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Missional Table Content

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Missional Stories from Congregations

Help us write YOUR missional story here. Write a brief story, no more than one page of how God has touched your life or the life of others through the ministry of your congregation. Send your story to

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, by Sarah Griebler A few years ago Cora Aguilar, who is an ELCA pastor, and her husband decided to buy a house in Maricopa, AZ., and retire. But, Cora soon discovered, God had other plans. In April 2010, Cora was named as the mission developer for an ELCA new start congregation in her new community. Maricopa Lutheran Chapel hopes to be a recognized ELCA congregation by 2013. “I knew it was a divine call,” says Cora. “I knew I was called here to Arizona because of this church.” ELCA members in Maricopa had previously driven long distances — sometimes over 100 miles roundtrip — to attend church on Sundays. Out of their desire to worship closer to home, and under Cora’s guidance, Maricopa Lutheran Chapel was born.

A passion for people. Ruben Duran directs the ELCA churchwide organization’s program for new congregations. He says, “Cora has a deep passion for people and an expertise in mission. … Nothing will detract her from doing her best and giving her all to help grow (Maricopa).”

Sue Fletcher, who has been with the congregation since the beginning, says Cora plays a big role in making people feel welcome. “Cora doesn’t miss a beat. She knows everyone who’s there, and if you’re new, she always welcomes you before the service. It’s a warm and loving congregation.”

They’ve seen a lot of growth in the past couple years, and they now have a steady Sunday worship attendance of 50-60 people. Although initially most of the people joining were retired, the congregation now has people of all ages, and they’re even holding Sunday school and confirmation classes.

Maricopa Lutheran doesn’t have a permanent worship space and has held services at many locations in the community, some more unusual than others. When Carol VanBatavia first went to worship at Maricopa Lutheran after moving to Arizona in 2010, she was surprised to find herself driving up a dirt road toward an old ranch house. This certainly wasn’t the type of worship space she had been used to back in South Dakota. But the moment she stepped inside the house, “it was just an awesome feeling. Everyone was welcoming. You could feel the Holy Spirit. It’s been a great joy for us to come here and have that feeling of connection with Maricopa, like it’s our home and we’ve been here for a long time.”

Energy for all. People in the congregation also talk about Cora’s contagious and inexhaustible energy on Sunday mornings. Cora says when she’s doing worship her prayer is, “God, fill me with your spirit, your passion, your energy, and let that come out and touch all of the people you have sent on this day to worship with us.”

That energy flows from everyone in the congregation. Carol says that because most people are transplants from all over the country, “We’re not just set in our ways. We’re flexible. We listen to (each other) and that’s important.”

And although they’re still working to increase their numbers and get organized, that hasn’t stopped Maricopa from looking beyond its own four walls.

“We’re definitely not going to become complacent when we get settled,” says Cora. “No, no, no!” Recently there’s talk of trying to do some ecumenical outreach with other churches in Maricopa, “especially the Methodist and Presbyterian churches because we have full communion with them.”

What’s wonderful about Maricopa Lutheran, Sue Fletcher says, is that it is “one that grew from within. The people wanted a church and we were determined that we wanted to do it and so we did. And we know the Holy Spirit was working here with us the whole time.”

Sarah Griebler is a 2009 graduate of Lawrence University. From 2009 to 2011 she taught English in Cieszyn, Poland, as an ELCA young adult volunteer.

Finding Jesus across the Street, by Ms. Jeannie Dupree “For years in my walk of faith I was told what was right and what was wrong. Being a person who was black and white in my thoughts made this easy to accept. Going to a church like this leaves you wondering if you have done enough or obeyed all of God’s laws, the government laws, the city laws, did you hurt someone, etc., and displeasing God. I was always begging God to forgive me. Each Sunday the pastor would preach on something that would convict me, and I in turn would walk out of church feeling like I haven’t been good enough for God.

I used to plead to God for joy and peace, knowing that when I would read my bible, there was more to the meaning and understanding. I prayed that He would show me a meaning that made more sense to me in this present day.

About three years ago my husband and I walked across the street to a service at First Evangelical Lutheran Church. From the first moment the service started I could not keep from weeping. There was a difference at this church’s worship service: God’s grace was introduced to me. Since then the bondage that was in me has been removed, and I no longer live in guilt. The freedom from guilt now fills me with God’s joy and peace. My relationship with God has grown because of the blessed assurance of God’s love for me. The bible has come to life for me because it has an interpretation that makes sense to me, and helps me grow without guilt. How blessed I am to be a part of a congregation who teaches the meaning of God’s two greatest commandments.”

I’ve Never Felt so Loved Before, by Mrs. AnneMarie Freeman “This is the first time I’ve felt I was worth something.” These are comments heard from women who had attended a Kairos Outside weekend, designed specifically for women whose lives have been impacted by incarceration, their own or someone close to them.  These weekends are made possible by Christian women from various denominations networking and serving together to provide this ministry. They are modeled after a Cursillo weekend.

I first came to Kairos Outside as a guest because my son was imprisoned.  I had stuffed my guilt and anger away, claiming, “I have given it to God.”  The truth was I simply refused to acknowledge the situation because it hurt too much.  On the weekend I was able to allow God to truly enter and clear out my guilt and anger.  I was able to forgive others, including my son, and to accept God’s forgiveness.  As a result I was able to mend a broken relationship with my son while he was still in prison.

I am fully engaged in the ministry of First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mesa and we are grateful to be able to extend the call to “be church” through Kairos Outside, a branch of Kairos Prison Ministries International.  This is something our church could not do alone.

To learn more about Kairos Prison Ministries International or Kairos Outside visit one of our websites, or .

If your life has been impacted by incarceration, your own or a loved one’s, or if you’d like to serve in this ministry please contact Anne Marie Freeman 480-892-1338 .  It is a wonderful way to extend Christ’s love and to respond to his statement “I was in prison and you came to visit me…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25: 36, 40.”

Joining the Conversation about Scripture When the Rev. Laura Barbins asks new members why they've chosen to join Celebration Lutheran Church, Chardon, Ohio, she often hears the same answer.

"Because the Bible is at the center of what you do."

Pastor Barbins is delighted by that response, but admits, "I'm not sure that would have been as evident before we implemented the Book of Faith Initiative. Those comments are a nice affirmation of what we are doing."

Book of Faith, an initiative of the ELCA, encourages members to deepen their knowledge about Scripture through study and conversation. This five-year collaborative program was launched in 2008 and leads up to the ELCA's 25th anniversary in 2012.

Celebration is one of 100 congregations in the ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod who are participating in the Book of Faith Initiative, according to Karen Kaufman, the synod's resource center director.

The impact of the initiative on the congregation hasn't gone unnoticed by member Paul Gochnour.

"As a lifelong Lutheran, I haven't always seen a lot of Lutherans walking into church carrying their Bibles." Paul said. "Book of Faith has brought the Bible more into focus for people (at Celebration), myself included."

Paul has enjoyed the interesting conversations spurred by doing the daily journaling exercise with his wife, Vickie.

"Sometimes we found completely different themes or messages in the same passage." Paul marvels. "It's (eye-opening) to see someone else's point of view (on Scripture)."

Taking the time to immerse himself in the Bible also has shed new light on the familiar, Paul says. "When you sit quietly and meditate on a passage, you gain new insights. The Scriptures come alive."

And it's fun, as testified by the laughter they often share together.

If you would like to join the conversation about the Book of Faith, go to

Adding to the Relationship

Missionary work isn't traditionally associated with a knack for business administration.

But for Jim Noss, his talent with numbers led him to Cameroon and the Central African Republic on behalf of the ELCA. He supported these Lutheran partner churches for over 30 years in his multi-faceted roles as treasurer and financial consultant.

His wife, Karen, has a gift for hospitality that made her an essential partner in their work together. She served as facilitator for the local guest house, welcoming and orienting the many volunteer workers and ELCA staff who cycled through the mission post.

Jim and Karen represent the new face of mission personnel who bring vital skills to ELCA partner churches around the world.

Lay people comprise about 70 percent of ELCA mission personnel today, according to Twila Schock, who directs ELCA mission personnel support. They are often teachers, health care professionals, or in the case of the Nosses, skilled business people.

"Mission personnel are no longer needed to do church planting because many of our companion churches had an amazing harvest." Twila says. "But they are asking us, nonetheless, to be with them. They may need us to help with church administration, advocacy, communication, or assistance with Lutheran schools. Mission work has taken on a very different shape in the last 15 years."

Now Jim and Karen are retired and living in Minnesota. They travel throughout the United States to share their stories with ELCA congregations and to let them know about the work being done with global partners.

"We have a special story," Jim says. "We have witnessed so much and have been blessed in so many ways, having established many very close relationships with our African brothers and sisters. It is a joy to share that with (ELCA members) here."

Click here to learn more about the Nosses ministry in Cameroon.


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Theological Reflections

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Christian Mission: The Larger Context

by Rev. Ron Rude, Lutheran Campus Pastor, University of AZ in Tucson

When I think of the word “mission,” I like to put it into the larger context of God’s mission. What is God’s mission? From the Scriptures we see that God’s mission is twofold: “the story of Life” and “the story of Jesus.”

The story of life is God’s primary mission. This primary mission has been going on for billions of years, including about 3.8 billion years on planet Earth (according to various sciences). Our species, Homo sapiens, is a relative newcomer, only about 200,000 years old. God’s primary mission of seeing to the story of life is incredibly old.

It is also vast. One quickly becomes humbled by the size of God’s universe and the distances between stars and solar systems when studying astronomy. On Earth there are approximately 20 million species in this vast community of life, including us. Another way to say this is that the Father’s house has many dwelling places—the Father’s house being anywhere the reign of God is—and we as humans were created to responsibly occupy a few of those dwelling places (John 14:1-6).

But apparently at some point, according to the biblical narrative, something in our species went awry. After living fairly wisely within the community of life under the permeating reign of God for tens of thousands of years, recently, our species began to divert from God’s way. We left the Father’s house under the reign of God and instead declared our own—under the reign of humans! The biblical Fall parables in Genesis 3 and following, written only about 3,000 years ago, are addressing this tragic change in worldview as it was infiltrating the storyteller’s locale.

As humans began to live this new and aberrant way we grew more and more out-of-relationship—with the Creator, with our human neighbors, with God’s creation, and even with our own inner spirit/soul/self. We began to experience perishing as a species and foisted a terrible “groaning in travail” upon God’s wondrous garden.

The Creator, we read in Genesis 6:6–7, became sorry to have made the human species. God thought about destroying us for the sake of the world. However, the Creator also decided not to do this—can a mother destroy one of her children?

So instead, the Creator (thankfully for us) decided to take on a secondary mission. This secondary mission would focus on trying to heal our species and bring us back into God’s primary mission. This is what the rest of the Bible is about after Genesis 6:7. We call this decision of God’s “the Gospel,” or good news.

How will God fix humanity? God tries a flood, creating a chosen people, laws, kings, and even doom and gloom prophets. All these fall short in one way or another. Finally God decides to come in person, as Jesus of Nazareth. Why does God, who is not a human being, come as a human being? Because we are so special? Not really. God became a human being because this is the species that is lost, and the Christ of God “came to seek and to save the lost.”

Jesus of Nazareth embodied God’s secondary mission. His message in the flesh was (is): “God forgives you, humans—follow me.” This is called “the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

We might ask, though, “Follow you where, Jesus?”

Humans were already dedicated to opposing God’s primary mission. So not surprisingly, humanity’s response to God’s secondary mission, that is, to heal humanity, was crucifixion. However, even more surprising, God’s response to crucifixion  . . . was resurrection! Since Easter, Jesus Christ has been walking the Earth declaring God’s forgiveness and beseeching our species to follow him. But again, where?

 Our problem is we are out-of-relationship—with neighbor, creation, our inner spirit, and with the Creator. We are perishing. So Jesus says to each person and each community:

  • “Follow me to meet your neighbor.” Of course for Jesus, “neighbor” is not just people we like or people like us, but especially the stranger, outcast, and alien (Matthew 25).

  • Also, “Follow me to meet my Father’s creation.” As humans, we engage in warfare against God’s garden of life rather than respect.

  • “Follow me to meet your own inner spirit/soul/self.” There is an emptiness of soul that makes us addicted to materialistic cravings.

  • And finally, “Follow me to meet my Father.” Can we think of anything more sad than being estranged from the Maker “of all that is, seen and unseen” (Nicene Creed)?

Christians are people who respond personally and as congregations to God’s secondary mission. We are people who gladly receive forgiveness and then have the courage to follow Jesus into restored relationship with neighbor, Creation, our own inner spirit, and the Creator. In this journey we move from lost to found, from dis-ease to a “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), from aimless wandering to being in Christ. And in these places where we go we meet Jesus more profoundly that we had ever known.

Christians are also people who invite others to be baptized into this “way, truth, and life” (John 14:6). We want others of our human family to be transformed from perishing (out-of-relationship) to being saved (in relationship) too.

A congregation’s ministry then is basically fourfold, perhaps requiring only four committees. These four basic committees declare God’s forgiveness and creatively foster opportunities to follow the risen Christ into restored relationship with,

1) neighbor

2) God’s creation

3) our inner spirit/soul/self

4) and God

To think of “mission” in this way helps us see how our daily lives and ministries are part of God’s larger purpose. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts.

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Evangelical Mission

by Dr. Peter S. Perry, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Glendale, AZ

“Evangelical Mission” is a phrase that requires some elaboration. For me, it summons an image of earnest missionaries going to a distant country to set up schools and hospitals and to teach that God motivates them to do this so that everyone will know of God’s love and saving power through Jesus. It brings to mind people who become rooted in a place for the sake of the Good News of Jesus (“evangelical” means Gospel-centered).

The person motivated by God’s love in Christ to care for others and teach others to follow Jesus is perhaps not far off with what we mean by Evangelical Mission in 2011. “Evangelical Mission” challenges today’s Lutheran Christians to see themselves as missionaries in their neighborhood, workplace and broader community. At least 5 points inform what it means to be evangelical missionaries today:

(1) Gospel-centered: The activities of evangelical missionaries centers on and is motivated by the saving and healing work of Jesus. The motivation is driven by a desire to follow Jesus, not to satisfy ourselves that we are making a difference or that this is what churches are expected to do. (Read Mark 1:1-8. John the baptizer’s words and actions points to Jesus)

(2) Outward-directed: Evangelical missionaries follows Jesus into places and communities outside their own. Now the places and communities are close to home! There is always someone nearby to serve, someone else to tell about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that fulfills God’s promises. (Read Mark 6:6b-13. The disciples are sent out of their villages and towns to serve and proclaim.)

(3) Accompanying others:  Evangelical missionaries walk with others humbly to learn how to serve. Trust and caring Christian relationships are built by listening carefully to needs and learning other’s values and attitudes. The old condescension that “we already know how to serve you” is replaced with a humble spirit of “how may I best walk with you?” (Read Mark 7:24-30. Even Jesus needs to be guided by the Syrophoencian woman.)

(4) In humble service: Evangelical missionaries serve in ways that arise from walking with people as Jesus walked with others. Many of the ways Jesus served, we serve: feeding the hungry, comforting the afflicted, giving hope in the midst of despair, and decrying injustice. (Read Mark 8:1-10. A sign of God’s rule is the hungry are fed.)

(5)To proclaim Jesus as Lord: Service and speech, words and deeds, go together to proclaim Jesus as the one we follow, the one who motivates us to be outward-directed, to accompany others and to humbly serve. Evangelical missionaries implicitly and explicitly invite others to follow Jesus and to join in God’s mission to save the world through him. (Read Mark 9:33-37. Whoever welcomes a child welcomes Jesus, and whoever welcomes Jesus welcomes God the Father.)

What does “Evangelical mission” mean to you?


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Message to Teaching Theologians

by Pastor Stephen S. Talmage, Presented at the Convocation of Teaching Theologians 2010

What does it mean to be the church? The ELCA and ELCIC in the 21st Century

In preparing for this convocation and the question of “What does it mean to be the church, with a particular focus on the ELCA and ELCIC in the mid-21st Century I came up with five marks or characteristics that I believe are essential regardless of the structure of the institution or organization.

The church needs to remain Confessional Edmund Schlink wrote: “A Confession is the comprehensive exposition of the total Scripture.  For a Confession teaches “what a Christian must know for his/her salvation.”  It teaches the Gospel…not the doctrine of the individual but of the church, a protection from or defense against heresy.

Laurence L. White stated: “The Lutheran Church is, by its very nature, a confessional church - a church that exists for one reason and one reason only, for the sake of the faithful proclamation of the Gospel. Lutheranism has never defined itself in terms of polity, piety, or popularity.  Lutheranism is not a matter of institutional loyalty or denominational affiliation.

As a parish pastor for twenty-five years I continue to deeply appreciate the importance of helping those in a congregation wrestle with the questions surrounding:

Who God is, Who We Are and Whose We Are? I continue to struggle with the ongoing paradox within our church that claims we are saved/justified and put right with God through God’s saving action in Christ, but then we practice our faith as so often experienced in local congregations as if God is simply an observer, and it is all the activity we plan, we create, we seek to accomplish that justifies us before God.  As a confessional church we need to continue to affirm and emphasize the gift God has given all creation in and through Christ and be watchful of all efforts that seek to challenge the core of what we have come to understand as the Gospel.  In light of the context of religious pluralism and the state of flux within mainline denominations we may need to mine even better the wisdom and insights of leaders who dared to and continue to trust their very lives on that which we claim to confess.

The Church needs to remain Sacramental In The Book of Concord we find these words, “The church is not merely an association of outward ties and rites like other civic governments, however, but it is mainly an association of faith and the Holy Spirit in people’s hearts.  To make it recognizable, this association has outward marks, the pure teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments in harmony with the Gospel of Christ.” (BOC, Art VII 5)

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are means of grace-of the Gospel, of God’s coming to us with the saving love and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ.  We administer them in Obedience to Christ.  They provide us with a connection to the historic church, past, present, and future.

Among the spiritually hungry and seeking there is a deep desire to experience the holy presence of God-ideally this happens in our engagement in worship, but it is the sacraments that truly connect us with God condescending Godself to our level through earthly elements and grace-filled promises.  There is great comfort and assurance found in the simple act of being sealed by the promise of the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.  There is great relief and encouragement that comes when in the context of Christian community one hears the words not just for herself or himself the body and blood of Christ given for you, but understanding that you moves from the beginning of time to the end of time for all.

In the quest for meaning and purpose baptism provides one with a call or vocation that life is to be continually lived in the assurance of God’s unconditional love promised in Christ and a call to love one’s neighbor as one has been loved.  In the Lord’s Supper, one is freely invited to a table that is meant to be welcoming, inclusive, with a meal that nurtures, sustains, and fuels one’s faith and one’s community for the sake of service to a world that is often hostile, exclusive, and whose quest for more often results in violence.

The Church needs to remain Catechetical From Luther’s Preface to the Small Catechism:

“The deplorable conditions which I recently encountered when I was a visitor constrained me to prepare this brief and simple catechism or statement of Christian teaching.  Good God, what wretchedness I beheld!  The common people, especially those who live in the country, have no knowledge whatever of Christian teaching, and unfortunately many pastors are quite incompetent and unfitted for teaching.  Although the people are supposed to be Christian, are baptized, and receive the holy sacrament, they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments, they live as if they were pigs and irrational beasts, and now that the Gospel has been restored they have mastered the fine art of abusing liberty.  How will you bishops answer for it before Christ that you have shamefully neglected the people and paid no attention to all the duties of your office?”

Some would say our context may not be that much different than Luther’s in his call for teaching the faith.

Daniel Aleshire-Executive Director of the Association of Theological Schools shared in a recent address to Presidents and leaders of theological education:

“A challenge facing those of us who teach, lead, and seek to release leaders for the sake of mission in the world is how much cultural change has taken place since when many of us first began to prepare for leadership in the church.  The challenge for today is to be able to equip leaders/teachers in light of a multi-faith context, to be able to minister in a culture where the fastest growing religious preference is “none”.

For an ever-expanding percentage of the population the Christian story will be a revelation, not a recitation.  Pastors will need to relate the Christian faith to people who have little religious interest or no religious commitment.

Leaders will have to be equipped to lead in a “religiously neutral culture”, that is more complex, more demanding.  Michael Lindsay used the analogy of equipping folks used to shopping at Sears to shopping on EBay.  There is an ongoing resistance to standardization as opposed to diversity of product. “

My experience in parish ministry in the West the past 25 years is filled with countless stories of baptized Lutherans who have ventured west and who simply wanted to transfer their membership.  But when these 40 to 75 year-old Lutherans were asked when was the last time you seriously looked at what you believed as a Christian the typical response was “when I was confirmed”.  The combination of Lutherans who viewed confirmation as graduation from the Christian faith-formation and non-Lutherans and non-Christians making their way into the local faith community affirms the need for adult catechism.

I affirm the example of Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church, Seattle, WA-(Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us) whose leaders insist upon an extended time of Christian formation, which they call the WAY, before baptism or joining the church.  Willing to accept people as spiritual wanderers believing the Holy Spirit can change them into Spiritual pilgrims by taking them on a year of worship, study, theological reflection, prayer and service, before joining the congregation.

The ELCA’s emphasis on the Book of Faith-Life Long learning -Spiritual Formation are all vital for the church in the mid-21st Century.  Our teaching theologians need to continue to develop Faith-Stage bible studies, training and equipping of leaders to use a variety of learning methods-iPods, chat rooms, interactive learning experiences, Web-based learning, podcasts, Netflix, Webcams-Skype, CD’s, DVD’s.  Whatever it takes, the faith will continue to need to be taught.

The Church needs to remain Diaconal The biblical witness affirms a community of faith which has an outward focus:

Micah 6

Matthew 25

Acts 2-4, 6

Romans 12

1 Corinthians 12

The priesthood of all believers or the equipping the children of God to use the gifts God has first given affirms the primary ministry of God’s people takes place within the home, the neighborhood, and the workplace.  A diaconal church focuses outside the walls of the congregation rather than inside activity, providing clear opportunity to affirm the call or vocation that comes to all who are baptized.

People today are not joiners in the sense of making long-term commitments. The one who may be open to become a committed disciple of Christ is waiting to see if the members of the community actually practice what they confess to believe.  As the old chorus sings-“They will know we are Christians by our love.  The book, Unchristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons provided unprecedented research on the views of 16-29 year olds inside and outside the church.  Their sample came primarily from inside and outside Evangelical churches.  They identified a list of characteristics both those outside and inside the church are experiencing as a way to address the absence of this age group in our churches-“Hypocrisy, Judgementalism, and Homophobia” are leading the list.  One outsider stated, “Christianity has become bloated with blind followers who would rather repeat slogans than actually feel true compassion and care.  Christianity has become marketed and streamlined into a juggernaut of fear mongering that has lost its own heart.”

Social justice flows out of a passion and desire to love one’s neighbor as oneself and to see Christ in the other.  An asset we bring to the table is the historic work of Lutheran Social Services.  As I have engaged in consultations with congregations in the process of leaving the ELCA I have developed a little spiel on Reasons to stay in the ELCA-included in this is our cooperative work through Lutheran Social Services, the ELCA World Hunger Appeal, LIRS and Lutheran Disaster Response.  Many were amazed to hear the statistic that one out of every 50 Americans has been provided some form of social service from LSS and as Lutherans we are the largest provider of social services next to the Federal government.  Our willingness to be a public voice, a Christian voice in the public square on behalf of those who have no voice affirms a church that is diaconal in nature.

The Church needs to become Missional As a missional church I mean the church will intentionally pursue God’s mission for God’s glory among all peoples by following God’s patterns for the sake expanding the reign of God.

Marks of a missional church will include (Tim Keller)

  • Adapting our vernacular or the language of faith we use in ways that those in a post-Christian and Biblically-illiterate culture can actually understand. There is great power in the telling of parables, as well as using analogies, and metaphors.

  • Becoming incarnational-dwelling in the context of the community as salt, light, and leaven, while understanding and an even affirming God’s creative work and presence found evident in the people, the arts, and the literature in and from that culture. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world.

  • Reflecting the love of Christ in the public square-Folks on the street don’t have an issue with their perception of Jesus, their issue is with their perception of Christians.

  • Creating a community that is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. Our faith practices, our emphasis on stewardship as a way of life, our faith values, our call for engagement in issues of justice and compassion, our affirmation of the power of God to change lives stands counter to the culture.

  • Ecumenical, Collaborative, and Cooperative for the sake of our call to a common mission requires us to be less parochial.

The Scriptures provide a historic witness to the experience of the church as missional:

Genesis 12: 1-3-Blessed to be a blessing

Matt 22- Great Commandment

Matt 28- Great Commission

Acts 1:8, Acts 2, 8, 9, 10, 17-Global Inclusive Vision

Whatever shape the church takes I believe these five marks or characteristics will be essential.

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Insiders and Outsiders

by Bishop Mike Rinehart, Gulf Coast Synod, ELCA

Here’s my hunch. Everything for me rises or falls on this bet. I’m putting all my eggs in this basket:

The turnaround of the mainline churches will happen when we in those churches care as much about those outside the church, as we do those inside. To embrace relevance, we will have to let go of survival.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. If I’m wrong, fire me now. I’ll die on this hill.

What does this mean?

My theory is that the mainline churches have ceased to be relevant to the culture, because insiders trump outsiders every time.

Decisions are made for the benefit of those inside rather than those outside the church. In every single decision, even the little ones, insiders trump outsiders. Take hymns, for example. Musical decisions are not made considering what will attract spiritually hungry outsiders, but what will please the card-carrying, bill-paying membership. Most church outsiders don’t care if you ever sing “How Great Thou Art.” They won’t be slightly offended by a guitar in church. Time and time again church leaders receive heat from church insiders upset about this or that, because the insiders are trying to recreate their childhood church experience or simply have a rigid idea of what church is supposed to be. Church leaders cave in to these insiders because try control the purse strings.

More facts on the ground: insiders are inherently change-averse. People don’t like change, especially those who have status in the church. Pete Steinke taught us that every church is an emotional system. Some people are benefitting from the system as it currently is. Some benefit emotionally. They are revered as church saints. Or they are validators to whom everyone turns for approval of decisions. They are having an emotional need met by receiving recognition. Or perhaps they are simply tirelessly defending The Tradition, regardless of how new or unhelpful that tradition may be. People in power, who have privileges in the current system, will resist change and make life really hard for any leader who seeks to be a change agent. Pastors are paid from members’ giving, so there is a potential conflict of interest. If they do the right thing, some leaders will end up losing their job (or up on a cross, to reference an often-told story).

Why is this happening?

Church structures were set up to preserve what exists, not change it. These stable structures work well when society is changing slowly, imperceptibly. If something is working, protect it at all costs. But what if it is not working? What if the rate of societal change skyrockets, and old patterns and structures no longer work? Peter Drucker once said, “When the rate of change outside the organization exceeds the rate of change inside the organization, the organization is doomed.”

What do we do about it?

Change. Adapt. The church has adapted, survived and even thrived in times of tectonic change in the past. It can again.

Stable structures are a high value in a stable culture, but when in a climate of rapid change, adaptability is the higher value. In a time of stability, experience is crucial. In times of change, experience can be a liability, especially if the experienced make the fatal mistake of assuming what garnered success in the past, will guarantee success in the future. What got you where you are now will not get your where you need to go in the future. Sorry. Leaders who don’t get this are in for some rough sledding.

Let’s face it, change is hard. Change, however is non-negotiable. The only constant in life is change. There is no growth without change. As someone once said, “The only one who likes change is a wet baby.” Any kind of change creates conflict. Leaders can only tolerate so much discontent. And even a little discontent sounds LOUD when you’re in the hot seat. So when things heat up, leaders circle the wagons, which is precisely the wrong thing to do. Instead, leaders need to sin boldly. Lead boldly. Look at any successful enterprise and you can be certain that someone, at some point, took a huge risk along the way. Nothing great is accomplished without risk.

“The trouble with Steve Jobs: Likes to make his own rules, whether the topic is computers, stock options, or even pancreatic cancer. The same traits that make him a great CEO drive him to put his company, and his investors, at risk.” —Fortune Magazine

But risk is risky, and change is simply too difficult and painful. Most organizations won’t change until they’re desperate, like the alcoholic that won’t go to rehab until s/he hits rock bottom.

So what will give us the courage to take those risks?

This takes us back to the beginning. Churches will not adapt to the new realities until they care as much about reaching those outside, as appeasing those inside.

The world is hell-bent on destruction in countless ways. It is desperately in need of a church that offers a Way of peace, truth, compassion and hope, as opposed to the world’s way of power, materialism, exploitation and violence. It needs leaders willing to risk comfort, status and economic security for the life of the world and the outreach potential of the church. It needs a church that looks less like the Pharisees’ religion and more like Jesus’ ministry. It needs a church that is willing to sacrifice everything for those outside: buildings, budgets, sacred cows, traditions, structures. It needs a church that so loves the world, that she’d be willing to die for it.

So here’s the plan. New policy. Every decision, every single decision made by staff, council and every committee is made on behalf of those not yet here. Every sermon choice, every hymn, song and musical choice, every building and grounds choice, every spending choice is made with outsiders in mind.

When we become a church for the world, the outsider, when the pain of staying the same (and dying of irrelevance) for those already here exceeds the pain of changing (and sacrificing old ways) for those not yet here, we will be the church for which God incarnate came to this earth and gave his life.

This page’s content is under review.

Missional Websites

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