March 2013

Lutheran Fraternal Insurer Seeks to Serve Non-Lutherans

kangaroo2Is there something to be learned from this?

Thrivent, once known as Lutheran Brotherhood, is a financial fraternal association serving the members of all Lutheran denominations.

Redeemer’s Thrivent members recently received a ballot to vote on a proposal to expand their service offerings to other Christian groups.  (They must not have heard that we’ve been kicked out of the Lutheran Church.)

It was inevitable as the Lutheran population dwindles that the financial fraternity would have to expand its economic base and welcome more people into the brotherhood.

This raises some questions about church voting. If an insurance company can open a vote to every member, why do we still rely on representative assemblies voting for us at the Synod level? Might the Digital Age afford us a better way?

Representative voting relies on voters having the knowledge and experience to do a conscientious job. In this regard, the voting procedure within the ELCA is seriously flawed.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted a quota system at the time it was formed 25 years ago—before the power of the internet was unsheathed. The original system (faulty as it was) has been tinkered with ever since. Votes are assigned by size of church, gender, language, and age. There is no good way to prove some of these characteristics. Redeemer was a church with a majority membership of color, a strong youth population and multi-lingual. Not only were we never allotted extra representation for any of these demographics, as the bylaws allow, but the bishop (at the last minute) declared us ineligible to send any voting representatives to the 2009 Synod Assembly—which the bylaws do not allow.

None of the voters at that Assembly raised any questions. We’ve been excluded ever since.

Under the quota system, credentials for representatives create a false demographic—an illusion of inclusion. A scan of the floor of a Synod Assembly might make it seem like SEPA Synod is highly diverse. We’ve visited 57 congregations. Diversity is the exception.

Twenty years of liturgical gerrymandering may have resulted in a voting pool that meets inclusion criteria but fails to be representative—or effective.

For example, many congregations have a majority female membership. They must come up with a male if they are to have the proper number of votes at Assembly. The males in the congregation may have no interest and are borderline involved in church government  but genitalia is valued above knowledge and commitment. 

An inexperienced voting assembly is putty in the hands of church leaders. How else can our Synod explain adopting six-figure deficits at a time when giving was down across the board and never stopping to think how those deficits would be overcome and at whose expense?

Voters who don’t understand the issues or consequences of their decisions follow the pack.

There are important documents and procedures which control the powers of the Assemblies and provide safeguards to the congregatons. It’s not just the constitution, with which some people have at least vague familiarity. It includes the Articles of Incorporation, which define the powers of the Assembly and control the extent to which the constitution can be changed. Practically no one is familiar with this document. For one thing it forbids the seizure of congregational property without the consent of the congregation and puts this matter outside the authority of the Synod Assembly.

Without knowledge of church government, Synod Assembly has become a venue to present a synod’s wish list for rubberstamp approval—not a venue for dialog or debate. 

All of this can be revamped for greater participation in an age where this is expected.

It is now entirely possible to allow all members a vote, but failing that they can at least be afforded a voice. It would take some thinking to make it work but it could bring benefits, fresh air, and true representation into the world of Church.

  • Regional offices will be forced to really engage with their constituency.
  • Congregations will have to be realistic about their memberships.
  • They, too, would have reason to engage members on issues that matter.
  • Members would have a sense that their involvement can make a difference.
  • Vested members may increase participation and giving.

Today issues can be presented to all church members online well in advance of the Assembly date. 

During this time, the regional office is free to communicate with all members of the church. Congregations have equal freedom to debate issues. Even individuals can take discussions online. People might actually become involved.

If it is too unwieldy to count each person, a congregation’s representatives can gather after the issues for debate have been aired for a few weeks. A one-day assembly is all that would be needed.

It’s something to think about.

It could be truly transforming!

If insurance companies can count every vote, so can churches.

Voting kangaroos have done enough damage!

The Squandering of Legacy

amishConsider the Amish

I grew up where the Amish were always around. On my walk to grade school, I waved hello to Amish men working on a barn. In my college dorm, i often awoke on weekends to the clip-clop of Amish buggies.

The Amish are a religious community that is what is—and is what it was. They don’t spend weekends traveling to seminars to discuss “transformational ministry.” They know who they are. They broadcast who they are in their lifestyle.

No one dares to suggest that they don’t have a right to exist because they are comparatively few in number. In Pennsylvania, exceptions to laws are allowed to accommodate their beliefs. Obamacare? The Amish have their own health system. (The experts say it is a pretty good system, too!).

What the Amish have is legacy. Their small community passes on its customs from generation to generation.

Other religious denominations attempt this with mixed success. The Roman Catholic Church has some commonality in legacy in its longer list of sacraments and rituals.

Many Protestant denominations have sacrificed legacy in a quest for “full communion” with other denominations. Full communion has no real benefit to anyone but clergy. It creates a deeper pool for employment opportunities — but even that pool is growing shallower.

Generally, it has made us forget our roots. Roots help us tell our story. Telling our story helps us grow. As clergy seek “full communion,” lay people are left to remember our legacy.

Historically, Lutherans were proud to empower the laity, teaching an equality of “call.” This is being forgotten as our clergy commingle with clergy of more hierarchical denominations. There is an attempt to remember. The Lutheran agreement with the Episcopal Church ends with a page of disclaimers—but that list is rarely read! Meanwhile, we call it “full.” It isn’t. Perhaps we should call it “almost full communion” or “conditional full communion ” (which is what we always had!). Calling it “full” when it is not is a bit dishonest and misleading.

Lutheran church structure is set up for independence from hierarchical thinking. We call it “interdependence.” Sadly, no one seems to know exactly what this means.

Historically, Lutherans were huge in mission and social service. It was not unusual for a congregation to “adopt” or support individual missionaries and carefully follow their work. Now every congregation in a synod is assigned the same region in the world. Our assigned region is Northeast Tanzania. Ironically, that was the country of origin of many Redeemer members. Here in America, they were evicted from the Lutheran church.

Efficiency can squander legacy.

Lutheran social service efforts began to adapt to the secular world. The motivation was to serve more people and to have federal funding available for their work. Lutheran congregations today tend to support secular mission efforts with no attempt to link their message to their work.

This adaptation squanders legacy.

Our congregation, Redeemer, rented our educational building to a Lutheran agency to run a school. We had to remove Christian art on the walls because they accepted federal funding. This always bothered us, so we were eager, when the opportunity arose, to restore our own Christian School where we could serve our community without neglecting our mission. Our synod claimed our school property. It has stood empty for four years.

Small churches excel at retaining legacy. We may walk to the church door, passing the tombstones of our ancestors. We can remember the lives of the memorialized names on the church window. We don’t need a brochure in the rack to tell us who we are. We know.

This does not mean a congregation is living in the past. It means we are building on our past.

When managerial-minded leadership walks into a small church with a cookie-cutter mission plan that inevitably points to closure or consolidation, they squander legacy.

More egregious is the contrived notion that churches must be closed, names changed, signage removed and reopened under the control of outsiders to advance ministry. This is nonsense. It serves a denomination’s desire to control congregational wealth.

This thinking is behind church math where 2+2=1. Church leaders decide to merge churches to achieve economy. It often results in a drop in participation and income. Where two groups were getting by, if not flourishing, they end up closing both for a total loss of mission and temporary gain, perhaps, to the denomination’s purse. They have squandered legacy.

While it is not to be worshiped in itself, legacy provides a structure that has evangelical value. People like to be part of something with a history. It will affect their participation and giving.

New people are going to be watching to see how a denomination respects its very long past. It reveals our respect for the future.

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The Economic Potential of the Small Church

squanderBigger Is Not Always Better

An earlier post included a bold and interesting claim.

There is more economic potential in an open church than in a closed church.

Fact: The mainline church, which includes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is economically challenged. Decline is the norm whether a congregation is large or small.

The most fragile element in the mainline church is the upper rung—the hierarchy. (Lutherans don’t believe in hierarchy, but sometimes we forget what we believe.)

Hierarchy is totally dependent on congregations. Congregations constitutionally control the land and monetary assets. They also drive mission.

This isn’t sitting well with leaders who like the idea that they are in control.

Nevertheless, this is is the way Lutherans like it. Predecessor constitutions actually forbade the synod level from owning property. Our ancestors sensed the temptation!

The ELCA’s founding documents and constitutions were originally presented to congregations protecting the congregations and empowering them with the control of their own ministry. As long as congregations are not violating the tenets of the faith, how they minister is their business. Lutheran congregations are not even required to support the hierarchy!

Today, the endangered hierarchy is making a big mistake. Their solution to riding out the economic crisis faced by every level of the church is to gain control of land and property for their own preservation. Their founding documents forbid this but most people—clergy and laity are unaware.

Hierarchies designed to shepherd and serve suddenly seek control. Power is discussed at the water cooler — not mission.

Attention and services become directed to churches of larger size with bigger offering plates. Smaller churches are neglected or ignored.

There is always a temptation of management-oriented leadership to assume that they know best. The ELCA founding documents protect congregations from this thinking by assuring congregations that their consent is required  when it comes to managing their property and ministry.

Well-intended constitutions have been ignored or amended to remove these safeguards. If a congregation does not cooperate with synod’s wishes or even if it is suspected that they might not cooperate —well, just get rid of the congregation. 

These policies, arguably illegal under Lutheran polity, squander the denomination’s strength—the community church—which sometimes is large but most often is small.

We will examine the economic potential of the small church from at least eleven vantage points:

  1. Legacy
  2. Voice
  3. Reputation
  4. Motivation
  5. Integrity
  6. Opportunity
  7. Immediacy
  8. Intimacy
  9. Mission
  10. Assets
  11. Promise
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Adult Object Lesson: Easter

crossThe Imagery of Easter

Ask your adults to name the images of Easter.

A typical list will include:

  • The egg
  • The rabbit
  • Flowers
  • Butterflies
  • Seeds and flowers
  • Lilies
  • Candy

All of these are symbols of new life and growth. Even candy eggs have a surprise sweet filling inside and jelly beans will grow your belly if nothing else.

And there is the symbol of the lamb—the sacrificial lamb.

No shortage of objects for Easter lessons!

But one symbol is missing. Surely someone will name the cross. If they don’t be prepared to point to the cross.

Without Easter, without Jesus’ conquering of sin and death, the cross would mean very little to us. The whole Lenten journey would have evaporated—untold—into history. All those other symbols would be the trappings of pagan celebrations.

CrucifixThe cross on its own is a  symbol of torture and death. The vilest sinners were tortured on crosses. Many of the disciples standing at the foot of the cross would have their turn at torture. We have to think to remember which martyrs died which way.

We would not be likely to hang the symbol of crime, torture and death on the walls of our home—without the Resurrection.

We remember Jesus’ death on the cross, because he beat it. We look to this gruesome symbol with incongruous feelings. 

In remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice, some denominations emphasize the Crucifix. Jesus is depicted in agony on the cross. 

For others, the empty cross is a symbol of Easter. The cross has been overcome.

All the other symbols of Easter, many borrowed from pre-Christian customs, point to the cross — the empty cross — as the foundational symbol of our faith. It is the symbol of hope and expectation.

This topic resonates very differently with adults than with children. Hope is that core feeling inside of us that something in our lives will result in good.

Children hope that good will happen to them—that people will be kind—that their needs and wishes will be met.

Adult hope is often more desperate. 

Will our lives make a difference? Will we accomplish what God intends for us? Will we die appreciated? Does life mean anything? Does death mean anything?

Help your adults think about these things and draw strength today from the Easter story. 

You might close with a hymn written in the 1980s by Natalie Sleeth. It is a simple hymn suitable for all ages. It is a hopeful. Despite its simplicity, adults can embrace it.

Here is a publishing link.

The tune is lovely and simple. You can learn it by listening. Key of G or F will work.

Listen to the tune here. The singer is playing the guitar in the key of G, so you can follow his chording. The sheet music is written in F.

Hymn of Promise

In the bulb there is a flower;
In the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise:
Butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter,
There’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season,
Something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence,
Seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness,
bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future;
What it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season,
Something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning;
In our time, infinity.
In our doubt, there is believing;
In our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection;
At the last, a victory
Unrevealed until its season,
Something God alone can see.

Upper photo credit: fusky via photopin cc

Ambassadors Visit Reformation, Media, Pa.

Palm Sunday in Media

reformation:mediaRedeemer Ambassadors decided not to miss Palm Sunday. We hopped on the Blue Route and were in Media in less than 30 minutes.

Reformation, Media is the 57th SEPA congregation we visited.

We attended the second service and found a packed sanctuary. Empty seats were few. There were probably around 200 in attendance. As seems to be common these days there was a lot of moving around in the back of the church.

First Communion for six young people and the tradition of Palm Sunday brought people out.

We spoke with two people and found we had something in common with both. The first woman we spoke with told us about her mother’s work in a mission hospital in Madras, India, in the late 1920s and 1930s. One of our Ambassadors was born in the southern India mission fields at the same time. His parents were missionaries there for 25 years. The second woman we spoke to was introduced as being from the western part of Pennsylvania. Two Ambassadors have roots in the same town. She knew the pastor of our church. In fact, we lived in the same house as her friends!

Try as they do, SEPA cannot disconnect Redeemer from our heritage.

The adult choir was strong and led the traditional singing of The Palms. It’s our tradition, too. Our organist always balked at playing it. He considered it unsingable. One of our former leaders, not known for her voice, finally told him, “If I can sing it, you can play it.” He played it.

Their music director chose excellent music for two choirs. Their adult choir did a dramatic anthem —almost theatrical.

A five-member children’s choir — all girls — did a nice Natalie Sleeth number. We used a lot of Natalie Sleeth anthems as hymns at Redeemer. She was a great church musician.

Reformation did an abbreviated version of the Passion Story but left out the Psalm and Epistle. The voice of Isaiah was heard, though.

They used three Palm Sunday hymns. The version of Ride On, Ride On in Majesty in the new Lutheran hymnal is deadly and the congregation sat it out along with us!

It was explained to us afterward that some elements of the service are traditional for them and were not included in the bulletin. We understand the importance of tradition and miss our own.

Reformation has a “bridge” pastor, the Rev. Arden Krych. We encounter interim pastors, mission pastors, and bridge pastors. Bridge pastors, it seems, are post-interim pastors — a second stage of “interimness.” We continue to believe that the interim minister process is a symptom of a growing clergy body seeking flexibility in their careers. Their needs are in contrast to the needs of congregations who are encouraged to seek “settled” relationships with pastors.

Redeemer was not part of any such process. Not our choice. Bishop Almquist broke the contract we had with an interim pastor in 1997. We were left on our own for most of the next decade. We found our own “between calls” pastors.

We know now that this neglect was intentional. A step toward closing our congregation. It is actually a stated policy of Bishop Burkat who advises church leaders to not waste time and resources on congregations that will close in TEN years. Ten years of neglect will close a lot of churches!

We hope Reformation has better luck with “the process.”

Reformation owns a nice tract of land. They acquired adjacent property and cleared some old homes.

We liked the flexible seating—chairs, not pews. We also liked that name tags were available for members and a good number were wearing them.

Someone introduced us as from a closed church. We corrected them. Redeemer is not closed; we are locked out of God’s House by SEPA Synod. It’s time for SEPA Synod to revisit their thinking in regards to Redeemer and our community as we have continued to grow even under oppression.

Locked out and shunned by SEPA, we took our ministry online. We are experiencing exponential growth. We doubled and then tripled our growth over the last six weeks. Redeemer now has a greater reach than any SEPA congregation. We now have almost 1400 visits to our website every week (nearly twice the average weekly attendance of SEPA’s largest church). We continue to grow — just as we were in 2008 when SEPA coveted our property.

There is more economic potential in open churches than in closed churches. (Click to Tweet)

If there were ever any questions about our ability to survive (and this was never discussed with US), they are now debunked. Had SEPA worked with us (as they have falsely claimed) we’d have money to share and a new model for ministry that might help other congregations.

A lot of churches talk about transformation. We have done it!

SEPA’s actions in East Falls and Roxborough have resulted in almost no Lutheran presence in the largest geographic neighborhood in Philadelphia. In addition, they leave a horrendous legacy for future Lutherans to overcome.

Reconciliation is the only answer, but reconciliation takes dialog. There has been no dialog with our congregation since 2007.

Now would be a good time to resume.

And so we continue to visit all the congregations who voted (against their own governing rules) to take our property. We meet a lot of good people who are generally unaware of their churches actions. That’s a shame.

Where Has Palm Sunday Gone?

palm2Ambassadors Weigh Palm Sunday Options

Palm Sunday was always a big day for Redeemer. In some ways, we looked forward to it more than Easter. Our congregation had many young families who traveled on holidays to visit the grandparents.

Palm Sunday was always a joyous celebration complete with a congregational ham dinner. We collected food to deliver to needy families for Easter at this event.

We celebrated Palm Sunday—purely Palm Sunday. We were joyful as were the people gathered in the streets of Jerusalem. Our new East African members added to our tradition, teaching us Swahili chants.

We could concentrate on Palm Sunday readings and sing several Palm Sunday hymns—not just one. We entered Holy Week the way Christians are supposed to enter Holy Week.

In recent years, the Church revisited Palm Sunday. Theologians despaired that Holy Week services were not attended as they once were. So they decided to combine all of Holy Week into Palm Sunday. “Captive audience” was the thinking. Consequently, there is now 10-minute nod to the celebration of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem before the Old Testament, Psalm and Epistle lessons are glossed over or skipped so we can read 114 verses of Luke. It’s long no matter how you try to break it up—way past the modern attention span.

The faithful, who observe Holy Week, are cheated out of their observance.

The Ambassadors are looking for a church where we can celebrate—truly celebrate—Palm Sunday. We may end up staying home tomorrow.

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Transforming the Role of Clergy in the Future Church

Transformational Ministry Requires Structural Change

Part of the challenge facing today’s Church is that the role of clergy and how they relate to congregations must change. Changes have already occurred in the numerous short-term and part-time pastorates. This is likely to continue while our expectations remain in the past.

The monetary demands on congregations have grown while the source of funding has been steadily dwindling.

Clergy spent decades griping about being highly educated but poorly paid. They had a point, but the resolution of their complaints has put their services out of reach for many congregations.

“Too bad!” might be a quick response.

The fact is that every church that fails diminishes the mission of the whole Church. Small churches reach more people. The economics of fewer larger churches make economic sense but don’t really work.

Fewer recent college graduates are entering the ministry. Today, candidates for ministry are often mature adults. Some are nearing the end of their careers—drifting from a professional calling. As older servants of God, with established families, lifestyles, and debts, they are looking for economic security and as little disruption to their settled lives as possible. Since clergy often view themselves as CEOs, the pay expectations are the pay expectations of older professionals.

The talent pool in which all congregations fish for leaders is crowded with candidates who can make only part-time commitments within tight geographic parameters. The pool of available talent may not fit congregational needs. Yet it is the role of regional bodies to place their rostered leaders in their rostered churches. Lots of square pegs in fewer round holes. That translates to unhappy clergy and congregations. Conflict often results.

That’s one side of the equation.

On the other side of the equation—the congregational side—an ongoing revolution has been underway. People have stopped attending church. The Sunday morning worship demographic is upwards of 50+.

The younger demographic—the demographic absent from church—represents well-educated career people, whose varied expertise is hard for professional church leaders to recognize if it competes with their own.

This is only part of the picture.

The needs of congregations change so dramatically that they are difficult to define and fill when the need is greatest. Community demographics, once stable for generations, now shift every few years. Congregations using the “settled pastor” model can easily be left with beloved leadership that is unable to serve the changing neighborhood. Decline sets in and everyone is afraid to make changes. We are church people. Nobody likes to complain—even those charged with the welfare of the congregation.

It is fairly clear that most congregations can no longer afford a full-time theologian in residence. Even if they could, it might not be to their mission advantage. The skills of theologians are no longer a congregation’s most urgent imperative.

Theologians are trained in the art of preaching — pulpit to pew communication. Modern church leadership must concentrate on communication beyond pulpit to pew. The pews are nearly empty.

Communication in today’s world is person to person. Very pastoral.

Money spent on making sure a good sermon is provided to a dwindling number of listeners is money that cannot be spent on reaching the people who are not in church—a key mission.

Yet the pastor’s salary is the foundation of every church budget.

The power in the world has shifted to the individual. This changes the way individuals think. We are no longer wired to understand the need to gather on Sunday morning—especially if our presence in Church does not recognize our abilities.

This trend is not likely to reverse. The Church is going to have to adapt.

In the Church, we see a structure that cannot budge. It continues to make unrealistic demands on the few people who remain loyal.

It is disheartening to be a lay person in today’s Church.

The typical congregation of the future, large or small, needs communications experts, education experts and service providers. We need business and entrepreneurial skills. It will be the rare pastor who can fill every need. It is unlikely that the growing pool of second career clergy perceive these skills as part of the role they are adopting late in life. (It may very well be the demands for change in their first careers that inspired them to turn to the Church.)

The day is coming when clergy will not be called to one congregation long-term but to multiple calls defined by skill sets which they will provide to congregations only for as long as they are needed.. They may join teams of clergy with complementary skills. Congregational budgets will detail mission tasks and will no longer allocate a large sum to one pastor.

This is an economic necessity and it will further empower the laity.

And then the Church might be transformed.

Adult Object Lesson: Philippians 2:5-11

Paul Teaches New Christians How to Think

This Sunday is Palm Sunday, a busy Sunday unto itself. In recent years the Church has combined Passion Sunday with Palm Sunday. The result is a marathon of emotions that is too broad for people to absorb. It doesn’t really work very well. We can neither enjoy Palm Sunday or take in the depth of the entire Passion Story.

There is probably little time in this liturgical panorama for an object lesson. The concentration will be on reading 114 verses from Luke. But let’s look at the lesson from Philippians and a bit of Isaiah 50:4-9a and Psalm 31:9-16, too. They are there for a reason.

Paul is teaching his new followers a new way of thinking.

Your object today is a pitcher of some sort and a bowl. You might even use the congregational chalice filled with water and be prepared as you end your talk to refill it with the wine that will be used for Communion—the blood of Christ shed for us.

Your pitcher is filled with water. Empty it slowly into a bowl.

Talk about how Christ emptied himself. The Passion Story is all about wearing down the Son of Man. Jesus took everything they threw at him. He turned his cheek to those who would pluck his beard—a wonderful image from Isaiah, today’s Old Testament lesson.

You might call attention to today’s Psalm in which the psalmist cries out that he is like a broken vessel. Totally empty.

But Christ’s empty vessel is not broken. It will be refilled. Christ empties himself and refills the void with something fresh, something no one expects of the Son of God.

He fills the empty space with the attributes of a slave. He becomes humble and accepting of God’s plan for him. He is obedient unto death — even a terrible death.

In his obedience, he becomes a servant.

It is hard enough for us to empty ourselves. It is painful. We would refill the void with our wants, our own sense of importance.

Christ fills the void with humility. It is a choice.

We, too, have the power to shape our thinking and passions—to fill the void in our hearts with things that are godly. That we would learn this lesson was one reason for Christ’s sacrifice. We should not ignore it.

How will we fill our hearts?

2×2 to Undergo Some Changes

2×2 will be undergoing some changes in the next few days. They are structural in nature but over time, will allow us more flexibility in our outreach.

You won’t see a big change at first. We might be adding less content for a few days. But eventually, 2×2 will be easier for our readers to navigate and to find the types of content they are seeking.

We thank our readers and ask for your patience during the process. We are not quite sure what to expect as we work with the experts.

2×2 is growing quickly. Our monthly traffic is more than three times what it was last year at this time. We now have more than 4000 unique visitors every month and a growing subscription list. Last year we had 13,000 unique visitors. In the first two months of this year we’ve had 6,500 visitors, putting us on track to reach 40,000 by year’s end. This figure does not count subscribers who read our posts in LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or in email feeds. Combining subscribers with new visitors we are reaching close to 10,000 readers every month. It is probably fair to say that Redeemer, through 2×2, reaches more people than any other Lutheran congregation in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (SEPA / ELCA).

Not bad for a church that doesn’t exist.

The 2×2 Story

The Church likes roadmaps. They like to be able to say, “If you do X, your congregation will achieve Y.”

It’s been a while since formulas like these worked in the Church. It is a source of frustration and conflict.

There is no roadmap for where the Church is going. Societal and technological changes have created unchartable challenges.

The methods of the past aren’t working. There is no time or patience to test new ideas. Everyone at every level is feeling an economic pinch. The easy way out: Blame the congregations. Close them down. Salvage their property for the use of the regional body. Make sure the national church gets their share of the loot.

Redeemer was a congregation willing to try new things, willing to take some risks, even willing to sacrifice today’s statistics for tomorrow’s ministry—a concept that was widely discussed in our planning meetings.

We were beginning to see significant success, but our cash-strapped regional body was impatient and preferred to see failure. A couple of small church failures each year would fund the synod’s six-figure annual deficit—until there are no more small churches to plunder.

The expectation was that little churches would not have the stamina or resources to resist. It made sense. Full-time paid professionals fighting part-time volunteers. Easy pickings.

Then came Redeemer. We had presented a 20-page ministry plan we had researched for six months and asked to call a minister who had helped us write the plan. SEPA ignored us. They never even discussed our plan with us, while they represented publicly that they were working with us.

SEPA strong-armed Redeemer out of their property in defiance of their own governing laws. The conflict is now some seven years old.

We took our ministry online which was always part of our ministry plan, although it was not Step 1. Step 1 was opening an income-producing Christian Day School, which was projected to produce upwards of $6000 per month for ministry. The empty building has earned nothing for nearly four years under SEPA’s “administration.”

Online ministry requires no property and not a great deal of money—less than $200 each year. We had no idea what to expect. We just started to write about our experiences and presented the types of resources we use regularly in our worship. We have a lot of experience as a small church. We share it.

Our resources are driving our traffic. The Easter play we posted last year had about 200 downloads last year and 3000 downloads so far this year. Our continuing series on adult object lessons also has steady readership.

The followers of our commentaries are an eclectic group and mostly young people—the very demographic that eludes the mainline church. They tend to be passionate, artistic, creative and they are all over the world.

We will continue to build the 2×2 platform for ministry and share the concepts we are pioneering.

Thanks for visiting us now and then. Feel free to contribute or let us know what type of content would benefit your small church. We’ll try to supply it.

The Church’s Missing Silver Bullet—Dialog

The Church Is Ill-prepared for the 21st Century

The Church is coming kicking and screaming into the Digital Age.

It carries historical baggage that is making the journey very difficult—and is causing the Church to miss out on tremendous opportunity.

The Church is entering the Social Media Age with a long tradition of one-way dialog.

Most of us know that by definition “dialog” is two-way.

But the Church does not know this. That’s why it seems perfectly natural for a pope to Tweet to his followers but announce before clicking “Enter” on his first message that he has no intention of following.

Church leaders tend to think that when they are standing in the pulpit they are engaging their listeners. That’s their idea of dialog.

Church leaders tend to extend the pulpit to all other interaction with congregations. Meetings and Assemblies are carefully managed.

Ridiculously short time restrictions prevent dialog.

There is a vetting process for who will engage in church dialog. Clergy get first access. Lay people with a proven track record of support for clergy get second place. There is no third place.

In our region and denomination, it was the custom of our present and last bishop to bypass the elected leaders of a congregation and request to speak to the whole congregation. Request is not the right word—demand is more accurate.

The strategy sounds so open and democratic. It is in fact manipulative.

It is disrespectful to the elected leaders who know the congregation’s issues the best and are elected to represent the interests of the congregation—the whole congregation.

It engages congregational members with less knowledge of issues and various levels of commitment to the total mission of a congregation. As they view the disrespect shown for the congregation’s leaders, they are appropriately fearful of speaking out.

Dialog is shut down.

Church leaders are fooled into thinking they have led people. They have intimidated people.

What might happen if the church leaders came to congregational leaders with one simple question—How can we help?

What might happen if they then sat back and listened?

It may be the single most important step in achieving transformation.

This has never been easier or more possible—however unlikely.

The Church needs to buy a pair of listening ears. They are rare but not expensive.