I am intrigued by an insight from C.S. Lewis. Jeff Dryden highlights Lewis’ metaphor that “the head rules the belly through the chest.” The chest is the heart seen as the seat of emotions. The belly is irrational passions. The chest has to be trained to love what the head recognizes as good, otherwise it will not have the power to overcome the passions.
Dryden confesses that he is of a generation of seminary students who were trained in head truths. He is a Presbyterian. That’s my experience as a Lutheran. There was a time when I could recite the history of doctrinal developments over twenty centuries of Christian theology. But then comes the realization, Who cares? The assumption was that the right knowledge will lead to right behavior. Really?
This rationalistic formation model doesn’t really work for humans because we are not thinking-willing machines. It produces “men without chests.” As a corrective, Dryden finds himself drawn to the spiritual formation movement. But too often that leads to men without heads because of its focus on emotions. The challenge in theological education is to get the head and chest in the right relationship. That is best done with examples of teachers who have the right balance. He offers the simple but powerful observation that “We cannot take students somewhere we have not been.”
My big take-away from years of pastoral ministry is that the basic job is to help participants grow closer to God, or become more like Christ. In my heritage that is called sanctification, being made holy.
Lutherans are squeamish about focusing on sanctification lest it be confused with justification, being made righteous before God. But it’s really hard to talk about sanctification without a good understanding of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit provides the missing link between being made just and becoming more like Christ. The Spirit changes our inner being and stirs up new motivations. This new life is the Spirit-infused life to serve and witness to others.
I like “energy” as a good word to describe congregations. Thank God for congregations that have developed energized ministries. Worry about those what seem to have run out of energy in general. They have inevitably run out of spiritual energy. It is easy for congregations to become just another social organization with a veneer of holy words.
So how do you get a Christian church “re-energized”? The process starts with the leader. Like theology professors cannot take students somewhere they have never been, so pastors cannot take a congregation where they have never been personally.
That’s why I will devote the first part of these weekly Reflections to recognizing the Spirit at work in a personal life and in a congregation. I will offer practical steps to be drawn closer to God using the acronym GROWTH.
There is hope for aging, declining congregations. But there is no simple formula or easy program. Re-energizing is the slow process of enriching personal spiritual lives. Even when there is no growth in membership, there can be soul-satisfying growth in the Spirit’s fruit of love, joy, peace and hope.
Show me a passionate congregation and you will find a passionate pastor.
Roger Reckling says
Hi David…I have only one problem with what I read… there is a great deal of asking what individuals can do … I prefer to leave that to the Lord as he works through the Spirit. People may still read the Bible, although I think that might not be as common as in the past. Unfortunately, I believe there to be a lot less study of the Bible.
Just my two cents.
David Luecke says
Hi Roger. Thanks for your comment. Of course, the Spirit works through the Word. But our Lutheran culture can do a better job of helping believers apply the Word to their personal lives. We approach it too much like information instead of formation under the Spirit. I think small groups are a great setting. Emphasizing experiences of the Spirit can lead to more conversation about application. I believe we do too much small talk instead of God talk.
Michael Jacquat says
So happy you back sharing your insights. Loved your first writings and even purchased from you one of your books which I am wondering if you have them available for sale. I look forward to your new writings. I believe you are spot on in your emphasis on the Holy Spirit. I had the opportunity to be involved in a retreat center named the Tree of Life Retreat–a ministry of the Spirit. We emphasized the importance of the Spirit to help us become more like Jesus. Unfortunately our pastors didn’t promote or really believe in it and our LCMS church sold it after 16 years. I pray blessings on your attempt to enlighten the pastors and leadership to the importance of the Spirit.
David Luecke says
Thanks for the affirmation Michael. Yes, my books are on Amazon. Sorry to hear of another congregation that was and is resistant to the Spirit. That’s hard to understand.
David Steele says
Hi pastor. My heart breaks over the LCMS position of closed communion. How can a church expect to grow if it turns away the visitors the Spirit sends them from the table of grace?
David Luecke says
What our congregations need is exposure to full Open Communion, which can be so demeaning to the Sacrament. There are various degrees of “closed” communion. The church I now serve as Vacancy Pastor was very traditional in terms of checking with the pastor. They accepted my approach of stating what our beliefs are about the Lord’s Supper and inviting anyone who agrees to participate.
Lee Larsen says
I work passionately everyday to try and reach out to pastors, youth pastors, DCE’s and the like to encourage them to get PACK started at their church and out in their community. I know you are very familiar with PACK (Planned Acts of Christian Kindness) Outreach, Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI and Acts 1:8 Ministry. We started doing monthly PACK events out in busy places in our community over 25 years ago and rarely have missed that opportunity to share Christ’s love and an invite with the everyday people. With every well received act of kindness goes our Connect Card that always puts Jesus up front and center, but on the inside is a warm invite and information about the many things we do at Pilgrim in service to the Lord’s Kingdom, besides our two locations we share about our school, daycare, youth programs, Bible studies, food pantry, and so on.
The PACK Outreach program is totally free, with no donations accepted for it, and yet the percentage of those who befriend me on Facebook or join me on LinkedIn (Now approaching 20,000 from around the world), far exceed the number who actually take the time to download our free program. I make it very clear why I am reaching out to them and that the program is free, but this obviously makes little difference to the vast majority. I post on countless youth pastor pages suggesting that PACK events produce great “teaching opportunities” where the Holy Spirit works to produce powerful testimonies coming from everyday people of crises they are right in the midst of. The timing of these moments boggles the mind leaving you with no doubt as to who is orchestrating it all. We have witnessed countless moments like these and you can never forget them. Faith boosting and Kingdom building to the max, and yet so few takers. We mix in huge events like our Mountain of Food Thanksgiving non-perishable food delivery to around 100 families and our school supplies/backpack giveaway (close to 300), both which include Bibles, our PACK cards and prayer letters, making sure Jesus is the source as well as the reason for our joy, peace & hope. It is the fact that we call upon the Holy Spirit that hundreds of our members step up to make these outreach opportunities possible. All of this is what keeps the Spirit alive and well.
We maybe average one new sign up a day and PACK is now at work in 114 countries, but we could be doing so much more. Sowing the seeds of the Spirit through loving acts of kindness shown to all people is a perfect fit for the day and age we are in. It is like God knew 25 years ago what things would be like today. You think! We will not give up the fight, slow and steady we push forward. God bless.
Ron Rollins says
I would love to hear more about the specific types of PACK events you do.
David Luecke says
Good to hear from you again Lee. I looked for you at the Best Practices conference in February. Glad your ministry is still so robust.
Recovering Lutheran says
“Re-energizing is the slow process of enriching personal spiritual lives. ” That is my experience in the Recovery community — I thought right thinking/beliefs would lead to right living, until I crashed through compulsive behaviors. Returning to my Lutheran roots it has not been the correct doctrine (although that is important) that transformed my heart but the Holy Spirit, softening, convicting but not shaming, breathing new life, sharing out of my own experience.
David Luecke says
Good to hear of you experiences and the comparison to Recovery. I pray the Spirit continue to strengthen you.
James L Hoefer says
Of course, you are correct. The Spirit of Jesus is the head of the church, it is HIS ministry, not ours. However, whenever God wishes to deal with a crisis, He looks not for a program but a person, a leader. Leadership is a sacred relationship and calling, shaping families, businesses, and congregations. I admire your efforts to be a prophetic voice to us during this time of radical change and faithlessness. We desperately need healthy leadership.
David Luecke says
Hi James. Yes, renewal takes special leadership. I am opting not to comment on synod leadership. I did play LCMS politics 10-15 years ago but Jesus First Leadership lost in 2010 The energetic congregational church leaders all gave up. We don’t need synod to do good ministry. Our church culture knows only control and puts down anything threatening. Decline is inevitable. I just heard at a circuit meeting yesterday that our Ohio District of 150 congregations now has about 60 that no longer have the finances to have a full time pastor. Nobody is doing anything about it.
Mary Ferrazzano says
Thank you Dave! I have forwarded your message to Pastor Jay and to a member of our congregation, Pastor David Vikner who I thought might also be interested in your work.
I hope that all is well with you and your family!
David Luecke says
Thanks, Mary. Let me know if your pastors are interested and I will put them on my email list.
Rosemary Althoff says
I had the joyful experience of being a convert to Christianity and becoming part of a nondenominational Christian community with many ministries. So, I began with the heart. But there was a huge emphasis on working to be more spiritual. I failed at my efforts to please God, so I longed to understand the gospel, and the Lord brought me to Rev. Louis Brighton, who taught me koiné Greek. By the time we made it through Galatians, I was ready to be catechized into the LCMS.
Now I’ve spent many years as a pastor’s wife, and been frustrated to find the heart so dull in Lutheran churches. But now I can recognize and encourage and be encouraged by many fervent Christians within my church. We “share the Spirit” by talking and listening deeply with each other, remarking on the “God-events” we experience.
Thank you, David, for your part in “sharing the Spirit.”
Rev. Dr. Richard Zeile says
I am very interested in your perspective on Church growth and decline. I have felt that we are in a “Jeremiah” time in which the faithful are on the outs and outward success is lacking. On the other side of the world, after 70 years of atheistic suppression, 20% of Russians still identified with Orthodox Christianity at the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, 70% of Russians do so, a 50% conversion in a generation! And when it comes to being “with the times” you can’t get much farther than those Orthodox. They do have Word and Sacrament, preserved through those decades, in the liturgy. Well, you see where I am coming from and I am looking forward to your perspective and interpretation of this cultural moment in America.
David Luecke says
Thanks for your interest. From my reading I gather that world wide Christianity is growing faster than at any previous time. Much of it has been return to Orthodoxy after Communism. Surely there is something we can learn. I gather you have an interest in Orthodoxy. It is interesting to see the tension between Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches. We have a number of Orthodox churches where I live. I don’t hear of any growth other than Syrian Orthodox, which has a fresh supply of immigrants.
Corbie Cross says
this is a real issue that is hard for mainline folks to understand. I remember several conversations with volunteers about how their faith was too personal to share! It was a real frustration. I was asked one time in a Bible study what a certain church was doing as thier parking lot was always overflowing on Sunday Morning. (Pentecostal). The pastor was a friend of mine and I replied to this person that they should take a Sunday and visit this church just to see what was happening. The conversation that followed was an interesting one,as it was perceived as a sin to go somewhere else. I tried to explain that it was OK to visit and that God wouldn’t hold it against them. To my knowledge they never screwed up the courage to check it out. BTW that church is still growing and reaching thier community while the church in question is struggling to survive. I find it refreshing that someone is willing to address this issue!
David Luecke says
Good to hear from you Corbie. Those encounters with you in Alaska seem a long time ago. I was glad to hear that you were ordained and are now back in Alaska. Yes, the old tradition was that it is wrong to visit a church of some other denomination. Maybe it made sense 150 years ago, but it no longer does. Visiting is not confessing their faith. You might pick up a few ideas, especially about being welcoming.