January 2012

A New Year, A New Vision and A New Journey

This is the headline of an e-letter recently sent to the professional leaders of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America by Bishop Claire Burkat.

Bishop Burkat announced that she and the church were having an epiphany.

“The age of the mainline Church as many of us have known it has passed, and there is no blueprint for our journey in this next, rapidly accelerating age.”

The epiphany may have struck sooner and taken fewer casualties if Bishop Burkat had taken time to get to know congregations when she took office. Heart to heart dialog at the time might have helped her hear things we congregations were trying to tell her. We could have helped her lead. That’s the Lutheran way. Interdependence.

It has taken almost every day of her six-year term, but Bishop Burkat has discovered some things for herself.

“The most apparent changes in our congregations and denominations so far see us shifting our focus from relying on professional staff, planning programs, keeping-up buildings, and preserving institutions toward engaging people inside and outside our churches in spritual conversation, as well as creating caring communities, collaborative service, and collective discernment.”

Redeemer was trying to tell her that. We had forged our way, with very little reliance on professional leadership. We had fostered good relationships with neighborhood organizations. We had relied on the gifts of the laity. We recognized that God was at work in our community in a new and creative way.

Now SEPA has a new blog to share ministry stories of its member churches. Although the site invites us to Tell Our Story, we doubt that our story would make it past moderation. So we will tell our story here. Feel free to tweet or reblog or post it on God Is Doing Something Good Blog for us.

  • Redeemer had a growing outreach ministry to East African immigrants. They had found a church home in East Falls and were growing in participation and leadership. Redeemer of the 20th century had welcomed the 21st century, adapting our traditions—not forsaking them—to welcome many new people.
    Bishop Burkat and SEPA discouraged our ministry and locked us all out of God’s House.
  • Redeemer was concentrating on developing lay leadership.
    That need is the topic of Alban Institute’s Roundtable this week. Redeemer had been working at this for a decade. 
  • Redeemer had a plan to help immigrant families locate starter homes, obtain mortgages and make necessary renovations.
    Bishop Burkat and SEPA made this impossible.
  • Redeemer had a plan to pioneer congregational use of the web. The fact that we were locked out of our church home made this a priority.
    If you are reading this (along with our more than 100 daily readers) you have discovered our ground-breaking blog.
  • Redeemer recognized that our property, rented to a Lutheran Social Service agency, was contributing to a valued neighborhood ministry. This was a mission alliance that served a church agency, our congregation and neighborhood. If money were our sole objective, we could have rented our property for more.
    Bishop Burkat and SEPA’s interference put the agency in the middle of a property dispute. They chose to shut down their 25-year presence in our community.
  • With this long-standing mission project ruined by SEPA, Redeemer worked for a year to develop a school that would serve the community in a way which would also foster religious values.
    Bishop Burkat and SEPA evicted the school just as it was about to open.
  • Redeemer recognized that a neighborhood ministry to immigrants, while valuable and God’s apparent plan for us, was not likely to be funded from the offering plate. Neither would an outreach mission to college-aged youth and young professionals, also a large part of East Falls neighborhood. Both were obvious missions for any church in East Falls. We worked to develop alternate income streams using our assets.
    Bishop Burkat and SEPA sued us to obtain our property and endowment funds for their own use.

God continues to work through Redeemer.

In our excommunicated state, we began visiting other Lutheran churches. We started to see firsthand many common challenges. We are responding.

  • We are creating a model for a program that would help small congregations create an eductional outreach and reconnect with their neighborhoods. VBS-aid is getting inquiries from all over the coutnry. It’s an idea that could bring many benefits to the emerging 21st century church and to SEPA. It needs start-up funding.
  • Abandoned by our own denomination, Redeemer is forming new relationships with other Lutheran groups and other denominations. We are pioneering an educational model for congregations that would not be expensive and would create ongoing dialog and community—another good idea with growing support.

If SEPA hadn’t taken our money, we could fund our projects with our own money.

Bishp Burkat ends her missive to SEPA professional leaders:

“Let’s perceive this journey into uncharted territory as a great adventure. There will be dangers, and we will surely make mistakes.”

Bishop Burkat is right. Mistakes will—and have been—made.

It is not too late to admit that SEPA’s actions in East Falls were just that—a mistake. The art of leadership, especially Christian leadership, is to recognize mistakes and take actions to reconcile.

This is a leadership quality all churches must foster. Congregations must be free to make mistakes without hungry big brother/sister Church waiting to take advantage.

The road into the the future would be smoother if SEPA could admit their mistakes. Instead of counting coup on the neighborhood congregations, try respecting that God may be at work in ways you have yet to understand. That’s the value of an epiphany.

Redeemer may be SEPA’s most valuable congregation — and we’re not talking about land and endowments. Assigned an excommunicated status, declared to be dying, Redeemer has been trail-blazing.

It’s not too late to make things right in East Falls. We are ready for reconciliation. Are you?

As Bishop Burkat points out, “God is God and we are not.”

Lay Leaders May Save the Mainline Church

Today’s post in the Alban Institute’s Roundtable is a fascinating study on a topic important to today’s Church—the role of lay leadership.

The article is an excerpt from a book, Scattering Seeds: Cultivating Church Vitality, by Stephen Chapin Garner (a pastor) with Jerry Thornell (a lay member).

The post begins with their New England congregation’s realization that professional leadership is an endangered commodity. Fewer young people are entering seminary. The number of second career pastors cannot keep up with the demand that is looming with coming retirements.

They answered the challenge by intentionally developing stronger lay leadership. The church grew. An unexpected result—their congregation sent seven members to seminary.

The authors talk about how the familiar visioning process never could have led them in the direction that ended up increasing their membership and helping to solve a denominational problem as well.

It all sounds familiar to 2×2. We found ourselves forced by a number of factors to rely on lay leadership. Had we relied solely on the recommended process of visioning and drafting a mission statement, we would probably still be holding special meetings to change a comma here or there.

Instead, we went to work. We addressed immediate needs and challenges. We prayed — a lot! We returned to the basics — making sure there was a quality worship experience, good preaching and hospitality. We took a few chances.

We relied on the talents of our members. When we were doing the work, we were more inclined to be invitational.

We gave ourselves room to grow. We cultivated a nonjudgmental atmosphere, allowing mistakes so that we could all learn together. We stretched. We maintained good relationships with supply pastors but were soon able to get by with minimal clergy.

The answer to congregational growth in challenging economic times may be in nurturing the laity — not in expensive hierarchical fixes.

Adding the Power of Visuals to Your Blog or Web Site

We live in a visual world. Social Media advocates can take that for granted. They are pleased to get a few hundred thoughtful words together to publish a few times a week. Add a picture? That will take too much time!

A search for "mustard seed" in photopin.com helped find this photo. At the end of the post look for the photo credit, cut and pasted into the html. It took less than two minutes to find the photo and add it to this post.

Fortunately for us, there are media elves who specialize in analyzing our work. Elves like pictures and videos. When they start counting on their little green fingers they report that blogs using images and videos chalk up higher statistics. More people read them. Search engines find them more easily. Listen to the elves!

There are many inexpensive sources of art. istock images can cost as little as $2. But here is a source that is mostly free. All you have to do is add a credit for the image at the end of your post. You don’t even have to type. Just copy and paste the code.


Their catalog is vast. The trick for church bloggers is to come up with the right words to find a suitable image. You may have to play around a bit.

For example, a search for “The Good Shepherd” brought up a few religious images but a lot of images that were nowhere near topic. They may have been images of people with the name “Good” or “Shepherd.”

Better results came with different search words. “Stained glass windows” worked well.

Search engines can also help you. Use Google, Yahoo, etc. and click on the IMAGE tab. You’ll have to look at each image that comes up for copyright. It’s a good idea to always credit the source.

You can scan your own images or use your cell phone creatively for images. Objects around the house can add interest. In one of our earlier posts, we used an image of grapes to go with a phrase we had used in the post “sour grapes.” We bought that image from istock for a couple of bucks but we could have taken a cell phone photo of images of grapes from our own refrigerator.

Captions are not always necessary but they do give search engines one more thing to find. If the visual connection to your post is not obvious, write a caption.

Start to think visually. It will help prepare you for the next step . . . video.

photo credit: moominmolly via photopin cc

The Value of Asking “Who Cares?”

One of today’s blogs entitled “Who Cares?” written by Seth Godin, features an analysis of the value of caring in the hotel/restaurant business.

It concludes, “Caring, it turns out, is a competitive advantage, and one that takes effort, not money.”

This is a topic that sorely needs to be discussed within the church. So many of us go to church and look upon stained glass depictions of Christ carrying a lamb and leading the sheep who look up at Him with expectant trust.

Are we seeing this modeled by today’s church leaders?

We suspect the most accurate answer lies in how carefully denominations carry the smallest lambs among them.

Some denominations value their small membership churches and assign special leadership to guide them. They explore solutions and ministry ideas. They provide pastoral care. With care comes hope. With hope comes energy. With energy comes ideas and ministry.

When a denomination cares, they take time to know people and draw from their passion — even if their work is not bringing thousands of dollars to the denomination’s coffers.

Other denominations (including our own) intentionally ignore small congregations for years. In some cases, they provide no help. Worse, they provide a caretaker pastor who drains the congregation’s resources with no intention of growing the church. Every decision they make is predicated on their faith in failure. Soon the small church is seen only as a piece of property with (if they are lucky) an endowment fund to go with it. The people of the church become obstacles that must be removed by any means.

2×2 grew out of the latter leadership style. We have experienced the answer to the question “Who cares?” In our case, the answer has been: very few.

Asking this question can measure a denomination’s strength. Let’s start at the grass roots.

  • Do the people in the congregation care enough to resist being treated badly? Do they insist on being treated like children of God? Will they allow themselves to be ignored? Do they allow the Christian presence in their neighborhoods to evaporate by decree? What will they risk for their church?
  • Do the pastors care enough to find a way to speak up? If pressured, will they abandon the congregations they once felt “called to serve”? Will they vote with the pack and keep their personal feelings to themselves?
  • Do elected representatives of denominations care enough to take a fair look at ministry potential and to explore solutions? Will they demand that leadership demonstrate love and compassion? Will they allow denominational leaders to degrade individual members of a congregation? Will they lamely support the caching of congregational assets and exertion of power?
  • Do members of the denomination ask questions and insist on good behavior from their leaders, or do they accept explanations that don’t make sense, happy to not have the spotlight on their problems?
  • Do the national church leaders care enough to insist upon fair treatment of all congregations? Do they treat regional leaders as more trusted and valuable than the people they are pledged to serve?

Successful ministry relies on denominations who care. “Care” is a verb. It requires action.

Look for leaders who care.

The Four CHs of Christianity

There is a definite theme today in a number of today’s blogs. The same words keep popping up. Then Stumble Upon presented a quote in big bold letters. Here it is — tailored a bit for our purpose.

The four CH’s of Christianity:
Choices, Chances, Changes, Church
You must make a Choice to take a Chance or your Church will never Change.

The obvious biblical reference is to the Choices and Chances taken by the disciples and the Changes that resulted in the Church.

But what about today’s Christians? Our choices and chances are not likely to be recorded for posterity and referenced a thousand years from now by book, chapter and verse.

The choices in our lives are frequently taken from us. Signing on for Christianity can be a prescription for life in a religious rut, go to worship, do some church things — (teach children, sing, brew coffee, mow the yard), put money in the offering, and talk about taking stands and sacrificing. The mechanisms for serving become standardized — sign up for a charity run or volunteer in a soup kitchen. Others will likely join you and there is satisfaction in numbers. You can report numbers. “Ten members of St. John helped build a home for Habitat for Humanity.”

We never report or measure what we fail to do!

When the need for change becomes overwhelming, we often are ill-equipped to do more than talk about it. Leaders can find this comforting; more than talk might create friction. Friction is work.

Change does not happen without making some conscious choices and taking chances — some of which will not look prudent when the costs are projected. The choices that need to be made in the church today will not be popular. They will pull members and leaders out of their comfort zones. They will require new training and ways of thinking.

The chances that need to be taken may look foolish. They will seem daring . . . but that’s entirely biblical. You might have to spend some of that endowment money! You might have to look for new leadership.

Choices, Chances, Changes, and Church

Work at them with prayer. But don’t stop there. Take action.

Are Your Posts on Topic?

Here is a tool to help you make sure your blogs are on topic and that you are writing about things in keeping with your mission. Wordle scans your most recent blog posts and makes a word cloud. You can  change the colors and the fonts to suit your taste, but the words will be sized by frequency of use.

Here’s ours! We are happy that we are talking about the things we set out to talk about.

You can take the Wordle image and use it for a poster or some other decorative use.

New Words to a Pop Tune to Use in Lent

Some popular songs are so beautiful it is a shame they are not hymns.

One such song, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” is a hauntingly beautiful tune with rather strange words about the temptation story of David and Bathsheba.

The church season of Lent begins with the story of Jesus’ Temptation. Here are some words to fit the popular song “Hallelujah” which make it usable for Christian worship.

Sheet music is available online. The easy chord progressions are also available on line. It works well as a solo or with small group. Two soloists can sing the dialog. The congregation can be the angel choir singing “Hallelujah.”

If your church “seals the Alleluias” for Lent, it may help to remember that the 40 days of Lent do not include Sundays. Every Sunday is a celebration of Easter! No reason to censor praise.

The words are ours to publish. Please feel free to use them in worship.

You climbed into the hills to stay
For forty days to fast and pray
A heart to heart with God is what moved you.
But underneath a craggy stone
The devil waited all alone
“Now’s my chance,” he muttered, “Hallelujah.”

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

The wilderness was bare and dry
An angel chorus in the sky
Countered with a saintly Hallelujah
One fallen angel stayed and fought
“This Son of God is mine,” he thought
But louder cried the angels’ “Hallelujah!”

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

The sun shone on the dusty land
There’s no food for the Son of Man
“But hunger shouldn’t be a problem for you.
Look at the stones both west and east
Pick up a few and have a feast.”
The angels startled cry sighs, “Hallelujah!”

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

“You take the bread, I’ll take the stone
We do not live on bread alone
But on the words my Father utters to you.”
The devil, stunned, is blown away.
“I know there is another way.”
Act One. The chorus closes. Hallelujah!

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Act Two. The devil slinks away
And leaves The Son of God to pray
“But I’ve still got a plan to overthrow you.
From a temple tower high above
Look down on all those folks you love
Fall down and let the angel chorus save you.”

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

“Enough of this, be on your way
‘Don’t test the Lord,’ the scriptures say”
A tired and angry Jesus blasts back at you
But undeterred the devil stays
“I’ll get this Son of God,” he says
But the chorus overcomes him, “Hallelujah.”

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Act Three. The devil’s awfully tired
“Who knew this game would be so hard!?
But one more trick and I know I can fool you.
The Son of God, if so you be,
You’ll want to get the best of me.”
The angels sing still louder, “Hallelujah!”

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

“So Jesus, whatcha waiting for
The world is waiting at your door.
One look around at all that I can give you
Just click your heels and bend your knee
I’ll give you everything you see
You’re set for life, sing out now, ‘Hallelujah!’”

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

“Get lost, you devil, go away
There’s just one God for me alway.”
The songs from heaven sounded loud and long.
“I may be tired, I may be sad
But God is everything I have”
Now all the world can join us in our song.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah 

photo credit: pb-n-james via photopin cc

Looking for the Ideal Christian

In the secular world, businesses have a little trick they rarely discuss except among like-minded professionals.


They create “personas” — model customers. They spend good time and money doing this. They comb through stock art to find an image that looks like the person they want to serve or supply with a product. They may choose two or three ideal customers. The images are given names and a back story. They mount them on foam core and display them in the corporate lobby or board room. They start to talk about “Dakota,” “Trevor” and “Roy” as if they are waiting for them in the next room. They write their blogs and advertising copy with them in mind. Their product development revolves around these imaginary people.


Someone presents a new idea. The corporation asks, “What do Dakota, Trevor and Roy think?”


Can this help the church? Wouldn’t it table the Great Commission — to go out into all the world and preach the Gospel to everyone? Wouldn’t it turn the Church into an exclusive organization?


The fact is congregations subconsciously create personas. “We want families. They’ll help our church grow.” Will they?


To some degree, the congregational persona is as close as the mirror. Churches want more people who are like them.


2×2 recommends the use of personas as a worthwhile congregational exercise. But they are not a magic bullet. The Church is not a business. We do not want members just to support our bottom line, do we?


If our personas are only the people we hope to attract, they can blind us to unseen potential—the wonderful serendipity of mission!


If Redeemer, the sponsor of 2×2, had created a persona for our ideal new member in the mid-90s, we might have followed the same thinking. We might have looked for young professionals for their skills and energy. We might have looked for more established, middle-aged professionals for their ability to contribute. We might have looked for the recently retired for their volunteer hours. In our mind’s eye, we would have seen people who look like us — Americans of European descent, already familiar with our denomination.


The discussion would have become all about who can help us — not about whom we can help.


God had other plans. The people who came to Redeemer and began to make our church grow were immigrants from East Africa — Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Botswana and others. They were looking to create new lives in a new land — finishing school, starting families and purchasing homes. They were looking for a church to be part of their lives. Some were Lutheran. Others were not.


Congregations are not the only people to fall into the “persona” trap. Denominations have their own ideas of what an ideal congregation is. Our denomination was not able to accept Redeemer in our 21st century persona. They had a mental image of our congregation as a throwback to the 1940s. The persona prejudice was impossible to shake. For all its talk about being inclusive and multicultural, church leaders remains unprepared to serve a congregation that does not meet their preconceptions. Pity.


The idea of personas are a good exercise to aid congregations in discussion as they plan ministry. But here is the kicker. The personas we craft should represent the people who actually exist and who need to feel God’s love.


If the concept of “persona” has any value to church it should be for finding people we can serve, without calculating their value to us.

Can you serve children after school? Can you help single parents? Can you care for the neighborhood’s elderly? Can you support military families? Is there a cause that needs someone to take a stand? Keep true community needs in mind as you plan your ministry and write your blogs.


Forget the nonsense. Practice the Great Commission with blinders on. God might have exciting things in store for you.

Church Blogging Ideas for February 2012

We know that maintaining a blog is work and want to help congregation’s avoid “blogger’s block.”

Here are some ideas for blogging in February. These are idea starters. It’s up to you to develop them. Remember, you are writing for the whole community, not just your own members.

Church Year

February ends the Epiphany season — the season in which Christ is revealed as the Son of God. Towards the end of the month, the season of Lent begins. This is a time for self-examination and reconciliation. Write about the church year. Many people are unfamiliar with it!


A good place to begin looking for ideas is Scripture. Here’s link to a comprehensive list of Scriptures as they pertain to the church year.

Key Verses for the Month of February

Try to relate verses to things going on in your community or which otherwise affect many people.

February 2 (Presentation of the Lord)

  • See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. —Malachi 3:1-4
  • Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. —Psalm 84:4
    Write about your choir or feature your musicians. 
  • Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. —Hebrews 2:17
  • The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. —Luke 2:40  Highlight your educational program. 

Sunday, February 5

  • Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. —Isaiah 40:28-31
  • If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! —1 Corinthians 9:16

Sunday, February 12

  • For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. —Psalm 30:5
  • Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!” You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever. —Psalm 30:10-12
  • Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.  —1 Corinthians 9: 24 Is there a community marathon or race coming up? Talk about it and tie it to scripture.


  • “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. —Psalm 50:5-6
  • For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. —2 Corinthians 4:5
  • Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” —Mark 9:7

This is a church observance many know little about. Use your blog to teach! Link to some online artwork.

Ash Wednesday, February 22

  • We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. —2 Corinthians 5:20b–6:1
  • “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. —Matthew 6:19-21

1st Sunday in Lent, February 26

  • He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. —Psalm 25:9-10
  • Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” —Mark 1:14-15

February is Black History Month

Where was your congregation at the pivotal moments of the fight for Civil Rights for all Americans? Are there leaders close to your church who might write a guest blog? Do you have members willing to share their stories?

February includes President’s Day

Is there something from the life of one of our presidents that speaks to your community. Google for good quotes. Try, for example: “Lincoln quotes”. You are likely to find some good ideas.

February includes Valentine’s Day

Write about the history of Valentine’s Day or about St. Valentine. Encourage card sending. For example, ask people to send a Valentine to a favorite teacher or mentor.

February includes Groundhog’s Day

Don’t be afraid to have some fun! Write about the end of winter.

Watch the Newspapers

Are there people in your community who need prayer? Are there issues to be discussed from a spiritual point of view?

What’s happening in your neighborhood? In the schools? In your church and other churches?

Is there a service group or club worth highlighting?

What Does It Mean to Be Liked?

You’re all familiar withe the Facebook “Like” button.

  • How many of you check the “Like” box?
  • How many of you never check the “Like” box but notice the “Like” statistics?

There is a new science in analyzing Facebook “Likes” or similar buttons on blogs.

Analysts are trying to figure out who the “likers” are and what impact they have. The power of “liking” seems to be held by older internet users — those over 35! When they “Like” something, they mean it and will “UnLike” you if you rub them the wrong way!

Now Facebook is analyzing “Likes.” Fan pages are giving you statistics on

  • Reach: The number of people who see your page within four weeks of posting.
  • Engagement: The number of people who have taken some action on your post (followed a link, for example:
  • Talking About This: The number of who have commented, shared or responded to a Call to Action.
  • Virality: The number of people who have created a post from your post.

Who knew so much could be read from a simple “Like”!

Imagine if the church had a way of using similar statistics.

  • The number of people who heard the Gospel
  • The number of people who reacted to the Gospel by taking action
  • The number of people who shared the Gospel
  • The number of people who built something new based on the Gospel

It’s enough to make you see ministry in a whole, new way. Oh, and by the way, Facebook now gives churches that statistical tool!