“Along the Road” recently released its 50th episode. Like many milestones, this one came with surprise at how quick the journey has felt and gratitude at the many experiences along the way. The episodes have become a trove of inquiry, inspiration and affirmation for church leaders around the country — and for the podcast’s hosts.
Along the Road is a production of Mid Council Ministries in the Office of the General Assembly with two parts: “Encounter” episodes for leaders at mid councils and congregations and “Nourish” episodes for congregational leaders, in particular ruling elders and deacons.
Click here or inside the image below to listen to any of the fifty episodes, including four releases from last month on the topics of Church Safety and Security (with guests Mike Kirk and Jim Kirk); Iowa Presbyterians uniting resources and efforts (Annika Lister Stroope, Amgad Beblawi, Ian McMullen); an example of building diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (Jake Jacobs); and creating overtures for the General Assembly (Susan DeGeorge and Gregory Simpson).
Martha Miller hosts Nourish episodes as part of her work as manager in Ministry Education and Support, which includes hosting the Leader Formation webinar series. Despite a busy schedule that only gets busier as the General Assembly approaches, Miller looks forward to working on each episode.
“Podcast interviews are my favorite thing to see on my to-do list,” she said. “I learn something new each time, so not only am I able to assist the Holy Spirit in the formation of leaders but I am also being formed at the same time.”
Miller described the listener responses she’s received during the first season and a half of Nourish as “very favorable, especially for episodes that have been devotional in nature or practical for ministry. Our listeners seem to love to hear the stories of others.”
Devotionals and testimonials about ruling elders and deacons finding ecclesial and personal inspiration form the bulk of Nourish’s first 25 episodes. For season 2, Miller has added episodes related to this summer’s 226th General Assembly, including what she calls “polity nuggets … such as the most recent episode on the creation of an overture.”
Encounter’s two hosts, valerie izumi and Manuel Silva-Esterrich, have also been recording episodes that look ahead to Salt Lake City.
“Setting a ‘road trip’ approach towards General Assembly in some of our topics helps us focus on what people ask themselves as a first-timer, as a 226th timer or as a resource leader,” said Silva-Esterrich, manager of Call Process Support and Church Leadership Connection leader. Another change he’s enjoyed in season 2 is working more with izumi, manager for General Assembly Nominations, as co-hosts.
“Having a co-host where we can share our unique experiences and learn from each other really provides a new dynamic for us and for the listener to run into a wider spectrum of relatability,” said Silva-Esterrich.
izumi said collaborating with Silva-Esterrich has brought “differing lenses to the topics we choose and discuss. We hope that lends itself to more dynamic conversations for our guests and listeners.”
Asked about the breadth of Encounter episodes, which often connect to guidance in the Book of Order, izumi said she especially looks forward to discussions “about complexifying narratives and how presbyteries and congregations can benefit from nuanced insights that may be offered.” She also enjoys conversations that “challenge assumptions that our diverse communities share the same experiences and understanding of our histories.”
Like Leader Formation, Church Leadership Connection and GA Nominations, Along the Road is a part of Mid Council Ministries’ support to mid councils and congregations. Hearing back from listeners that the podcasts are helping at different levels of the church, and even beyond the church, is music to the hosts’ ears.
“Having conversations with mid council leaders, they have quoted me back to me,” said Silva-Esterrich, who called that “kind of strange but also awesome!”
Other feedback from listeners has “given us feedback on what type of topics mid council leaders struggle with and would love to hear more about,” he added. Guest and host conversations encourage listeners to apply their own ideas to different ministry contexts.
“This podcast creates a new network for all mid-council leaders that is palpable, alive and quotable,” Silva-Esterrich said. “Having been a radio DJ in my 20s, I feel that same dopamine rush whenever we get guests who really blow our minds through their work or thought processes.”
izumi also gets a buzz knowing that episodes reach new audiences.
“Having folks who are not in our target demographic (although we hope that all Presbyterians are listening) say that they listen to our Encounter episodes is rewarding and fulfilling,” she said.
Planning, recording, and sharing Along the Road episodes most weeks involves the time and creative energies of the hosts, sound engineer Josh Park (manager for Korean-speaking Councils Support), and others on the Along the Road planning team, as well as the stars of each episode: the guests. The hosts agreed that the podcast work inspires everything else they do for the church.
“Serving leaders and supporting their work is the biggest inspiration for me,” said Silva-Esterrich. “Another thing that keeps me rolling is finding those interesting ‘jewels’ out there that could answer the questions many mid councils have been asking themselves for.”
“Even when my guests are invited for a specific focus of an episode, I always learn more about them, their ministry and their particular gifts,” said Miller. “My only regret is that I know there are so many Presbyterian leaders who have stories to share that would enrich the leadership of others, but I don’t know to ask them to share.
“I would encourage any readers who would like a chance to be a guest to reach out.” [Email Along the Road’s hosts using the links above and below.]
“I am most inspired when we have our guests before us in the studio or on Zoom, turn the mics and recording on and say, ‘Hello church people, welcome to Along the Road!’” izumi said.