. After many grueling hours we (hopefully) feel confident enough to not only write exam responses, but also to go before a committee or presbytery to demonstrate all that we have learned during our time in seminary. A person in the pew, however, may not even know that we have more than one or two confessions or be able to list and explain the “Great Ends of the Church.”

I recently led a study for one congregation where I did a very quick overview of each confession that PC(USA) recognizes and was surprised to hear that this was the first time that several participants had ever cracked open a Book of Confessions. I began to wonder what we can do for our congregations so that they are aware of some of the “basics” of our denominational heritage.

This past weekend, I spent time with First Presbyterian Church in Goldsboro, NC where I saw a wonderful approach to set our denomination’s heritage in the sight line of anyone walking through the hall. Six beautifully painted canvases hung next to one another, and beside each hung an explanation of the painting. The individual pieces of artwork came together to display the six Great Ends of the Church.

I do not know for sure how these paintings are used in Christian education, but right away my own imagination ran wild as I thought about ways the younger generations could learn about the Great Ends in a way that would enrich their lives.. How can the session make a point to demonstrate each of the six Ends in all that they do? The ever-present paintings can serve as a jumping point and guide us as we claim our reformed heritage in new ways.

It wasn’t until I began the ordination process and started attending seminary classes that I began to work my way through our incredibly rich history. How can we bring the historical aspects of our heritage, commonly diluted down to a bullet point list, into our every day ministry so all of our members have the opportunity to dig deeper? How can we share our confessions, our foundations, and the thoughts of the theologians who helped to found our faith tradition in new and interesting ways?

 The Six Great Ends of the Church:
1- The proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind
2- The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the Children of God
3- The maintenance of divine worship
4- The preservation of the truth
5-The promotion of social righteousness
6- The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world

First Presbyterian Church in Goldsboro, NC is led by Interim Pastor, Rev. Leigh Gillis (M. Div., 1992). Learn more about their ministry and see how they share the history of the Presbyterian Church (USA) by visiting their website at

Updating Something Other Than Facebook

Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

I have written about it a few times, but it is something that I don’t think can ever get old — the importance of knowing the story of your congregation.  Whether you learn the story of your congregation through the stories told in sanctuary during (or before and after or worship), stories told through favorite hymns that share important themes and memories of members, bulletin boards, or stories told through scrapbooks updated weekly, both sharing and learning these stories can enrich the next chapter.

At Sneads Ferry Presbyterian Church, in the hallway across from the pastor’s office, there is a small table with a big notebook. If a passerby has a minute, he or she can flip through the pages and find bulletins and a recap of many events in the congregation’s life–as pictures of baptisms, guest preachers, and communion services add color and context to the pages.

I have never seen a notebook like it and I loved flipping through the pages as I waited for the choir to finish rehearsing before worship. As a guest, I could see the love and excitement that fills this congregation.  As a pastor, I could see how worship flows through the year with communion, baptisms, and any other “special” services. If I were a member, I could find reminders of past events– as well as encouragement for the next.

In a world where Facebook seems to be the most updated platform for many congregations (however, Sneads Ferry does have a fantastic Facebook page!), it is refreshing to be able to flip through a notebook like this one which is already updated to include last week’s worship service. In it, I find an element of personal pride as the congregation claims their ministry in a way that can be seen by anyone, with or without a computer. In it, I find a future story that is ready and waiting to be told.

Many congregations wait for a milestone to hit before a few individuals work tirelessly to pull together old scrapbooks and find recent pictures to include in a history room that will remain set up for a period of time. I have enjoyed wandering through many of these rooms! I wonder though, what would happen if we made a point to tell our story as it happens rather than pulling it together a few times when an anniversary rolls around?? I wonder– would this serve to bring new hope and vision into our congregations when we are able to see what aspects of ministry bring the most joy and we continue to build on those themes that we find?


How does your congregation share its story? Let us know!

Sneads Ferry Presbyterian Church is led by Rev. Bill Young (D.Min., 1981). Learn more about their story and ministry at

A Bible and A Newspaper Walk Into A Church…


Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

While visiting First Presbyterian Church in Lynchburg, VA this past Sunday, I was privileged to spend some time with their “Faith Exploration Class” during the Sunday School hour. This class is currently reading the book “Be Holy” by Brian Coulter. As discussion around the book began, one person mentioned that it was hard to read this week in light of all that was going on in the world, especially the most recent mass shooting in Oregon. As the hour progressed, conversation turned toward a discussion of how we, as Christians, respond to these shootings, the refugees in Europe, and the debate surrounding the Confederate Flag.

Karl Barth once said, “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”  During my time as a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary, we discussed this quote in a number of my classes as we discerned what it meant in different situations. This week, on a gloomy Sunday morning following over a week of almost constant rain and flooding in many areas, another shooting, and more stories about refugees fleeing to Europe, I experienced the importance of this.

Dr. Carol Schweitzer told my “Preaching as Pastoral Care” class that in order to begin to honestly talk about something, we have to name what it is and how we feel because until we can name and claim those thoughts and feelings, we can’t go to the next level. Many public schools are teaching our children, as early as Kindergarten age, to describe how they feel when something happens and then helping the student to put a name to the feeling as they work through it.

On Sunday morning, the “Faith Exploration Class” provided an opportunity for individuals to name and discuss how they felt about what they were reading in the newspaper in the light of scripture. This week, I think that is exactly what was needed for many of us.

Scripture-based Bible studies are fantastic and I think that we all need to be a part of one at least twice a year so that we can continue studying and understanding our faith at a deeper level. However, unless we put scripture with real-life we can lose a big part of it.

What opportunities are available in your congregation for individuals to understand what they read and hear in the news in the light of scripture? Where are the safe spaces to be able to name and discuss what each person is feeling, not just after a week like last week, but any time?

First Presbyterian Church, Lynchburg is led by Interim Pastor, Dr. Fred Holbrook (D.Min.,1982) and Interim Director of Christian Education, Laura Holbrook (M.A.,1980). Learn more about this congregation and their ministry at

Silent Encouragement


Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Bulletin Boards have been a constant in our lives for as long as we can remember– highlighting good school work, reminding us of education themes, and letting us know what to expect in the coming weeks. We see them in schools, businesses, and churches every day. They can serve to remind us of our purpose and goals as they silently urge us forward.

20150927_103631At Shallotte Presbyterian, bulletin boards line the main hallway leading from the parking lot to the sanctuary, passing most of the classrooms along the way. These bulletin boards aren’t your run-of-the-mill boards, though! We have all seen the woefully out-of-date, faded, and generally unattractive bulletin boards in a church fellowship hall or hallway.  Shallotte’s bulletin boards burst with creative designs, photographs, and evidence of vibrant ministry.  Every bulletin board is updated, colorful, and shares a different facet of Shallotte Presbyterian’s story — one recognizing active and retired military in the congregation complete with articles and stories–and another highlighting youth activities including an “after party” for the local football game. One bulletin board outlines the benefits of shopping locally and even has contact information for local businesses owned by church members and friends. The one that I enjoyed the most shows the congregation’s involvement in the community and in the individual lives of members. It is filled with thank you cards and pictures–some for donations and others thanking them for prayers and support.

Bulletin boards are one of the first ways that we can tell our story to a visitor as they walk our halls. The notes and pictures shared on them can serve as encouragement for members to keep going when things get tough. The night before I led worship at Shallotte, an elder told me of the many things this congregation does, but the bulletin boards full of updated events and thank you notes also showed me a small glimpse of the result of their actions.  In fact, the bulletin boards celebrate the “inter-action” of church and family members and the community at large.

Take a walk today and check out your bulletin boards. What story do they tell of your congregation? Are they a glimpse into the past, filled with faded paper and out-of-date brochures–or do they serve to get visitors and members alike excited about the next day of ministry?

Shallotte Presbyterian is led by Rev. John Causey (M.Div. 1981) and Commissioned Ruling Elder Intern, Joyce Winkler (M.A. 1997).