Meet the Innovation Vitality Team!

Rev. Dr. William D. Gibson, Director of Innovation for a New Church | Team Leader

Email | 1-800-755-7710 ext. 334

William Gibson is a culture geek, innovator, and theological entrepreneur, serving as the Director of Innovation for a New Church and Team Leader for the Innovation Vitality Team of the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church (UMC), the largest geographic episcopal area in the United States. Focusing on new leadership, new places, and new people, he works with community leaders and United Methodists in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, as well as small parts of Canada.

Prior to a move to the Northwest, and upon a foundation of ministry with youth and young adults, he served more than 13 years in three appointments, all of which focused on new church development in the Western NC Conference of The UMC. His last church plant, THE WALK, created and advocated space for the LGBTQIA community, worked against poverty and homelessness, helped form Tiny Houses of Greensboro, supported Church Under the Bridge, and fought for justice of marginalized people.

He is passionate about engaging the skeptical, unchurched, disconnected, and frustrated — “Nones” and “Dones” — in ever-shifting culture. Before full time ministry, William spent more than 16 years working in marketing and business startup, where his focus was corporate identity, interactive branding, and his niche of image marketing. He has led and participated collaboratively in a number of new startup businesses, supported by more than 5 million dollars in venture capital and angel investor funding. He is also a former U.S. Marine.

After studying graphic design (ETSU), business (Tusculum College), and biblical & theological studies (Amridge University), he attended graduate school at Duke University where he received his M.Div. William completed his doctorate at Portland Seminary in semiotics and future studies, under his lead mentor Dr. Leonard Sweet. His doctoral research focused on cultural linguistics and the dialogic formation of Christian identity formation. William’s dissertation, Voices of the Imago Consumere: The Dialogic Formation of Christian Identity in American Consumer iCulture, was published in 2012 through Portland Seminary. He is also an active co-creator of Future Church Think Tank, which is convened annually by Dr. Sweet.

He is the author of two forthcoming books:

  • SUSTAINABLE ENGAGEMENT: A How-To for the New Place Startup Process (2019, E-book, GNW)
  • UNHINGED: Why the church is off the rails in a post-Christian America and what we can do about it, (Wipf and Stock Publishers, Cascade Books, 2020, forthcoming).

William also serves in an adjunct role as a dissertation advisor and second reader for doctoral candidates at Portland Seminary. He is an ordained Elder in The United Methodist Church, who believes that everyone is welcome at God’s table. William lives in Seattle, WA and has three children.

Kristina Gonzalez, Director of Innovation for an Inclusive Church
Email | 1-800-755-7710 ext. 309

Kristina develops curriculum and offers leadership development opportunities with a specialty in intercultural competency. She works to instill a culture of innovation among lay and clergy for the work of the church in the world.  

Ms. Gonzalez is a Qualified Administrator in the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) and an Associate with the Kaleidoscope Institute for leadership in a diverse changing world. She has served as faculty of the annual school for United Methodist supervising clergy for 15 years and consults and trains ecumenically in the field of intercultural competency.

Ms. Gonzalez has professional experience in the public and non-profit sectors working in the arts and human services.  Her community service work includes 8 years on the Curriculum Committee of Leadership Tomorrow, a community leadership program serving the greater Seattle area, and a term on the Board of Trustees.

She served on the UM Connectional Table, the denomination’s global leadership body from 2004-2008 and chaired the Washington Association of Churches for two terms. She serves on the Boards of Directors for Bayview Retirement Center in Seattle and Project Transformation in Vancouver.

Kristina resides in the Seattle area, where she takes advantage of the breathtaking beauty.

Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber, Director of Innovation for an Engaged Church
Email | 503-802-9204

Leroy Barber has dedicated 30 years to eradicating poverty, confronting homelessness, restoring local neighborhoods, healing racism, and living what Dr. King called “the beloved community.”

Leroy starts projects that shape society; in 1989, burdened by the plight of Philadelphia’s homeless, he and his wife Donna founded Restoration Ministries, to serve homeless families and children living on the streets. In 1994 he became Director of Internship Programs at Cornerstone Christian Academy. Leroy was licensed and ordained at Mt Zion Baptist Church where he served as Youth Director with Donna, and also served as Associate Minister of Evangelism.

In 1997, he joined FCS Urban Ministries, working with Atlanta Youth Project to serve as the founding Executive Director of Atlanta Youth Academies, a private elementary school providing quality Christian education for low-income families in the inner city. Leroy also helped found DOOR Atlanta, Community Life Church, South Atlanta Marketplace, and Community Grounds Coffee shop in Atlanta, as well as Green My Hood and The Voices Project.

Leroy is the Co-Founder of the Voices Project and Adjunct professor at Kilns College and Multnomah University. Rev. Barber is on the boards of, The Simple Way, Missio Alliance, The Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), and the Former Board Chair of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA).

He is the author of four books:

  • New Neighbor: An Invitation to Join Beloved Community(2008, Mission Year)
  • Everyday Missions: How Ordinary People Can Change the World(2012, Intervarsity Press)
  • Red, Brown, Yellow, Black and White: Who’s More Precious In His Sight? (with Velma Maia Thomas, 2014, Faith Words/Hachette Book Group)
  • Embrace: God’s Radical Shalom For A Divided World(2016, Intervarsity Press)
Dr. LaVerne Lewis, Associate Director of Innovation for a New Church

Raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Lewis has faithfully served as a member of Gresham United Methodist Church in Gresham, OR, and as the Church Treasurer. She was instrumental in the development and launch of the Rockwood Center — previously Rockwood United Methodist Church — where she also served as the Executive Director. Since 2017, she has served as a lay representative on the Oregon-Idaho Conference’s Congregational Development Team and engaged in social entrepreneurship coaching with planters/innovators in support of the IV Team’s work.

Recently, Dr. Lewis was named as a board member of the Northwest United Methodist Foundation. After 18 years of service, she retired as a Law Enforcement Officer from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department, where she also specialized as a Training Instructor at the State of Oregon Academy in Salem. As a recently elected official, Lewis serves as a board member for the Mt. Hood Community College and has garnered over ten years of experience as an adjunct professor.

An experienced entrepreneur, Lewis started several businesses throughout her career. She has also been an enrolled agent admitted to practice before the IRS and credentialed for 35 years in the area of taxation, accounting, and small business consulting. She annually volunteers in global communities abroad, leading teams who serve the unhoused and underserved.

In her role with the IV Team, Lewis works alongside Gibson to consult and resource planters/innovators and pastors in the area of entrepreneurship, social enterprise, and financial sustainability, related to creating new places with new people.

Rev. Dr. Jess Bielman, Associate Director of Innovation for an Engaged Church

Jess Bielman has successfully become a pastoral presence for a generation of people who have said “no” to pastors in a traditional sense. He is a mentor to those who minister in the name of Jesus to a church that historically has not valued their perspectives. Jess prepares leaders to engage community in ways that honor the dignity of all people and cultures.

He has been mentored and engaged leaders in cultural work and developed initiatives that center the voices on the margins. He has worked with scholars and practitioners to co-constructed programs, curriculum, and content that analyzes theological and cultural issues impacting the thriving of church and community.

A Northwest native who converted to the Christian faith as a teenager, Jess has long been interested in the intersection faith community and local culture. These interests have driven his personal explorations, ecclesial life, and academic interests. Jess is always looking to discover the next iteration of the church in the world

Jess earned his doctorate in ministry with a dissertation exploring contextualizing ministry training to the Pacific Northwest. As a college professor, he has taught bible, historic Christian spirituality, faith and culture, community engagement, and preaching, among other subjects. Jess has developed programs and curriculum to train pastors and students to engage in ministry at the margins of cities, neighborhoods, and society.

Jess is an ordained minister and pastor by calling who has done campus ministry and house church ministry. As a campus pastor he oversaw the evolution of ministry programs to a religiously and culturally diverse college campus always looking toward meeting the needs of students. He is a trusted partner with those who are navigating ‘dark night of the soul’ experiences and other faith transitions.

Jess is a skilled administrator having worked on strategic planning, systems and structure change, and creative initiative implementation. He is an innovator committed to changing institutional culture to enact more equitable processes. Jess has often been called upon to rethink and restructure systems designed to serve the core values of the organization.

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