What if…we were proactive about where we started new churches?

September 29, 2009

New details about “Plan It Calgary” are now out.  It is a long term plan to develop Calgary into a bustling modern city. 

Here are some websites with details on the plan:

Plan It Calgary Microsite

Plan It Calgary Maps

Clearly, the city is doing some serious thinking about what neighborhoods will look like and how density levels will change.  Now, more than ever, we need to do some serious thinking about how the Lutheran Church in Calgary will grow with the city.  Where are the up and coming neighborhoods?  Is there any designated space for churches?  Why not?  Can we carve out space in the up-and-coming neighborhoods now?

If we cast a vision in Calgary today, we can establish centres of Christ-centered worship, service, and the hope of Jesus Christ.  What if we were proactive and charted a new direction?  Church planting is essential to the wellbeing of our Synod and the ELCIC as a whole – let’s see what can be done!

…we entrusted the whole church with the ministry of word and sacrament?

September 28, 2009

I like having clergy who generally know their stuff – who are able to use the resource of their minds to preach and teach so that all might know the good news. Yet – it’s also true that we have oodles of laity who might enliven our preaching, folks who ARE leaders in the faith, whose voices are seldom heard apart from council meetings and private conversations in the parking lot or over coffee. What if we encouraged everyone to preach? Yes, trained rostered clergy on a regular basis.  But also our lay members on a regular basis – and not just when the pastor’s away on holidays! They would be nurtured and helped by the pastor, yes, and if necessary, closely overseen. But we need our eyes opened to the good news wherever God is present, and too often we only see the world from the pastor’s vantage point. A bit too narrow a view.

This also goes for presiding at Holy Communion and Baptism. Again, I don’t want a free-for all – but too often we don’t celebrate Christ’s holy meal because the pastor’s not available, even though the meal is in fact needed – pastorally, prophetically – at that time. “Do this in memory of me…but only when you have a rostered clergy present.” I don’t know, I don’t remember that being in the Gospels or Paul’s letters…

I wonder…are we missing out on one of the ways Jesus has promised to be with us because we are scared of trusting one another?

What if we placed our emphasis on building people instead of institutions?

September 24, 2009

There have been few things that have pained me so greatly then how our church seems to consistently place greater value on its institutions and policies rather then on its people. Whether it is nationally, where we dispose of people, in order to preserve our policy making capacity, or at our educational level where we sacrifice opportunities for education and building people for having people fit into our predetermined boxes and preserving instructional structures. Or at a congregational level, were we leave so many pastors and lay people hurting . . .

I remember once, a pastor who I still deeply respect, telling me how he was replaceable, if he was gone, someone else would fill his place. Ahhh! No I say, for that man is not replaceable, but rather a gift from God.

What if we treated people like they were a unique gift, or if we followed the advise of the Apostle Paul to build up one another in love.

Imagine what a blessing it would be for the church if we focused on ensuring our pastors had the educational opportunities they needed so their gifts could flourish, no matter where they needed to go to realize this. Image if we made sure people ended up places where their gifts could be most fully used? What if we had adequate support for people, including reasonable expectations and ways of ensuring these reasonable expectations were respected?

What if we look for and found ways to support people in the gifts that they had, including having more specialized positions where people could focus on the unique gifts they had? What if we approached people as a gift from God, and treated them with the respect that this deserved.

Perhaps as you read this you think is this not what we do? Well some try, but when we look at the burn out rates not only of pastors but of dedicated lay people, or at our inability to attract new people to the ministry, or at how many pastors suffer from depression, failed marriages etc . . . perhaps this is something we need to look at again. For God gives us the gift of people, as the most precious resource that we are called to be stewards of. If we help these gifts flourish, then I am sure we will be amazed at what God will do through as a church.

Presb. Church USA launches ambitious plan to lose only 5% of members

September 24, 2009

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Church (USA) has launched a campaign to slow the rate of decline to 5 percent, according to the denomination. “People at the grass roots need hope and motivation,” says a spokesman. “This is a positive goal we can all get behind.” The Minus 5 Campaign aims to lower the attrition rate in spite of the denomination’s continued struggle with moral issues, which has led to even greater exodus of members. Instead of losing 12 to 15 percent of members every decade, the group will now “work in great unity and joy to lose only five percent.” “This is the rallying cry we’ve been needing,” says a pastor in Pittsburgh, Pa. “It’s heartening to people at the local level to know we’re determined not to shrink as rapidly.” •logo




What if…we launched a campaign to grow by 5%?

Check out LarkNews.com – just for fun

What if…we learned from others?

September 22, 2009

photo1593I came across a tremendously inspiring series of articles done up by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.  Leaders from various denominations write about the work that they are doing to re-shape themselves to better serve the Kingdom of God.  Could we learn some lessons from the Baptists, Mennonites, and Pentecostals as they find new ways to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  You bet.  Check out the articles here.

A_Church_You_Should_Know.inddThere is also a series of church profiles from Canadian churches who are trying to live missionally in their own contexts.  You can check that out here.

After reading articles like these, I’m apt to think that we should consider moving away from our, dare I say, insular approach to eccumenical cooperation, and build bridges with groups like the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.  They are exploring missional renewal and we need all the help we can get.

…we started fresh…well, maybe?

September 22, 2009

vdonovanWe sometimes look around the world for ways of being church that are somehow better than what we have. An interesting article entitled Fresh Expressions of Church among the Massai? by John Bowen reveals that sometime when people are given an opportunity to start fresh they still choose to do it the old, sometimes less than helpful ways.

Vincent Donavon, a Catholic missionary to the Massai in Tanzania in the 60’s and 70’s was determined to allow them to define their own sense of being the church. This approach led to three “problems” from Donavon’s perspective:

  1. The people simply adopted the European way of doing church
  2. Very few Massai desired to be ordained or even trained as lay workers
  3. The national church hierarchy had little interest in including the culture of the people in their church

Bowen asks whether Donovan’s work was a failure and then answers his question this way:

“Failure” is a tricky word to use in the Christian life or in ministry. Just because things do not work out the way we expect does not mean that, in the economy of God, they have failed.In the case of Donovan, the way his ideas are being picked up in North America and Britain are encouraging. In particular, the three obstacles he encountered are likely to be less in this part of the world.

  • In the Fresh Expressions movement in Britain, there are certainly many non-traditional ways of being church which are attracting people with no Christian background. New people are not complaining that “this is not the way church ought to be.”
  • In terms of theological education, Wycliffe College is following the lead of seminaries in Britain and moving towards training ordinands for specifically pioneering types of ordained ministry.
  • And, as for bishops, my experience is that there is great openness among Canadian bishops to new forms of church and ministry. I spoke to one bishop after the Vital Church Planting conference in Februarys and asked him what he had learned. “That bishops have to be permission-givers,” he replied.

Starting fresh doesn’t always result in “fresh” ideas, especially when we carry the luggage of our past. so how can we carry forward the best of the past without also carrying the so-called “dirty laundry” that always trips us up and drags us back into those unhelpful patterns? Or does even our “dirty laundry” have a role to play in our journey of faith?

Still, it would be an interesting exercise to start from scratch and see what kind of church God might lead us to.

Baptism took three years?

September 17, 2009

A conversation:

Him: I looked at the church roles and there were over 150 kids baptized there the past 10 years. And where are those kids and their parents now? Very few of them are in church.

Me: And is that because the parents are getting their babies “done” and not taking the promises all that seriously? Or the congregation is not taking a greater role post-baptism? Or pastors are not taking on the education and formation demands baptism now needs? I wouldn’t want to lose the baptism of infants. I still think that’s God’s graciousness at work.

Him: Me too. But still, what of those kids? So now I’m thinking if someone wants to have their child baptized, I’ll still say yes. I’ll say : “Yes! It might take three years. When can we start?”

Me: (laughing) I wonder what would happen?

What if…we did a better job at getting the Message out?

September 15, 2009

The Message of Jesus offers freedom, hope, and new life!  Churches, and ELCIC churches are no exception, have not always done a good job at helping that Message reach a new generation.  Today, church signage or an ad in the local newspaper does not reach people like it did in 1960.  What if Lutheran churches re-visited the way we communicate to people in our neighborhood?  What if we had useful websites and clear communication strategies?

A popular blog called Church Marketing Sucks has a mission to “to frustrate, educate and motivate the church to communicate, with uncompromising clarity, the truth of Jesus Christ.”  Among other things, it’s a tongue-in-cheek look at how bad the church has been at communication.
Church Marketing Sucks

Another great resource comes from Clover Sites.  They offer some of the cheapest, most functional church websites I have ever seen.  The advantages of having usable church website is huge in an age where people find restaurants, malls, and even churches through google maps.  You can demo everything for free – very cool stuff!

clover ad 468x60 - 2

 So let’s get creative about the way we reach out with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

…if we started here?

September 15, 2009

Transformation of people is at the heart of transforming the church as a whole. Two examples I recently encountered may offer a pathway to renewal.

Renovaré subtitles their site “Becoming Like Jesus.” They describe themselves this way:

Renovaré is a nonprofit Christian organization headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, and active worldwide. We seek to resource, fuel, model, and advocate more intentional living and spiritual formation among Christians and those wanting a deeper connection with God. A foundational presence in the spiritual formation movement for over 20 years, Renovaré is Christian in commitment, ecumenical in breadth, and international in scope.

They then go on to describe their vision and mission this way:

Renovaré’s promotes a Balanced Vision and Practical Strategy of spiritual renewal to encourage individuals and churches to develop renewed, sustainable, and enriched spiritual lives.

Check them out. Personal transformation does begin with a personal encounter with the living Christ.

Another example of renewal came to me at an ecumenical social ministry meeting I recently attended in Edmonton. At this gathering a young woman from Fusion Canada shared the story of their ministry. What intrigued me was the journey of transformation she outlined:

  • Begin with prayer
  • Research the needs of people
  • Address one of these basic human needs as a way of building a relational bridge into the lives of people
  • Invite them into a weekend retreat setting that prepares them to encounter the transforming gospel
  • One-on-one discipleship mentoring
  • Integrate into the Christian community

What if we started here on this journey to turn the church inside out?

What if…we re-wrote the curriculum for Church leaders?

September 10, 2009

malphurs1I am reading (and recommending) a great book by Aubrey Malphurs called “Advanced Strategic Planning: A New Model for Church and Ministry Leaders.”  I know, the title sounds boring, but it is potent stuff with tangible steps that help churches find their blind-spots and take real steps to make changes.  Among other things, I was struck by a quote concerning seminary curriculum, here is what Aubrey Malphurs writes about changing the way we develop leaders:

Most training equips pastors for one hour on Sunday morning but ignores  the other forty-plus hours of the week that demand such things as leadership gifts and abilities, people skills, and strategic thinking and doing…pastoring is a leadership-intensive enterprise…A scan of the typical seminary curriculum would reveal that far too many are not aware of what is taking place in North American culture and its impact on the typical church.  Though many seminaries and Christian colleges have begun to use the new technology, the are typically business as usual when it comes to curriculum.  My view is that the problem is not what evangelical seminaries teach but what they do not teach.  Many evangelical seminaries teach the Bible and theology, and it is imperative that they do so.  However, they often do not provide strong training in leadership, people skills, and strategic-thinking skills, and this is poor preparation for ministry in today’s shrinking world, which is undergoing intense, convoluted change.

Don’t be fooled by the cover of this book, it’s a powerful tool for churches seeking renewal in the Church today.  Let’s review the way we train and strengthen leader-navigators in the ELCIC.

What if . . . Instead of having the right answers we work on living good questions?

September 9, 2009

It has always been on of the things about theologically trained folks that has struck me as a little odd, how good we are at giving answers. Now there is good reasons why we are so good at giving answers, that was what we were trained for. So ask us a question and likely you will get an answer complete with scripture references and a Luther quote. It is also the history of the church that we have fought over and defended the answers we have.

What if we put all that effort into coming up with good questions? In the upcoming Gospel reading (Mark 8) Jesus begins with a good question “Who do you say that I am?” Interestingly when Peter gives the right answer, Jesus shows Peter that he simply doesn’t understand. Then Jesus does something remarkable, he invites the crowd to deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow Jesus. Instead of answers, Jesus invites them to self denial and following.

Answers are tricky things. Even if they are right, they often can act as a wall which can lead us to feeling superior (since we have the truth). Within this wall we can often turn in on our selves, and close our selves off to the ways that God is being revealed anew, and inviting us out into discipleship.

Questions by their very nature take us in a different direction. Questions are an opening. In their waiting to be answered they create in us a moment of silent listening in which God can speak. In their admitting that one doesn’t know, the self  and its desire to be right and to know is denied. With this opening and this self denial there is the opportunity for God to again lead us.

So what if we were trained and encouraged to ask good questions. To look for ways in which we might need to again open ourselves to God’s leading and God’s teaching. Perhaps it is through our questions and not our answers that we are led closer to God.

…we expanded ordination?

September 8, 2009

Ord-Augustin-2-wIn our Lutheran church we currently have two tracks for ordination: ordination to Word and Sacrament (pastor) and ordination to Word and service (diaconal). For centuries though, the Orthodox church has ordained people to all kinds of specialized ministries. For example, they ordain people as “readers.”

What if our church engaged people in a spiritual process of discipleship that began with baptism, continued with experiential-based training in discipleship, offered a process of self-discovery leading to a calling within the life of the church that was finally recognized through ordination?

{note from Preston: I’ve found a similar balance in this Ordination schematic from the Evangelical Covenant Church (Norwegian Lutheran Cousins).  Any thoughts? File: Credentials-schematic ECCC}

…one size didn’t fit all?

September 8, 2009

As I write this I am watching a great new film called “One Size Fits All?: Exploring New and Evolving Forms of Church in Canada.”  It’s a very insightful glimpse into some very creative church communities.  What if we learned some lessons from these communities?  Check out onesizefitsall.ca and order a copy of this documentary.  The film  mentions a very creative Lutheran community called Spirit Garage in the United States and interviews a fascinating Anglican minister who is doing some creative ministry work at Emerge Montreal. What if Lutherans said, “one size of Church does not fit all.”


..we became a community of house churches?

September 5, 2009

Some of our buildings are used extensively. Every day the building is used: by the church itself, by community groups, by folks who rent the building at low cost. But some of our buildings are barely opened apart from Sunday morning, and those churches end up using much of their funds for the upkeep of their buildings. What if we sold them? Or found a way to make better use of them? “Use it or lose it”? (I know that’s not possible in all settings…small rural communities in particular. Our churches there may be the only building dedicated to worship and prayer. So then the “use it” part becomes more important.) Money could be used for salaries for people doing mission. Or our buildings could be hubs of community activity….the goal being to have the buildings used, and drop any fees if that’s the barrier to their use in the community.

But even more than good stewardship of our buildings, maybe we need house churches: the small communities that through trust, accountability, and the abounding power of the Spirit transform our lives. Sometimes people go to worship and make no connection with a wider group. And some people like it that way (my sister being one…Hi, sweetie! Yes, I’m talking about you.). And that can and does feed people (my sister being one). But I wonder what is missing: a community of support when things are rough, people who know you well enough to challenge you when you’re being selfish, people who remind you not to put yourself down and celebrate you as you are, people to ask you to help them and the people they love (mission to the world….), people to love you. And that’s one of the things I wish most for the church. Are house churches a better way to do that?

See also Tim’s post on August 25:  What if…we sold our buildings?

…we started over? (from guest-blogger Earl Creps)

September 2, 2009

{Ed. Note: Today’s guest-blogger, Dr. Earl Creps, grew up in the Lutheran Church and writes from his perspective as a professor at AGTS and as church planter.  You can read more about Dr. Creps at his blog, earlcreps.com; he has written Off-Road Disciplines and Reverse Mentoring}

WHAT IF we started over?

And Sunday mornings were redesigned with the help of spiritual seekers from our region?

And vocational ministry did not require an M.Div.?

And church members were held accountable for their life and lifestyle?

And the largest proportion of church budgets was devoted to evangelism?

And everything was negotiable except the Scriptures and orthodoxy?

And committees were replaced by teams?

And we reached in faith more often for the miraculous?

And we were willing to start over as many times as it takes…?

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