By Roland Lovstad
While the institutional church wrestles with worship forms, a new generation is just as likely to consider “church” to be coffee at Starbucks or a breakfast gathering with members of their tight-knit Christian community.
Those emerging Christians seek to be disciples of Christ, but don’t always see it necessary to walk through church doors to do it, said Rev. Anthony Cook, who spoke to a session of the LCMS Council of Presidents (COP) during its Feb. 20-23 meeting in St. Louis. Cook said that many emerging Christians have “a lot of apathy for institution and hierarchy” and regard institutional forms of the church to be ineffective and unworkable.
As part of its “Ecclesiastical Leadership in a Post-church Culture” working theme, the COP heard Cook, an assistant professor of practical theology and director of distance curricula at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and a presentation by staff of Carmel Lutheran Church in Carmel, Ind., which has planted four congregations and formed two satellite ministries since 1989.
The council also hosted four pastors from the American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC) and continued its discussion of worship. The COP heard reports on the Synod restructure process, an instrument for clergy assessment, and pending recommendations on licensed deacons. During the first day of its meetings, the council reviewed fundamentals of employment and intellectual property law, in a session led by staff from Thompson Coburn LLP, the Synod’s legal counsel.
A “Gen X-er” born in 1968, Cook said that while the church continues to reach out to Baby Boomers, it also needs to speak to the next demographic in the “mixed economy” of post-modern Christianity. “The next generation isn’t non-religious, just religiously different,” he said.
This new generation of emerging Christians is interested in deep personal relationships, ancient traditions, mystery, and cultural relevance — and they are interested in matters of faith, he added.
“Instead of using objective truth and denominationalism as the first part [of your conversation], you stand back,” Cook advised. “Start where we are — as men and women who have been impacted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead of reasoning from the objective to the subjective, do it the other way around. It is a matter of relying on God to be God.”
Cook said rapid change cannot be an excuse to do nothing. “Our institution is about to hit the iceberg,” he added. “If we allow this generation to be lost, no one is going to visit you when you are sick. If you haven’t cared about my faith, will there be anyone to care for you?”
Cook offered several challenges to the council: find ways to reach small groups of believers even if they may never become an organized congregation; create a new “scorecard” for acknowledging new forms of “church”; invest in indigenous expressions of faith; embrace spiritual over institutional leadership models; explore a network model of church organization; form “safe places” to talk about personal faith; put the Body of Christ before the denomination; and make the institution “support the people and not the other way around.”
In describing their church-planting model, the staff of Carmel Lutheran Church, led by Rev. Luther Brunette, said the congregation undertook a process to answer, “What can we be the very best at?” It arrived at discipleship — “bringing people from where they are to be the very best at being like Jesus.”
The congregation’s voters meeting adopts a “blueprint for ministry” annually. Brunette said, “When you are constantly teaching and preaching about it, it helps give the vision of where we want to go.”
In addition to planting four congregations in the region, Carmel Lutheran added a second worship facility on its campus for “a church within a church” with intentional contemporary worship. This fall it will begin a campaign to form a satellite congregation in a nearby community, as well as partnering with one of its “daughter” congregations to begin a ministry in a redeveloping area of Indianapolis.
Rev. Daniel Schumm, who leads the discipleship ministry, said the congregation refocused from membership to discipleship. He said membership can lead to an “attitude of entitlement” or “having arrived” and an excuse to do nothing. By emphasizing discipleship, the congregation builds an attitude that the believer serves Jesus and others while continuing to grow spiritually.
Schumm said the congregation emphasizes worship, Bible study, and service. “Disciples are asked for a two-hour weekend commitment — an hour of worship and an hour of Bible study,” he said. Brunette added that two-thirds of those who attend worship also attend one of the 10 weekend Bible studies. Every person takes a discovery inventory, which helps to connect them to service ministries in the congregation and in the community.
Dr. Glen Thomas, executive director of the Board for Pastoral Education (BPE), reported to the council on progress of the Perceptions of Ministry Inventory (PMI). The inventory is a project of the COP, BPE, and the two LCMS seminaries to gather congregational leaders’ perceptions of ministry activities offered by pastors who have graduated from the seminary two and five years previously.
This spring, the project will send the inventory to 850 congregations where the pastor and seven congregational leaders will complete the PMI and provide additional data designed to validate the PMI for future use. The inventory results in 19 different scores of knowledge, skills, and interpersonal traits. It is nearly identical to the Vicarage Evaluation Instrument that has been used to provide perceptions of more than 2,000 vicars at both LCMS seminaries over the past 12 years.
Results of the PMI will inform the seminaries’ pastoral formation processes and assist pastors in identifying their perceived personal strengths and areas for growth. Thomas said additional studies of data accumulated during the coming years may identify characteristics that contribute to effective ministry in various kinds of parishes.
Thomas also reported the progress of a task force that is studying the current situation of licensed deacons, who provide ministry in situations where a pastor is not available. Requested by the 2007 LCMS convention, the task force will issue its report and recommendations to the 2007 convention that meets this July.
In comments to the COP, AALC Presiding Pastor Rev. Franklin Hays reported that the church body is working with approximately 70 congregations that have voted to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America after its convention vote to allow gays and lesbians who are in committed same-sex relationships to serve as pastors. Hays said he expects six to 10 congregations will join the AALC before its convention in June.
Accompanying Hays were three of the church body’s five regional pastors — equivalent to LCMS district presidents. The AALC was formed in 1988 by congregations that chose not to join the newly formed ELCA. The AALC and LCMS declared altar and pulpit fellowship at their respective conventions in 2007.
Hays spoke of the AALC respect and appreciation for LCMS theology, saying, “We are blessed to have an association with you.” He added that the LCMS has the ability “to make a difference” in North America. “You’ve got to carry the ball,” he said.
In formal action, the COP adopted guidelines for congregations that want to interview seminary candidates before placing a call for associate/assistant pastors. The council also approved the placement of 43 Ministers of Religion-Commissioned candidates, five pastoral candidates, and six vicars.
The district presidents reported 279 congregations calling for sole pastors, 36 for senior pastors, and 58 for assistant or associate pastors. They reported 342 permanent vacancies and 219 congregations that were temporarily not issuing calls for a pastor.
Roland Lovstad is a freelance writer and a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Perryville, Mo.
Posted March 10, 2010