The name of a congregation says a lot about who they are and want to be. Of late, newer congregations are showing up with variations of the Church of the Abundant Life. I take this as evidence of the shift that is occurring in American Christian churches. They recognize that the new touchpoint for outreach […]Read More
Grace is the Apostle Paul’s chosen word to explain to others how his life changed on the road to Damascus. He spent many years in Tarsus, his hometown, before being invited to join the public ministries of the Apostles. Imagine him as he was out and about in those earlier years testing words to find […]Read More
We Lutherans make a big deal about the Reformation. We celebrate it on October 31, the date in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. These very scholarly statements challenged the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church at that time, which was the only institutional […]Read More
How much energy a congregation has is reflected in how well participants give of their “time, talents, and treasures.” Many other good causes are approaching them for those same personal resources. What makes a congregation’s fellowship different?
The answer gets easy when you recognize a gathering of believers as a “fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” This is the distinctive function the Apostle Paul gives the Spirit in his benediction “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Fellowship too often gets trivialized as shallow social interaction. But a key part of a fellowship of the Holy Spirit is the special motivation the Spirit can provide believers gathered around God’s Word. Hearing Scripture proclaimed is basic. But the energy level goes up when participants share what God is doing in their personal lives….Read More
Think about a church’s “spiritual energy” as the total of hours and dollars participants give to the shared life and work of that congregation. Now consider these observations from church consultant Ed Stetzer:
1. The Spirit-oriented Pentecostal and charismatic movements continue to expand, and many are shying away from oddities and excesses in their past, like speaking in tongues.
2. Evangelicals are moving toward the theology of Spirit-filled and Spirit-led ministries.
3. Forty years ago, 30% of the US population self-identified with mainline denominations; now it is about 15%. Their loss of energy is most obvious in empty pews and buildings.
A good way for a traditional church to regain spiritual energy is to focus more on how the Holy Spirit energizes Christian fellowships. Classical Lutheran and Calvinist theology left the biblical teachings on the Third Person of the Trinity poorly developed.
My intent is to offer fresh perspectives on what Jesus teaches about his Spirit and how Paul explains the role of the Spirit in Christian church life. Ultimately the Spiritual energy of a congregation is a reflection of how well the Spirit has energized the individual participants, who add their energy to that church’s fellowship.
A modern term gives focus to the Spirit’s work. It is “motivation”— the understanding of what moves people into action. There is no clear biblical equivalent. Motivation provides the missing link in the classical theology of justification by grace through faith, not by works. The act of trusting God’s love and accepting the free gift of Christ’s redemption brings us into the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s empowering presence. Christ’s Spirit works on our hearts and brings new priorities that motivate our behaviors. In addition to being saved as a gift of grace, we can also live by the gifts of the Spirit as a second kind of grace.Read More
Waiting at our local Conrad’s Tire and Auto, I saw a hard-covered book on the history of this 30-store chain. It was started after the War by Joan and Ed Conrad. They were and are a staunch Irish Catholic family. They and their kids went to Catholic schools I recognized from the old neighborhood.
Their story brought to mind a classic Irish Catholic neighbor of ours. Their family’s kids and ours played a lot together. I admire this Mom of seven children. Raised in a faithful Irish Catholic family herself, she did and does go to mass every morning.
As I reminisced, I thought, we know who we are and why we’re here. We are created by God to worship him and to serve others.
Back then both Catholic and Lutheran church bodies had strong institutions, especially with grade schools, high schools and universities. Those institutions are in retreat. The Catholic bishop of Cleveland closed or merged 50 parishes. In the Cleveland area, we lost four Lutheran grade schools in the past ten years, and the city congregations still remaining are barely hanging on.Read More
In 1990, I was called to be a mission developer on the staff of the Ohio District of the LCMS. I was paid district scale, which was generous considering my level of education and that it had been 23 years since ordination. The days of that kind of church planting are gone.
Through a providential set of events, while teaching my D.Min course on Church Management, at 3:00 pm on Monday, January 15, 1990, I felt convicted that God was calling me to plant a new church in the southern suburbs of Cleveland. That call is very comforting when you go through all the ups and downs of church planting.
Since that start in 1990, I know of only one other successful district church plant. This is out of probably 12 attempts. Nobody has ever counted because, I suspect, they don’t want to see the number. From Royal Redeemer, where my work is based, we have had three successful church plants out of four attempts.
My definition of church-planting success is surviving five years and being financially self-sufficient. I have heard lots of young leaders brag about all the churches they planted. By far, most turn out to be small group Bible studies that soon disappear.Read More
In the past, American Protestants have had two different kinds of church cultures. They emerged out of the colonial First Awakening of the 1730s-40s. One side emphasized religious emotions as the essence of being a Christian; feeling the love of God was most important. The other side taught that the heart of true religion is right thinking; emotions are fickle and often lead one astray.
Historically since the Reformation, pastors of established mainline churches were university educated. It is no coincidence that the Reformers were a university professor and a sophisticated lawyer. Pastors in my heritage were and are taught by professors lecturing them. I know that the majority of Bible studies in our churches are lectures to the members by the pastor. No one else could be trusted to have the right knowledge.
The problem with one-way lectures is that they are absolutely the least effective way of communication, especially if you want to change someone’s behavior. Job behavior is shaped much more by informal communication with those around you. On-the-job training is so effective because you learn by doing. Worker effectiveness is shaped much more from these two sources than from the formal job description given to you.Read More
Congregations have a church culture. Each is unique in some way but shares much with other congregations in the same church body. One denomination’s general culture is different from that of another.
When traditionalists want to preserve their tradition, the necessary question is which tradition: the church culture of the 1970s, which is different from that of the 1930s, which is different from that of the 1880s, which is different from the church culture in the 18th century back in the homeland. Church cultures change over the generations in sensible ways. Leaders are continually fine-tuning what they do and how. Seldom does a congregation’s culture change abruptly and completely, however, that is the fear of many who resist.
What does change are the ways of communicating and organizing.Read More
According to the Apostle Paul, a Christian congregation is a fellowship of the Holy Spirit, also called the body of Christ. In his letters to the early churches, he had many words of encouragement for those first believed. Offering his observations was participating in the Spirit’s work of building up relationships in a specific fellowship.
A key question for any Christian congregation today is how well their fellowship of believers offers others encouragement for living out their individual relationship with God in their daily relationships with others. Some churches delegate that job to the pastor. Healthy churches share that function in individual conversations.
“Mutual conversation and encouragement” was a key concept in Martin Luther’s understanding of church life. He even listed it as a fifth means of grace, a very lofty status right up there with Word and sacraments. But you won’t find much of such mutual encouragement in traditional churches. One of my pet peeves about the church life I experienced in a lifetime of Lutheran congregations is that I found little of such “God talk” beyond the formal worship service. Most conversations seemed to be the same “small talk” you could hear in any other social setting.Read More
“When the Spirit comes, he makes a pure, free, cheerful, glad and loving heart—a conscience made righteous by grace, seeking no reward, fearing no punishment, doing everything with joy.”
So observed Martin Luther in a sermon he preached in 1521. The Spirit was very much in the center of his thinking in those early years of the Reformation. He was not a systematic theologian. But what he intuited in this off-hand comment happens to fit three of the stages of faith development recognized in modern developmental psychology.
Luther described three kinds of conscience, which are three stages of faith development. A churchyard conscience concentrates on getting the external rules of church life right. A nave (pew section) conscience characterizes those who are living faithfully but out of guilt with no joy. Progressing forward, those who are living with a heart changed by the Spirit have a chancel conscience. “Conscience” in classical theology describes what I call motivation. The Latin would be affectus.Read More