The Circuit Project: Small Churches & Circuit Ministers

Updated 3.25.18

PURSUING FAITHFUL FUTURES: Small Church Training Event
A training for pastors and lay leaders of small churches on the journey of faithful community, purpose, and mission.
Guest Trainers: Heidi Unruh and William M. Kondrath

On March 9-11, 2018, representatives from four churches plus an additional five potential circuit ministers met at Camp Tamarack for an intense experiential and communal training focused on leading congregations through a “Pursuing Faithful Futures” process.

This training was designed to address topics that are often “underneath the waterline” of church interactions–operating underneath the surface and revealing what is at the root of many challenges that congregations struggle with when discerning, articulating, and living out their mission and God-ordained purpose. It was also designed to equip church leaders — pastors,, layleaders, and circuit ministers alike — with tools and skills to help surface these unconscious or subconscious factors and to address them–and one another–with truth and respect.

Topics included:

  • Guidelines for dialogue/interaction;
  • adaptive vs. technical approaches and changes;
  • unpacking mental models of church and church leadership;
  • identifying, decoding, and responding appropriately to the breadth of emotions expressed in a congregation;
  • God in the midst of church story and leadership story – past and future;
  • change theory and dynamics and the role of the transformational leader(s)
  • implementation and experimentation

This training event kicked off what will be a 12-24 month project [“The Circuit Project”] during which the participants will be encouraged and equipped to take the material learned and build upon the relationships, knowledge base, and ministry tools. Churches that attended will receive support by the circuit ministers, as needed, as they take and apply the learning back to others in the congregation. Circuit ministers will, in addition, work with a small select group of additional churches who are in the midst of a pastoral transition and will incorporate the “Pursuing Faithful Futures” approach during their interim ministry period. Churches not formally part of this project can benefit from some of the resources shared by visiting the websites of Trainer Kondrath and Unruh, noted in their biographies below.

More updates will be shared as this project develops.

This project is made possible by a Palmer Grant received from the Virginia and Gordon Palmer Jr. Trust of the American Baptist Foundation Trust Grant, under the theme “Alternative Models for Developing Leadership in Mission and Ministry.”


Guest Trainers:

Rev. Bill Kondrath, M.Ed., D.Min.

After working for nearly two decades as a congregational pastor in three different settings, Bill taught graduate courses on leading change, collaborative leadership, multiculturalism, and affective competence, and coordinated the internship program for Episcopal Divinity School. For two years he served as editor of the Journal of Religious Leadership. Bill has been a consultant for Visions, Inc., a multicultural consulting and training collective for 18 years. Skilled in institutional analysis and change as well as executive coaching, Bill has written extensively on leadership, creativity, and change; understanding and celebrating differences; and the role of feelings in leadership and community building.  He is author of God’s Tapestry: Understanding and Celebrating Differences (Alban, 2008) and Facing Feelings in Faith Communities (Alban, 2013), as well as a chapter in Trouble the Water (Nurturing Faith, 2017), edited by Marie Clare P. Onwubuariri, Michael-Ray Matthews, and Cody J. Sanders. Several of his articles are available for free download at

Heidi Unruh

Heidi Unruh supports churches in living out their calling to love their neighbors. As director of the Congregations, Community Outreach and Leadership Development Project, her mission is to help leaders in the Body of Christ put big ideas into practice, so that ministry can thrive. She offers missional training, consulting and coaching, and has helped develop a variety of practical resources for churches, many available on Books she has coauthored include Churches That Make a Difference; Hope for Children in Poverty; and The Salt & Light Guidebook. She has team-taught courses on community ministry at Central Baptist Seminary and Palmer Seminary. In her home community of Hutchinson, KS, she and her husband work with Circles of Hope, supporting families on a path out of poverty. Heidi is an alumna of Wheaton College and has a degree in Theology and Public Policy from Palmer Seminary.


First Baptist Church of Hudson Spreads Peace

Here is a glimpse into how First Baptist in Hudson seeks to counter violence by meeting basic needs and spreading peace in their community. 

“We at First Baptist actively engage the community as a resource for all people. Our weekly neighborhood dinner is provided free of charge to anyone needing a free meal. This service currently feeds approximately 80 people each week. We also provide free breads and pastries to the community twice a week through Panera’s Dough-Nation program. To serve the homeless we provide space for a community closet called “Starts with Socks” that provides clothing and personal items to those in need. Our women’s group ties blankets that are distributed free of charge to the Karen community in downtown St. Paul, MN. Additionally, we provide monetary support to individuals in the community enduring crisis. This has been realized in the form of paying a month’s rent or car repair bill, to name a few examples. In providing for needs in the community we hope that the peace of Christ’s is seen in our call to serve our neighbors as Christ served us.” – Pastor Scott Jorgenson

Story Telling Event – PRMBC

On February 11, 2017, CENTRAL Wisconsin held a Story Telling event, hosted by Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church.  These stories were the culmination of work for a course taught at the seminary in the Fall of 2016 and Winter 2017.

We now have these stories gathered together and linked here on YouTube.

Here’s the whole PLAYLIST.

Here’s each video, referenced by the story teller:

Amos Green  “165 Years Old … and Still Growing”

Darlene Turner-Harper “A Gift of Encouragement”

Reggie Ivy  “What God has Joined Together”

Delores Wilkins  “The Vision Unfolds”

Carolyn Parker  “Taking Care of Ms Taylor”

Brice Smith  “How She Got Here: The 170-Year Progressive Call of Underwood”

Kendrick Allen  “Pioneers of Faith”


Many thanks to our Story Tellers.  Thanks also to Dallas Flippin who filmed the stories and prepared the video for publishing.

PASTORAL LETTER: Dismantling Racism

Dear fellow disciples of Jesus Christ,

By now, you may be aware of the tragic and disheartening events unfolding this weekend in Charlottesville, VA. With three confirmed deaths, an arrested and charged suspect, several other injured individuals under medical care, and unsettled communities, the details of this breaking news are still incomplete.

For news briefs:

ABC NEWS                 FOX NEWS                 CNN                  HUFF POST

After another mentally-, physically-, and emotionally- challenging week, I came home Saturday late afternoon and was immediately made aware of these happenings, and it was as if several conversations and experiences from this week converged,compelling me to reach out to you.

What is happening in Charlottesville highlights the still very present reality of individual and corporate racism, specifically white supremacy, in our country, and it is a sinful and evil presence that has and continues to impact ALL OF US,whether or not you can articulate how it impacts you or others on any given day.

In exactly two months from today we will gather together as a regional family at the ABC Wisconsin Annual Gathering around the theme of “rootedness.”  Here is a glimpse into our American Baptist (ABC) roots:


“We, as American Baptists, believe that all people are made in the image of God and that the right to human dignity, to be respected and treated as a person without regard to race, is foundational to our faith.

“Racism is the belief that one race is innately superior to all other races. It is the devaluing of persons in terms of their intelligence and potential for contributions to a given society because of their race by one or more racial
groups who have an economic, social and political position of power in that society. The organization of formal and informal systemic structures that keep specific racial minority groups disadvantaged and disenfranchised, whether
intentional or unintentional is called institutional racism.  Racism, whether individual or corporate, is a sin against God. With grief we find racism to be one of the most pervasive examples of sin in our country.

“Scripture affirms that we, as people of God with new life in Christ, are a people among whom all distinctions are affirmed and respected. However, in our humanity we have been unable to realize fully what we have been called to be by God. While societies may have good intention of building values and operating structures designed to achieve visions of good ends, the reality is that they usually end up serving the few rather than the many. We recognize and affirm efforts underway by some to accept racial and ethnic diversity and call the church to model within society those values and structures that open the doors of opportunity for all people.

“…Racial justice is recognizing our oneness in Christ, confessing that we have not become what God wants us to be, and committing ourselves to pressing on to that mark of high calling by which we can become a liberating symbol to our nation and world of what it means to be the people of God. In so doing, we can challenge our nation to live up to its high purposes. We can challenge all the nations to take seriously the struggle for the freedom and peace of all humankind.

“…Based on the mandate of our Christian faith and our belief that a nation cannot be secured unless it is founded on justice and opportunity for all, we believe that Christians must work for racial justice within their own societies and within the world…”

I ask you to please read the full text available HERE.

An ABC resolution that specifically speaks to the resurgence of the KKK and to White Supremacy can be found HERE.

Alternate Link:

Call to Action

We must pray – yes.  Pray for the families and communities directly impacted by the events of this weekend – both highlighted on the news and those not – that personify race-based hate.

We must also act.

Below are suggestions that come from a 2016 Letter of Action issued by the ABC Taskforce on Race and Race-based Violence, of which I am a member:


  • Consider your own personal (and corporate) explicit or complicit sin in matters of racism and race-based violence; appropriately confess privately and publicly pleading for forgiveness from God and others; and pray for freedom from the bondage of racism and a violence-saturated culture and for the individual and corporate empowerment toward the ministry of reconciliation.
  • Create a private “peace-space” for people in your congregation/organization to reflect, meditate, and have heart-to-heart conversations.
  • Create a public space, such as a prayer wall, for people to offer their heart’s cry.
  • Plan a seminar designed to promote cultural and racial understanding.
  • Invite local political leaders to share local issues of justice.
  • Exchange pulpits with Pastors of another race.
  • Sponsor a Racial Justice Sunday in partnership with local activist organizations.
  • Select a book around race to study as a congregation.
  • Host a Service of Reconciliation with churches of other races and ethnicities.
  • Seek and trust God’s Spirit to guide you and your community toward creative and transforming inter-relational and systemic practices….”

  This letter of action can be read in its entirety HERE.

My week in review:

On Sunday, August 6, I was blessed by an 11-year-old white girl who eagerly invited me into her world as she walked me around the Green Lake County fair sharing about her animals and her life on the farm (we met after I preached at an open-air worship service at the fair that morning). It was a display of how God’s powerful Spirit connects people from completely different worlds in meaningful ways.

On Monday, the ABC/WI Executive Committee affirmed that we must include as a priority in our strategic plan an intentional effort to equip ourselves for proactive, respectful, and constructive conversations about and across our differences so that we can more faithfully live into our mission and to further equip our local congregations to be bridge-builders in their own communities.

On Tuesday, I had a raw and authentic conversation with a fellow staff member on the difficulties that arise when becoming self-aware of ideologies and behaviors that are grounded in and triggered by race and in having honest conversations with others of different racial identities.

On Wednesday, I responded, with my support, to a statement generated by one of our partner ministries addressed to the Wisconsin State Assembly that speaks against a future vote on the Assembly Bill 48, which suggests a change to the current Wisconsin’s hate crime law enacted in 1988; the proposed change would dilute the original intent of the law to protect victims of crimes incited by human-identity (such as one’s race).

On Thursday, I was inspired as I read of the vision of an American Baptist church to train up cross-culturally-competent leaders who will “be equipped to lead [congregations] toward becoming living examples of the beloved community” within their building, their region, and across the denomination. The pastor is my colleague on the Race Taskforce.

On Friday, I finally watched the 2016 movie Hidden Figures, and internally experienced both disgust and hope as I watched with my daughter – sometimes with explanation and sometimes in silence – why women that look like her were treated so unfairly.

On Saturday, I witnessed members of a united multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-congregation church openly speak of the joys and challenges of their diverse reality and the importance of leaders to model “Christian trust” in their multicultural setting; there was a palpable common disappointment at the reality of distrust across cultures, even among Christians.

This was my week. And in truth, this week was not so different from any other. Navigating not only the waters of racial difference, tension, intolerance, ignorance, violence, and sin but also the waters of repentance, education, correction, reconciliation, justice, and love is inherent in the life of a Jesus-disciple in the 21st century in the United States–and in particular, inherent in our collective roots and current day witness as American Baptists.

So I hope you can understand why I implore us, ABC of Wisconsin, to be about our charge as the church to gather up all the power that is within us through Jesus Christ to tear down the walls of racism that have been built up throughout the history of humankind…

  • To name the sin of white supremacy in all its explicitly destructive and hateful forms to the subversive undercurrents in our hearts and institutions.
  • To mine our implicit biases and bring them to light so we can deal with them for the sake of the unity of the church and the dignity of all persons.
  • To acknowledge the destructive impact of personal, interpersonal, organizational, and societal racism
    • on other attacks to human rights and equality
    • on access to basic needs such as housing, food, employment, education, and
    • to the very nature of beloved community.
Together Living Faithfully Through Christ Today compels us to…
“the high calling by which we can become a liberating symbol to our nation
and world of what it means to be the people of God.”

[Reference to the 1989 policy of racial justice provided above.]

We have a wealth of resources within our region and throughout our networks that can help us work at this together as an area of common mission.

The call has been sounded, the actions suggested. 
The question on this day is…
How will you respond? 

With my faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ,

Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri
Regional Executive Minister, ABC of Wisconsin

Stone Soup Ministry – Sharing Food, Creating Community

Memorial Baptist Church, Fond du Lac was recently in the news for helping launch a ministry which hosts a weekly meal in the parking lot by their local library.

“Stone Soup” is about more than just food – it’s about what happens when people have the opportunity to eat together, connect as people, and share what they have.  The Washington Times picked up the AP story which first ran in the Fond du Lac Reporter.  Missional Networking also did an interview with them earlier in the year.


173rd Annual Gathering

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:6-7 NRSV

Thank you to all who made this year's event possible and for all those
who attended and contributed to this blessed gathering.

October 13-14, 2017

American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin
at Green Lake Conference Center

Our American Baptist family from across the state joined for Christ-centered fellowship, worship, and equipping for ministries and mission. 2017 begins our journey under the vision, Together Living Faithfully Through Christ Today, responding to the imperatives of rootedness, collaboration, growth, and transformation, and inspired by Ephesians 3:18-19. This year's Annual Gathering focused on Rootedness.

Reflections from the Annual Gathering

(by Regional Executive Minister, Wisconsin Baptist November 2017)

2017 State of the Region Report

2017AnnualGathering_ProgramBooklet Final

2017 Annual Gathering Draft Minutes

Learnings from Mission Table Conversations - Saturday Morning Plenary

Event Photos: