Post-Convention Life (Seeing the Bible as a walking stick)

August 23, 2011

What really has changed?

Some people would say that everything has changed.

Questions of Biblical authority are now being discussed in many different settings and some of those conversations are convincing people that the ELCIC has departed from Section 3 of the ELCIC Constitution – “This church confesses the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God, through which God still speaks, and as the only source of the church’s doctrine and the authoritative standard for the faith and life of the church.” In passing motions that opened ordination to those of all sexual orientations and allowing rostered ministers to preside at same gender marriages, some would say that the ELCIC is in a state of apostasy. If the ELCIC has strayed from its “only source” and “authoritative standard” is it still viable or just in a confessional conundrum?

For me it is not a question of Scriptural authority – it is a question of Scriptural idolatry. Can God only speak through the words of the Old and New Testaments? Are our hands tied in reaching out because we are told what is clean and what is unclean? Maybe what Scripture says has more to do with how we approach it and what we want it to say? Maybe our understanding is too small, too incomplete?

How would your life today be different if when you were in your early years, maybe 8 or 9, you collected the letters you had written, the pictures you had drawn, the stories you had written about your life on summer vacation and put them together in a scrapbook and for the rest of your life used it to condition the way you thought about the world you live in?

Maybe we should, just for a moment, look at Scripture that way. How has our life and faith been diminished because early in the life of the Church a scrapbook was compiled from the letters and stories that were shared in the community and then “scripturalized” so that nothing could be removed and nothing could be added? It was then used to silence new faith stories, to destroy new letters of life and faith, to control those who tried to walk further. How much greater could the church be if throughout history the canon was opened to include the Confessions of St Augustine, the Life of St Francis of Assisi, The Gospel according to Luther or Calvin, The new Psalms of the Wesleys, Letters from prison by Bonhoeffer, etc. We read and are moved by many of these stories of faith, and perhaps even give them authority in our lives. Are they perhaps also “Scripture”?

Maybe it is time to move beyond seeing the Bible as a hammer and chisel, pounding and shaping us, and to begin seeing it as a walking stick that supports and assists us along this journey of faith. It doesn’t tell us which mountain to climb or what river to cross, but it is there as we see a new horizon and as we feel the water surrounding us.


Looking forward in hope…

July 12, 2011

It is just a few days until the ELCIC gathers in its National Convention in Saskatoon, SK. Many have said that this will be a turning point in the life of the church and it will not look the same post-convention. I do believe those statements are true, but what will the “other side” hold for us. I have heard statements of despair, fear, powerlessness, wilderness wandering, pointlessness and others that have created a sense of gloom and doom in relation to the convention. It has undertones of “post-apocalyptic” living in which the life we have known will be no more.

This outburst of change is for me a sign of hope in the life of the ELCIC. Even as we are still a young church, we have fallen into a lifestyle (faithstyle?) that is killing us. We gather in small groups to do again and again what historically has been produced for us to do. We constantly look to the past and “what has been” for the “true” way to be Lutheran. We lounge in a sense of entitlement and comfort in knowing who we are historically as Lutherans, but have no idea what it is to live a “Lutheran” life in today’s world. And I believe that we fear the identity crisis that the future still holds for us.

Is it time that we renew our commitment to the Truth of Christ, instead of defending the differences that make us “Lutheran”? How would our lives change if we truly embraced the transformation that comes in the Love shown to us through the man Jesus? How could we transform this world by remembering that as we are found in Christ we are in an interdependent relationship with each other and all creation?

What might we be as the ELCIC if we look forward in hope toward a life of abundance given to us through Jesus the Christ? I am excited to see what God has in mind for the future of the ELCIC. I believe the decisions made will indeed break us from the past “institutional” identity of church (which scares some people) into a transformed life that lives in relationship with God and the Creation in love and joy and hope.


Thank you!

July 5, 2011

Since August, 2009, abtrenewal.wordpress.com (or the What if? Blog) has been a place to get us thinking about renewal and new ways of ministry and thinking in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Alberta and the Territories Synod.  We have almost 150 posts from several contributors and almost 25,000 hits on our little blog.  We’d like to continue creatively push the envelope by sharing thoughtful, Christ-centered vision and innovation – ideas or reflections that move us in healthy and vibrant directions.  How do we move past broken systems?  How do we instill hope for tomorrow?  How the does the living Gospel of Jesus change our whole perspective and move us into open spaces?  If you would like to contribute to the conversation, please send your mini-articles to Preston Pouteaux (equip@oursaviourchurch.ca), and we’ll post your thoughts. 

Like Luther we want to turn hearts towards Christ.  This blog, we hope, will encourage us to live that out.  Unlike Luther, who faced tremendous push-back, our Bishop is quite pleased to hear of new ideas for faithful ministry.  So what is yours?


What’s Up With Lutherans?

June 29, 2011

I was sent this blog post recently, written by Kevin DeYoung over at the Gospel Coalition.  You can find the link here.  It’s a blog post that got me thinking about the place of Lutherans in the larger church.  Enjoy Food for thought.

What’s Up With Lutherans? by Kevin DeYoung

This isn’t meant to be a snarky rhetorical post. It’s a genuine question.

What up with Lutherans?

More to the point: where are they? I’m looking for help from those of you out there who know the Lutheran world better than I do. I look around at what’s seem vibrant in evangelicalism and see lots of Baptists and Presbyterians. I see a lot of Free Church folks and a growing number of Anglicans. I see non-denominational guys aplenty. The Pentecostal world is a little outside my circles, but I certainly see continuationists and charismatics in conservative evangelical circles. But I don’t see many Lutherans.

I don’t know of Lutherans speaking at the leading conferences. I don’t know of many popular books written by Lutherans. I don’t know of church planting movements among Lutherans. I know lots of people who look up to Martin Luther, but I don’t see the influence of Lutherans.

I’m genuinely curious to know why the big tent of conservative, confessional evangelicalism doesn’t have more Lutherans. I understand that the Calvinist soteriology of TGC and T4G types doesn’t fit with Methodism or parts of the Holiness traditions, but Luther’s doctrine of predestination was Calvinist before there was Calvin.

I know Gene Veith is Lutheran. So is Doug Sweeney. White Horse Inn has worked hard to include the confessional wing of Lutheranism. But after that, I’m drawing a blank to come up with contemporary Lutheran leaders/theologians/pastors I know or read. I’m not blaming anyone–Lutherans or the Young, Restless, Reformed movement or the blogosphere or Sarah Palin. It’s just something I’ve thought about from time to time: Where have all the Lutherans gone? I know you exist outside of Lake Wobegon.

So which of the statements below best explains why quandry?

1. I’m ignorant. This is, no doubt, a  big part of the explanation. I’m sure there are thousands of good Lutheran churches and pastors. I just don’t know all the good they are doing and saying. And there may be thinkers and authors I like who are simply Lutheran without my knowing it.

2. With their high church, confessional tradition, Lutheranism has always been a little out of place with the sometimes rootless, low church expressions of evangelicalism. They never got on board with evangelicalism after the Great Awakening. This may be part of it, but evangelicalism has been influenced by many Anglican theologians and preachers, hasn’t it?

3. Lutherans are content to remain in ethnic enclaves. Again, that could be part of the issue, but then how do you explain the influence of the Dutch Reformed on evangelicalism?

4. The Lutheran view of the sacraments is a bridge too far for many evangelicals, and the faddish nature of evangelicalism is a bridge too far for many Lutherans.

5. Lutheranism in America has bigger problems and less influence than many people realize. The bulk of Lutherans have gone liberal and the rest have gone into bunker mode.

I’ll read the comments more carefully than usual. I blog so that I might understand. Help me out, especially if you are part of the tribe: What’s up with Lutherans?

Update

Thanks to all those who took the time to leave a thoughtful comment on the state of the Lutheran church. Just to be clear, I was not trying to suggest in anyway that there are no Lutherans in the country (there are millions!), nor that these Lutherans are not doing faithful ministry. My central question was about the place of Lutherans in the big tent of evangelicalism. Along those lines, I thought the point about closed communion was helpful. I had forgotten about that reality. Many thanks for the good insights and the good stories of good Lutherans. Special blessings on those Lutherans trying to stay faithful in a mainline context. I feel your pain.


Missions and Jesus: An Atheist’s Surprising View

May 13, 2011

Around 7.8 million dollars was used by Canadian Lutheran World Relief for good work around the world last year.  From hospitals, to clean water, to feeding the poor, this organization does so much.  In fact, CLWR is well respected internationally for these wonderful activities.  For all the good work that this organization does (which we happily support), one thing that it does not focus on is evangelism.  Over the past 50 years, the Mainline Protestant church (a rapidly shrinking segment of the Church, interestingly), has largely removed cross-cultural evangelism from its mandate, opting instead to focus more strictly on aid.  Perhaps evangelism is viewed as an imposition onto other people, or perhaps physical aid is given greater importance than telling people about Jesus, whatever the reason, evangelism is demonstrably lacking from most of the work we Lutherans do overseas. 

So you can imagine my surprise to read an editorial by South African born, UK former member or parliament, and atheist, Matthew Parris saying that Africa needs more Christian missionaries and evangelism.  He says,

“Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

What a striking shift in thinking from what we’ve become accustomed to!  How is it that a South African would embrace the colonial or imperial impositions of Christian evangelists and missionaries on Africans?  Perhaps it’s because a living relationship with Jesus is not an imposition.  Perhaps Jesus wants a relationship with everyone and perhaps the Kingdom of God is good news for all cultures in the world.  Matthew Parris holds the surprising conviction that the world needs to hear more about Jesus, not less.  He believes that physical aid is simply not enough to change the world, the hope of Jesus is foundational to any cultural change. 

I’m pleased that the CLWR and others have reached out to share the love of Christ in the form of food and clean water, but we need to expand our mandate to include sharing the hope of Jesus.  We can give clean water (and we should), but let’s also tell people about the Living Water of Jesus who satisfies a much deeper thirst.  That’s what it truly means to be “In Mission for Others.”

I encourage you to read the full article by Matthew Parris from the London Times, it’s really very insightful. Click here for the original article.

Also, check out this remarkable campaign from Compassion Canada called “The Difference is Jesus;” they say that “poverty has an eternal solution.”  It’s a bold move, but I agree with Matthew Parris, Jesus might just be the one to save people from poverty.  Who’d a thought?


Empowering and Sending in the Name of Jesus: A New Vision for Missions in the ELCIC

April 25, 2011

I saw a photo the other day. It was a nice photo of several ELCIC Bishops and Executives in a foreign land touring a facility supported in part by Lutherans here in Canada. There was a quote from the National Bishop who listed off all the activities being engaged, “Irrigation projects, food security, emergency response, refugee camps, community development, rural schools, health care, empowerment for women – the list is amazing.”
The picture was a snapshot of missions in the ELCIC, and I felt that something was missing. Over Easter, I continued to ponder the picture and the quote from the Bishop. What is missing? What could the Gospel of Jesus and the hope of Easter have to say to the challenge of Missions for the ELCIC? I believe there are two challenges to our present model of cross-cultural missions engagement.

First: The photo is of church leaders alone engaging cross-culturally. Bishops and Executives travel abroad, but it cannot be their project alone. It is not sustainable to leave missions work in the hands of Bishops, it must be the work of the people. I know that our churches support overseas work financially, but ordinary people must be empowered to carry on the work with their own hands. This was Paul’s model. In Acts 18, Paul traveled with Silas and Timothy, he then met Aquila and Priscilla who traveled on with him before baptizing Titius Justus’ family. It was then Aquila and Priscilla who shared the Gospel with Apollos who in turn went to Achaia and “was a great help to those who by grace had believed.” Acts 18 starts with Paul but ends several steps away with an empowered and growing group of missionaries who are eager to testify to the work of God in their lives. We need to do more to empower people to engage in cross-cultural missions. Last year, my wife (a nurse and experienced missionary) and I did an experiment. We wanted to see how easy it was for us to get involved with missions in the ELCIC.  We followed links with CLWR, emailed and called the Executive Director and the National Bishop in an effort to engage cross-culturally through our denomination.  After a year, we have learned of no opportunities for us to serve as volunteers.  If a nurse and church worker cannot get involved in cross-cultural missions through our present system, the challenge must be so much greater for others.  In fact, according to the 2009-2010 CLWR annual report, only “two [volunteer] placements were facilitated” by our primary missions/aid organization (CLWR Annual Report page 12).  Perhaps that is why, today, we have fewer missionaries than virtually any other evangelical denomination in Canada on a per-baptized member basis.  The Christian and Missionary Alliance (by way of example), has about one supported missionary for every 226 baptized members.  The ELCIC has about one supported missionary for every 50 thousand baptized members.  And those missionaries we do support are now managed by offices in the United States.  Critics may say, “look, we don’t send many missionaries because we’re all missionaries!”  But that was not Paul’s perspective, he did empower and send people out, and so should we.  We need to empower ordinary Lutheran Christians to get their feet on the ground and try out cross cultural missions for themselves.  In 2008 I took eight people to the Xingu River in Brazil.  For a week we delivered water filters, supported local churches, shared the message of Jesus and delivered medical aid with a doctor and two nurses deep in the Amazon jungle.  It was a team of ordinary people from our church using their gifts to share the hope of Jesus. 

Second: The list of activities we’re engaging in is good, “Irrigation projects, food security, emergency response, refugee camps, community development, rural schools, health care, empowerment for women – the list is amazing.”  But in this list, I wonder if we also ought to make disciples, train pastors, and support local churches. This is a big part of what it means to be In Mission for Others. Bruxy Cavey said that, “Social activism is an expression of the Kingdom of God, but don’t mistake it for the full Gospel. There can be no kingdom without a King.”  Cross cultural missions without mention of building up believers, making disciples, or helping people follow Christ is not sustainable nor biblical.  Paul went into cities and towns on his missionary journeys and told people about Jesus.  People live when they hear about Jesus, that’s why Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone of our church, our Hope and Saviour.  Let’s do good overseas, but doing good starts with a robust view of Jesus and His saving grace.  Jesus is not an imposition that must be hidden or couched in social initiatives, the Gospel transcends cultural barriers because Jesus is immanent and accessible to every culture –  it’s for that very reason that we can share Jesus without fear.

Ordinary people delivering water filters, medical aid, and the love of Jesus to the Amazon.

A new vision of missions in the ELCIC would do two things.  First, it would empower ordinary people to get out there, to travel overseas and follow Jesus wherever he may lead.  This new vision would say that missionaries do not have to be experts or clergy, just people with a passion to testify to the love of Jesus in word and deed in a setting different than their own.  Our present system would shift towards empowering others to go overseas in an accessible and tangible way.  Secondly, this new vision would make sharing the Gospel of Jesus a central part of the work we do when thinking about missions.  It would recognize that we cannot fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 without making disciples of all nations.


Brothers and Sisters In Ministry

March 14, 2011

I was having a conversation with a fellow pastor the other day and something struck me. It is truly remarkable all of the ways in which we in the church cut one another down. Congregations often go from loving their pastor to actively trying to drive them out-of-town. Pastors are far more likely to point out each others failings instead finding ways to build each other up. So many are working so hard in their ministry, yet the focus seems to rest only on their failures and short comings.

This other pastor reminisced with me about another tradition that was once the culture of many churches. It was a culture where while people’s oddity and faults were still noticed, they were loved and lifted up anyways by their community; he describe a culture in which people would get in heated debates and still share a beer after wards as close friends.

His reminiscing made me dream about a time when ministers would instead of comparing each others’ stats, look for ways in which they could cooperate and build each other up; a time when congregations would actively seek out ways to support and develop their pastors, a time when we would see each others not as people on opposing sides, but rather as brother and sisters in a shared ministry. Ah it is good to dream. Over lunch though as I ate with my friend, a fellow minister of the Gospel,  I think I saw this dream becoming reality.


A Relevant Church

March 8, 2011

Lately I have been doing some thinking about relevance. Should the church try to be relevant? That depends on what we mean by relevance and what we are trying to connect. Instead of repeating a long article you can find my thoughts on relevance on another blog I contribute to called Call and Response you can find it  here. It is in response to another very good article which you can find here.


Talking about Jesus

February 11, 2011

Get this, I read today that, “Although many churches are worried about offending people by sharing the Gospel, less than 1 percent of the population complained Christians are too aggressive in their evangelistic efforts.”

Last week I had to deal with a challenging situation in the community.  A domestic dispute involving a number of people.  After a time of prayer with our staff, I entered the fray wondering what God would have me face.  I went in realizing that I could not solve any of these problems, but Jesus could bring peace, if only we talked with him and about him.  Very soon I was praying with some new friends and found that instead of being offended by my offer of prayer, they were delighted to have me talk to Jesus with them.  The police that were there said that a minister can do far more to diffuse a situation than any police officer.  Friends, let’s talk about Jesus more often.  The Gospel is truly good news.


Behold! God speaks! Really!

February 3, 2011

I was at a seminar on prayer last week.  I reluctantly went.  The last thing I wanted to do was spend my Friday learning about 5 glorified steps to spiritual clarity and enlightenment…which is kind of weird (my reluctance, that is) because if there is anything that I really long for it is spiritual clarity and enlightenment.  I know that I am not alone in my unfulfilled desire.  Most people I run into admit to having lackluster spiritual lives marked by uninspired dialog with God.  So how does the blind (or deaf) lead the blind (and deaf)?

Turns out I don’t have to.  God will.  God does.  We receive eyes to see and ears to hear.  I think it’s time I stopped assuming these were metaphors.  This is the actual promise of our actual savior who lives with the Father in constant prayer on our behalf and thanks to the Holy Spirit, we get to listen in on the conversation.  It’s right there in the Bible -pretty much everywhere (Check out this Sunday’s Epistle reading: 1 Cor. 2: 1-16).  How could I have possibly been so thick as to have to attend a seminar to discover it.  God actually speaks and guides…me…us.  (Does this make me a Lutheran renewal guy?)

Did you know that the word “Behold!” occurs in the Bible 1400 times and “Lo” shows up another 200 times.  What if… God actually means it? – “Pay Attention! Look! I’m going to show you something!”

I will admit that as I have pondered the daunting task of church renewal among the cloudy ambiguity that is our perceived future I have felt discouraged by the seeming impossibility of it all.  I will also admit that I’m an idiot.  GOD IS SPEAKING TO US.  GOD IS ACTUALLY SPEAKING TO US.    GOD IS TELLING US WHAT TO DO.

This Sunday’s O.T. Reading (Isa: 58:1-12) dampens my embarrassment as it reminds me that as pastor, moping around like a deaf and blind guy I’m in good company. The dialog is between God, a prophet and a group of religous folk.  Turns out they couldn’t hear God speaking to them either…and then God did.   God actually spoke!  God told them what to do and promised that their obedience would impact the world.

Why don’t we talk about this more?

Why don’t we expect God to speak to our church?

Speak Lord and give us an education in “saltiness”.

 


Is It Time to Re-Think Small Congregation?

February 1, 2011

I spent the other week with a group of people all working in small rural parishes while at the same time studying this ministry at a graduate level. It was for me a great opportunity to hear about all of the struggles and joys of this type of ministry. It has got me thinking. The reality is that there are a reletively small number of people in medium and large congregations. Alot of our people are in small congregations. The problem with this is not that there are small congregations, the challenge is how can these congregations see themseles not as struggling but thriving places of discipleship.

The reality is that it is often only small communities that our discipleship can be deepened. In larger churches we have to create this setting through small group ministry. In small congregations the whole congregation can have the richness of a small group. If you think like myself that it is though deepening our discipleship that our chruch can have a future, then our small congregations may in fact hold the future of what our church can be.

Still there are some real challenges that I have heard from people wiser them me. Bishop Mark MacDonald has asked an important question, How do we shape ministry and the chruch so that it can be a chruch people can afford? Prof. Cam Harder asks another question, how do we make sure small congregations do not have the sacraments withheld from them because they have to pay for it?  (It is interesting that two of the main challenges are related to structures and their financial consequences – do I sense constantine’s shadow).  I would add how do we in our chruch culture lift up and celebrate the gifts of a small congregation?

Perhaps it is time for us to create more means by which we can celebrte and enable small congregation ministry.


Mission as a way of seeing

January 27, 2011

I was handed the latest United Church of Canada periodical, “Touchstone: theology shaping witness” and told it might speak to me.  The issue is titled, “Ministry, why bother?”

An article written by Hugh D. Reid struck me as I read it this morning.  He tells of the ministry experience of a man named Christian.

“He met hostility and suspicion from the people to whom he was sent, people who could believe more easily in their rejection by the world and their insignificance to the world than they could believe in a God who loved them, but Christian was equipped with joy.  He said, “in the face of their antagonism,” he was sustained, “by the truth about them that they did not know.”  His task was not to coerce or to manipulate them into recieving this truth for he was more than a conqueror; he had only to patiently be for them until they could own for themselves the love and significance that was theirs.  He has seen many lives transformed from the street to stability, from violence to community, from death to life as the redemption that has been accomplished took hold.”

Do I have the eyes (and the patience!)to see in others the truth about them that they do not know?

Lord, you have given me the desire, give me also the grace to complete this task.

 



Healthy pastors, healthy church

January 20, 2011

It’s true, this year I did make some quiet half-verbalized resolution to be more healthy.  Too many hours at my desk or in my car is making me soft – and I was feeling it!  But for me, health is more than just exercise, it’s about ensuring that I put my priorities in order.  How do I spend my time?  Is ministry about desk-work?  Is the time I spend driving about town helping me connect with my neighbours?  The question is less about my exercise, and more about joining God in the work he’s calling me to.  How do I stay healthy in the work I do?

An article in the Fall 2010 edition of Neue magazine says this,

“From obesity to depression, clergy burnout has become a major concern.  A Duke University report found that in teh Evangelical Lutheran Church alone, 69 percent of ministers are obese, 64 percent have high blood pressure and 13 percent take anti-depressants.  Of all Christian clergy, 76 percent were overweight – 15 percent higher than the general US population.  With ministers working up to 60 hours a week, experts say they must make room for sabbatical, Sabbath days and healthy habits.”

Do you think there is a connection between the overall health of our pastors and the health of our churches?  Thoughts?


Elements of Renewal – Keeping The Main Thing The Main Thing

January 6, 2011

At Advent there is a conversation that seems to keep coming up. What are we really about? The answer is fairly obvious. We are about discipleship and helping people grow in their discipleship. Now this involves many things, such as sharing the gospel, justice, care for each other, worship etc. At it heart though it is about placing Christ as the centre of everything we do. It is amazing though how easy we get distracted from this.

Just over the past several months we have been distracted by worrying kids being noisy in worship, parking, who can use the church when, coffee making, the debate over same-sex blessing, broken photocopiers . . . The list could go on. There are even more subtle and seductive distractions. Things like focusing on getting more people, bigger budgets, better programs and simple human politics. These are things that need to be attended to,  but if focused on corrupt.

If we are to be renewed, Christ must be the centre of what we do, and discipleship must be the central things that we develop, otherwise any renewal we experience is only a poor illusion. So with so many distractions how do we keep the main thing the main thing? That is one key to renewal. We are starting by asking a simple question when we make decisions. “Where is Christ in this?”  If you have ideas about how we can keep the main thing central. Please share.


Merry Christmas!

December 23, 2010

This season is the season where we truly see what is possible when God comes down to live amongst us. For in the birth of a small child, suddenly all things becomes possible. Tiding of great joy and peace amongst God’s people on earth.

Merry Christmas to all

Ryan