The Lutherans Sterben Aus (Die Out)

This article is not just for Lutherans. It applies to most North American faith families.

The above chart spells unmitigated disaster. And it’s a few years old. It’s gotten much worse since it was first printed.

And better theology is not going to rescue us. We Lutherans have always had the odd idea that if we could “nail” the philosophical content of the Gospel, then everything would line up and we would thrive. Truth is, we have right-leaning Lutherans (LCMS) and left-leaning Lutherans (ELCA) and ALL of us are headed down the same demographic waterslide hand-in-hand.

When eco-feminism is preached from our pulpits, the demographic results shouldn’t surprise us

I’m a theological conservative with no illusions that more conservatism would stem this tide. Our big problems are demographic.

We have HALF the demographic footprint we had in 1960; the year I was born. Then, the ELCA’s predecessor bodies had 5.3 million members. That’s 29.4 for every 1,000 Americans at the time. Our nation has almost doubled in population since then, and the ELCA now has 4 million members. That’s only 14.12 ELCA members for every 1,000 Americans.

Half.

The gay issue in the ELCA churchwide assembly of 2009 will be seen as a blip, historically, compared to the real crises:

1) Lutherans don’t have enough babies. We seem to see them as a liability. Ironic that we did backflips, inducing great trauma to the ELCA, to include the LGBT group (on their terms) which has the lowest fertility rate on earth. It’s like we’re trying to form a no-baby union.

When I was young, it was common to hear church leaders encourage dating, marriage, family formation and getting about the business of having and raising kids. “Be fruitful and multiply” was taken as marching orders. Such encouragement is seen as “gauche” at best and perhaps even taboo today.

Here are confirmation pictures from 1969 and 2004 from the same Lutheran congregation. These trends are the rule, not the exception, for most congregations. Do the math.

2) Lutherans don’t retain enough of the babies they have.

3) Lutherans have no clue how to do evangelism which leads to large-scale adult conversion and baptism. Some even have an “in principle” allergy against doing it; for them, praying with someone to become a Christian is some kind of theological felony. We did 14 adult baptisms at our last church picnic (and we are only a church of 200). Have a look at the video>> LINK We are shooting for 30 this year.

4) Many of our congregations are led by informal juntas of empty nesters and retired people which sabotage every step taken to try to create a young-adult-friendly environment, young adults who tend to have babies, by the way. The trauma many of our missional pastors carry is not unlike that of soldiers returning from Iraq. PTSD is rampant among the younger half of our clergy roster (which is tiny–the average ELCA pastor is 59 and aging). It’s not the pagans who beat on them, it’s their own church members.

5) Lutherans do not do well in urban areas where they have had many churches (big cities like LA, Chicago, St. Louis, etc.) when those zip codes diversify ethnically. In general, we’d literally rather die than reach the new immigrant residents. And we seem to think that urban Latinos and African Americans are looking for high-church worship with a PC message; intelligent Catholicism in black and white without the magic. Small wonder they are staying away in droves

Church Window

6) Our denominational corporate structures are clueless about the “opt in” revolution created by social media. They still think they can control their rosters and not have to attract, cultivate, and maintain “opt inners.” Both the lists of congregations and clergy are brittle and fragmenting. Denominations are like Tower Records trying to discipline iTunes. Good luck.

7) Lutherans are also clueless about the communications revolution. Most of them spend half of their office hours producing bulletins and newsletters which are among the poorest quality print media in America, and no one reads them. Most of our pastors don’t have blogs or a social media presence of any kind, let alone a podcast (click for example) that would hold anyone’s attention. Many Lutheran churches have no website or screens in the church. And the ones that do have websites usually have a big picture of a Jetsons-Gothic postwar church building (see pic below) with other useless information. Generalities abound on such websites (e.g. love the world and love God), and there are no branding distincitives (i.e. what makes us unique) that would attract someone. The mission statements are so vague that Taco Bell could probably use them. And you can never find a picture of the pastor or get a feel for her or his vibe. Anti-branding. Fine, don’t have screens–and while you’re at it, get rid of your parking lot and hope streetcars will come back. If you’re not at least toying with the idea of crafting a smartphone “app” for your church, you may simply never catch up.

8. We have over-merged. Some talk about the “emergent” church. Well, we are the “overmergent” church. A few generations ago, when Lutheranism was thriving, we had a bunch of solid medium-sized Lutheran denominations which were very relational (every pastor could go do every national gathering), and each one had clear branding and vibe. There was loyalty to their one seminary and tiny handful of major global mission fields. Now we have two mega corporations which have no branding and spend all of their time fighting, because we are forcing together constituencies that don’t belong together. Many of our seminaries are going broke. Our leaders can’t name our global mission fields. Former ELC pietists have no business slugging it out for turf within the ELCA with former ULCA East Coast types. No branding, no new customers.

9) Most Lutheran sermons are virtually impossible to understand. I was a Fulbright Scholar and I can’t follow most of them. We tend to preach in the formal register with tertiary reflection; writing a weekly term paper for a professor who isn’t even there. And we are humor-impaired. Our preaching culture is non-existent. We don’t celebrate our (few) preaching stars. Name them. See?

10) We treat our successful churches like pariahs. Reading the Lutheran for years, you’d have no idea which churches they are. The ones that are growing and thriving, reaching lots of new converts, and baptizing them. The ones that are transforming their communities. Heaven forbid we celebrate any success. Synod staffs, churchwide, and struggling congregations tend to be at least passively aggressive towards any success. And if new church plants innovate? Don’t let them on the roster! Unless they impersonate the other dying congregations.

11) I value the opinions of leftists. Some of them I share; some I don’t. Respectful leftists return the favor. Some just scream at you. Bless them :-).

But with a drift toward PC “left-ism,” comes, without question and statistically provable, a less church-going population (see the recent Gallup results–a conservative is twice as likely to be in church as a leftist), and less tendency to have big families (NPR families have way less kids than NASCAR families) that will carry on the important missional work we are doing for generations to come. I think that’s worth questioning, once in a while. Even if I’m wrong, which many of you believe and may indeed be the case, I will plant my flag on the right to ask the question. The survival of our movement is at stake.

12) Along with leftism, follows harder-edged feminism and “green” mentality–taken for granted by most of our clergy. Promotion of these two “isms” leads to less births. Why?

Feminism, in its sturdier forms, can be outright hostile to traditional family formation, shaming “cookie bakers” as somehow embracing stunted femaleness. Women’s desire to get married and have lots of kids (so prominent in movies a generation ago that it’s almost shocking to watch) has to be expressed in hushed tones today in order to avoid a rap on the knuckles from radfem types. Family formation is delayed and less kids are a result.

And greens? I’m pretty green in my thinking. But eco-mentality-ism carries with it the basic assumption that humans are bad for the planet and the less of them the better. Truth is, the population of the world is not a problem at all; in fact the real problem is that most of us will see the global population peak and nosedive within our lifetimes (I know I just messed with your worldview, but it’s true). Economically, this could create huge challenges with an aging group of retirees and less kids to support them.

Truth is, the entire earth population could stand comfortably (all together) with one square meter of space, on South Stradbroke Island off Queensland. Fly across America and get a window seat. Our continent is empty.

So when “eco-feminism light” gets preached or implied/assumed from the pulpit, guess what the demographic results are?

There will always be Lutherans in America.

We are too strong in the Upper Midwest to disappear entirely. But we have squandered our “pole position” which we had after WW2. Instead of contributing to the core of the project that is America, we seem to be choosing to be a quirky footnote to life here.

 

Published by

David Housholder

Believes that a spiritually-awakened non-coercive voluntary society is possible. Author of a number of books. Surfer/Snowboarder. Pastor of Robinwood Church in Orange County, California.

191 thoughts on “The Lutherans Sterben Aus (Die Out)”

  1. #2. Lutherans don’t “retain enough of their babies. No further comment…but wait, this is a HUG”E issue. I’m sure you are talking about abortion here right? Lets call it what it is and not use those soft-landing words. Lutherans abort their babies. Or Lutherans abort some of their babies. What is enough? Are you saying its okay to abort “some” but “retain” some? Would that be okay? According to the Guttmacher Institute, in California (highest abortion rate in USA), ONE IN THREE pregnancies end in abortion. And further: More than seven in 10 U.S. women obtaining an abortion report a religious affiliation (37% protestant, 28% Catholic and 7% other). The abortion rate for Protestant women in the USA is 15 per 1,000 women, while Catholic women have a slightly higher rate, 22 per 1,000. We are losing approx. 25% of our newest generation to abortion in this country. Unacceptable! And almost 70% are “religious”.

  2. This is a whole lot of pro-natalist, crackpot, garbage. Please take this bizarre line of reasoning to the Hasidic Jews. You may find willing listeners among them, and even a few who are willing to make decisions about their family planning based on the ambitions of a few religious talking heads. In the meantime, people just need to get used to gay people. Gay people are people. Allowing them to be included fully in church does not make fewer members. Perhaps there are some Lutherans who flee congregations with gay members in dire fear of contamination from their presence, but if they were a significant group, we might see more midway and conservative Lutheran church bodies/synods grow. We don’t see that though. All Lutheran church bodies are declining in membership. It has very little to with social positions, because you can find a Lutheran body to suit your personal stance – they run the gamut. It has everything to do with the declining influence of religion in America, declining membership in all social institutions among people 60 and under, and declining birthrates among the native born population. This does not however mean we need to have more babies (or invite more low-skilled immigrants). On the contrary, we and every other country on the earth desperately need to gently stabilize and gently reduce our population.

    1. Wrong again. Take a more careful look. ELCA’s membership is plummeting. LCMS’s is also declining but not nearly so fast as ELCA’s. In 1970, LCMS had 2.7 million members. LCA had 3.6 million. ALC had 2.2 million. In 1977, about 100,000 liberal members of LCMS left to form AELC. In 1988, LCA, ALC and AELC merged to form ELCA. That ought to add up to 5.9 million members in ELCA. Instead, ELCA has 4.5 million members. LCMS spun off its Brazilian and Canadian districts, so that this was formally a loss of about 150,000 people. Between those losses and the 100,000 lost to AELC, LCMS would be expected to have a membership of about 2.45 million people. It has about 2.4 million. So, yes, it’s been losing some people, but not many, and most of those losses occurred when LCMS flirted with the Church Growth movement, a flirtation that pretty much ended with the 2010 convention.

      “Pro-natalist crackpot garbage”? So, if you don’t have kids, your kids will be members? Great logic there, friend! No. The growth of Lutheranism in America was to a huge extent based on the large Lutheran families, whose children grew up to be Lutherans, too. It all peaked about 1970. Since then, the liberal Lutheran groups have lost over 20% of their membership, while the conservative ones have lost less than 10%. Everyone’s having fewer kids, but it’s rather obvious to all but raging fanatics like yourself that a body where homosexuality is widespread and abortion is approved will have a lot fewer kids than a body where they are not, and that with fewer kids, it will be a lot harder to maintain, let alone increase, membership levels.

      By the way, have you contemplated who will pay for your Social Security? If nobody has kids, nobody will pay for your Social Security, and nobody will be paying taxes for the operation of government when you are old. Pro-natalist garbage indeed! God said, “Go forth and multiply,” and if we do not, the consequences are on ourselves. But your sort doesn’t think He said it.

      Further, any religion, any organization, is dependent for its survival on retaining its reason for existence. Why does Lutheranism exist? It exists because it teaches the Christian faith in a way that is faithful to Scripture, as set forth in the Lutheran confessions. But ELCA doesn’t do that. It gives the confessions short shrift, establishing full pulpit and altar fellowship with 1. a church that has no official theology and has refused at its convention even to require that its pastors confess the Trinity and the divinity of Christ (UCC); 2. a church that has bishops in good standing who have denied the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, and who have prayed publicly to Hecate and Hermes (the Episcopal Church). 3. a number of churches that do not confess that we truly receive the Body and Blood of Christ in and with the elements of bread and wine in the Communion (PCA, RCA, UCC, UMC, the Moravians). It has abandoned the plain teaching of Scripture that homosexuality is sinful (Lev. 18:22 and 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10). ELCA no longer teaches Lutheranism in any meaningful way. Its reason to exist has been abandoned, and its membership plummets accordingly.

      LCMS has to be careful with its playing with Church Growth theories. Some of its churches become virtually indistinguishable from Baptist churches–dedicating children rather than baptizing them, neglecting the Communion, abandoning the liturgy, etc.. LCMS membership has declined–not nearly as badly as ELCA membership, but nonetheless it has declined–and most of that decline is attributable to two events. One was the departure of its liberals in 1977 to form AELC, which is now part of ELCA. The other was a time when it flirted with Church Growth theories.

      My one concern with the article is that the author seems to favor those theories, and he says one thing that’s particularly bothersome. He thinks black and Hispanic people do not want liturgical worship. Well, it’s true, Baptists and Pentecostals don’t; but they’re not coming to a Lutheran church anyhow. But there are a great many black and Hispanic people, especially Hispanic people, who do like the liturgy; many of them were raised in the Roman Catholic church, and are accustomed to the liturgy. Some have actually drifted away because Catholic churches became less liturgical. Many Caribbean black people in America were raised as high-church Anglicans back in Jamaica, etc., but find nothing in common with the church in which they were raised in today’s Episcopal Church. But Lutheranism is, ordinarily, liturgical and confessional, with a clear set of teachings and a clear manner of worship.

      One thing LCMS has done is continue to produce new pastors. Though it is only a little over half the size of ELCA, it produces more new pastors each year than ELCA–it actually produces more new pastors each year than the Catholic Church produces new priests! LCMS thereby has the voices to go out and preach the Gospel, and the hands to administer the Sacraments.

      Above all, Lutheranism must remain Christian and Lutheran. If people want to go to a Unitarian, Congregational or Presbyterian church, they will go there; if they want to go to a Baptist or Pentecostal church, they will go there. They go to a Lutheran church if they want to go to a Lutheran church. Preach and teach the Word, and do so in accordance with the Lutheran Confessions and with the historic liturgy. Pay attention to the children; don’t assume they will stay. In a changing neighborhood, the pastor must more than ever follow the prescription of John H.C. Fritz a century ago, and go out into the neighborhood to meet the people. You can’t make a black person or Hispanic person into a German or Scandinavian, but you can let them get to know you, and more important, get to know Jesus and His Gospel. Where the means of grace are, the Gospel and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit works faith, when and where he will, and the Church shall not perish.

      1. Martin Luther wasn’t especially enamored of preachers who substituted “doctrines of men” for the Word of God. He’d be no friend of a denomination like the ELCA that subsidizes abortion for any reason up to 20 weeks in its self-funded employee health plan, blesses homosexual sex and same-sex “marriage,” questions the Virgin Birth, and preaches universalism, among its other apostasies.

        Luther preached: “. . . Here then we have these two, the faith and the Gospel, that these and nothing else are to be preached throughout Christendom. Let us now see who are to be the preachers and who the learners. The preachers are to be angels, that is, God’s messengers, who are to lead a heavenly life, are to be constantly engaged with God’s Word that they under no circumstances preach the doctrines of men. It is a most incongruous thing thing to be God’s messenger and not to further God’s message. Angelus means a messenger, and Luke calls him God’s messenger (Angelus Domini). The message also is of more importance than the messenger’s life. If he leads a wicked life, he only injures himself, but if he brings a false message in the place of God’s message, he leads astray and injures every one that hears him, and causes idolatry among the people in that they accept lies for the truth, honor men instead of God, and pray to the devil instead of God.

        “There is no more terrible plague, misfortune or cause for distress upon earth than a preacher who does not preach God’s Word; of whom, alas, the world today is full, and yet they think they are pious and do good when indeed their whole work is nothing but murdering souls, blaspheming God and setting up idolatry, so that it would be much better for them if they were robbers, murderers, and the worst scoundrels, for then they would know that they are doing wickedly. But now they go along under spiritual names and show . . . and are at the same time ravening wolves in sheeps’ clothing, and it would be well if no one ever heard their preaching.”

        — Martin Luther, Christmas Day Sermon [Lenker, J. N., ed., Sermons of Martin Luther, Volume 1: Sermons on Gospel Texts for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, Baker Books, pp. 153-4]

    2. I have no problem with gay people. I have a problem with our anti-family-formation drift. They gay lifestyle dovetails with that. We have gay people in our church. So do you. No one is fleeing them. Need to reduce our population? Seriously? So—basically for you people are a liability and the less of them the better? This is exactly the mentality against which I argue. http://lifeandlibertymag.com/category/natalism/ << More on this.

  3. On Item 7, the use of multimedia and projection screens can be an aid or a distraction. Newcomers can come in and spend so much time ‘oooh’ing and ‘ahhh’ing over the whiz-bang production values that they never pay attention to what’s actually being said. I have experienced this myself at larger churches where newcomers are impressed by the theater-quality production value but when I ask they about the message they have no clue what was preached just moments earlier. Mind you, I’ve worked as a multimedia tech at churches and like the whiz-bang stuff just as much as anyone else, but there’s a difference between having the technology for the sake of showing off versus having the technology for the purpose of creating an environment where worship, attention, and response can happen. In more traditional Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican celebrations where the Eucharist is supposed to be front and center, “whiz-bang” can be an obvious distraction from that central focus.

    (For the record, our Catholic parish does use projection, but lately it’s been to help the assembly with the new responses that came with the revision of the Roman Missal that went into effect this past Advent.)

  4. On Item 7, the use of multimedia and projection screens can be an aid or a distraction. Newcomers can come in and spend so much time ‘oooh’ing and ‘ahhh’ing over the whiz-bang production values that they never pay attention to what’s actually being said. I have experienced this myself at larger churches where newcomers are impressed by the theater-quality production value but when I ask they about the message they have no clue what was preached just moments earlier. Mind you, I’ve worked as a multimedia tech at churches and like the whiz-bang stuff just as much as anyone else, but there’s a difference between having the technology for the sake of showing off versus having the technology for the purpose of creating an environment where worship, attention, and response can happen. In more traditional Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican celebrations where the Eucharist is supposed to be front and center, “whiz-bang” can be an obvious distraction from that central focus.

    (For the record, our Catholic parish does use projection, but lately it’s been to help the assembly with the new responses that came with the revision of the Roman Missal that went into effect this past Advent.)

  5. On Item 7, the use of multimedia and projection screens can be an aid or a distraction. Newcomers can come in and spend so much time ‘oooh’ing and ‘ahhh’ing over the whiz-bang production values that they never pay attention to what’s actually being said. I have experienced this myself at larger churches where newcomers are impressed by the theater-quality production value but when I ask they about the message they have no clue what was preached just moments earlier. Mind you, I’ve worked as a multimedia tech at churches and like the whiz-bang stuff just as much as anyone else, but there’s a difference between having the technology for the sake of showing off versus having the technology for the purpose of creating an environment where worship, attention, and response can happen. In more traditional Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican celebrations where the Eucharist is supposed to be front and center, “whiz-bang” can be an obvious distraction from that central focus.

    (For the record, our Catholic parish does use projection, but lately it’s been to help the assembly with the new responses that came with the revision of the Roman Missal that went into effect this past Advent.)

  6. I’m a 25 year Navy ELCA Chaplain and I’ve been watching the ELCA dissolve right before my eyes since I started Seminary in 1988. I think this writer hit it right on the head. But you know, at 51 and as a USN CDR, I use multi media every day and I live on the internet but this is not the Gospel. I’m a mediocre preacher not because I don’t want to do better but because I’m just not the most flamboyant or funny guy in the world. If doing standup is what it takes today – we are in trouble. I love The Church. I love my Denomination in spite of it’s stupidity. I’m just going to keep doing what I know. In the end, it’s Christ’s Church and I just do the best I can. In Iraq and the PI we had a pretty good congregations because in War people look for God and Salvation.

  7. I’m a 25 year Navy ELCA Chaplain and I’ve been watching the ELCA dissolve right before my eyes since I started Seminary in 1988. I think this writer hit it right on the head. But you know, at 51 and as a USN CDR, I use multi media every day and I live on the internet but this is not the Gospel. I’m a mediocre preacher not because I don’t want to do better but because I’m just not the most flamboyant or funny guy in the world. If doing standup is what it takes today – we are in trouble. I love The Church. I love my Denomination in spite of it’s stupidity. I’m just going to keep doing what I know. In the end, it’s Christ’s Church and I just do the best I can. In Iraq and the PI we had a pretty good congregations because in War people look for God and Salvation.

  8. It’s not just the gay issue. I would do a “spot the difference” test between the two confirmation pictures. Don’t focus on the number of confirmands. Notice the pastors? There’s something off about the one in the lower picture…

  9. It’s not just the gay issue. I would do a “spot the difference” test between the two confirmation pictures. Don’t focus on the number of confirmands. Notice the pastors? There’s something off about the one in the lower picture…

  10. It’s not just the gay issue. I would do a “spot the difference” test between the two confirmation pictures. Don’t focus on the number of confirmands. Notice the pastors? There’s something off about the one in the lower picture…

  11. David,

    Your chart at the top comes from 2001. There’s a more recent one available at elca.org, from poll taken Oct. 2008, and graph is dated 12/9/2009. Same depressing trends but with a higher median age of ELCA attendees and a lower median age US population. The gap widens, it would seem.

    Thanks for thinking through this stuff for us. I am referencing the 2009 chart this Sunday, to get us to think about evangelism and not just transfer evangelism.

  12. David,

    Your chart at the top comes from 2001. There’s a more recent one available at elca.org, from poll taken Oct. 2008, and graph is dated 12/9/2009. Same depressing trends but with a higher median age of ELCA attendees and a lower median age US population. The gap widens, it would seem.

    Thanks for thinking through this stuff for us. I am referencing the 2009 chart this Sunday, to get us to think about evangelism and not just transfer evangelism.

  13. David,

    Your chart at the top comes from 2001. There’s a more recent one available at elca.org, from poll taken Oct. 2008, and graph is dated 12/9/2009. Same depressing trends but with a higher median age of ELCA attendees and a lower median age US population. The gap widens, it would seem.

    Thanks for thinking through this stuff for us. I am referencing the 2009 chart this Sunday, to get us to think about evangelism and not just transfer evangelism.

  14. I think when the Christian (Lutherans and otherwise) church quits trying to make people choose a “team” (denomination) and becomes more authentically Christian;when the church sets as its primary goal authentic spiritual Christianity (whichis way bigger than any one denomination) – including all its up/down sides, allowing questioning and reality to become part of the culture – and quits protecting their turf, then the younger, smarter generation will say, “Oh! I see a place where I can practice my spirituality and learn and grow and not be forced into dogma.” If you want the “team” to live on, you have 1. be as authentic as possible, 2. give the choice to be a “member” away. If you love something set it free….ok, cliche, I know.

  15. I think when the Christian (Lutherans and otherwise) church quits trying to make people choose a “team” (denomination) and becomes more authentically Christian;when the church sets as its primary goal authentic spiritual Christianity (whichis way bigger than any one denomination) – including all its up/down sides, allowing questioning and reality to become part of the culture – and quits protecting their turf, then the younger, smarter generation will say, “Oh! I see a place where I can practice my spirituality and learn and grow and not be forced into dogma.” If you want the “team” to live on, you have 1. be as authentic as possible, 2. give the choice to be a “member” away. If you love something set it free….ok, cliche, I know.

  16. Wow, an entire thread on the despised heritage of the Lord and no one mentioned birth control. Are we in denial or what?

    Who is there even to evangelize new communities? The five confirmands? Kind of a lot to ask of the few workers we so generously allowed to live.

    Fun pronatalist Lutheran blogs

    http://concordiansisters.blogspot.com/

    lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/

    People aren’t really so eager to join what they see as dying organizations.

    Youth and vitality are more likely to draw folks in.

  17. Wow, an entire thread on the despised heritage of the Lord and no one mentioned birth control. Are we in denial or what?

    Who is there even to evangelize new communities? The five confirmands? Kind of a lot to ask of the few workers we so generously allowed to live.

    Fun pronatalist Lutheran blogs

    http://concordiansisters.blogspot.com/

    lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/

    People aren’t really so eager to join what they see as dying organizations.

    Youth and vitality are more likely to draw folks in.

  18. I think you have a great point about “them” and “us”. When
    “us” is motivated by finding and making clones, you will find
    churches of the variety you describe. When “us” puts Alpha in
    place you probably will find the cookiecutter Lutheran in the pews. I would love to find a church full of “them” because it
    is what the Church is supposed to be. Thanks for the post,
    Steve.

  19. I found this via your LinkedIn update, David, and found the subject very familiar. You’d make Lyle Schaller proud, to be sure…he identified a number of these issues in “The Interventionist” back in 1997 (five years before the iPod came out, for a historical reference). While still back at St. Paul in KC, I remember hearing him declare that for most mainline churches, the next ministry year on the calendar would be 1951. Not much has changed, has it?…

    The tragic part of the mainline denominational dilemma is that that which is old is by default, revered; that which is new is automatically reviled. In 2002, I suggested to my church-at-the-time that we stop handing out flyers about what was happening in church on any given day, and instead build video kiosks that could be quickly updated for changing plans and conditions. In 2009, when I went back for a visit, they had JUST installed them. (And in most of Lutherville, a 7-year turnaround is “rapid development.”)

    My concern with Alpha is that, unless there is a commitment from leadership to use Alpha *primarily as an evangelism tool*, it ends up becoming the default new-member-class, and stops being about outreach. I’ve seen it happen repeatedly – in KC, in Chicago, Toledo, and now in Champaign-Urbana. An ELCA pastor in a Toledo suburb was *incensed* when I suggested that part of their post-Easter and post-Christmas ministry plan should include an Alpha class – *specifically* for the unchurched/nominally-churched folks who show up on Easter weekend and Christmas Eve. “We don’t need to spend our resources to chase people like that – they’ve already been stretched thin by the holiday schedule” was his approximate response.

    The struggle, especially in the church, is that people want to associate with folks who are like themselves. (It’s one of the reasons that Sunday remains the most segregated day of the week.) Stepping across social, economic, and cultural boundaries is hard work – you’d have to have a compelling and powerful reason to get involved in such work.

    Oh, it happens – but ONLY where the Gospel message is proclaimed simply and effectively, and the need for outreach is a clear goal. Otherwise, we end up with “people like us” – and as we get older, we look for more of “us” and less of “them.” Then “go and make disciples” becomes “see if the new neighbors are Lutheran, and maybe invite them with us” and that whole Matthew 25 schtick about feeding, clothing, visiting, and generally caring becomes a nice suggestion, and not a sheep-and-goats issue.

    Preach on, preacher – because, as you note, demographics and imbedded culture will kill us long before the hot-button topics will.

    1. I think you have a great point about “them” and “us”. When
      “us” is motivated by finding and making clones, you will find
      churches of the variety you describe. When “us” puts Alpha in
      place you probably will find the cookiecutter Lutheran in the pews. I would love to find a church full of “them” because it
      is what the Church is supposed to be. Thanks for the post,
      Steve.

  20. I agree with much of what you said, however be careful not to link proper theology with intellectuals who have learned how to compromise their faith in order to graduate from seminary and then keep a well salaried position by encouraging the relativism of their parishioners. Good theology can be taught, learned, and lived if pastors would be willing to learn the faith and then teach that faith (which actually is their job) to their parishioners and then to actually hold them accountable. Most mainline denominations have compromised far too many times to be seen as having any amount of truth or integrity. How can you evangelize effectively if you don’t believe it? People value integrity even if they don’t agree with you. Enough for now. God bless!

    1. Yes, if we think the numbers are diminishing now (in ALL sectors, not just Lutherans) wait until it gets hard to be a christian. There will be a real sifting of the church. But that’s when real strength will grow.

      1. Love Bob’s comment. We are to be the salt…not dissolve in the face of secular wisdom and pseudo research. Abby, you are right on. It will be the growing disdain that secular groups hold Christians that will surface the strength of our faith and dependence on the Spirit to guide us to powerful witness and ministry. We must not whine about what is. We must pray with anticipation for what will be as God leads. We don’t need more books for that; we have the Book and The Spirit guiding us.

  21. Translating and publishing the Bible was Luther’s portal to letting the Word become the transformational and evangelical force. There is much wisdom in the posts that strain forward to new portals of transformational change, however sad the sparse mention of the “WORD”.

    Many are struggling with the obvious pitfall of equating what have become fallen and ritualized worldly “me” organizations (exactly what Luther opposed) to the Kingdom of God. Trying to come up with ways to save them or rationalize their demise is preservationist and selfish, and is a bit like the alcoholic pouring all his boozed down the sink one day, and then buying and hiding favorite “fifths” the next.

    The is much of God’s love and pain in these posts as well as much evidence of leaders getting on their knees and listening to God’s call.

    I think God has moved…to China, to South America, to Africa….because America’s camels do not fit easily into the eye of the needle. My immigrant great grand parents came to America on their knees kept their children on their knees through the bible and the catechism that they brought with them. Lets not get overly sentimental about the churches they built, but we rather we need to use the freedom from the Wars they fought and the wisdom of the Word they brought to light our way.

  22. “Peter Berger is one of the major sociologists of our day. A Lutheran Christian of the ELCA variety, he discusses the explosion of Christianity in still-Communist China, a phenomenon described in that country as “Christianity fever”:

    The most reliable source for religious demography is the World Christian Database, headed by Todd Johnson, which has been counting Christian noses worldwide for many years now. Johnson and his associates claim that there were about one million Christians in China in 1970 (a sharp decline from earlier in the twentieth century because of Communist repression), and that there about 120 million today, with some 70 million in unregistered churches. Representing over 9% of the total population of 1.3 billion, this estimate, if correct, would constitute one of the most spectacular explosions in religious history. . .

    David Aikman (former jounalist for Time magazine) is the author of a book, Jesus in Beijing (2003), in which he predicts a breathtaking future for Chinese Christianity. In a recent lecture, Aikman mentions a Communist party official who told him of a confidential estimate of 130 million. Aikman thinks that by about 2030 Christianity will have achieved cultural and maybe political hegemony in China.”

    http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/berger/2010/08/17/counting-christians-in-china/
    ————————————————–
    I went to a bible study last night. The only people who showed up were the “core” leadership members of the church. How many people were out shopping in the malls? How many “Halo” games have been sold for the XBox? How many people were watching TV? How many parents were running kids to sports practices?

    Maybe the bible study was on the wrong night? Maybe the time wasn’t right. Maybe the topic was not “relevant.” (Christianity and tolerance of other religions: should the mosque be built on ground zero and should a pastor burn the Koran?) Newsworthy and current, but maybe not relevant. Who cares?

    Not many people will die for a denomination, but many people have died because they confessed Jesus Christ. In the above article I was struck by the estimated number of Chinese participating in UNREGISTERED CHURCHES (70 million). These people are taking a risk for their lives. Also, 9% of the population counting themselves as christian is considered “a spectacular explosion.”

    Last week one of our pastors recounted that when he began his ministry 20+ years ago he had 18 7th & 8th grade students in his confirmation class. Today, there are over 100. The church is practicing contemporary worship. They also have a very strong and good K-8th grade school. They are carrying a debt of 11 million dollars. Last year this pastor encountered a life-threatening illness. The church is heavily relying on him personally. When something happens to him, the church will undergo traumatic changes. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are reduced to half, and virtually have to start over. It will be the school that will carry them through as it has for the 100 year history of the congregation. The apostle Paul told his people not to get too hung up on a personality.

    One of our church officials met a chinese woman who had visited the United States and had attended a Lutheran Women’s Missionary League convention. She was blown away at the stadium full of people and the opportunity of freedom of public worship that we have in this country. At her home she is one of 3 or 4 to gather in a christian practice.

    The above article is highlighting “christianity fever” in China and that christianity may become the cultural and political leadership in 20 years. Time of service, contemporary vs. traditional, gimmicks, screens/no screens, rock band/organ/no instruments/, sermon 10 minutes/vs. 1 hour, comic book bibles/regular text, this kind of pastor or that kind of pastor—we are grasping at straws!

    It is the Word and the Holy Spirit. The pastor I referenced above recently conducted a survey at his church. The question was asked, “What is the most important element in a worship service?” The number one answer given, in all venues was: “Preaching style.” People want the truth of the word expressed so that they can understand it. Which this pastor does extremely well.

    Check out this excellent article: http://www.newreformationpress.com/blog/nrp-freebies/the-gospel-for-those-broken-by-the-church/ With all of our bickering as to what “works” and what doesn’t, we are causing damage to people who leave the fellowship of the church. People don’t know what “church” is anymore. Jesus is put on the shelf for all the enticing things society has to offer.

    Everyone is doing it. Wondering what works and what doesn’t. Worship, learn God’s word, live out christianity and witness to others, and do works of mercy. I think it is as simple as that.

    1. Abby, you nailed it. I think what most young people (myself included) are looking for in a church is that the Word is presented in a language and format we understand. For me though, that has wide-reaching implications beyond just preaching style.

      1. I understand what you are saying. I attend a comtemporary church and I enjoy contemporary christian music as well as the more traditional brand. There are styles and speakers I gravitate to. But as a “sheep” of the Master’s fold, I can recognize His voice–whether its in a small church with an “old” pastor with “old” liturgy and hymns or a mega-church (or smaller) with a hip and young pastor. I don’t care. As long as I’m hearing the truth and worshipping and learning of Jesus. Thanks for you comment. God bless you as you seek (and maybe have found) your best place of christian fellowship. That’s what is important.

  23. New Lutheran@ sounds like you were tacking a message to an online door here! Maybe, we could describe Luther as a New Monk…unhappy with the reality of God in the church of his day. Change isn’t always going to something new. Sometimes change is a return to something sound in new wine skins. Loved your post.

    1. Well said, Terry. I would never claim to be as bold (nor as tormented) as Luther, but I think the Lutheran church may be on the cusp of another reformation – for better or worse. Luther was very focused on bringing the Word to the general population, translating it to the common tongue of his people. Talk about a sound approach to ministry!

      What is the Lutheran church doing to ensure the Word is presented in the language of today’s young people?

  24. I read this a while back but I’m just getting around to commenting.

    This is an inspired narrative and a spot-on assessment of our current state. I love the pictures of the confirmation classes. I follow many Lutheran pastors on Twitter and I recall one posting just last week that she only had 1 (ONE!!) kid in her confirmation class this year, adding that she’s never had that happen before.

    From my perspective (a 30 year old emergent-curious Lutheran) I think numbers 6 and 7 from your post are the key to what we’re talking about here. The Lutheran church is just not speaking the same language as younger generations. If these young people are going to church at all, they’re going to one that speaks their language. And the real kicker is, thanks to the communications revolution, these modernizing churches are easier than ever to find.

    My wife and I moved to a new city 2 years ago and the first thing we did in our search for a church was scour church web sites. We chose not to visit MANY churches based on our initial reaction to a collection of bits and pixels on a computer screen. Many traditionalists would call this petty. But to me, it’s a clear sign that these churches don’t understand my generation enough to reach out to us in the language we understand. These churches may be amazing Spirit-filled congregations, but we’ll never know because they failed to reach us effectively from the very first moment we encountered them.

    Some day (very soon), my wife and I will grow our little family of two. I can guarantee you that we’ll grow it in a church that “gets” us. I hope it’s Lutheran, but I’m losing confidence.

    The Lutheran church is reaching a tipping point. Not to sound melodramatic, but if the church doesn’t act soon, they’ll lose the opportunity. As young people seek refuge in other denominations, their creative energies and innovative ideas will go with them, essentially draining the Lutheran church of the resources it needs to keep up with the times. If this continues, the Lutheran church will eventually fall so far behind that it will be impossible for it to catch up. I pray I’m wrong, but I can see it happening already.

    Another like-minded young Lutheran posed an interesting question to me a few weeks ago: what if the Lutheran church as we know it is actually supposed to die? What if we’re supposed to die so that a new revived church can rise up? What if we’re fighting so hard to hang on to something that we should be letting go of?

    What if the Reformation wasn’t a one-time thing? What if it’s an ongoing renewal? What if our church is full of little Luthers just waiting to hammer theses onto local church doors?

    For a church that started with sweeping dramatic change, why are we so scared of changing now?

  25. I think there is another major factor in church decline: we have allowed the Sunday morning worship service to become the center of gravity for Christian practice and community (and sometimes it’s a black hole as well.) The fact that the Sunday morning norms are generally shared across denominational and theological lines goes a long way, I believe, in explaining why the decline ignores those boundaries as well.

    Gathering for worship in groups large or small is certainly a good thing. But I think most would agree that our core task as Jesus followers is to make and grow disciples. That IS growth, numerical and spiritual.

    The problem is, no large group gathering can be very effective in that work because discipling is fundamentally a relational activity and relationships can not be foremost when a gathering size precludes conversation.

    Yet churches (and pastors) routinely invest the bulk of their time, energy and money into the Sunday gathering.

    That poor stewardship isn’t the worst of it though. The centrality of Sunday morning worship sends a defining cultural message to the congregation that, once you have “gone to church” you have done the main thing with respect to the practice (and propagation) of your faith.

    When the civil culture was an active ally in propagating Christianity, we could get away with focusing on worship services. The momentum of Christendom kept the franchise(s) alive. Now, in the absence of that external support, we are seeing the fundamental ineffectiveness of conventional congregational life being revealed.

    Large group worship is a good thing – like oils in your diet, you need some in order to be healthy. But you need a whole lot more grains & fruit than oil, and those parts of the faith diet come packaged in small groups. In effect, conventional congregational life is like an inverted food pyramid. (The good old pyramid, not the goofy new one that looks like a rainbow.)

    We need to flip the pyramid. Most of our time, energy, money etc. should be invested into relationships and relationship-fostering groups. Large gatherings can be the icing on the cake. The folks who seem to be going most strongly in this direction as far as I can see are the ones in the house church movement.

    1. Tim,

      Good points.

      I do think that an overly Sunday morning focus is a natural outflow of church life that is not rooted in the Word and the gospel. Those who believe the gospel have been utterly transformed by Our Lord’s person and work, and the application of that work to our lives by the Spirit; as such it could no longer be anything but an complete life transformation.

      But if Christianity is just a social club, or moral back-patting, then, just like everything else in the world, it’s simply a function of our own life. Sunday morning then becomes “church”.

  26. Luke–I definately agree with you, especially about Mark Driscoll. I am one that loves him. I listen to him regularly online. He teaches expositionally from the Bible. You would think young people wouldn’t be interested, but you are right, he is growing by leaps and bounds. Here is a recent You Tube clip that is just great. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYVj1FDq4hc

    I say that I am a Lutheran before I was born. I love the Lutheran teachings. But I went outside my church many years ago because I “needed more.” (When I say “went outside”–I don’t mean “leave”–I mean outside, as in to listen and learn other things.) However, I remain Lutheran in my heart because I can find no other “house” that I want to “live in.”

    —“My analogy echoes C. S. Lewis’s “mere Christianity”: a hallway in a large house where believers mix and mingle, often opening the door as non-Christians knock. But, as Lewis insisted, it’s in the rooms where people actually live as a family—where they sleep, are warmed by the fire, fed and clothed, and grow. We are formed in the family life of Christ’s body by particular churches, with their distinct confessions and practices. You can’t live in the hallway.” (http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2010/04/21/the-hallway-and-the-rooms/)

    I hope that what Mark Driscoll is building is really a “church.” Even the Lutheran church I attend is attempting to be like Mark’s. At this point, (its quite young) it’s not a “church” yet. Hopefully, it will not ultimately fall apart as “movement’s” tend to do. Our core structure is built on the Lutheran doctrine and theology which I love.

    Bill Hybels recently conducted a survey at his church and discovered, to his dismay, that 25% of his core, strong leaders were ready to leave to find something else with more “substance.” Pastors need to beware too much “dumbing down” of Christ’s teachings. Also, to be careful what they do for the sake of “relevancy.” Its not a numbers game. Jesus does the calling to Himself. Just take care of who He sends.

    “Then He (Jesus) said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!’ And beginning at Moses and the prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Lk 24: 25,26

    “Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’ And he open their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” Lk 24: 44,45

    “And they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2:42

    1. Abby, Kris, Matthew, and Jay
      It seems like there’s been some real efforts in most of the posts to this thread that seek to indentify what’s wrong in the approach that so many churches have made and are still making the towards 20 somethings. Thanks for helping figure out where we need to go. I think the issue you are indentifying without naming it is proclamation.

      There’s a great need for kerigmatic proclamation of God’s Word today. Let’s be bold proclaimers of God’s Word revealing the true holiness of God known to us in Jesus who would die and rise for a broken world (see 1 Timothy 1).

      1. That’s it! I’m always glad when someone straightens out my verbage! And I’m happy you included the word BOLDLY. Sometimes I wonder, if pastors who have a big load on them, aren’t innocently confused themselves about what to do because they see (and hear) first hand what is happening in the people around them and in those they are trying to reach. In an attempt to keep the ministry going they may placate the wrong things.

  27. Were young people included in the Methodist survey? It would be interesting to know their attitudes, beliefs, opinions, true feelings about church, the idea of going to church, etc. If young people are the future of the churce, it would be nice to know more about them.

  28. John an Unlikely Pastor,

    Collin Hansen also has another article about the same age group and a “movement” that is reaching them without the gimmicks:

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/september/42.32.html

    “…we will fail them again if we don’t engage in a meanful conversation about faith and Jesus…”

    You nailed it on the head. As a 20-something guy who pastors at a church plant of 5 years that is mostly made up of 20 and 30-somethings and leans reformed, I can tell you that many of those you’re looking to reach out to are sick of the gimmicks, and what the Bible says is true: preach and live the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, and God will draw men to Himself.

    One of Dave’s points is that Lutherans don’t celebrate the preaching stars that they have. Biblical celebration is celebration over the content, and not the method (e.g. Phil. 1:18).

    -Matt, an Unlikely Pastor

    1. Something that has caused me to care more about Reformed circles than Lutheran circles is the fact that the “New Calvinists”, whatever that means, preach about God first and foremost. How do we expect young people to surrender their lives to a God they don’t know anything about?
      The improper assumption that we tend to make is that people understand core doctrine. We assume the Gospel in our preaching and teaching, and pretty soon the Gospel gets lost. It’s happening everywhere, but Reformed people seem to be the only ones talking about it. So I lean Reformed.

      1. I completely changed my preaching style last October–forgot everything I’d learned in seminary, everything I’d learned on internship–for exactly the reason you cite, Luke.
        We can’t assume that people know any doctrine or biblical stories or anything else. Not our guests, not our members. I’ve been told by people in their 40s and 50s, raised in the church, that they’re learning now how to find something in the Bible.
        My current new member class includes a 40 something who knows the Lord’s Prayer–and is pretty sure that she memorized some verses when she was a kid–but doesn’t know any of them now.
        Also a 20 something who doesn’t know the stuff we expect people to have learned in Sunday School or Confirmation or someplace along the way.
        We have to start from scratch on basics over and over again.
        The amazing thing is that I’ve only had one complaint about the change in style. Some folks jokingly remind me that the sermons have gotten longer–but only one real complaint.
        And lots of folks seem to like this better (maybe because I was such a bad lectionary preacher). We even have a Charismatic Seventh Day Adventist (how’s that for a combination) who comes with her boyfriend because (he says) she likes my preaching better than her pastor’s.
        So I think people in the pews are ready, even eager, for real biblical and doctrinal preaching and teaching if pastors are willing to take the risk and teach.

      2. Jay said: “So I think people in the pews are ready, even eager, for real biblical and doctrinal preaching and teaching if pastors are willing to take the risk and teach.”

        That’s fantastic to hear. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, love him or hate him, Mark Driscoll teaches to thousands of 20-somethings (and always adding) every week for an HOUR straight out of Scripture, and they want more. That’s in Seattle.
        We’re foolish if we don’t at least notice that, despite any doctrinal differences we may have.
        If we want 20-somethings to know God, we need to talk about God, otherwise we can’t assume they’ll know anything.
        If we want 20-somethings to continue in the lie that all roads lead to the same thing, we may as well keep painting Christianity as a good life path towards happiness and morality.
        Why don’t we hear anyone talking like John Owen about God anymore? “Oh to behold the Glory of Christ! Here in would I live, Here in would I die, here on would I dwell in my thoughts and my affections until all things here below become as dead and deformed things, and in no longer, any way, calling out for my affections!”

        Or Luther? “I wish to devote my mouth and my heart to you…but do not forsake me, for if ever I should be on my own, I would easily wreck it all.”

        By and large, we’re just not very serious about this stuff. Why would anyone see us and say “Now that’s something real!”?
        These are questions that need to be asked and answered.

      3. Luke,

        You said: “How do we expect young people to surrender their lives to a God they don’t know anything about?”

        It sort of makes you stop and think: when anyone doesn’t preach (and teach, and live) that way, what or who is it that people are being “won” to when they “convert”?

        You also said: “The improper assumption that we tend to make is that people understand core doctrine. We assume the Gospel in our preaching and teaching, and pretty soon the Gospel gets lost.”

        Bingo. After all, what is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes? What is it that Paul delivered that was of first importance? Whether you’re Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, Presbyterian or (oh please!) Baptist etc., preach the good news!

  29. Dave-
    There’s no doubt we’re in trouble as Lutherans in the United States.

    The big question for me is: What is our outreach right now to men between the ages of 15 and 40? Answer that question and you won’t have a demographic problem facing your congregation.

    Men born between 1970 and 1995 are the group who are missing in action in Lutheran Churches today. Sure we can find an exceptional congregation or an exceptional group of men; but the real issue is that we have failed to reach this group of men as a whole.

    Collin Hansen wrote about these men in Christianity Today in 2008 http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/marchweb-only/110-52.0.html?start=1 There’s no doubt these guys are the ones we will need to reach not only for the sake of the church but for the sake of the whole culture.

    We aren’t starting out from a position of strength either ministering to these men.
    We have already failed them with Sunday Schools that seperated many of them from their fathers and worship.
    We failed them with confirmation classes that were meant for people inside the church when they were already part of families who were drifting away from the church.

    I’ve been a pastor for 11 years and have found this group to be the one who we’ve failed to reach more than any other. They come to the door unsure of what a church is wanting to get a service from the church. They come to get married or have a baby baptized and we will fail them again if we don’t engage in a meanful conversation about faith and Jesus as we try to help them get their marriage started or baptize their children.

    Too many congregations are waiting for these men to return to church as Hansen says, “with a wife and child in tow” but they can’t return if they have never truly been part of the church.

  30. I used to keep a copy of that opening graph taped on the wall next to my desk. Thanks for giving it more press again. Our leadership team is wrestling with some of these same kinds of questions right now.

    1. Steve,
      as you are wrestling in your time a good thing to keep in mind as you talk is the date of this graph. This is old news and most of us haven’t been listening. A neat conversation on why this is happening is at George Barnas blog http://www.georgebarna.com/2010/08/the-crisis-of-confidence-in-the-church/
      Part of our challenge now is not just naming this problem but playing catch up because of the denial about what’s happened.
      Peace to you
      John Heille

  31. Great post! Spot on! I just wish senior pastors were bold enough to sit down and ask the tough questions that center on the issues you’ve named. Why are we in decline? I honestly think they are afraid of the answers they will here (e.g. worship is boring and not understandable unless you are an insider). I know of a church that has declared for four years they will grow attendance. But in the past two years attendance has actually declined and nobody is willing to ask the tough questions. They just keep throwing good (old) ideas at the problem (aka raise the roof Sunday). Thanks for presenting the issues and giving us a chance to wrestle with them.

  32. You have successfully pointed out the problems within the church structures and I am reminded of your essay on Why
    Lutherans Can’t Evangelize. People can’t give away to others what they don’t have themselves – a living faith in God as He
    reveals Himself in Jesus. Fixing the structure ELCA, MS, or something new is not the answer as it is too cumbersome,
    unwieldy, and deeply rooted in the status quo. Let’s get on with
    what God has in mind instead of trying to force new wine into
    old wineskins(a great topic for sermons, Bible studies, Sunday
    School, VBS, etc. I believe that in the end the folks with the faith will show the rest of us how to do what we profess that we want to do – evangelize and bring believers into the church.

  33. Whoa… the deal on whether Jesus was talking about the global poor of the world, or just local Christian brethren appears a major example of groups thrown in together that likely don’t necessarily belong together. Granted, such an issue pales in comparison with whether one should be even loosely connected with Glenn Beck and Mormonism, but I guess I’m taken aback that such is even a question.

  34. “One of the oddest ideas Lutherans have is, that if only their theology were better, people would flock to hear them.”

    Dave,

    Curious, because that’s the Bible’s answer to this issue [I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1-2 ESV)]

    Truly “good” theology is believed AND lived, wouldn’t you say?

  35. Maybe it’s time we join the dance for 2011. In a classic devotion by Alexander MacLaren, he said, “Memory and hope are meant to fit us for work in the flying moment.” We need a few more flying moments like this one as Budapest believers celebrated Easter with a little passion that young people could relate to. Maybe there were a couple of older Lutherans there joining in. Enjoy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5dSIL358NM

  36. Tony. I’m with you. This is disheartening. Tony took the time to share his observations about why he and his son left. It had nothing to do with birthrate. I had to do with churches set in their ways or being irrelevant to the faith and worship experience people crave.

    I wonder if early church leaders looked at recent data on Christians and the poor prognosis of the church with so many having no children because they were being fed to the lions in Rome.

    There are plenty of people in our communities that find us irrelevant. My son was brought up within the Lutheran church and was confirmed. He was active in youth group…but found a home in other more evangelical churches with contemporary churches. When he invited me to a men’s retreat at his church I was amazed at how many of the men were able to quote scripture and walk the talk. My son is now a baptist minister and his church is growing.

    Hous, I’ve heard you laughingly talk about the need for Lutherans to explore the gift of the Holy Spirit and how many are afraid they will go over the edge. As you say, they are SOOOOO far away from going over the edge with emotion and the spirit. When Peter talked about asking people if they had been baptized by the spirit, he wasn’t talking about social justice.

    No matter how many children our people are having, you let God do what he can with what we have…and send them out as disciples beyond the walls of the church.

    God will further his church whether it is Lutheran or not seems the question of this thread. I pray that His Holy Spirit enlivens us all to the task ahead and that we can trust that the Spirit will act.

  37. We’re going to get smaller. A well-respected study of mainline protestant membership loss suggests that about 80% of it, perhaps more, is because of lower birthrates. Nobody did anything “wrong” in other words. Nobody rejected anybody’s “theology.” But getting smaller is what will happen when your birthrate goes down.

    Incidentally, the birthrate among evangelicals has likewise showed signs of decline. In about 10 years or so, we will likely be reading stories about evangelical “decline” as well.

    In addition to the big factor–birth rate–there is also a significant second factor, which is increasing antipathy toward religion in the population as a whole. Instead of reacting to this defensively, however, we should be asking why it is that so many people are down on religion. They have some good reasons. We should hear them.

    1. Perhaps it’s not so much that people are newly down on religion as it is that they feel freer now to not participate. Back in the 50s and 60s it seemed almost unheard of for a family to not go to church (or temple). Nowadays it’s not such a shocker.

      A lot of people went “back in the day” because it was expected of them, and not necessarily because they believed or wanted to be there. Now that there is no social expectation that everyone be a churchgoer, the people who didn’t want to be there in the first place are staying home. And in most cases it was nothing we did.

      And yet, there ARE some things we can do to drive people, especially our kids, away. Our oldest daughter decided at about age 11, when she should’ve been in Confirmation Class, that if all these different religions claimed to be right, but they all disagreed with each other, then obviously none of them were right, and were all a crock. We wanted her to stay in Confirmation to at least be able to do, as they say in the medical world, “informed consent.” To know what we believed before she got taken in by some airport tract-handler. But she would have nothing of it.

      Now I know that there are plenty of you people out there who are saying “But you’re the parent. You MAKE her go.” Unfortunately, you don’t understand that she’s a smart girl, as smart as I was when I read “A Raisin in the Sun” at her age, and was astounded by the fact that the mother in that play thought that by making her son say that God exists in her house, she could make him believe. I’m smart enough to know that to try to force her to PRETEND to believe, to force her to “go along” just because “I say so,” is one of the fastest ways to drive someone away forever. It’s a case of winning the battle, but possibly losing the war.

      Instead, I choose to lose the battle, but maybe win the war in the long run. And this also comes from the fact that neither her mother nor I were forced to go to church as kids, but went because we CHOSE to. How could we possibly do differently by our own kids after a certain point?

      And as she starts to talk to us a little more (she always gives us the information we need about four years too late), it’s looking like it’s not religion in particular that she’s down on, but the socialization that goes along with it. Her personality is such that after five days of having to talk to people at school, she needs two days off to just be quiet before she goes back. Church, Sunday School, and Confirmation Class were full of people trying really hard to be “friendly” and “draw her out,” which just made it harder for her to recharge in time for Monday, when she had to go back to talking to people, and studying “things that mattered.”

      Yeah…”things that matter.” After all, how is religion gonna help you on the SATs? I didn’t have an answer for that because there is no answer for that. It’s the totally wrong question to ask, and yet, she’s not ready to understand that yet. She, like most teenagers, even the religious ones, knows just enough to be dangerous, and doesn’t understand just how much she doesn’t know. And sometimes you just have to let them learn these things for themselves.

      But no, we haven’t driven people away. It’s just now they’re not seen as pariahs by the general population for not being churchgoers.

      Oh yeah, and the people who actually are down on religion…maybe they know just enough to be dangerous too. Or have been hurt by a particular denomination or congregation. I am amazed at how we’re much better at shopping for shoes than for a church. If a particular pair of shoes pinches my feet, I don’t stop wearing shoes altogether. I look for a different pair, a different style, a different size, a different company.

      But too many people aren’t savvy enough to try a different congregation or denomination once they’ve been hurt by the church. They figure that all churches are the same, and don’t understand the differences, so they leave altogether, rather than look around for the part of the body that they actually belong in.

    2. Another thought on “driving people away.” I think that maybe the church has been a victim of its own success. I’ll explain that in a minute.

      But first, I have to say that trying to read the comments back and forth about whether being a Christian involves social justice and helping ALL of the poor or just the CHRISTIAN poor is making my head hurt. I’ll assume that you’ve all done your research and can cite chapter and verse to support your opinions, and that’s cool. We can disagree and still be Christians. After all, didn’t Paul allude to the fact that since we’re all seeing through the glass darkly, we wouldn’t all get it perfectly anyway? We’re gonna disagree, so let’s just disagree nicely.

      Now, back to my point about the church being a victim of its own success.

      If you go with the common wisdom, the world before the church was not a pretty place. At least it wasn’t a charitable place outside of Jewish circles. Then Christianity came along, and we tried to feed the poor, clothe the naked, care for the sick, etc. It was what WE did, and it was how we gained disciples along the way.

      For centuries we were pretty much the only game in town when it came to charitable works. So if you wanted to help the helpless, you did it through a church organization.

      And even if you didn’t belong to a church, the church had still made its mark on civilization as a whole by leaving us to all assume that the helpless should be helped in some way.

      Then somewhere in the second half of the 20th century, organizations began to appear that tried to help the helpless without being OVERTLY church-related. Some were entirely secular, and some had their beginnings in someone’s church basement, but you could belong to these organizations, you could support these organizations, you could work with these organizations without having to specifically be a Christian…or religious at all. And much good has been done through these organizations.

      And once the need to work through a church organization in order to help the “widows and orphans” disappeared, once we were successful in making it part of the culture in general, then the need for many people to belong to a church disappeared.

      1. Keith said: “But first, I have to say that trying to read the comments back and forth about whether being a Christian involves social justice and helping ALL of the poor or just the CHRISTIAN poor is making my head hurt. I’ll assume that you’ve all done your research and can cite chapter and verse to support your opinions, and that’s cool. We can disagree and still be Christians. After all, didn’t Paul allude to the fact that since we’re all seeing through the glass darkly, we wouldn’t all get it perfectly anyway? We’re gonna disagree, so let’s just disagree nicely.”

        Oh, come now. Why read the Bible at all if we’re not going to worry about silly little things like context and what the author actually meant when he wrote it?
        Who disagreed not nicely? There’s a fundamental difference between a verse emphatically stating that Christians are literally responsible for every poor person in the world, and a verse emphatically stating that Christians are responsible for their Christian brethren.
        I want to know what Jesus meant if he basically hangs heaven and hell in the balance, don’t you?
        This is part of what’s going wrong in Christianity: anyone with an opinion or desire to get into the Word and unpack what it says is painted as divisive or a time-waster. I ask you again: what’s it there for, then? When stats would show that the majority of Christians in the west revere the Bible but don’t read it, what could possibly be dangerous about trying to get into it?
        Citing 1 Corinthians 13:12 out of context doesn’t help with anything. Remember that Paul just spent 12 chapters giving very clear understanding, theological instructions, and rebukes. Seeing through a glass darkly has become the catch phrase for “don’t have an opinion, because we don’t know anything.” But isn’t that very use of it an opinion, and a strong one at that?

        Let’s not pull a Brian McLaren and say “We’re too intellectually honest to know anything.” That just leads to things like our current ELCA meltdown.
        You share your opinion robustly and strongly, and I’ll do the same.

      2. Oh, and there’s no accounting for tone on a blog site. I drank a lot of coffee before I wrote that, so it might seem smarmy. It’s really not. I have no enemies that I know of. 🙂

  38. I find this all very disheartening. I don’t understand why our ordained leaders fail to see the forest for the trees on this. I am a cradle Lutheran, including having been a theology major at a Lutheran college, but have recently left my Lutheran congregation for a Presbyterian church across the street. Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me anymore what the label is on the door.

    I went to a Casting Crowns concert with my teenage son a year or so ago and the lead singer asked how many people go to a “rocking church”. My son and I looked at each other and quickly concluded we couldn’t raise our hands. The singer added–“and I don’t mean the music, I mean are you making disciples?” Same answer from us. I couldn’t accept that answer any longer. I saw little evidence of disciple making at our church. Rather there were road blocks–restrictions on advertising events, restrictions on fund raising for youth (no soliciting outside the congregation), no events for groups of people (everyone had to be included) and little outreach to the community in general. Discontinued the Contemporary service, stopped asking people to wear name tags, just everything seemed to be moving in the wrong direction. I am saddened in leaving but have felt the Holy Spirit moving in me and my whole family since the move.

  39. David – Regarding your statement “Lutheran’s don’t have enough babies”, my feeling is that the world is already over populated – it’s not more babies we need – as a denomination we should be reaching out to our neighbors and the world, showing them by example and invitation what Lutheranism really is. The babies are already here – the burden (or blame) for not recognizing them lies on our own doorstep – we need to quit hiding in the bushes and reach out in Christ’s love to ALL people drawing them in, not just a select few. Jannie

    1. Great points and great to hear from you. I don’t think it’s either/or. Yes we reach the babies that are already here. Yes, solid Christian parents should have more of them and raise them right, to be a force for good in the world. Not sure if I agree with the overpopulation thing. Have seen so much of the world–and most of it is empty. We are blessed to live on a gigantic and fertile planet.

  40. It’s difficult to dispute that we are close behind the decimation of the church that we have seen in Europe.

    There seems to be 4 things that a church should do: Worship, Evangelism, Community, and Discipleship. My perspective is that “church” is organized around Worship after which the other 3 take their lead. For instance, the staff prepares much of the week to create the Sunday (or weekend) worship event and the members focus on that 2-4 hour slot during the week.

    With “Worship” as the organizing principle, inviting people to worship constitutes Evangelism. Hearing the teaching/preaching passes for Discipleship. And gathering together for worship becomes Community.

    We ought to recognize that we live in a post-Christendom culture where we have no choice but to adopt strategies and tactics of missionaries. Therefore, I suggest that MISSION must become the Church’s organizing principle. That we resist inviting people IN and instead welcome being sent OUT.

    I’ve heard it said that it would be best if our Christology informed our Missiology which shaped our Ecclesiology. Yet, how many churches build a church (Ecclesia), come up with a strategy to attract people (Missio) with the goal of presenting the Gospel News/creating disciples (Christ)?

  41. Well said Dave, I hope someone will listen. I have met you at Alpha conf. The same is true for LCMS We recently took just the name Lutheran of our sign out front and that was not easy. Even though we left LCMS on it.

  42. Well said Dave, I hope someone will listen. I have met you at Alpha conf. The same is true for LCMS We recently took just the name Lutheran of our sign out front and that was not easy. Even though we left LCMS on it.

  43. Well said Dave, I hope someone will listen. I have met you at Alpha conf. The same is true for LCMS We recently took just the name Lutheran of our sign out front and that was not easy. Even though we left LCMS on it.

  44. I thought there were some good things about Glenn Beck’s call to faith, from what I could see. But, doesn’t it bother anyone that he is a Mormon? just asking…

    we have young families, but I have seen very few of them all summer. what Richard says is very perceptive…

    1. Can’t comment on Beck’s speech — haven’t listened or read any of it yet. From what I’ve heard him say elsewhere, I appreciate some, certainly not all, but I’m aware I could/would say the same about many public speakers & preachers. The guy gets a lot of things I care about wrong, some right. He doesn’t seem evil to me; he is certainly bold and confident.

      Diane, next summer we’re having a Wednesday evening worship service from beginning of June till end of August. Still will have Sunday morning worship, but have heard from those who’ve tried it that a summer alternative worship time can work for many of our younger families. The fact is they love to be out of town for the weekend, and we’re happy to have a worship service whenever we can agree to have it and people can come.

  45. I thought there were some good things about Glenn Beck’s call to faith, from what I could see. But, doesn’t it bother anyone that he is a Mormon? just asking…

    we have young families, but I have seen very few of them all summer. what Richard says is very perceptive…

  46. I thought there were some good things about Glenn Beck’s call to faith, from what I could see. But, doesn’t it bother anyone that he is a Mormon? just asking…

    we have young families, but I have seen very few of them all summer. what Richard says is very perceptive…

  47. I agree with David. I rejoined the Lutherans in college becuase they had a vital campus ministry. But after that I don’t think I saw another young adult my age in church. There seems to be a cadre of older members who control each church I have attended and seem to want to keep the church just as it was during the 1950s. In the current church I attend, you walk in and the ushers are all in their 80s, the plaques and stained glass windows all commemorate the “greatest generation” and the scripture readers are likewise elderly. I seriously don’t know how any one coming off the street would react to this environment. This is a conservative ELCA church but I could go to the next town and encounter a similar dynamic in a more liberal ELCA church, even though they may mouth the diversity, pc program. I seriously don’t think these churches are going to survive. I have come to the conclusion that while Lutherans have a beautiful theology (and music), somewhere down the line they got how to do church wrong.

    1. As a former LCMer, who can’t believe that he’s 54 and one of the “old guys” now, I think that part of the problem that when you’re part of a youth ministry, it, like college, is sort of an artificial world, where you’re around people your age all the time, and people, pastors, and programs speak to your interests and are able to focus on your particular demographic.

      Then when you finally arrive at a “real world” church with little old ladies and babies, you’re disappointed and even turned off because they’re not focusing on the stuff that made campus ministry seem so relevant to you. And it’s not a bunch of young people like you being allowed to run the whole show, but instead, it’s about the stuff that’s important to “those old people” too…some of which are only 5 or 10 years older than you.

      That’s not to say that people coming out of campus ministry are selfish. It’s not intentional at all. They don’t realize what they’re doing or thinking. But it’s a fact that a “real world church” has to deal with the needs of the little old ladies and babies as well as it does the 20-somethings. Campus ministry was able to be an “All 20s, all the time” niche station, while a “real world church” has to be like the “Top-40” radio stations I remember as a kid, that would play a little of everything, so that no one changed the station in the car because they weren’t hearing anything they liked.

      Paradoxically, if one 20-something decides to stay away from a church because he or she doesn’t see any other 20-somethings there, then there will be no other 20-somethings there when the next one visits. Just what is critical mass for a 20-something to feel comfortable in a church?

      I think that somehow we former LCMers got how to JOIN a church wrong.

  48. I agree with David. I rejoined the Lutherans in college becuase they had a vital campus ministry. But after that I don’t think I saw another young adult my age in church. There seems to be a cadre of older members who control each church I have attended and seem to want to keep the church just as it was during the 1950s. In the current church I attend, you walk in and the ushers are all in their 80s, the plaques and stained glass windows all commemorate the “greatest generation” and the scripture readers are likewise elderly. I seriously don’t know how any one coming off the street would react to this environment. This is a conservative ELCA church but I could go to the next town and encounter a similar dynamic in a more liberal ELCA church, even though they may mouth the diversity, pc program. I seriously don’t think these churches are going to survive. I have come to the conclusion that while Lutherans have a beautiful theology (and music), somewhere down the line they got how to do church wrong.

  49. I agree with David. I rejoined the Lutherans in college becuase they had a vital campus ministry. But after that I don’t think I saw another young adult my age in church. There seems to be a cadre of older members who control each church I have attended and seem to want to keep the church just as it was during the 1950s. In the current church I attend, you walk in and the ushers are all in their 80s, the plaques and stained glass windows all commemorate the “greatest generation” and the scripture readers are likewise elderly. I seriously don’t know how any one coming off the street would react to this environment. This is a conservative ELCA church but I could go to the next town and encounter a similar dynamic in a more liberal ELCA church, even though they may mouth the diversity, pc program. I seriously don’t think these churches are going to survive. I have come to the conclusion that while Lutherans have a beautiful theology (and music), somewhere down the line they got how to do church wrong.

  50. Here’s what the Methodists found:

    “Of those churches, the four key factors of vitality stood out as “crystal clear findings that are actionable,” according to the survey:

    , Small groups and programs, such as Bible study and activities geared toward youth.

    , An active lay leadership.

    , Inspirational pastors who have served lengthy tenures at churches.

    , A mix of traditional and contemporary worship services.”

    Somedays I fear that the “inspirational pastor” thing leaves me out.

    But seriously, didn’t the ELCA do a study a few years ago that looked at churches that were large and growing? Does anybody know what that study found?

    1. Here’s what the Methodists found:

      “Of those churches, the four key factors of vitality stood out as “crystal clear findings that are actionable,” according to the survey:

      , Small groups and programs, such as Bible study and activities geared toward youth.

      , An active lay leadership.

      , Inspirational pastors who have served lengthy tenures at churches.

      , A mix of traditional and contemporary worship services.”

      Somedays I fear that the “inspirational pastor” thing leaves me out.

      But seriously, didn’t the ELCA do a study a few years ago that looked at churches that were large and growing? Does anybody know what that study found?

      1. I had one quote from that study near at hand. I cannot say whether this is a good summary of the entire report.
        “It is reasonable to believe that evangelism, contemporary worship, and media advertising will have a direct impact on average worship attendance; yet, this is not the case if the congregation is without a clear sense of mission and purpose with the welcoming of innovation and change. This suggests that an ethos must first be developed wherein the congregation captures a sense of a clear mission and purpose and welcomes innovation and change before evangelism, changes in styles of worship, or establishing a media campaign have an impact.”
        Worship Attendance in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: Faith Communities Today, Ken W. Inskeep and Jeffrey L. Drake, November 2000, http://www.elca.org/re/reports/ccspwrsp1.pdf

      2. Craig,
        I think you got that right on–purpose, mission, willingness to change in order to serve the purpose and carry out the mission were exactly the keys as found by that study. There was a later study that looked in depth at 4 churches, all growing rapidly, 3 of them over 1000 in average attendance. Can’t find a link to the study, but Kelly Fryer talks about it in Reclaiming the E Word. (Can I quote Fryer on Hous’s blog?–Sure.)

        Here’s how Fryer summarizes what makes these rapidly growing Lutheran congregations tick:
        (1) God is real to people, clergy and laity alike;
        (2) the Bible provides the framework for everything they do, think, say, decide, and dream;
        (3) they have a deep and real commitment to the priesthood of all believers;
        (4) the people, especially the leaders, are deeply pragmatic and willing to do whatever it takes to connect with new people; and
        (5) believing that God changes lives, everyone we talked to in those congregations expected something to happen!

    1. Here’s what the Methodists found:

      “Of those churches, the four key factors of vitality stood out as “crystal clear findings that are actionable,” according to the survey:

      , Small groups and programs, such as Bible study and activities geared toward youth.

      , An active lay leadership.

      , Inspirational pastors who have served lengthy tenures at churches.

      , A mix of traditional and contemporary worship services.”

      Somedays I fear that the “inspirational pastor” thing leaves me out.

      But seriously, didn’t the ELCA do a study a few years ago that looked at churches that were large and growing? Does anybody know what that study found?

  51. It’s always both love in community and witness to the Gospel. I’m reminded of this quote about the scent of love in the early church.

    “The early Christians grew not because of the spiritual gifts of Christians–such as the gift of speaking in tongues–and not because Christianity was such a palatable doctrine (to the contrary, it is about the most unpalatable doctrine there is) but because they has discovered the secret of community. Generally they did not have to lift a finger to evangelize. Someone would be walking down a back alley in Corinth or Ephesus and would see a group of people sitting together talking about the strangest things–something about a man and a tree and an execution and an empty tomb. What they were talking about made no sense to the onlooker. But there was something about the way they spoke to one another, about the way they looked at one another, about the way they cried together, the way they laughed together, the way they touched one another that was strangely appealing. It gave off the scent of love. The onlooker would start to drift farther down the alley, only to be pulled back to this little group like a bee to a flower. He would listen some more, still not understanding, and start to drift away again. But again, he would be pulled back, thinking, I don’t have the slightest idea what these people are talking about, but whatever it is, I want part of it.” Keith Miller, “The Scent of Love” (in Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus, Multnomah Books, 1996, pp. 107-108)

    Can we still smell the scent of love in our church’s and the community service we provide?

    I also don’t think Luther settled for studying the milieu of his age. He struggled with the Word of God so passionately that his message was on fire. Nice mix…the scent of love and faith on fire. Too many times they smell the scent but Lutherans let them guess about where it was from and how to be grabbed and transformed by God’s Spirit.

    As a professional speaker with a masters in theology, I speak to audiences of different ages all over the world. Everyone says how different they are. There is more similarity than difference. They respond to authenticity and a heart of service. I followed Ken Blanchard when he spoke to LA Times executives. They didn’t talk about his message but his Q&A period. He was asked how he motivated himself. He said, “I’m glad you asked. I get up every morning, take time fro reading the Word of God and pray. It centers me on what’s most important in my life.”

    Boldness in love and message…spoken with gentleness, respect but boldness. Pastor Craig once shared the example of a visiting pastor from Africa who was aghast when the local minister said that he had only led two people in the last year to Christ. He told him, “I will pray for you so that you do not get discouraged with so few responding to your ministry.”

    Love, service, bold, authentic gentle but honest witness. We need more of all of it. By the way, I believe in the Priesthood of believers that all of us are called to minister in whatever we do. It’s not just your job; it’s all of our jobs to shape the impact of the church.

    By the way, I mentioned twice the amazing call to faith that Glenn Beck brought to America last weekend…and not a single reply–positive or negative.

    Do you folks realize that more than half of the people sitting in your pews listen to him and appreciate his passion for faith? I almost left the ELCA, but have decided that this is my church too, and I hope to be a voice in…what did you call it Hous—our skydiving free fall into what God wants us to become!

  52. It’s always both love in community and witness to the Gospel. I’m reminded of this quote about the scent of love in the early church.

    “The early Christians grew not because of the spiritual gifts of Christians–such as the gift of speaking in tongues–and not because Christianity was such a palatable doctrine (to the contrary, it is about the most unpalatable doctrine there is) but because they has discovered the secret of community. Generally they did not have to lift a finger to evangelize. Someone would be walking down a back alley in Corinth or Ephesus and would see a group of people sitting together talking about the strangest things–something about a man and a tree and an execution and an empty tomb. What they were talking about made no sense to the onlooker. But there was something about the way they spoke to one another, about the way they looked at one another, about the way they cried together, the way they laughed together, the way they touched one another that was strangely appealing. It gave off the scent of love. The onlooker would start to drift farther down the alley, only to be pulled back to this little group like a bee to a flower. He would listen some more, still not understanding, and start to drift away again. But again, he would be pulled back, thinking, I don’t have the slightest idea what these people are talking about, but whatever it is, I want part of it.” Keith Miller, “The Scent of Love” (in Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus, Multnomah Books, 1996, pp. 107-108)

    Can we still smell the scent of love in our church’s and the community service we provide?

    I also don’t think Luther settled for studying the milieu of his age. He struggled with the Word of God so passionately that his message was on fire. Nice mix…the scent of love and faith on fire. Too many times they smell the scent but Lutherans let them guess about where it was from and how to be grabbed and transformed by God’s Spirit.

    As a professional speaker with a masters in theology, I speak to audiences of different ages all over the world. Everyone says how different they are. There is more similarity than difference. They respond to authenticity and a heart of service. I followed Ken Blanchard when he spoke to LA Times executives. They didn’t talk about his message but his Q&A period. He was asked how he motivated himself. He said, “I’m glad you asked. I get up every morning, take time fro reading the Word of God and pray. It centers me on what’s most important in my life.”

    Boldness in love and message…spoken with gentleness, respect but boldness. Pastor Craig once shared the example of a visiting pastor from Africa who was aghast when the local minister said that he had only led two people in the last year to Christ. He told him, “I will pray for you so that you do not get discouraged with so few responding to your ministry.”

    Love, service, bold, authentic gentle but honest witness. We need more of all of it. By the way, I believe in the Priesthood of believers that all of us are called to minister in whatever we do. It’s not just your job; it’s all of our jobs to shape the impact of the church.

    By the way, I mentioned twice the amazing call to faith that Glenn Beck brought to America last weekend…and not a single reply–positive or negative.

    Do you folks realize that more than half of the people sitting in your pews listen to him and appreciate his passion for faith? I almost left the ELCA, but have decided that this is my church too, and I hope to be a voice in…what did you call it Hous—our skydiving free fall into what God wants us to become!

  53. It’s always both love in community and witness to the Gospel. I’m reminded of this quote about the scent of love in the early church.

    “The early Christians grew not because of the spiritual gifts of Christians–such as the gift of speaking in tongues–and not because Christianity was such a palatable doctrine (to the contrary, it is about the most unpalatable doctrine there is) but because they has discovered the secret of community. Generally they did not have to lift a finger to evangelize. Someone would be walking down a back alley in Corinth or Ephesus and would see a group of people sitting together talking about the strangest things–something about a man and a tree and an execution and an empty tomb. What they were talking about made no sense to the onlooker. But there was something about the way they spoke to one another, about the way they looked at one another, about the way they cried together, the way they laughed together, the way they touched one another that was strangely appealing. It gave off the scent of love. The onlooker would start to drift farther down the alley, only to be pulled back to this little group like a bee to a flower. He would listen some more, still not understanding, and start to drift away again. But again, he would be pulled back, thinking, I don’t have the slightest idea what these people are talking about, but whatever it is, I want part of it.” Keith Miller, “The Scent of Love” (in Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus, Multnomah Books, 1996, pp. 107-108)

    Can we still smell the scent of love in our church’s and the community service we provide?

    I also don’t think Luther settled for studying the milieu of his age. He struggled with the Word of God so passionately that his message was on fire. Nice mix…the scent of love and faith on fire. Too many times they smell the scent but Lutherans let them guess about where it was from and how to be grabbed and transformed by God’s Spirit.

    As a professional speaker with a masters in theology, I speak to audiences of different ages all over the world. Everyone says how different they are. There is more similarity than difference. They respond to authenticity and a heart of service. I followed Ken Blanchard when he spoke to LA Times executives. They didn’t talk about his message but his Q&A period. He was asked how he motivated himself. He said, “I’m glad you asked. I get up every morning, take time fro reading the Word of God and pray. It centers me on what’s most important in my life.”

    Boldness in love and message…spoken with gentleness, respect but boldness. Pastor Craig once shared the example of a visiting pastor from Africa who was aghast when the local minister said that he had only led two people in the last year to Christ. He told him, “I will pray for you so that you do not get discouraged with so few responding to your ministry.”

    Love, service, bold, authentic gentle but honest witness. We need more of all of it. By the way, I believe in the Priesthood of believers that all of us are called to minister in whatever we do. It’s not just your job; it’s all of our jobs to shape the impact of the church.

    By the way, I mentioned twice the amazing call to faith that Glenn Beck brought to America last weekend…and not a single reply–positive or negative.

    Do you folks realize that more than half of the people sitting in your pews listen to him and appreciate his passion for faith? I almost left the ELCA, but have decided that this is my church too, and I hope to be a voice in…what did you call it Hous—our skydiving free fall into what God wants us to become!

  54. as a former Lutheran missionary (before I was a pastor), I’m very sorry to hear about Tom’s experience.

    Dave, re: “some liberals just scream.” This can be just as accurately said of conservatives, as you well know.

    Keep the conversation going!

  55. as a former Lutheran missionary (before I was a pastor), I’m very sorry to hear about Tom’s experience.

    Dave, re: “some liberals just scream.” This can be just as accurately said of conservatives, as you well know.

    Keep the conversation going!

  56. I grew up in the ELCA, was baptized, and confirmed, but never really encountered Jesus there. I remember being bored and I could never understand what in the world the pastors were talking about. I graduated from high school and went on with my life. I truly thought that going to church on Sunday and being good equated to being a Christian.

    After four years in the military and four additional years of undergraduate studies, I enrolled in seminary as I felt called to be a missionary / pastor. As a twenty something while attending an ELCA seminary, I found myself in a system that was, in my opinion, exceptionally religious and out of touch with the culture(s) of today. As an evangelical, I was completely out of place. I was told to be quiet about my intensions to become a missionary because as the saying among students went, “The professors only want to train up parish pastors here.” While attempting to alter and recontextulize exceptionally small portions of the liturgy in order to help bring Jesus to people in a way they could relate, I was called out by my professor for attempting to alter the tradition. If we used the wrong words during the “prayer of the day,” our professor would not “Amen” our prayers.

    Before entering seminary, both in the military and college, The Holy Spirit began working through me via a vast pool of evangelical ministries. I felt and thought that in some small way, that I was supposed to be a light to the ELCA, so I decided to enroll in one of their seminaries. To make a long story short, after summer Greek and one additional semester, I transferred elsewhere, left the ELCA, and obtained my MDIV where I focused on intercultural studies.

    1. Hmm…I guess we’re always bored or dissatisfied with what we grew up with, and are fascinated by someone else’s tradition.

      I spent the first 9 years of my life in the Baptist church down the street, and just got tired of (actually, was embarrassed by) the emotional shouting and rocking back and forth, the general idea that playing cards and dancing (although not at the same time) were sinful, etc. When I was recruited to sing in an Episcopal Church choir, where things were a lot calmer, I bolted.

      14 years later, in college, I joined up with the Lutherans.

      In this whole discussion it is important to keep Paul’s comments about the body of Christ, and the eye not saying to the nose that it’s better, in mind. I’m probably turned off by the kind of preaching that Tom B wants to do. Tom B found himself turned off by what I like to hear. The good news is that neither of us left the church completely, as some do, but found the body part where we felt we belonged.

      There is no one-size-fits-all solution. We each need different things. And some of us, in fact, are deathly allergic to certain kinds of preaching that work well for others.

      Have I truly encountered Jesus in the ELCA? Maybe, maybe not. I guess it depends on what I’m expecting. Before I pitched my tent with the Lutherans, I spent a couple of months one summer with a WAY evangelical group in college that played on your emotions. Did I encounter Jesus with them? I thought so at the time, but as I thought more and more about it, the way they worked, they could’ve convinced me that I had encountered Bugs Bunny. As a result, I don’t trust those emotional people, or those who insist on a tangible, recognizable encounter with Jesus (see http://www.gatling.us/keith/sermons/010121-BodyParts.pdf). And the insistence that we all be able to have one has driven at least one person I know from the church, because she felt that obviously she wasn’t trying hard enough, or that he didn’t care enough to make himself known to her.

  57. I grew up in the ELCA, was baptized, and confirmed, but never really encountered Jesus there. I remember being bored and I could never understand what in the world the pastors were talking about. I graduated from high school and went on with my life. I truly thought that going to church on Sunday and being good equated to being a Christian.

    After four years in the military and four additional years of undergraduate studies, I enrolled in seminary as I felt called to be a missionary / pastor. As a twenty something while attending an ELCA seminary, I found myself in a system that was, in my opinion, exceptionally religious and out of touch with the culture(s) of today. As an evangelical, I was completely out of place. I was told to be quiet about my intensions to become a missionary because as the saying among students went, “The professors only want to train up parish pastors here.” While attempting to alter and recontextulize exceptionally small portions of the liturgy in order to help bring Jesus to people in a way they could relate, I was called out by my professor for attempting to alter the tradition. If we used the wrong words during the “prayer of the day,” our professor would not “Amen” our prayers.

    Before entering seminary, both in the military and college, The Holy Spirit began working through me via a vast pool of evangelical ministries. I felt and thought that in some small way, that I was supposed to be a light to the ELCA, so I decided to enroll in one of their seminaries. To make a long story short, after summer Greek and one additional semester, I transferred elsewhere, left the ELCA, and obtained my MDIV where I focused on intercultural studies.

    1. Hmm…I guess we’re always bored or dissatisfied with what we grew up with, and are fascinated by someone else’s tradition.

      I spent the first 9 years of my life in the Baptist church down the street, and just got tired of (actually, was embarrassed by) the emotional shouting and rocking back and forth, the general idea that playing cards and dancing (although not at the same time) were sinful, etc. When I was recruited to sing in an Episcopal Church choir, where things were a lot calmer, I bolted.

      14 years later, in college, I joined up with the Lutherans.

      In this whole discussion it is important to keep Paul’s comments about the body of Christ, and the eye not saying to the nose that it’s better, in mind. I’m probably turned off by the kind of preaching that Tom B wants to do. Tom B found himself turned off by what I like to hear. The good news is that neither of us left the church completely, as some do, but found the body part where we felt we belonged.

      There is no one-size-fits-all solution. We each need different things. And some of us, in fact, are deathly allergic to certain kinds of preaching that work well for others.

      Have I truly encountered Jesus in the ELCA? Maybe, maybe not. I guess it depends on what I’m expecting. Before I pitched my tent with the Lutherans, I spent a couple of months one summer with a WAY evangelical group in college that played on your emotions. Did I encounter Jesus with them? I thought so at the time, but as I thought more and more about it, the way they worked, they could’ve convinced me that I had encountered Bugs Bunny. As a result, I don’t trust those emotional people, or those who insist on a tangible, recognizable encounter with Jesus (see http://www.gatling.us/keith/sermons/010121-BodyParts.pdf). And the insistence that we all be able to have one has driven at least one person I know from the church, because she felt that obviously she wasn’t trying hard enough, or that he didn’t care enough to make himself known to her.

  58. David, I am a cradle Lutheran and I am not throwing in the towel and remain in the church by choice even though I, as do others, have plenty of options.

    This is a good post. Perhaps someone can forward it with intent to Chicago and other bishop’s e-boxes. My response to your 10 points is yes; no; maybe; and sometimes. I will attempt some reply here.

    1. Between 1987- 2009 the ELCA grew in baptisms to death ratio. Almost 2 million baptims and just over 1 million deaths. Did we really think that someone 75 years or older in 1987 would remain in the ELCA in 2010? Hardly. Yet, many of those members have left faith and financial legacies that will honor God’s purpose and mission for many years to come.

    2. A previous comment stated the losses were about retention and that is the location of the numerical black hole. We have added numbers to our churches…but we haven’t kept all on board and the reasons that people ‘leave’ a church is as vast as the stars in the sky. Thus the ELCA is smaller now than in 1987 but there is still work to be done.

    3. Ironically, as some might be surprised, the transfer of members from ELCA to LC-MS is not the problem either. I’m not sure how 2010 will shake out after the MN vote of 2009, but in the previous two years the ELCA picked up about 16,000 LC-MS members compared to about 8,000 leaving the ELCA for the LC-MS. In other years the exchange was closer in number but seems to remain in the ELCA’s favor, which is most likely a reflection of more people giving up on radical far right conservatism vs. the left leaning ELCA.

    4. Larson’s comment about loyalty and branding and lifting up ELCA logo but yet working locally trusting the Holy Spirit to direct the congregation’s work is right on. Lutherans who maintain a ‘congregational’ posture and work with neighboring churches (both Lutheran and ecumenically) seem to be strong. Again, outward focus rather than inward navel gazing…and being reminded that Luther’s work was a ‘movement of reform’ … while I maintain that the ELCA and LC-MS are concerned more with ‘institutionalism’ (which is what Luther fought against) rather than 21st century reform and mission.

    5. Most pastors prior to 1991 were trained in a model that doesn’t work in 2010. I have re-tooled/re-invented myself at least 1.5 times since 1981 and sometimes feel like I’m just getting started with good quality ministry. I am a Myers-Briggs ESFJ (less than 8% of ELCA clergy) and have served in rural, urban, suburban settings and did mission work in east Texas where our church was surrounded by 23 Baptist congregations and 12 Church of Christ ministries. In each setting the church has grown. Painfully, faithfully, but grew…. as I have had good teachers and mentors and have carved out a biblical short course (prior to Alpha) that brings people to stand, be baptized or affirm their baptism and then take part in the body of Christ as servant to God and all God’s people. In fact, in the late 1980’s the 10 congregations in New Orleans/Baton Rouge Bayou Cluster of the Gulf Coast synod showd more collective numerical growth than the entire ELCA. No one in Chicago asked me or the late Rev. Dr. Tom Morgan, “howdya do that?”

    6. We still print a better than crappy newsletter. I post 2 blogs…one for the congregation and one for the synod’s men’s ministry which then is linked to a huge network in the ELCA. I post e-messages frequently and try to read what others are posting too. Our facilities are designed that screens on the chancel are almost impossible without a very costly rennovation. We’ve have grown in many ways… and yet I think we are still a very imperfect ministry venue with much room for change and growth…

    7. Seminaries do not teach and preach teamwork. Bishops try but often too little too late. I heard recently that the favorite sport of the typcial Lutheran pastor is ‘tennis.’ That shouts anti-team all over the court and some polls show that pastors (male & female) who grew up playing team sports do better than those who did not.

    8. Lutherans will do better in congregational ministry when we also stop reading “all things Lutheran” and ingest the practices of other Christian brothers and sisters. In fact, they are listening to the ex-Lutherans quite well as a local non-denominational pastor called me the week before last Christmas asking for 60-70- candles to light at their Christmas Eve service when they sing, “Silent Night.” That’s just the tip of an ice-berg hardly anyone has seen…

    9. All in all I’m hopeful for Lutheranism. Fr. Richard Rohr has cautioned Noth American mainline churches not to be alarmed with numerical loss. He thinks it’s the natural course and work of the Holy Spirit. In AD 33 the Holy Spirit pitched his tent in Jerusalem; later he took Paul and Silas to the cities of Asia minor and pitched a big tent in Rome by the year 1000. Over time the Holy Spirit moved to little Wittenberg, the Scandinavian lands, Great Britian and by the 1800’s had found shelter in America. Now, Rohr believes the Holy Spirit is making passage to Africa and South America, where Christianity and Lutheranism are rapidly on the rise…

    10. Lutheranism as we have known it may indeed be dying out, however, as the scriptures remind us…out of death comes new life… and a 21st Century Lutheranism holding true to the ability to ‘reform’ again… may begin with smaller numbers but will have no where else but to go and grow. Could it be that God smiled in 1517 around the corner from the Wittenberg Church doors and said, “Ahhh this is the catholic church Paul and I talked about with Jesus on the road from Damascus…”

    Brian

    1. P.S. Dying out as Lutherans or not also will require a blog conversation about the music no one is hearing in our churches because few want to listen to an organ, no matter how well-trained and great said organist is.

      When was the last time to pushed the button on your car radio to “sacred music/ organ music” station? Brian

      1. The cathedral with its soaring spire toward heaven, its immense open space where worshipers gathers, the light streaming through the stained glass found in the cathedral’s amazingly thin walls, the sacred music pouring from the pipe organ housed in the cathedral, and the voices joined together in polyphony praising the Lord are all illustrations of the Church’s use of high technology in worship.

        You would be hard pressed to find similar ground breaking applications of scientific knowledge in the Church today. We have central heating and cooling. Certainly this helps maintain a sense of decorum because we can construct buildings t…hat apparently defy the weather outside our door. No one will complain that electricity casts light on the worship service instead of illumination coming from some combination of natural sunlight and lamps. Microphones and amplifiers send sounds to those who cannot hear.

        Yet none of our technological wonders tell the story. They do not put flesh on the Word like the first examples. The cathedral’s architecture not only inspires awe but it also provides visual clues of the reason why Christians gather there. The Church uses the time tested multi-sensory approach to teaching. Standing, sitting, kneeling are all in-line with the mood found in worship. This helps impact emotions but the images found in the glass teach and reinforce the age-old story. The music, either simple or complex, gives people a way to carry the Word into the world.

        Certainly, we can incorporate science into worship and it can bear the Word. The question that we need to address is simply this, “Are we prevented from moving forward today?”

  59. David, I am a cradle Lutheran and I am not throwing in the towel and remain in the church by choice even though I, as do others, have plenty of options.

    This is a good post. Perhaps someone can forward it with intent to Chicago and other bishop’s e-boxes. My response to your 10 points is yes; no; maybe; and sometimes. I will attempt some reply here.

    1. Between 1987- 2009 the ELCA grew in baptisms to death ratio. Almost 2 million baptims and just over 1 million deaths. Did we really think that someone 75 years or older in 1987 would remain in the ELCA in 2010? Hardly. Yet, many of those members have left faith and financial legacies that will honor God’s purpose and mission for many years to come.

    2. A previous comment stated the losses were about retention and that is the location of the numerical black hole. We have added numbers to our churches…but we haven’t kept all on board and the reasons that people ‘leave’ a church is as vast as the stars in the sky. Thus the ELCA is smaller now than in 1987 but there is still work to be done.

    3. Ironically, as some might be surprised, the transfer of members from ELCA to LC-MS is not the problem either. I’m not sure how 2010 will shake out after the MN vote of 2009, but in the previous two years the ELCA picked up about 16,000 LC-MS members compared to about 8,000 leaving the ELCA for the LC-MS. In other years the exchange was closer in number but seems to remain in the ELCA’s favor, which is most likely a reflection of more people giving up on radical far right conservatism vs. the left leaning ELCA.

    4. Larson’s comment about loyalty and branding and lifting up ELCA logo but yet working locally trusting the Holy Spirit to direct the congregation’s work is right on. Lutherans who maintain a ‘congregational’ posture and work with neighboring churches (both Lutheran and ecumenically) seem to be strong. Again, outward focus rather than inward navel gazing…and being reminded that Luther’s work was a ‘movement of reform’ … while I maintain that the ELCA and LC-MS are concerned more with ‘institutionalism’ (which is what Luther fought against) rather than 21st century reform and mission.

    5. Most pastors prior to 1991 were trained in a model that doesn’t work in 2010. I have re-tooled/re-invented myself at least 1.5 times since 1981 and sometimes feel like I’m just getting started with good quality ministry. I am a Myers-Briggs ESFJ (less than 8% of ELCA clergy) and have served in rural, urban, suburban settings and did mission work in east Texas where our church was surrounded by 23 Baptist congregations and 12 Church of Christ ministries. In each setting the church has grown. Painfully, faithfully, but grew…. as I have had good teachers and mentors and have carved out a biblical short course (prior to Alpha) that brings people to stand, be baptized or affirm their baptism and then take part in the body of Christ as servant to God and all God’s people. In fact, in the late 1980’s the 10 congregations in New Orleans/Baton Rouge Bayou Cluster of the Gulf Coast synod showd more collective numerical growth than the entire ELCA. No one in Chicago asked me or the late Rev. Dr. Tom Morgan, “howdya do that?”

    6. We still print a better than crappy newsletter. I post 2 blogs…one for the congregation and one for the synod’s men’s ministry which then is linked to a huge network in the ELCA. I post e-messages frequently and try to read what others are posting too. Our facilities are designed that screens on the chancel are almost impossible without a very costly rennovation. We’ve have grown in many ways… and yet I think we are still a very imperfect ministry venue with much room for change and growth…

    7. Seminaries do not teach and preach teamwork. Bishops try but often too little too late. I heard recently that the favorite sport of the typcial Lutheran pastor is ‘tennis.’ That shouts anti-team all over the court and some polls show that pastors (male & female) who grew up playing team sports do better than those who did not.

    8. Lutherans will do better in congregational ministry when we also stop reading “all things Lutheran” and ingest the practices of other Christian brothers and sisters. In fact, they are listening to the ex-Lutherans quite well as a local non-denominational pastor called me the week before last Christmas asking for 60-70- candles to light at their Christmas Eve service when they sing, “Silent Night.” That’s just the tip of an ice-berg hardly anyone has seen…

    9. All in all I’m hopeful for Lutheranism. Fr. Richard Rohr has cautioned Noth American mainline churches not to be alarmed with numerical loss. He thinks it’s the natural course and work of the Holy Spirit. In AD 33 the Holy Spirit pitched his tent in Jerusalem; later he took Paul and Silas to the cities of Asia minor and pitched a big tent in Rome by the year 1000. Over time the Holy Spirit moved to little Wittenberg, the Scandinavian lands, Great Britian and by the 1800’s had found shelter in America. Now, Rohr believes the Holy Spirit is making passage to Africa and South America, where Christianity and Lutheranism are rapidly on the rise…

    10. Lutheranism as we have known it may indeed be dying out, however, as the scriptures remind us…out of death comes new life… and a 21st Century Lutheranism holding true to the ability to ‘reform’ again… may begin with smaller numbers but will have no where else but to go and grow. Could it be that God smiled in 1517 around the corner from the Wittenberg Church doors and said, “Ahhh this is the catholic church Paul and I talked about with Jesus on the road from Damascus…”

    Brian

    1. P.S. Dying out as Lutherans or not also will require a blog conversation about the music no one is hearing in our churches because few want to listen to an organ, no matter how well-trained and great said organist is.

      When was the last time to pushed the button on your car radio to “sacred music/ organ music” station? Brian

  60. Note to new people. The “vibe” of this blog is respectful. I will not post personal attacks, although all opinions are welcome. Ad hominem stuff will be deleted/edited. It’s my playground an I call the shots. It’s your voice we want to hear on this blog, and it has to be of a civil standard.

    Think martial arts: bow respectfully to your opponent before engaging in combat, and never, ever lose your cool.

    Those who lose their composure will be sent to the showers 🙂

    1. Another comment as a non-cradle Lutheran. When I first joined up, I accepted the fact that Lutherans were for the most part an “immigrant church.” Germans and Scandinavians were to the Lutherans what Italians and Irish were to the Catholics.

      “You guys” do a lot of hand-wringing about not being diverse enough, but there’s a lot of diversity in what you might consider “plain white.” You’ve got Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, Dane, Finns, many of whom wouldn’t have been seen in the same building with each other a few generations ago. For Pete’s sake, you do have ethnic diversity. Things may finally LOOK a little different when an African American like me walks into the room, but you do have a fair amount of ethnic diversity.

      Anyway, to go on with my main point, the ELCA seems to me to be an ethnic church that is trying to pretend that it’s not. Maybe we don’t do well when the neighborhood changes because the new people have their own worshipping traditions that THEY want to stick to.

      I maintain that the average person wouldn’t know a theological difference if it bit them on the nose. But STYLE differences, they can tell in a moment. I’ve often wondered, if my mother had to choose between a Baptist church that did Bach every week or a Lutheran church that did gospel, where would she go?

      To me, the Lutheran church is about the theology, although the style is a big piece too. I know other people, however, for whom the style seems to come first. They want to know that when they walk in the doors of a church that say “Lutheran” on it, that they’ll know most of the hymns, and that the liturgy will be one that they’ve seen before from the red, green, blue, or cranberry book.

      Are we getting smaller? Perhaps. But does one drop of blue ink still affect the color of the water? Ya, you betcha!

  61. Note to new people. The “vibe” of this blog is respectful. I will not post personal attacks, although all opinions are welcome. Ad hominem stuff will be deleted/edited. It’s my playground an I call the shots. It’s your voice we want to hear on this blog, and it has to be of a civil standard.

    Think martial arts: bow respectfully to your opponent before engaging in combat, and never, ever lose your cool.

    Those who lose their composure will be sent to the showers 🙂

    1. Another comment as a non-cradle Lutheran. When I first joined up, I accepted the fact that Lutherans were for the most part an “immigrant church.” Germans and Scandinavians were to the Lutherans what Italians and Irish were to the Catholics.

      “You guys” do a lot of hand-wringing about not being diverse enough, but there’s a lot of diversity in what you might consider “plain white.” You’ve got Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, Dane, Finns, many of whom wouldn’t have been seen in the same building with each other a few generations ago. For Pete’s sake, you do have ethnic diversity. Things may finally LOOK a little different when an African American like me walks into the room, but you do have a fair amount of ethnic diversity.

      Anyway, to go on with my main point, the ELCA seems to me to be an ethnic church that is trying to pretend that it’s not. Maybe we don’t do well when the neighborhood changes because the new people have their own worshipping traditions that THEY want to stick to.

      I maintain that the average person wouldn’t know a theological difference if it bit them on the nose. But STYLE differences, they can tell in a moment. I’ve often wondered, if my mother had to choose between a Baptist church that did Bach every week or a Lutheran church that did gospel, where would she go?

      To me, the Lutheran church is about the theology, although the style is a big piece too. I know other people, however, for whom the style seems to come first. They want to know that when they walk in the doors of a church that say “Lutheran” on it, that they’ll know most of the hymns, and that the liturgy will be one that they’ve seen before from the red, green, blue, or cranberry book.

      Are we getting smaller? Perhaps. But does one drop of blue ink still affect the color of the water? Ya, you betcha!

  62. what Keith said. YOu know, I really want to contribute more here, but right now I’m too tired…. maybe I’ll be back later.

    And I think that Matthew has a lot right too, although we do need to figure out ways to “get it out there” — so facebook, etc. have their value, but we need to know what they can do, and what they CAN’T do.

  63. what Keith said. YOu know, I really want to contribute more here, but right now I’m too tired…. maybe I’ll be back later.

    And I think that Matthew has a lot right too, although we do need to figure out ways to “get it out there” — so facebook, etc. have their value, but we need to know what they can do, and what they CAN’T do.

  64. Regarding one of the initial comments that we seem to believe that if our theology was better, people would flock to our pews, isn’t that pretty much what Luther thought about preaching to the Jews? Didn’t he think that the only reason they didn’t believe was because of the abuses of the Church of Rome, and once he explained things to them, they’d obviously become Christians?

    And look at what he wrote after that didn’t work.

    The simple fact of the matter is that we DO have better theology. That’s why I’m here. I’m not a cradle Lutheran. But just because we have better theology doesn’t mean that everyone’s gonna flock to us. Everyone knows that veggies are better for you than a constant diet of burgers and fries, but you know, those burgers and fries sure taste a whole lot better.

      1. I also think that the fact that we ADMIT that we have warts is what makes us credible in the eyes of a lot of people. I know that’s how it works with me.

        After dealing with some denominations that saw questioning as a lack of faith that was an express ticket to Hell; and others that tolerated it, but weren’t happy about it; the LCA Lutherans I was introduced to 30 years ago were a breath of fresh air. These were people who EXPECTED and ENCOURAGED you to ask questions, almost as a way of keeping them honest. These were people who didn’t claim to have all the answers. And their often mentioned lack of evangelization is what drew me to them. They weren’t in my face trying to prove their point. They were around if I had questions, but they weren’t going to hover.

        And as I think about what St Paul said about the different parts of the body, there is something to be said for having a few parts that don’t hover.

  65. Regarding one of the initial comments that we seem to believe that if our theology was better, people would flock to our pews, isn’t that pretty much what Luther thought about preaching to the Jews? Didn’t he think that the only reason they didn’t believe was because of the abuses of the Church of Rome, and once he explained things to them, they’d obviously become Christians?

    And look at what he wrote after that didn’t work.

    The simple fact of the matter is that we DO have better theology. That’s why I’m here. I’m not a cradle Lutheran. But just because we have better theology doesn’t mean that everyone’s gonna flock to us. Everyone knows that veggies are better for you than a constant diet of burgers and fries, but you know, those burgers and fries sure taste a whole lot better.

  66. Regarding one of the initial comments that we seem to believe that if our theology was better, people would flock to our pews, isn’t that pretty much what Luther thought about preaching to the Jews? Didn’t he think that the only reason they didn’t believe was because of the abuses of the Church of Rome, and once he explained things to them, they’d obviously become Christians?

    And look at what he wrote after that didn’t work.

    The simple fact of the matter is that we DO have better theology. That’s why I’m here. I’m not a cradle Lutheran. But just because we have better theology doesn’t mean that everyone’s gonna flock to us. Everyone knows that veggies are better for you than a constant diet of burgers and fries, but you know, those burgers and fries sure taste a whole lot better.

      1. I also think that the fact that we ADMIT that we have warts is what makes us credible in the eyes of a lot of people. I know that’s how it works with me.

        After dealing with some denominations that saw questioning as a lack of faith that was an express ticket to Hell; and others that tolerated it, but weren’t happy about it; the LCA Lutherans I was introduced to 30 years ago were a breath of fresh air. These were people who EXPECTED and ENCOURAGED you to ask questions, almost as a way of keeping them honest. These were people who didn’t claim to have all the answers. And their often mentioned lack of evangelization is what drew me to them. They weren’t in my face trying to prove their point. They were around if I had questions, but they weren’t going to hover.

        And as I think about what St Paul said about the different parts of the body, there is something to be said for having a few parts that don’t hover.

  67. Hous,

    Great post. I sent this along to people because I think you are nailing it on the head. Seriously. About time someone says what is true and everyone else already knows.

    You hinted at this at number 4, but at most Lutheran or mainline Protestant churches, the “Church” is about 25% of the white-haired, long-timers, content in their place Christians. They are content with giving a portion of their money. having “bible studies,” maintaining “fellowship” and helping out when needed.

    The problem comes in with the fact that these people are “comfortable” and therefore don’t want to engage in the hardwork to grow. Second, they feel like they are doing what they need to do and no one challenges them to do more. Third, the leaders of these congregations have generally succumbed to the demands of these comfortable church members and catered to their needs rather than the thousands outside the church walls.

    This is where I disagree with Matthew…Of course, I believe that Jesus and a relationship with him is the primary purpose for EVERYTHING we do as church leaders and members of the body of Christ. However, just because you say it is a priority doesn’t mean it is. If connecting people to a relationship with Christ is of the utmost importance, then there is no “closely following behind” ideas of social media, technology, organizational improvements, leadership development. Instead, these are absolutely intertwined with loving Christ and putting him as our head.

    The problem with the Lutheran church in most of the world is that it has taken an approach like Matthew’s — We love God and that’s enough.

    Is it? Was that enough for Paul and his torrid assault on the developing world? Was it enough for the early church when they planned a better organization to reach more people? Was it enough for Jesus who attracted followers through his AMAZING healing and teaching?

    It’s like saying: “Well, I want to run for president, but I’m not going to campaign. I trust God. If I try, than I’m clearly showing that God isn’t that important.”

    Anyways, Matthew, you aren’t meant to take the brunt of some of my thoughts, but in many ways, this is how we must challenge fellow Lutherans with posts like Hous’s!

    Good work Hous. Keep writing. I’m gonna be campaigning for you to teach more classes in my world!

  68. Hous,

    Great post. I sent this along to people because I think you are nailing it on the head. Seriously. About time someone says what is true and everyone else already knows.

    You hinted at this at number 4, but at most Lutheran or mainline Protestant churches, the “Church” is about 25% of the white-haired, long-timers, content in their place Christians. They are content with giving a portion of their money. having “bible studies,” maintaining “fellowship” and helping out when needed.

    The problem comes in with the fact that these people are “comfortable” and therefore don’t want to engage in the hardwork to grow. Second, they feel like they are doing what they need to do and no one challenges them to do more. Third, the leaders of these congregations have generally succumbed to the demands of these comfortable church members and catered to their needs rather than the thousands outside the church walls.

    This is where I disagree with Matthew…Of course, I believe that Jesus and a relationship with him is the primary purpose for EVERYTHING we do as church leaders and members of the body of Christ. However, just because you say it is a priority doesn’t mean it is. If connecting people to a relationship with Christ is of the utmost importance, then there is no “closely following behind” ideas of social media, technology, organizational improvements, leadership development. Instead, these are absolutely intertwined with loving Christ and putting him as our head.

    The problem with the Lutheran church in most of the world is that it has taken an approach like Matthew’s — We love God and that’s enough.

    Is it? Was that enough for Paul and his torrid assault on the developing world? Was it enough for the early church when they planned a better organization to reach more people? Was it enough for Jesus who attracted followers through his AMAZING healing and teaching?

    It’s like saying: “Well, I want to run for president, but I’m not going to campaign. I trust God. If I try, than I’m clearly showing that God isn’t that important.”

    Anyways, Matthew, you aren’t meant to take the brunt of some of my thoughts, but in many ways, this is how we must challenge fellow Lutherans with posts like Hous’s!

    Good work Hous. Keep writing. I’m gonna be campaigning for you to teach more classes in my world!

  69. Hous,

    Great post. I sent this along to people because I think you are nailing it on the head. Seriously. About time someone says what is true and everyone else already knows.

    You hinted at this at number 4, but at most Lutheran or mainline Protestant churches, the “Church” is about 25% of the white-haired, long-timers, content in their place Christians. They are content with giving a portion of their money. having “bible studies,” maintaining “fellowship” and helping out when needed.

    The problem comes in with the fact that these people are “comfortable” and therefore don’t want to engage in the hardwork to grow. Second, they feel like they are doing what they need to do and no one challenges them to do more. Third, the leaders of these congregations have generally succumbed to the demands of these comfortable church members and catered to their needs rather than the thousands outside the church walls.

    This is where I disagree with Matthew…Of course, I believe that Jesus and a relationship with him is the primary purpose for EVERYTHING we do as church leaders and members of the body of Christ. However, just because you say it is a priority doesn’t mean it is. If connecting people to a relationship with Christ is of the utmost importance, then there is no “closely following behind” ideas of social media, technology, organizational improvements, leadership development. Instead, these are absolutely intertwined with loving Christ and putting him as our head.

    The problem with the Lutheran church in most of the world is that it has taken an approach like Matthew’s — We love God and that’s enough.

    Is it? Was that enough for Paul and his torrid assault on the developing world? Was it enough for the early church when they planned a better organization to reach more people? Was it enough for Jesus who attracted followers through his AMAZING healing and teaching?

    It’s like saying: “Well, I want to run for president, but I’m not going to campaign. I trust God. If I try, than I’m clearly showing that God isn’t that important.”

    Anyways, Matthew, you aren’t meant to take the brunt of some of my thoughts, but in many ways, this is how we must challenge fellow Lutherans with posts like Hous’s!

    Good work Hous. Keep writing. I’m gonna be campaigning for you to teach more classes in my world!

  70. Amen Matthew. And if we do be of God, it will grow. If not, it will decrease. May we trust and be open to the Spirit’s guidance. As Luther said, “Faith, like light, should always be simple and unbending; while love, like warmth, should beam forth on every side and bend to every necessity of our brethren.” The Gospel shouldn’t change, but the way our love shows and where it shows has to bend with the age. Social media is one of those places we need to be. We need to be there to form relationships and not just make statements about God.

  71. Amen Matthew. And if we do be of God, it will grow. If not, it will decrease. May we trust and be open to the Spirit’s guidance. As Luther said, “Faith, like light, should always be simple and unbending; while love, like warmth, should beam forth on every side and bend to every necessity of our brethren.” The Gospel shouldn’t change, but the way our love shows and where it shows has to bend with the age. Social media is one of those places we need to be. We need to be there to form relationships and not just make statements about God.

  72. I think these are the wrong questions to be asking. Questions of market share, retention of members, recruitment of new members, marketing strategies, etc. are only relevant to perpetuating a particular denominations. Of course, I’m interested in my denomination (and my congregation) continuing, but purely for selfish reasons (I’ll continue to have an income).

    However, if we’re truly interested in communicating the gospel, then items like social media and sanctuary screens and birth rates and numerically successful congregations will take their appropriate place (in terms of priority) behind relationships where we share with each other our experience of new life in Jesus Christ.

    We as church have bought in to the myth that bigger market share is always better, while watering down the gospel so that it is no longer offensive to anyone (we’d hate to scare them off, wouldn’t we?).

    If this means that denominations need to die, or that congregations will be no more, so be it. Jesus didn’t come so that we might have Lutherans ~ Christ came so that we would have life.

    $0.02

    1. I agree with a lot of what you have to say, Matthew. I’m not sure that blogging, tweeting, branding, or organizational dynamics are going to get the job done(long term) in the coming of the Kingdom. I think that these solutions are meant to deal with symptoms of particular sorts of problems rooted in a paradigm that isn’t necessarily one we should be so consumed with sustaining. In fact, some days I feel like we need to just dump the paradigm altogether.

      That is not to say that in our communicating we shouldn’t communicate via twitter or facebook, but to believe that it will somehow make us relevant to atheists or those who have rejected the faith already is naive. Most people have heard the Gospel in the US, but they haven’t seen it. Until we make manifest the coming kingdom through our presence and action in the world, i think that what we are contributing is more noise for people to opt out of.

      1. IInteresting discussion and lots of great posts from many folks. Thanks for stirring the pot Dave.

        I appreciate your comments Jason. I think we get hung up on perpetuating a faulty paradigm because we do what we have always done. But if it’s not working anymore (as Dave is pointing out) maybe it’s time to rethink the whole affair. You’re right — re-tooling isn’t going to cut it.

        I don’t think the answer is technology so much either– that’s just the means. The failure on the part of the Lutheran church is much more fundamental. We are failing to connect people both outside and inside the church. People need four basic connections:

        1. They need to connect with God in a meaningful way. There are dead liturgical churches and dead contemporary churches. Spirit and Truth are the two essential ingredients for worship according to Jesus. We have the truth in the Lutheran church but we don’t tap into the Spirit’s power. So much of our worship and work is straw, hay and stubble. People who have their God-antennae up (believers or not) can tell if we are engaging with God or God in a box.

        2. They need to connect with other people in a meaningful way. I have been in Lutheran churches with older people who only wanted to perpetuate the Lutheran culture (never thought of it as a junta). But I have been in other churches with older people who were on fire for God. The issue isn’t age (except when we talk about having babies). The issue is — are we connecting heart to heart? The young people I know in the traditional Lutheran church are crying for authentic relationships with people in my generation. They need the spiritual mothers and fathers my generation lacked. They need spiritual running buddies.

        3. They need to connect with truth in a meaningful way. The Word is truth and the truth isn’t boring. But we have found a way to suck every vestige of life out of it anyway. Jesus was an intriguing communicator. Doctrinal is not synonymous with dry. Technology can help here. But good technology doesn’t make up for bad theology (neither do warmed over illustrations). We have good theology. But what good are words we don’t act on? We persistently preach the priesthood of believers but constantly ignore structures that keep “lay” people and “young” people in the pew. That brings me to the next connection.

        4. They need a meaningful connection with life — an opportunity to “do the stuff”. The LCMS strategy for assimilating people was dubbed “capture by committee” (Llyle Schaller). Sitting on a committee is not meaningful engagement with kingdom work. My parent’s generation accepted it. My generation tolerated it. The next generations have rejected it. People, especially young people, don’t want to be spectators; they want to get their hands dirty; they want to make a difference.

        If we can help facilitate these 4 connections for people (young and old), the Gospel becomes more than informational, it becomes transformational. And it draws people just the way Jesus did.

        Lutherans may not be growing in the States, but as briangigee pointed out, some of the same mainline churches that are dying in the West are growing in the non-white, non-western world. Sweden may be the nation with the largest number of Lutherans (6.75 million members) but Tanzania has the next highest number (5.30 million). But unlike the Swedish Lutheran church, the Tanzanian Lutheran church is growing. They added 670,000 members in 2009. Worldwide the Lutheran church gained 1.6 million members last year – most of them in Africa and Asia.

        So Lutherans aren’t going away anytime soon. But the question for us in the States remains. Will we impact the people in our sphere of influence for better or for worse?

  73. I think these are the wrong questions to be asking. Questions of market share, retention of members, recruitment of new members, marketing strategies, etc. are only relevant to perpetuating a particular denominations. Of course, I’m interested in my denomination (and my congregation) continuing, but purely for selfish reasons (I’ll continue to have an income).

    However, if we’re truly interested in communicating the gospel, then items like social media and sanctuary screens and birth rates and numerically successful congregations will take their appropriate place (in terms of priority) behind relationships where we share with each other our experience of new life in Jesus Christ.

    We as church have bought in to the myth that bigger market share is always better, while watering down the gospel so that it is no longer offensive to anyone (we’d hate to scare them off, wouldn’t we?).

    If this means that denominations need to die, or that congregations will be no more, so be it. Jesus didn’t come so that we might have Lutherans ~ Christ came so that we would have life.

    $0.02

  74. Dear Dave — I will say that your analysis ranges from things that make me want to gag, to the most insightful things I’ve heard in years. Your best points are 5 & 6, I think, with a nod as well to some of your social media analysis. I don’t think most Lutheran sermons are too hard to understand, any more. Although I think that was so in the not-too-distant past.

    I really struggle with the “informal junta” of empty nesters. On the other hand, we have a good, though small, core of young families, and they are busy! But I want to lift up their vision to the core.

  75. David Housholder,
    God Bless You Sir! We love reading your blog brother!
    Keep the theological conservative discussions coming.

  76. David Housholder,
    God Bless You Sir! We love reading your blog brother!
    Keep the theological conservative discussions coming.

  77. While going to the university I had to take a class called “Intercultural Socialization”. It was taught by an archeologist major in his first time teaching at the university level. He believed his job was to inform the students of what was really going on. He preached every day about how the white Anglo-Saxon males have enslaved and discriminated anyone not like themselves. I hated the class and cried every day on the way home.

    My point is that he spent an entire semester focusing on the negative and giving no thought to the positive. He pointed out the prejudice in the past and how it is still happening today. He hated it when I asked him what other countries have done in similar situations and how they solved the problem. He only knew the problems and never offered the solutions.

    All of us know that formalized religion is not attracting young people. The question is what we are going to do to make Lutheranism relevant and accessible to the younger generation. Focusing on the problem is only helpful if it leads to fixing the problem. Hous says that God’s power is motion activated. Figuring what is wrong is fine but figuring what works is better.

    I would love to hear suggestions on how to solve this problem

    1. Alpha has and continues to make a difference. Check out http://www.alphausa.org. It isn’t the only approach, but it is making a difference.

      We need to be where the people are excited about their faith and participating. Were Lutheran ministers at the rally in Washington? Data is fine to discuss, but where’s the passion for the call. I just returned from a Path of Luther Tour in Germany. The guide in Worms took us through the Palace Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. There is a stained glass panel in that church that honors Luther–the only such glass in any Catholic church. There is a red Bible under the arm of Luther. The guide told us, They made it red because Luther’s Bible was red with the fire of faith. When has that been said about Lutherans? Not one of you has even commented on my statements about Beck’s Washington Rally. Did you hear him call for a Spirit driven awakening? Did you hear him challenge those attending to tithe to their churches? If government isn’t providing the entitlements, churches need to be there with charity and service. He’s calling on people to get on their knees in prayer and to leave any congregation where a preacher says to vote for a Democratic candidate or a Republican candidate. Lutheran churches can’t just take members from one another or depend on a big birth boom. We need to engage the world where the spirit is moving. Yes, God’s power is motion activated. Our men’s group doesn’t meet at church. We meet at the local coffee shop because that is where the people can see us honor God, study the Bible, laugh together, and witness to the power of faith.

  78. While going to the university I had to take a class called “Intercultural Socialization”. It was taught by an archeologist major in his first time teaching at the university level. He believed his job was to inform the students of what was really going on. He preached every day about how the white Anglo-Saxon males have enslaved and discriminated anyone not like themselves. I hated the class and cried every day on the way home.

    My point is that he spent an entire semester focusing on the negative and giving no thought to the positive. He pointed out the prejudice in the past and how it is still happening today. He hated it when I asked him what other countries have done in similar situations and how they solved the problem. He only knew the problems and never offered the solutions.

    All of us know that formalized religion is not attracting young people. The question is what we are going to do to make Lutheranism relevant and accessible to the younger generation. Focusing on the problem is only helpful if it leads to fixing the problem. Hous says that God’s power is motion activated. Figuring what is wrong is fine but figuring what works is better.

    I would love to hear suggestions on how to solve this problem

    1. Alpha has and continues to make a difference. Check out http://www.alphausa.org. It isn’t the only approach, but it is making a difference.

      We need to be where the people are excited about their faith and participating. Were Lutheran ministers at the rally in Washington? Data is fine to discuss, but where’s the passion for the call. I just returned from a Path of Luther Tour in Germany. The guide in Worms took us through the Palace Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. There is a stained glass panel in that church that honors Luther–the only such glass in any Catholic church. There is a red Bible under the arm of Luther. The guide told us, They made it red because Luther’s Bible was red with the fire of faith. When has that been said about Lutherans? Not one of you has even commented on my statements about Beck’s Washington Rally. Did you hear him call for a Spirit driven awakening? Did you hear him challenge those attending to tithe to their churches? If government isn’t providing the entitlements, churches need to be there with charity and service. He’s calling on people to get on their knees in prayer and to leave any congregation where a preacher says to vote for a Democratic candidate or a Republican candidate. Lutheran churches can’t just take members from one another or depend on a big birth boom. We need to engage the world where the spirit is moving. Yes, God’s power is motion activated. Our men’s group doesn’t meet at church. We meet at the local coffee shop because that is where the people can see us honor God, study the Bible, laugh together, and witness to the power of faith.

  79. @Kris I think thats a parent and church thing, not so much a public ed thing. Its near impossible to get jr high kids for confirmation right after school, as every conceivable sport event or practice there is takes priority… and few if any parents or churches are willing to put faith education ahead of football, cheer-leading, etc.

  80. @Kris I think thats a parent and church thing, not so much a public ed thing. Its near impossible to get jr high kids for confirmation right after school, as every conceivable sport event or practice there is takes priority… and few if any parents or churches are willing to put faith education ahead of football, cheer-leading, etc.

  81. @Kris I think thats a parent and church thing, not so much a public ed thing. Its near impossible to get jr high kids for confirmation right after school, as every conceivable sport event or practice there is takes priority… and few if any parents or churches are willing to put faith education ahead of football, cheer-leading, etc.

  82. No comment at this point. I just don’t know any other way to follow the discussion. And I used to be a technical guru. 🙁

  83. No comment at this point. I just don’t know any other way to follow the discussion. And I used to be a technical guru. 🙁

  84. No comment at this point. I just don’t know any other way to follow the discussion. And I used to be a technical guru. 🙁

  85. Jolene– You are right on. Leave the judgment to God. We spend our time competing with other Christians instead of uniting in our call to witness and serve. What has concerned me is the little time and focus our own church has put into evangelism. As Pastor Craig says, “We’re not in management. We’re supposed to be in sales.” When we are called to be one in faith, we end up with over 2000 different church entities in America alone. That is what I liked about the Restoring Honor event. Yes, Beck is a Mormon, but I figure that’s God’s call, not mine. I’d rather affirm the fruits of his call to faith and meet the challenge of getting beyond the walls. You asked if Alpha is one of the answers. I sure believe God is using it to impact lives. We will continue to embrace it because it allows the Spirit to reach people and connects them to a faith community that cares in a strong relational way.

  86. Great article! Would anyone like to address the contribution of the educational system in this country? When the church only gets them for 1-2 hours a week, and the public school, which systematically eliminated God from the classroom, has them for 30+ hours per week, does it surprise anyone that they are biblically illiterate and prone to sound bite theology?

  87. I feel judgment is the primary culprit. Why do many Christian churches feel they have to judge? I truly feel that is the SINGLE biggest problem with loss of popularity hence loss of attendance in general. I have wonderful Baptist, Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventist, Methodist, Catholic & Nazarene friends that feel other Christians will not get to heaven unless you are in their church or consumed with their beliefs. To make matters worse they chastise other Christians to the point people don’t want to get involved in any church. Judgment is best left to God. We have so many people to bring into the church but our attitude is self-defeating. The young need the safe haven of church but getting them acclimated is a challenge unless their parents are strong Christians. I remember growing up with judgment of the church in absolutely all we did; hard to take. It made me turn & run on several occasions. I do think we MUST cultivate, nurture & teach our young in the word of God in a language they can identify with consistent with modern applications. Our young people are tender & hate the added pressure of not measuring up to the old ways. Most of all, leave the judging to the JUDGE.

    1. Good point Jolene — but I think it only applies in some of our congregations/communities. I find many more Lutherans who don’t know how or why to make an evaluation about anything from a standpoint of theology or scripture. This is especially true of our few younger ones. Are we doing/being/teaching anything compelling or challenging enough to merit making hard choices for our Lord & accompanying priorities?
      Side note: I recently picked up a book I’m interested to read, maybe you will also find it of interest: “Making Judgments without Being Judgmental.”

  88. With Lutheran families having 1.7 children, we’re no longer self-replicating. The model is no longer sustainable. If we don’t encourage outsiders to “opt in,” the handwriting is already on the wall.
    Therefore go and make disciples of ALL…

    1. Norton, it’s worse than that. Well over half of the Lutherans are past child-bearing years and are having no kids at all. Once this starts, it accelerates and compounds. We are going to look like the Shakers without a massive direction thrust change.

      1. I dont have the stats… but it looks like the main problem is retention. If I project off the graph you have (sort of dangerous) it looks like a near 70% loss between 15-19, and the next age group. If indeed that is the case… a sustainable level of births per family would be roughly eight. Retention while a difficult problem, is no where near the challenge of evangelism via birth alone.

  89. Thank you Pastor Dave, for a very clear and depressing statement of the problem. Is a program like Alpha, which is relational and experiential, the solution?

  90. I recall a conversation with my (now retired) Methodist Pastor brother-in-law some time back. I asked him how the marketing of Jesus the Christ was going, and he appeared to be quite offended by the reference. It appears the Mormons are now taking the question literally. I believe the rest of the denominations, if they truly want to survive, need to also look at their image marketing campaigns. It truly does take more than just living a sermon on the part of those of us who are Christ followers.

  91. Not that you have anymore time to add it to your plate, as you are one of the hardest working guys I know, but have you ever thought about teaching this stuff to churches? Your presentation at the ARC Pastors and Leaders Day about reaching my generation was so absolutely true, and you are fabulous at it with our own congregation!

  92. Right on Dave.

    It’s not just Lutheran of course. All of the mainline denominations are shrinking. Even the Baptists are shrinking. We’re all caught in a great cultural shift, where everything is changing around us.

    Our collective inability to communicate the Gospel (maybe to actually believe and trust the Gospel) is at least partially to blame.

    I’m in the middle of Kenda Creasy Dean’s book “Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church.” A large scale study found that about 75% of American teenagers identify themselves as Christians, but the majority have boiled Christianity down to 3 factors:
    1. Be Nice
    2. Feel Good about yourself
    3. God is watching us from a distance.

    Who knew that Bette Midler was such a greatly influential theologian?

    Seriously, these beliefs are highly prominent among mainline protestant and Roman Catholic teenagers. Churches in those denominations apparently are not communicating the Gospel. There seem to be two potential causes of this lack of transmission–(a) failure of the church to articulate and live out the gospel and (b) failure by parents to support the church by teaching and living out the gospel within the family.

    Any thoughts on this?

  93. Right on Dave.

    It’s not just Lutheran of course. All of the mainline denominations are shrinking. Even the Baptists are shrinking. We’re all caught in a great cultural shift, where everything is changing around us.

    Our collective inability to communicate the Gospel (maybe to actually believe and trust the Gospel) is at least partially to blame.

    I’m in the middle of Kenda Creasy Dean’s book “Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church.” A large scale study found that about 75% of American teenagers identify themselves as Christians, but the majority have boiled Christianity down to 3 factors:
    1. Be Nice
    2. Feel Good about yourself
    3. God is watching us from a distance.

    Who knew that Bette Midler was such a greatly influential theologian?

    Seriously, these beliefs are highly prominent among mainline protestant and Roman Catholic teenagers. Churches in those denominations apparently are not communicating the Gospel. There seem to be two potential causes of this lack of transmission–(a) failure of the church to articulate and live out the gospel and (b) failure by parents to support the church by teaching and living out the gospel within the family.

    Any thoughts on this?

    1. 1. Be Nice
      2. Feel Good about yourself
      3. God is watching us from a distance.

      Christian Smith calls this “moralistic therapeutic deism”, and it’s the de facto faith of 12-40-somethings in America.
      What are we doing about it?
      Well, nothing, actually. In some ways, we’ve encouraged it. Wherever you have a church standing and declaring that secular “good deeds” are “Kingdom work”, you have contributed to it.
      Wherever we’ve elevated acts of kindness to an issue of heaven or hell, we’ve contributed to it.
      Wherever we’ve downplayed the work of the Cross and the Resurrection as “entry points” and emphasized the importance of “blessing the world”, we’ve contributed to it.
      Lord help us, we’ve all contributed to it.

      1. Luke,
        Christian Smith is right on the problem, but your suggestion of causes are not the issue at all. Let me illustrate:
        Secular “good deeds” are “kingdom work – read Mt 25:37-40
        acts of kindness to heaven or hell – keep readin mt 24:41-43
        empahsized importance of “blessing the world” – read Mt 5:16

        The gospel requires us to love our neighbor as ourself. That our current culture values tangible expressions of compassion more than theological expressions of doctrine may be difficult, but it is our milleau.

        We are not contributing to the decline by being a blessing to our neighbors (the world), we are preparing the soil for the gospel. We have to do both.

      2. Dave said:
        “Secular “good deeds” are “kingdom work – read Mt 25:37-40”

        While it’s certainly a good idea to take care of strangers, (see Gal 6:10), a careful examination of the context in Mt. 25:31-46 will bring some clarity here.
        In verse 45, Jesus used the phrase “the least of these”, which has become a favorite definition for “all in need”. But we have to judge the meaning of verse 45 by the broader meaning of the text: namely, Jesus’ words, “…the least of these my BROTHERS,” in verse 40. Since the expression is the same, we have to use the more complete version of the saying to define the less complete.

        The Greek word “adelphos” is the root for the expression “brother”, and it is predominantly used in the NT to refer to a sort of “fraternal” or “spiritual blood-” brotherhood. Namely, Jesus uses it in Mt 12:50 to refer to “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven”. In the context, “brothers” is synonymous with “disciple” and by extension “fellow Christians”. Read Mt 23:8-12 for a better understanding of this “brotherhood”.

        The word “least” comes from the Greek “mikroi”, and always refers to the disciples, and by extension, Christians, in Matthew’s Gospel. (See: 10:42, 18:6, 10, 14, 11:11)

        Therefore, I would question whether this passage is referring to secular good deeds, or deeds of kindness by Christians to less-fortunate Christians. The righteous inherit the Kingdom not based on these acts of kindness, but because these acts are obvious evidence that they have “received the Kingdom like a child”.
        The beautiful discovery is that those acts of kindness flowing out of a transformed heart were being perceived by Christ as acts being done DIRECTLY to Him all along.
        So, do I think Christians are judged based on their works? No. But I do doubt whether those who have no works were ever Christians to begin with. However, I also think this passage is saying that those who disdain their brothers and sisters within the church and fail to notice needs in the Body may not be saved either. A lot of young Evangelicals who “love Jesus but not the church” need to hear that.

        To say that secular good deeds are kingdom work completely negates the need for reconciliation back to the rightly offended Holy God. That reconciliation only comes through one source, and it’s not paying for a person’s coffee at Starbucks.
        This also writes off the idolatrous desires that sin stirs up within our hearts. These can have a transformative effect even on the most kind-hearted person, meaning that an “act of kindness” can become a religious penitent work, and social justice can become an ego-driven exercise in self-righteousness. Only works which flow out of a transformed heart are righteous works.
        I’ll address the other two passages later.

        I’ll address the second two verses later.

        Do I think that

      3. Dave said: “acts of kindness to heaven or hell – keep readin mt 24:41-43”

        I’m assuming you mean Matthew 25:41-43. Mt 24 would be an interesting take on that subject, for sure! 🙂
        This just plays off of the same idea I shared above.
        Read 1 Corinthians 8:10-13.
        What’s the main focus of this passage? By wounding “weaker brothers”, you wound Christ Himself. The idea that “all people are God’s children” is not to be found in the Bible. Christ doesn’t personally identify Himself with just anyone. He identifies Himself with His Body, the Church.

        In Matthew 25, Jesus says that the evidence that one has received the kingdom like a child is that we will take care of our brothers and sisters. There is no indication in this passage that Jesus is referring to the poor in general. There is every indication that He is referring to His future Body of believers, and how they respond to each other.
        I say this as a person who has a huge heart for the poor and the needy in general. Missions of mercy are very important for Christians. But social justice and missions of mercy can also become idols of the heart that distract from the true mission of the church: “make disciples”.
        Read Acts 6:1-7. What do the apostles say when confronted with some grumbling about widows being neglected? “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” What do they do? They find the right people for the job and commission them for the mission.
        Social justice is not the primary responsibility of Christians. Making disciples and preaching the Word is. Kindness and mercy better flow out of that, otherwise it’s a “cart before the horse” situation.

      4. Dave said: “empahsized importance of “blessing the world” – read Mt 5:16”

        Where does this say that we should “bless the world”? “Blessing the world” has largely become the “Missional manifesto”, popularized by such folks as Reggie Macneal, but I have many problems with this being the primary mission of the Church, mainly because the New Testament never explicitly states that it’s our job to “restore shalom”, “set up the Kingdom”, or “bless the world”.

        Matthew 5:16 DOES say that our good works could show people a clear picture of who God is. Which I agree with 100 percent.

        Again, I don’t want to sound like the guy who doesn’t believe in helping poor people or non-Christians. I believe a desire for both of these things will flow naturally from a transformed heart.
        Here’s the problem: a lot of people who we say are Christians aren’t really Christians. I would argue that the “revival” or “altar call” style of evangelism, dating all the way back to Charles Finney, has given us a false idea of what it means to be saved. As a matter of fact, I believe it’s given us a positively Satanic idea of what it means to be saved, namely that we somehow make it happen with our verbal assent.
        I’m not doubting that plenty of people have come to Christ through altar calls, but I know that our churches are full of people who responded once to an emotional message, and have been operating under the assumption that they’re saved ever since. Shame on us for assuming that kind of power.
        The reaction in the last 5 years or so has been to try and reshape the Gospel into something that demands good deeds as a prerequisite to salvation.

        The problem isn’t the Gospel, the problem is sin. Rather than reconfiguring the meta-narrative of Scripture into some kind of works-righteousness, we should be studying to figure out why we neglect the important things that we neglect.

      5. Luke, I would like to hear from you a constructive theology–or handful of thoughts– regarding the Kingdom of God. What does that mean for you?

      6. Jason,
        That’s a bit of a setup, don’t you think? Why don’t you post yours first? He he.
        I’ll have to get back to you on that, as I’m out of town till Saturday, and it requires a great deal of thought. I’m currently reading Charles Eldon Ladd’s “The Gospel of the Kingdom” for a better perspective on the subject.
        Here’s what I know it’s NOT: It’s not the Church. The church refers to a gathering, while the Kingdom refers to a dynamic reign. It’s not the liberal dream of utopia on earth through education and redemption of “fallen” institutions, it’s not merely a bunch of “nice” things being done in the place of evangelism, and it’s not nearly as easy to understand as our current brand of evangelicalism would have us believe.
        I definitely know it shouldn’t be used to “baptize” anything we think is important, “Kingdom this”, and “Kingdom that”, referring to everything from medical triage to handing out hot chocolate at a rec center.
        I’ll get back to you on what it is. I’d be interested to hear what you have to say as well. Email me if you don’t want to keep coming back to this board.

      7. Oh, and I’m strongly suspicious of people who use “Kingdom” as an adjective. Everyone I’ve met who does this seems to hold a “canon within a canon” approach to Scripture, as if the Gospel of Matthew (written by Matthew and the Spirit of God) is more authoritative than everything else (written by lots of people and the same Spirit of God).
        I can understand holding the words of Jesus as precious, but we should still interpret everything through the lens of other texts. Otherwise, we’re going to wind up making Jesus say exactly what we want Him to say.
        Now I’m done for real.

  94. As always, a well thought out statement of what so many of us see. But too often we just stay on autopilot hoping for someone else to fix things. I just got back from a Path of Luther tour in Germany. I was struck by how one man was used by God to transform a faith. His willingness to stand, express in any media available his own struggle to take the grace of God into his life, and to question the powers that be. When I returned, I witnessed Glenn Beck do something counter to his persona and bring half a million people to Washington to talk about the importance of struggling with God first. I watched on Facebook with 105,000 others as comments streamed before my eyes. Our guide in Worms was looking a the stained glass image of Luther in the Palace Cathedral and the Bible under his arm was bold red. She said, they made it red because with Luther “faith was on fire.” We are so focused inside the walls of our church, we aren’t serving in new ways or witnessing in new ways. Where are you seeing faith on fire. I trust less the church and trust more the Holy Spirit wherever he leads with impact.

  95. As always, a well thought out statement of what so many of us see. But too often we just stay on autopilot hoping for someone else to fix things. I just got back from a Path of Luther tour in Germany. I was struck by how one man was used by God to transform a faith. His willingness to stand, express in any media available his own struggle to take the grace of God into his life, and to question the powers that be. When I returned, I witnessed Glenn Beck do something counter to his persona and bring half a million people to Washington to talk about the importance of struggling with God first. I watched on Facebook with 105,000 others as comments streamed before my eyes. Our guide in Worms was looking a the stained glass image of Luther in the Palace Cathedral and the Bible under his arm was bold red. She said, they made it red because with Luther “faith was on fire.” We are so focused inside the walls of our church, we aren’t serving in new ways or witnessing in new ways. Where are you seeing faith on fire. I trust less the church and trust more the Holy Spirit wherever he leads with impact.

  96. As more of a theological moderate to liberal, I fully agree with your assessment. There are great examples of growing Lutheran congregations and great leaders of all conservative to liberal stripes. They and their congregations self-define. They claim their turf. And they rejoice in imaginative outreach. They think less “company” (denomination) while still holding up (if they want to) the company brand, but take their cues from the Spirit locally. At the same time, the leaders connect globally with social media, thus extending their pastoral care and evangelism, while also ensuring breadth to their vision by relating to their global vetters. You are not the only one to do this, of course, David, but you are a great example in your own way. And every good leader, to be authentic, will have to di it on his or her own way.

  97. As more of a theological moderate to liberal, I fully agree with your assessment. There are great examples of growing Lutheran congregations and great leaders of all conservative to liberal stripes. They and their congregations self-define. They claim their turf. And they rejoice in imaginative outreach. They think less “company” (denomination) while still holding up (if they want to) the company brand, but take their cues from the Spirit locally. At the same time, the leaders connect globally with social media, thus extending their pastoral care and evangelism, while also ensuring breadth to their vision by relating to their global vetters. You are not the only one to do this, of course, David, but you are a great example in your own way. And every good leader, to be authentic, will have to di it on his or her own way.

  98. Hmnnn, 10 down, 85 to go to match another Lutheran I have heard about in history.

    Since I am not a Lutheran, I thought to myself, Lutherans are in trouble. Then I decided to substitute my own faith group’s name (brand as you say) and it made most of your challenges mine as well.

    Of course, the question is what can we do to correct whatever it is we can correct and to do so as we guard our hearts.

    Now to find some nails and a worthy door to post these heartfelt concerns upon. I have a feeling it will be a virtual door.

  99. Hmnnn, 10 down, 85 to go to match another Lutheran I have heard about in history.

    Since I am not a Lutheran, I thought to myself, Lutherans are in trouble. Then I decided to substitute my own faith group’s name (brand as you say) and it made most of your challenges mine as well.

    Of course, the question is what can we do to correct whatever it is we can correct and to do so as we guard our hearts.

    Now to find some nails and a worthy door to post these heartfelt concerns upon. I have a feeling it will be a virtual door.

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