December 2014

Six Christmases Locked Out of the ELCA

Redeemer Grinch 6

Will the Grinch run out of fingers?

Take the Easy Road—the One that Bypasses Calvary

A couple of days ago I read a troublesome post in Christianity Today written by a pastor who was touting what may be to him a new church-building strategy.


Ed Stetzer called it church “replanting.” He describes the basics and promises more details.


There is nothing in this post that our congregation has not experienced. It is a modern church-building strategy that has been devised by pastors breathing the clean air of lofty pulpits, where pastors don’t have to work with laity if they don’t want to. They can choose which laity will support their efforts without question. In fact, this plan allows for a pastor to hand-pick all members! As for the rest: off with their heads.


The premise is simple. Treat existing members as a lost cause, an impediment or as enemies or adversaries. Ignore their sacrifices. They have probably held things together through decades of pastors that might have been sent to their small congregation because of failure elsewhere. (In the comment threads of the post, one pastor questions what to do with pastors who fail. The commenter was pretty much alone in suggesting that this might be part of the problem! The answer provided in the thread: Send them to small churches.)


Small churches are accustomed to “throwaway” pastors. When they continue to fail, the people are blamed. The laity become targets for the cruelty of church “replanting.” There is an unappreciated upside. The absence of effective pastoral leadership can create strong lay leadership. But that is a problem for clergy who crave CEO-style pastoring. Capable lay leaders are easily seen as a liability. Hence the “replanting” strategy.


Here are the basics of “replanting” and some reasons why it is a very bad idea.

1. You have to get rid of the people.

People with knowledge of the church and the community are of no use to pastors who need total control to achieve their goals, which are likely set without knowing a thing about the community.


Many Protestant churches practice congregational polity. Getting rid of the existing people means finding an acceptable way to bypass church rules, which often give congregations decision-making power over ministry, membership, and property-ownership. Replanting can be the answer. Its ideals are not scriptural and may not be constitutional, so “replanting” will have to rely on “spin.”


Success relies on the enlistment of people who would otherwise be uninvolved in the targeted congregations. Some may have followed the replanter from a previous replanting! With no firsthand knowledge, they’ll accept whatever church experts tell them.


Successful replanting relies on knowledgeable lay members having no voice.


This article advocates excluding current members with acceptance of member-involvement at the pleasure of the pastor. That kind of power is not likely to be ceded—ever.  Trouble-free congregants, if they are to be found, are desirable. Labels will be helpful in excluding the loyal members. The labels are not likely to be kind. The result of this exertion of power? Negative word-of-mouth in the community. The only way to discredit the home team is to escalate your counter word-of-mouth. No one will want to get involved in the resulting ugliness.

2. You have to make a public statement that your mission plan is better than anything the community has seen before.

One pastoral option would be to demonstrate loving concern for the community day in and day out for a year. A new pastor could visit every member and listen to their stories and gain trust and support. The pastor might attend community events and visit other churches or ask questions to find out what is plaguing ministry.  The new pastor might find out that the clergy played a role in the downfall. He or she might discover that no one is ready to trust new outside experts supplied by the denomination that has been sending them problem pastors.


But Replanting is so much easier!


Replanting is an “instant church-building mix.” Just stir.  The process is easy to control. The pastor changes the name. No input from the community needed. All signage needs to be removed. Locks need to be changed. Make sure there is only one key!  Close down all ministry for — oh, six months ought to be enough to erase a hundred years of history. Whatever you do, don’t serve the existing members. Let their hurt and anger simmer.

churchreplanters3. Transfer all assets to your control.

This article doesn’t specifically address this, but there is the matter of land and asset ownership.


The replanting process just kicked out the people responsible for the land and bank accounts. So how are assets transferred to the new entity? Theft. It’s legal in the church because the courts won’t get involved in enforcing church law. You may have to quickly write some new rules that make this permissible to any conscience-laden leaders that might be watching from the wings. Any backfire from former members still in the community can be controlled with gossip (and/or law suits).

A Quick Fix with Long-term Problems

This article does not address what happens to all the hurt and angry members that have been exiled. Lay people are not like clergy who can pick up and move to find easy acceptance in a new faith community. These lay members, despite having faithfully served their church for possibly decades, have just been labeled “trouble.” There is really no place for them to go. They are going to continue to be active in their community where they are likely to still be respected as leaders of that 100-year-old church. What was its name?


Pastors don’t always realize the intricate interrelationships in neighborhoods. The members might be officially kicked out, but replanters will still have to work around them (with no control). That’s good news. The lay people can continue to take the blame for failure. How can anyone build a church with disgruntled former members still living in their community?


The author of the post promises to expand on his ideas. Will he talk with the lay people who have experienced this strategy? All the steps outlined in this article were carefully followed in our congregation with a result this post does not anticipate. Once the property was safely in the regional body’s hands, the land was quickly sold. One way to get property and assets is to pretend you are replanting a church when what you really want is that endowment fund!


Ministry is so much easier when you don’t have to deal with people.


But isn’t that why Christ died for us?

Ring Out the Old—Bring In the New

2015 imageThe year-end statistics are in. 2x2virtualchurch, the blog of Redeemer Lutheran Church in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia, grew again. This year we averaged 1000 readers each week. Often twice that! Although we were deemed to be too small to exist, these statistics prove we are among the largest congregations in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that attempted to close down our ministry.

2×2 could have racked up bigger numbers, but that was not the goal. The site was growing fast. The blog format was becoming cumbersome. There were about 1500 posts—many of them buried by time. Although people were finding posts through search engines, we wanted the site to be more helpful. We posted less frequently while we laid a new foundation.

In the summer, we started reorganize the material already on the site. This is a bit behind our projected schedule, but will soon launch. We learned something from this—daily posting is helpful to growing community.

2×2 started as a simple blog in February of 2011. The goal was to keep our congregation active while under fire. During a six-year challenge, we were locked out of our property, a move that was supposed to drive the last nail in our congregation’s coffin. We had confidence in our mission and wanted to continue. We wanted to do more than just get together for worship. We wanted to be a serving church.

With no property or money and no professional leadership, we just kept going. We used the resources we had—the skills of our members. We learned a lot!

  • We discovered that size doesn’t matter.
  • Money doesn’t matter as much as we think it does.
  • Property is important to local ministry but insignificant to world ministry.
  • Concentration on size, property and wealth inhibits mission.
  • The measures of ministry are not limited to size and wealth.
  • Lay members have skills that the modern Church needs and that many clergy do not have.

While 2×2 doesn’t have all the answers, we do have significant and unique experience.

  • We know what the Church looks like from the outside.
  • We visited more than half of the congregations in our synod and have seen what published statistics don’t tell you.

Here’s our plan for 2015.

  • A revamped website will organize the object lessons posts and the slideshow posts so that they are searchable by text and theme. We hope this accomplished by the end of February.
  • With that accomplished, we will return to more frequent posting.
  • New resources for congregational use will be available. We are working on offering trainings geared to small congregational ministry. The first, Welcome Is A Verb, will be ready to pilot at the end of January. This three-part, online training is a new look at creating a welcoming church environment in an increasingly diverse society. If your congregation would be interested, please contact us by commenting below or by emailing creation@dca.net. We will send an outline of the material and a link to a sample part of the presentation.
  • We know that we will learn a great deal from this pilot project. More courses will follow. These will begin with a series on using Social Media for ministry—something we have helped pioneer at the congregational level.
  • When the dust settles on these large projects, 2×2 will resume offering weekly resources, and add a new feature—monthly and weekly tips for social media posting.
  • Last, but most exciting . . . We will revive our presence in our own community this year.

Five Deadly Sins of the Modern Church

Satan_before_the_LordPope Francis had harsh words for the Roman Catholic Church’s top leaders.  He named five deadly sins afflicting today’s leaders like a plague.

  • Spiritual Alzheimer’s
  • Feeling immortal or immune
  • Existential schizophrenia
  • Spiritual and mental hardness
  • Terrorism of gossip

People in power are often the last to recognize these symptoms. The symptoms are comforting to those with a sense of entitlement. That’s the devil’s way. He does his best work with a pat on the back. This diagnosis is coming from someone elected to the job of shepherding. The message just might get through—to Roman Catholic leaders and maybe, just maybe, to their Protestant counterparts.

Redeemer ran into every one of these symptoms in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We encountered church leaders so confident in their pursuit of our land and money that walked into our church and forgot why they were supposed to be there—to help. Spiritual Alzheimer’s.

They pursued us in court with the sure and certain knowledge that they are immune to laws—and the laity aren’t.

For five years Lutheran leaders went from the altar to the courtroom with a total disconnect with their mission. There would be no discussion with us. There would be no attempt to work things out in any biblical prescribed way or even with common sense. Lutheran leaders displayed hearts of granite. The basic message of the Church—God is love—is lost.

Bad as these symptoms were and are, the most pervasive—the hardest to fend off is the terrorism of gossip.

The gossip against our congregation grew unchecked for years. Clergy says to clergy — did you hear . . . . ? By the time the gossip gets to lay ears, it is unshakable even if there is nothing to it.  We continue to hear ridiculous untruths about our congregation bandied about the church circles with no one daring to ask for supporting information. (This will be the topic of a separate post.) The last eight years of ugliness would not have happened had leaders in the church not felt so secure in starting and spreading rumors that had only one purpose—to justify theft.

Lutherans are at heart good people. Lutherans want to care about one another. All Christians fight an uphill battle when we are asked to subscribe to a culture that follows without question. That, after all, is very un-Lutheran. And it will always lead to St. Francis’s Five Deadly Sins of Church Leadership.

Do we have leaders who can right our course as Pope Francis is determined to do in the Roman Catholic Church? If so, now might be good time to speak up! Pope Francis has opened the door for some real soul-searching.

Helping the Children of Pakistan

relief1Do you remember that day last December when the country learned that 20 grade school children had been murdered in Sandy Hook, Connecticut? Do you remember the overwhelming, sinking feeling horror and grief?

Multiply that by seven or more in Pakistan.

At last count 132 children were murdered in Northwestern Pakistan. A hundred more were injured. In this case, it was not the work of one madman but a concentrated planned attack by sane men desperate to make a point. When reason fails, depravity rules.

2×2 has been in regular contact with Christians in Pakistan for nearly two years. Our contact writes that they are all in deep mourning. We remember!

The children were attending a school operated by the military. They were the children of some privilege. They wore nice clothes and slept at night in warm beds.

Last year, 2×2 readers gathered winter clothing for the less-privileged children of Pakistan. It was a wonderful experience that created bonds in a part of the world that often escapes America’s attention. Pictures shared of the children in Pakistan gladly accepting their gifts hit home. They made a difference.

The effort was an exercise in what one congregation can do in the modern connected world. We found no relief services to partner with in our desire to help Pakistani Christians. We forged our way, one person partnering and connecting with another. We sent three LARGE boxes of clothing. We had been discouraged at one point that commercial shipping asked for more than $1000 to send our donations, but by just putting out the word, growing our network, we found a company that was willing to send the clothes with products they were shipping all over the world. Total cost: about $350, which 2×2 paid.

Yesterday’s news reminded young people of last year’s clothing drive. We learned a few months ago that the Pakistani church was working to build an orphanage. “We want to make a difference,” one teenager said. “A real difference.”

And so 2×2 is assisting their initiative again. A group of young people in Michigan are collecting warm clothing for children, blankets, and toys that don’t rely on batteries.

We’ll get the word out and 2×2 readers will do the rest.

Send us an email if you wish to contribute. We’ll tell you how.


Giving Tuesday: Missing the Point

Today was Giving Tuesday.


It’s a made up holiday to promote giving as we rush to the malls and internet in search of holiday deals. All in all, it is a good idea.


But old habits die hard and a lot of great organizations missed the point. My inbox was filled with pleas from charities. “Give to us.”


It’s tough for charities to think about “giving.” The mindset is: “We give all the time. Our turn.”


They didn’t even bother to justify their requests with a list of how a gift to them helps them give. They just jumped in, cyber hands reaching into our pockets (if not our hearts). Never miss an opportunity to pitch. It’s the American way.


It might have been more effective to actually lead the way in demonstrating a giving mindset and forgo the usual pitches and just humbly give.


Just two of the charities who reached my inbox took this route. The Philadelphia Art Museum opened its doors with an added “Pay what you want” admission day. They gave the art-loving community an opportunity to view their treasures without the usual hefty admission fee.


And the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, under new leadership, announced a free, day-long seminar in the near future. Great move to increase interest in theological education. Helpful to their audience. In keeping with mission.


These two not-for-profit organizations found ways to give on Giving Tuesday. I’ll watch them more closely this year.