Lutheran Discipleship

31 10 2012

I posted the following this morning as a comment to a thread on discipleship on the NADCE facebook page and thought it worth re-posting here:

It seems to me that we know more about how we don’t want to measure discipleship rather than what we do want to use as a metric to gauge how we are doing. We rightly want to avoid measuring things that from a theological stand point might appear to make the work of God into an act of man. We spend the bulk of our time making sure that we have our teaching correct on justification that we fail to consider how we can measure what is taking place in our sanctification. I find it rather interesting that I am writing this critic of Lutheran church practice on Reformation Day, but I believe that it holds true. I think a good deal of thought is needed to truly reach a Lutheran understanding of discipleship for today. We can learn much from other traditions who, unencumbered by the concern to maintain clarity on the doctrine of justification, dive in to forming discipleship processes and assessments with great enthusiasm and often great work, but we need to spend sometime reflecting and connecting our theology to develop a conception of discipleship that make sense both in our culture and theology. All that is to say, that I find I have more questions than answers, but believe this to be a critical area in which to really dig in and consider what might be.


The Post-Church Context

11 09 2012

The title of this post was a sub-title in an article by CHN District President Bob Newton in The Lutheran Witness from January 2010.  In the article President Newton talks about the nature of the change that has been taking place across our country in the culture.  Granting the the impact of these changes and the depth to which they have permeated the various regions of our country do vary, sometimes greatly.  However the impact is and can be seen to some degree nearly everywhere.  So what should we be looking for in assessing the impact of what Newton calls a post-church context?

The larger community around the Church has become increasingly unchurched, more and more reflecting a Pre-Church context of ministry.  At the same time, the Church continues to operate with the assumptions of the Churches society.

Now I want to avoid creating an argument from silence.  This does not mean that one can prove the change in culture by the absence of its perception in the church.  Not seeing a change cannot prove that change has happened, naturally.  The danger is however that we might not note these societal changes if our churches have not maintained a solid connection with the communities in which we have our ministries. Different parts of the country are confronted with varying degrees of un or de-churching.

Barna research finds that:

The most prolific change in religious behavior among those measured has been the increase in the percentage of adults categorized as unchurched. The Barna Group definition includes all adults who have not attended any religious events at a church, other than special ceremonies such as a wedding or funeral, during the prior six month period. In 1991, just one-quarter of adults (24%) were unchurched. That figure has ballooned by more than 50%, to 37% today.

While it is tragic to see larger numbers of adults being categorized as unchurched, the long term impact that some of us are beginning to see is the lack of fluency in their children to the culture of the church.  Increasingly I was seeing students brought to church for confirmation (translated as basic moral training or a promise to Grandma) without even a basic understanding of the faith. They simply lacked the intellectual structures needed to make sense out of the Christian story.

This may actually be the positive side of the current state of our culture.  Kinnaman points out that

Our research shows that many of those outside of Christianity, especially younger adults, have little trust in the Christian faith, and esteem for the lifestyle of Christ followers is quickly fading among outsiders.  They admit their emotional and intellectual barriers go up when they are around Christians, and they reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians.

And what then in the response of the church?  Going back to Newton he suggests two ways in which the church struggles to respond:

First, they are caught off balance.  Having for so long held the position of cultural insiders, they still build their outreach ministry on the assumption and practices that worked in the Churches era – basically that the unchurched will be attracted to their church or ministries.  They cannot understand why individuals and families find the soccer field, Starbucks, or just sleeping in more appealing than going to church on Sunday morning.  Or why people challenge the traditional Christmas tree in the town square, or the Ten Commandments in a court of law.  These cultural changes make no sense.

Second, and more important, Christians and churches struggle to find ways to connect meaningfully with the unchurched.  The struggle centers in large measure on the Church’s inability to take up the position of cultural outsider, that is, to become permeable in regard to its own boundaries in order to penetrate the boundaries surrounding the unchurched world.

Thus our struggle is that we either cannot see or cannot conceptualize a response with any level of understanding.  We too often maintain for ourselves a world within the church that colors our perception of the world outside of the church.  Think about how many relationships that we have with people in our church or other churches as compared to those from a differing cultural perspective.  If we have not spent adequate time drinking in (in a learning not assimilating manner) the culture of our changing communities, is it really any wonder that we in the church have begun to fail to connect.

Now I continually say we, to first off include myself and to imply that this is an “us” problem not a “they” problem.  There are churches and church leaders who see this and like President Newton, are attempting to formulate a more culturally contextually relevant response.  The emphasis on being “missional” is one attempt to address the need to minister out of contextual relevance not irrelevance.  The missional movement can get itself into trouble when they blur the line between missions and service, subsuming all under the banner head of missional living.  However the impulse is at least attempting to address the fundamental issue.

So where does that leave us, DCE’s in the LCMS?  Well, depending on the nature of your local community, you would need to do a little cultural exegesis to determine just how post-Christian or post-Church your town is. An appropriate response in Manhattan, NY might not be appropriate in Manhattan, KS and vice versa.

Future posts will begin to unpack how my own thinking is taking shape as it relates to the unique challenges of ministry in the Pacific Southwest District.  Your interaction to reflect upon ministry in your own community is invited to enrich this exploration.

Giving Up Gimmicks

29 08 2012

A colleague (Dr. Rod Rosenbladt) recommended this excellent book to me recently.  They had interviewed the author on his radio show The White Horse Inn. For the Lutheran reader you might have to do some Reformed to Lutheran translation work, but the basic argument that Cosby makes is sound.  Too often the church has exchanged entertainment for education of our young people and it shows.  Cosby offers a great analysis of this issue and offers his solution for how to correct this trend.

What a Way to Encourage

29 08 2012

Hey, church workers! How are you going to encourage youth to consider a vocation in church work this year?

Defining Emerging Contexts of Ministry

24 08 2012

To being exploring how the ministry of DCE’s in the LC-MS might be re-imagined, it would be good to define terms.  In my prior post I commented on something called “emerging contexts.”  What might those be?   How might an emerging context be defined or distinguished in order to assess appropriate response(s). What I mean when using the term “emerging context” is those contexts of ministry in a state of substantive to radical change due to external pressures.  Just as the church through the centuries has had to wrestle with the changing nature of ministry (for example the impact on the legalization of Christianity by Rome and its eventual place as the official religious expression of a formerly polytheistic culture).  What I am hoping to wrestle with, and through my posting from this process engage you in the wrestling as well, is the nature of how we communicate the faith as DCE’s in 21st century America and the world, taking into account how culture shapes those we have been called to reach with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So what factors impact the contexts in which we find ourselves serving?  

  1. From a cultural stand point, it would be foolish not to acknowledge the post-Christian nature of our culture.  Just as “Christendom” was established by the full (near full anyway) adoption of Christianity as the cultural currency of the Roman Empire by Constantine impacted the missional response of 4th Century Christians, so too does the disintegration of Christendom impact 21st Century Christians.  Thus we will explore what it means to communicate the faith to those who have limited to no personal context with Christianity and how that might free DCE ministry to create new structures for ministry.  We will also discuss how culture shapes those within the church in their understanding of what our faith is all about.
  2. We are also as members of the LC-MS part of a church body in a multi-decade demographic decline. Growth areas for the LC-MS, especially in districts like the Pacific Southwest, are in immigrant communities.  Thus we will explore how DCE ministry might intentionally connect with growing areas of the church while developing strategies and ministry models to revive declining congregations.   
  3. The economic situation of our country and the world in general as well as that of our churches in particular has also impacted the nature of ministry.  Thus we will discuss creative strategies to continue to extend and grow ministry while being responsible stewards for the financial and personnel resources in our church body. 
  4. The LC-MS continues to have lingering ecclesiastical issues as it relates to defining ministry and the office(s) there in.  Thus we will discuss the history of church ministry and the roles/offices that we might draw out from our history and the history of other traditions in order to better chart a course for future ministry. 

There is likely many more context of emergence that you have encountered in your own ministry or participation in the church. That is why my hope is that this will be a conversation.  Comment below to suggest any holes you see in my assessment above that you believe would be fruitful to consider. 

ReVisioning DCE Ministry for Emerging Contexts

17 08 2012

It is about that time to reinvent “It’s the Word” yet again.  As I have been seeking to find my voice for this blog in the past, I seem to have struggled with what I might have to offer that other might find worth reading.  Enough of that.  

That approach left me seeking to offer polished conclusions rather than explorations in what might be.  What might be is where I hope to venture in coming posts.  The Word of God is the foundation of Christian faith and life.  How the church structures that faith and life around the revelation of God in the pages of the Bible has been continually reinvented over the centuries.  Now I don’t mean t imply innovation for the sake of novelty.  Though that has and very much does take place today, what I am talking about the the healthy recognition that as people and culture changes methods of communicating our timeless message has and continues to be crafted and recrafted to ensure that it is well understood in the context in which it is presented.

The structures of ministry the facilitate that communication of the Gospel themselves have changed over the centuries and continue to do so.  What I hope to do in the next run of posts is to attempt to explore the implications of our current context of ministry, specifically (though not exclusively) with an eye toward DCE’s ministry in the Pacific Southwest District.  Sounds kind of specific I know.  The reason for this is the this is the context in which I am called to lead through my dual ministry at Youth & Family Ministry Facilitator for the Pacific Southwest District ( and as a professor at Concordia University, Irvine (  

I will attempt to interact with particular works and thinkers that have bearing on ministry today.  As you encounter books or thinkers who you have been influenced by or who you might like to see discussed, please post a comment to let me know.  The goal will be to engage in an joint exploration, which implies that my voice cannot go it alone in this project.  I will post intentionally provocative questions not in an attempt to offer finalized thinking but to push forward areas in which we all need to struggle together to reach for new consensus (at least where that is possible).  If you have topics you would like to see and interact with let me know.  I look forward to see what we might end up exploring as we consider how we might embark on a ReVisioning of DCE Ministry.   

Roe v Wade Anniversary

23 01 2012

Yesterday the following was posted on the White House web-site:

Statement by the President on Roe v. Wade Anniversary

As we mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must remember that this Supreme Court decision not only protects a woman’s health and reproductive freedom, but also affirms a broader principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters.  I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose and this fundamental constitutional right.  While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue- no matter what our views, we must stay united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant woman and mothers, reduce the need for abortion, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption.  And as we remember this historic anniversary, we must also continue our efforts to ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.

Many responses are possible to a statement such as this.  One could argue with the fundamental nature of choice as a right.  One might also point out that the Declaration of Independence established the foundational rights for the drafting of the US Constitution and that life is listed not choice.  One could also question whether abortion can logically be defended as an equal rights issue (daughters…same…as our sons) given the exclusion of male input as well as the dreams yet to be dreamed by the unborn.

Instead, I would rather just reflect upon the Word of the Lord from Psalm 139.

1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

 13 For you formed my inward parts; 
   you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!