The Church is Christ’s Mission to the Church
On the Mission Trail
The Lord be with you….
Many thanks for the privilege to address you…and for material shared
Clear … I love this LCMS…connected me to the Gospel
I have struggled to get my head and heart around this Mission Affirmation: too much material, too little time to share it, and too much of my ignorance built into this presentation. Yet here I am, invited as a fellow pilgrim on the journey of faith with you. As the Psalmist declares: “Blessed are those whose strength is in the Lord, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.” (Ps 84:5)
Before coming here I told my former Navy Executive Assistant, Father Joe O’Donnell that I was going to speak to a group of Lutherans today. I asked if he had any ideas to share. “Yes’” he replied, “Tell them that the damages Martin Luther made to the church door in Wittenberg remain unresolved!” I wish that were all that is unresolved!
Today I intend to:
- Review the rationale offered for this mission affirmation
- Take a quick look at the terms “Church” and “mission”
- Suggest how the Church serves in at least two ways as Christ’s mission to the Church
- Share some observations regarding change and transitions as they affect people and institutions
- Allow time for your reflection and comments
REVIEW THE RATIONALE OF THE MISSION AFFIRMATION
The Church is Christ’s Mission to the Church
I begin with ten points flowing from this mission affirmation as recorded in the Synod’s 1965 Convention Proceedings: This Affirmation:
1. Addresses how various manifestations of the church, along with its educational, social, auxiliary and other endeavors are related to one another, locally, denominationally and globally in the mission of Christ.
2. Cautions that the Church is not perfect; it is at the same time justified and sinful; it needs corrective judgment from Christ, its Head, and it needs the Gospel for itself in carrying out its mission to un-evangelized areas of its own life.
3. Declares that the Body of Christ is one, a gift from the Holy Spirit, which moves communities of believers to carry the Word of faith to other communities of believers in the continuing task of mutual edification. They are in mission one to another.
4. Urges that gifts within the Body of Christ, spread among denominations, entities and individuals, be used for the whole Body’s edification. All believers discover and recognize the unity they have, and become willing objects of mission from other parts of the Body as the Holy Spirit guides.
5. Cautions that our Confessions are not standards by which we exclude ourselves from others, but serve as witnesses to the activity of God in Christ. They are bridges, not barricades.
6. Recommends we listen to fellow Christians without depending on the measure of sanctification achieved. We remain willing to listen to those who differ with us, yet ready to engage in relationships appropriate to what it takes to help one another in Christ’s mission
7. Insists mission is an obligation one to another so we may grow in the faith professed.
8. Urges discontent with any actions that give the impression that no common bond exists among Christians.
9. Reminds that being connected to ecumenical organizations bears witness to two things: (1) we are aware of the oneness given by God; and (2) we acknowledge we are still separate. When we remain apart from others in the Body, we in effect deny the all-important character of the oneness God has created. Such denial hinders our mission to one another. We must not be content whenever we have no meaningful relationships with one another.
10. Urges great emphases and efforts be devoted to the serious study of the character and purpose of Church relationships.
Take moment to read:
Synod in convention passed resolution 1-01 C with the four resolves printed in the handout.
DEFINE TERMS: CHURCH
The Mission Affirmation’s two most prominent terms are “Church” and “mission.” First, the word “Church.” In my recent travels around the Synod, I’ve noticed that many of our members
read and talk about such books as:
LIFE TOGETHER, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
BEING THE BODY, by Charles Colson and Ellen Vaughn
THE PURPOSE DRIVEN CHURCH, by Rick Warren.
TRULY THE COMMUNITY, Romans 12 and How to Be the Church, by Marva Dawn
MIISSIONAL CHURCH, by Darrell L. Guder
STREAMS OF LIVING WATER, by Richard J. Foster
We should be pleased that such reading goes on, yet alert that some understanding of “Church” may get garbled in the process.
As Lutherans the Scriptures and our Confessions serve as the charts for understanding “Church” We have neither the time to explore extensively the use of the word “Church” in the Confessions, nor do we need to. Dr Arthur Karl Piepkorn took care of that when he once wrote 31 pages on that topic. I suggest we go with the definition for Church found in Art VII of the Augsburg Confession: “The church is the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.” To this definition are added from other parts of the Book of Concord the major modifiers “one, holy, catholic (at times “Christian” or “universal”) and apostolic.”
As my Symbolics professor at the Seminary once observed: “The Church is the community of holy ones in Christ characterized by, and realized in mutual participation and self- giving.” Incidentally, the Confessions allow for two classes of people to be severed from the Church: (1) those who refuse to make use of the Word and sacraments, and (2) those who look for holiness not through the Gospel and the forgiveness of sins, but through their own works. (Something to think about for those among us in the LCMS who want to add other categories or causes for castigation or exclusion.)
This point of being one with Christ was vividly impressed upon me some years ago when my Navy destroyer pulled into Salerno, Italy. Following a memorial service at a WWII Allied cemetery, I invited the local Roman Catholic bishop to celebrate mass aboard ship for our Roman Catholic crewmembers. In return the bishop invited me to see his newly refurbished cathedral. He explained that during the War the cathedral had been heavily bombed. We entered and I saw a huge statue of Christ standing in the main transept. The statue had no arms, only one leg and the torso was heavily damaged. I said to the bishop the statue was not only striking, but also very unusual. Then he told me how it got there. Before the War it had been mounted over the altar. The War had severely damaged it. When the community rebuilt the cathedral, it determined it would leave the damaged statue as is, move it to the transept. It would remind everyone that Christ was wounded for our transgressions, and we are the arms and legs of His body. It worked for me!
The overwhelming emphasis within the Confessions professes that the Church is the people of God, joined to Christ through Holy Baptism, with a clear confession of faith, pursuing charity toward all, irenic in tone and desirous of inclusive rather than exclusive relationships with other Christians.
DEFINE TERMS: MISSION
Next, we turn to the term “mission.” I used to think I knew what “mission” meant. Now I’m not as sure. Yes, there are the familiar Bible texts such as the Great Commission in Mt 28:18-20. Mission commonly means the geographical movement from a Christian locale or outpost to a non-Christian locale for the purpose of receiving converts and planting churches. While such a notion remains true, it is not the whole story.
The common use of the term “mission” is of rather recent origin, introduced by the Jesuits in the sixteenth century to depict efforts to re-convert Protestants and convert pagans, especially those in the new colonies. Unfortunately mission got linked to colonial expansion, and still is for many people.
We recall also that “mission” is related to “sending,” It appears 206 times in the New Testament, while “apostle,” that is, “one sent,” appears 79 times. Modern scholars, instead of looking only at “proof texts” for mission, now look beyond to what they call “contours of a biblical theology of mission.” Using all of Scripture the scholars seek answers to three basic questions:
- Why mission? The answer comes that the Church is sent because Jesus was sent, and we are in Jesus through baptism, so John 20:21 says “As the Father has sent me, so I send”
- How mission? “As the Father sent…so I send you.” as a servant, a cruciform pattern of sending.
- What is mission? It is a “sending” with at least three cardinal motifs:
Compassion: God’s compassion begins with His promise in Genesis, continues through the election of Israel, and through the incarnation, ministry, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. He alone perfectly revealed God as the One who looks out for the sinner, the lost and the marginalized.
Martyria: Passion flows from compassion. The original sense of the word “martyria” means “to suffer” and later by extension, “martyrdom.” Mission is never a triumphal enterprise. Mission is done in weakness as the world measures it…incarnation, humility, cross, death become the tools for God and transform hearts. Suffering and affliction are the normal experiences in the apostles’ life. I do not hear much of that talk in our circles these days. And much of church growth talk sadly avoids the notions of suffering, theology of the cross and affliction altogether.
Perhaps we should note more carefully the Roman Catholic ceremony for sending new missionaries, wherein the missionaries receive a crucifix or cross, not as a trinket or ornament, but a vigorous symbol and visual handbook on how to be in mission.
God’s mission: Scripture is clear; God is the Author and Sustainer of mission, and none other. His divine presence and action, beginning with the call of Abram (Genesis 12:1-3), reveals His glory in the sight of the nations by calling, forming and saving a people. Mission also involves us with His people, as the Holy Spirit, through grace, calls, gathers and moves us by the Gospel to sanctified living.
A word of caution: if we overemphasize God’s work we tend to become fatalists: God will save whom he wants; we can sit back. In Sudan some years ago I witnessed this sort of fatalism among a small sect of Muslims. When any machinery broke, such as a truck or elevator, it was left as is and not repaired, since Allah had obviously willed it. St Paul had to address a similar attitude among some early Christians as well.
If we overemphasize our work, we tend to become fanatics and zealots concerned with “success”, numbers, glory stories, strategies, etc., rather than with faithfulness. Clearly the giving of “all authority” to the risen Christ prior to the “Go into all the world….” puts the focus in mission upon God, not us.
The Affirmation makes the point that mission in, of, and to the Church reflects all the dimensions of Jesus’ ministry. Mission never is just Church planting and saving souls. Mission consists of cruciform lives acting in agape toward all, male and female, young and old, and especially the poor, the abused and the marginalized. The Affirmation urges that Luke 4 together with Matthew 28 must flesh out the concept of mission.
The Church’s mission also requires sound teaching and doctrine. Some of us in the LCMS, at times, appear indecisive, trying to determine whether sound doctrine or evangelism is the highest priority. To me that is a false dilemma. This is not an either/or issue; it is truly a both/and issue. Both are critical; both are in perpetual relationship (the message, a “given,” gets variant wrappings depending upon culture and context). Neither sound doctrine nor evangelism can survive separation; together they remain integral in mission.
APPLICATION OF THE MISSION AFFIRMATION
I now speak to two ways, among several, by which the Church acts in accord with this Mission Affirmation:
First, the Church is Christ’s mission to the Church as it nurtures faith and forms the human spirit as God intends.
We believe, as Jesus said, that a good tree produces good fruit. When it comes to spiritual formation some in our midst grow uneasy or suspicious. The terms sound too much like Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox talk. By spiritual formation I mean the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others. It issues from St Paul’s words in Romans 12: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers [and sisters], in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of you mind.” Also Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:1-2: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” To help one another burnish/polish the image of Christ (become “little Christ’s” to one another in Luther’s terms) is as important to the Church’s mission as are the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Burnishing involves sharing the Gospel through the Word, sacrament, instruction, loving confrontation, accountability, counsel, prayer, fellowship, etc. Now this burnishing business raises some questions for me as God forms servant for His Church:
I understand why the emphasis for preparing volunteer and full-time church workers is directed mostly for work within the local congregation. Yet, if this Mission Affirmation urges relationships with all sectors of the Church, shouldn’t we deliver spiritually formative curricula, experiences, and resources, for ministry outside the local congregation also?
In the formation of our pastors, why is there still in our seminaries such a separation of students from other sectors of Christian Church? We separate seminarians onto a campus for three years and, with some exceptions, retain our professors for years in “campus cocoons.” One seminary seems to use only Lutheran worship resources in its chapel services. Our seminaries do not often intentionally expose seminarians to other religious expressions within the Church. How do equip our pastors to nurture formation in a post-literate, visual age?
Richard Foster in his recent book, STREAMS OF LIVING WATERS traces six emphases or ”streams” of Christian expression that when combined, reveal the whole Christian Church on earth. Those six “streams are the evangelical, the holiness, the charismatic, the sacramental, the social and the contemplative.
Are there not some ways for pastoral formation to occur that can at least receive more understanding and interaction with these six streams? Such efforts would help reduce stereotypes and biased judgments some of us pastors hold regarding other Christians.
Why does the Pastoral Leadership Institute have to fight uphill at every moment, while its spiritual burnishing emphases and impact upon participants, pastors, spouses and congregations have proven so positive?
Why is it when our congregations call pastors and other workers, they so rarely ask for a person who can offer spiritual direction for others? I’m aware of only three congregations that have asked their candidates to describe their personal devotional practices. Can someone tell me why spiritual formation receives so little attention in the curricula for all our church workers?
Time to take a page from the Marine Corps. It insists that its chaplains be, above all else, what the old Germans called “Seelsorgers”…” that is “carers” of souls, theirs as well as their troops. Those who are not “carers”, get a fast track back to their faith group, and stay gone!
Example is the most intense and deliberate vehicle for formation of a Marine. By following the example of the Drill Instructor formation of a Marine begins in boot-camp. Assimilation training and formation follows at every duty station thereafter. Mandatory mentoring and performance appraisals continue all through the years. (Those who have received fitness reports know what I mean.)
Why do our congregations not demand or engage in something similar? Why not require continuing education, mentoring, performance appraisals and some sort of spiritual tune-ups for all our servants?
Perhaps what bothers me most is why we cannot discuss these issues of formation without retribution or suspicion or defensive turf protection! Is it lack of trust or passion or laziness or indifference? Such lack of interest in spiritual formation is totally unsatisfactory, and the Church should rise up and say so! After all, the flock of Christ has every right to demand its servants continuously be formed with Christ-like hearts. The recipients of servant ministries deserve the very best. Otherwise, what Henri Nouen once observed will come true: “The shepherd who fails to feed the sheep ends up eating the sheep!”
In the catechesis of our young children how can we better form the mission heart so critical to being “sent” of Christ? As I page through both Sunday school and church school curricula, I just don’t find many answers. I do know that mission service projects exert a very powerful impact on the spiritual formation of youth. And I know that confirmation classes that work hard to bond students while giving instruction, end up with fewer youth leaving the church.
In adult confirmation classes, who in Synod is seriously modeling how to embed the notions of mission, compassion, martyria and servant-love into the hearts of new Christians? I know the Washington DC Church of Our Savior invests four years of instruction, retreats, and spiritual direction before it receives people as new members. I’m not advocating that, but can’t we offer more than the common eight or ten hour sessions? And doesn’t formation involve not only the intellect, but also attitudes and behaviors?
In all our educational efforts more emphases on spiritual formation seems to be a way to move forward in reducing conflict, reversing our sad treatment of women, correcting clericalism, etc. And how about John Douglas Hall’s great question “What are people for?” finding its answer in spiritual formation?
Among more recent heroes with burnished images of Christ are Mother Teresa and Bishop John McNamara. You know about the first, let me tell you about the second.
Three years after John McNamara retired as the seventeenth Chief of Chaplains for the Navy, the Pope named him as an Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Boston. As a former member of his Navy staff I attended the ceremony in the beautiful Boston cathedral. Thousands of the faithful gathered, many forced to stand outside. It was great: politicians, church leaders, blue collar folk, a huge choir, the richly colored vestments, incense, heavenly music and the drama of the mass! Everyone knew this was not just a joyous worship, but a serious event as well, especially when the new candidate for bishop lay prostrate on the stone floor before the high altar. Memorable as all this was, what really impressed me came after the mass ended. Cardinal Law invited Bishop McNamara to address the congregation. Making his way to the microphone, the new Bishop spoke only one sentence. He said, “I have no desire other than to be an echo of Christ” and then he moved away. What great mission talk!
My friends, I contend that the current harvest of dissent, venom, and lack of civility in the LCMS comes from our inattention to the formation of the Christ-like hearts in our people. That is why any Synod business that doesn’t first take this matter of spiritual formation into account is doomed! Those who sow poorly, harvest poorly. Good fruit comes from good trees!
Second, this Mission Affirmation affirms that the Church is Christ’s mission to the Church as it expresses its unity in Him.
The Gospel of St John, Chapter 17, records Jesus’ prayer for his followers. He prayed for their protection from Satan, and for their unity to be fashioned like the unity He has with His Father. To emphasize the importance, Jesus not once, but repeatedly prayed that His followers “may be one as He and Father are one.” I realize that the word “one’ in this chapter may have another meaning as transmitted from Hebrew through Aramaic into Greek. Some scholars suggest that it may not refer to a number at all, but rather to the notion of integrity, of no duplicity or double-talk. That is not a bad idea either.
However, when the unity of Christians is fractured, that is both bad and sad. From history present and past, from the Early Church Councils to our own conflicted LCMS, the uncommitted cry out “Look how those Christians quarrel with one another! What sort of God do they worship, anyhow? If they cannot love one another, why should we be attracted to them?”
This Affirmation urges “most serious study and prayer” in relating to other sectors in the Christian Church on earth.
Yes, study and pray. We need to clarify the differing notions surrounding who is referenced in Romans 16:17 when St Paul urges us to “watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in the way….”
Study and pray regarding our practices for admission to the Lord’s Supper. See if they truly grow out of Scripture and fit the spiritual needs of all God’s people.
Study and pray to shine light on the scope and equity of Christian service for women and men resulting from Holy Baptism. We live with so many disputed questions surrounding the doctrine of our “calling” and the “call.”
Study and pray why we have found no meaningful relationships with different Christian denominations other than with our Partner Lutheran Churches. Could it be that we are more devoted to institutional survival, or to being a separate denomination, than to being an evangelical confessing voice for Christ within the Church universal?
Our military chaplains abide by the principle “Cooperation without compromise.” It guides ministry and mission. As a Lutheran Navy chaplain, I had three responsibilities: Provide for those of my own faith group; facilitate ministry for those of other faith groups; and care for all. Why do some in the LCMS think mission guidelines for military chaplains should be different from those in the other institutional and civilian ministries?
One of my good friends used to be a High School teacher in the Bronx. He said early on he learned that the most important thing going on in his classroom was not what he put on the chalkboard, or delivered from his lesson plan. The most important thing was listening to the whispers among the students. Whispers told him what students were concerned about. He determined from that time forward he would seek to shape an environment where ALL the whispers could be heard. I tell you it is well past the time to listen and deal not only with the whispers in our Synod, but also the screams!
I ask you now to identify the most urgent whispers/screams, that you hear within the LCMS that demand our study and prayer. After ten minutes discussion I ask that each group list their “whispers” and, in no more than three sentences, identify the two most urgent and explain why.
A true story about two brothers who owned adjacent farms in Central Kentucky comes to mind. For years they farmed side by side in harmony. One day, however, they fell into a major dispute that fractured their relationship completely. Their anger grew so hot that one brother diverted the creek that separated their farms, so that water flooded his brother’s sheds and barn. Shortly thereafter an itinerant carpenter came by the farm of the brother who was flooded. The carpenter asked for work. The farmer was pleased, because he had purchased a huge pile of lumber for a fence between his farm and his brother’s. “Please,” explained the farmer, “I want you to build a fence so high that I cannot see my brother or his farm over there. I need to go to town now and won’t be back until dusk.” “I’ll take care of it,” replied the carpenter.
The carpenter set to work, sawing, measuring nailing. Dusk arrived and the farmer returned from town. He was surprised; he did not see any fence. Instead he saw a fine bridge across the creek. At that moment his brother started coming across the bridge shouting: “I can’t believe you did this after all the nastiness I have shown you!” As they came near each other, suddenly all the venom and hate left them and the two brothers embraced and reconciled. They turned to the carpenter and asked if he could stay longer, there were other projects to do. But the carpenter replied, “No thank you; I must hurry on. I have other bridges to build.” You draw your own applications for our Synod.
What happens when reconciliation and unity are nowhere to be found? Throughout our history we have had our struggles for a unity of doctrine and practice, and in recent years many think the struggle has intensified greatly. Deep down we know that ought not to be, for it hurts people, causes splits in congregations, brings shame upon the Body of Christ and impedes Christ’s mission in the world.
ACTS 15 FINDINGS
Last year I served as a panelist in four Texas District Lay Forums designed to assist laymen and women deal with dissent and conflict in the LCMS. We looked at Acts 15 to study how the Early Church dealt with its first major crisis. I now share some findings from that study, as well as some observations from Dr Jeff Gibbs at our St Louis Seminary.
Acts15 recounts a critical milestone in the early church, a serious conflict that could have derailed the mission of Christ. It speaks first to a theological issue involving outreach to Gentiles, and also to a personal conflict between Christians. We look at the theological issue first.
Christians from two cities were involved: Jerusalem and Antioch of Galatia. At issue was the status of new Gentile converts before God. The Early Church had some difficulty reaching out to Gentiles. The Lord had nudged His followers into reaching Gentiles in several ways:
-There was Paul’s conversion,
-Peter’s experience with the object-lesson-sheet dropped from heaven with all sorts of animals, clean and unclean,
-Peter’s baptism of the centurion Cornelius and his household
Now some “unauthorized people”, called Judaizers came to Antioch from Judea saying that unless Gentiles are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, Gentiles cannot be saved. They claimed circumcision is a condition for salvation. So a Council was convened in Jerusalem to wrestle out the issue.
Dr. Jeff Gibbs notes:
There is a balance needed for debate.
One extreme says, “Well, we should discuss things, but we need not agree.” But if there is an issue that negatively affects the understanding and the spreading of the Gospel and connecting people to Christ, we do need to reach agreement.
The other extreme says, “It is bad we do not agree, but the answer is very clear, and you need to see it!” Dr Gibbs calls this “insisting that the Holy Spirit work quickly.” He continues Debate is hard work. It’s very hard to genuinely understand the other’s position.
Let me add it is very tempting to dismiss, misrepresent or demonize the other’s position and motives. It is high time for all sectors of the LCMS to stop gossiping and avoid face-to-face conversation with one another! This situation has become severe. It is rare among us to find even a healthy Winkel Conference (a monthly meeting of Circuit pastors) anymore. We need to repent of this travesty right now!
The Council responded to the Judaizers in two ways:
First, from experiences engineered by the Holy Spirit. Peter in his speech at the Council cited the conversion of Cornelius’ household claiming that God had “cleansed their hearts by faith.” Then he continued, “Why do you put God to the test, placing a burden on the neck of the Gentile disciples which neither our fathers nor we could bear?” Most astoundingly Peter observed, “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we are saved, just as they are.” Then Paul and Barnabas reported on their missionary work among Gentiles, supported by the outpouring of signs, miracles and other manifestations of the Holy Spirit. These wonderful experiences confirmed for the Church that mission to the uncircumcised Gentiles was the right move.
Second, James the Just put forth the decisive response based on words from the Hebrew prophet Amos. He agreed with Peter, and quoted from Amos 9:11-12. Amos predicted a time when Gentiles would be included among God’s people; and now, said James, was that time. This rationale flew in the face of those who believed God chose Israel to be a people apart from all others. James said God was reaching out to Gentiles to become a part of his Kingdom. The issue was settled.
The Council sent a letter to Antioch with the unanimous opinion. The theological issue now resolved, Luke reported on a conflict between Paul and Barnabas over the missionary role of John Mark. (Acts 15:36-40.)
Barnabas wanted his kinsman, John Mark, to come along on a second missionary journey, as he had on their first. Paul disagreed vehemently. He remembered Mark had quit at the earliest opportunity. In the end Paul prevailed. Mark did not join him. Silas did instead.
Yet like many sharp disagreements, God was able to bring about good. The result was two re-formulated missionary teams instead of one…Paul and Silas, Barnabas and Mark.
Even in the heat of conflict God acts on our behalf. Confessing our sins to Him and one another, and receiving His forgiveness in Word and Sacrament we can proceed as peacemakers sharing the same love and forgiveness with others.
Later, in his letter to Timothy (2 Tim 4:11) Paul, facing execution wrote, “Get Mark and bring him with you…he is helpful in serving me.” Whatever had happened prior was now forgiven, forgotten and turned around.
Three things in Acts 15 jump out for our consideration:
-Always the Gospel! Clearly the Gospel determined the decision…not by-laws, charismatic leaders, task forces, court opinions or decisions, plots for power, chat room enlistments or anything else! It was the persuasive power of the Gospel!
-Always brothers! Barnabas was a Levite. The circumcision party was of the Pharisees. Paul was a convert from the Pharisees. Peter was a witness to the Pharisees’ treatment of Jesus. Yet in verse 7, Peter says brothers; in verse 13, James says brothers; in verse 23, the letter is addressed from brothers to brothers. Even with so serious an issue regarding salvation, all the parties continued to call one another “brothers.”
-Always the Church! The whole church was involved at the Council. However the leaders, the apostles and the elders took charge, offered speeches, and gave interpretation. It was not a voter’s assembly or a democratic-style convention. It was a unified effort subjected to the persuasive power of the Gospel. Our Confessions picked up on this, in the Smalcald Articles, Art IV, paragraph 10, rather than be forced by someone like the Pope, “the church cannot be better governed and maintained than by having all of us live under one head, Christ, and by having all the bishops equal in office (however they may differ in gifts), and diligently joined.”
We can learn from this account
CHANGE AND TRANSITION
Now I need to address some notions regarding change and transition. I join with many others who desire changes within Synod to improve its climate, advance the Gospel, increase collaboration with others in Christian Church on earth, and respond more nimbly and effectively to meet the challenges of relativism, sexism, biotechnology, anti-Christian hostility, unbelief, war, poverty and other challenges of this era.
Change is exactly what we in the LCMS are experiencing. Synod seems very dysfunctional at the moment. Some among us feel very threatened by change. Change is a most critical issue, and since I’m not aware of any other presenter addressing it this week, I shall devote some time to it.
My American Heritage Dictionary has eight definitions for the noun “change,” from loose coins jingling in a pocket to a fresh set of clothing. I wish to elevate the third definition: change is the “transformation from one stage or phase to another.”
Mark Twain once said this about change: “The only one who likes a change is a wet baby In contrast, a Chinese proverb proclaims: “Change is a dragon; resist it and you are devoured; ride it and you will prosper.” I suspect you and I fluctuate between these two poles of resisting and riding.
The challenging news for most of us in this room is that if we were born before 1962, the world we grew up in has come to an end. Why 1962? Most futurists and social historians agree that’s when the computer entered our scene. After 1962, computers began to change the way we communicate, medicate, fabricate, replicate, and contemplate, etc. Jump ahead another 20 years, to 1982, and we see the birth of students who now are in college. And what are some of the differences between their generation and ours? For them:
Grace Kelly and Elvis Presley have always been dead
A George Bush has been on every US Presidential ticket except one
The Kennedy tragedy was a plane crash, not an assassination
There have always been ATM’s, TV’s and jet planes
Truth is always relative (Fully confirmed by Barna research)
Spam and cookies are not necessarily foods
These young people are the vanguard of new generations who are quite different than we. So different, in fact, that one observer has declared they are the natives of the land and we are the immigrants! As immigrants we need to adapt as did immigrants of the past. There is a new language to learn, new music to hear, and new values to discern. The values are not like those recorded in Tom Brokaw’s THE GREATEST GENERATION, or Luther’s Catechism. And sometimes we in the Church would rather try to “de-nativize” this generation before sharing the Gospel. That seems to be completely opposite from the incarnation approach Jesus employed when reaching out to people. Pierced tongues, spiked hair, tattoos, internet savvy and all the rest aside, we Twenty-First Century Christians now search for a way to lay down our lives for this new generation as Jesus first laid His life down for us.
In Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” the caterpillar asks Alice; “Who are you?” Alice replies: “I hardly know, sir, just at present- at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.” Yes, we who got up in the morning before 1962 sense what Alice was saying.
There is more. The noted futurist Faith Popcorn and others predict that the most significant change going on today is in the realm of biotechnology. The human genome project is about complete. We are deciphering DNA, re-defining death and life, mapping and tinkering with genes, cloning, exploring deeply into the brain and so on. There is no predicting what this all means for human beings.
There is still more. In our world we are living in the age of massive population and urban explosions. The trends are astounding! Since October 2000 over 6 billion living humans now share this planet. Over 25 cities in the word have more than 10,000,000 inhabitants and are growing!
The vast majority of the world’s people are far younger than our LCMS members. For example, a Mexican’s average age is 14.7 years!
In addition we in the affluent West seem blind to the accelerating ratio of poverty in the world.
And how about changes in the church? They come so fast that our heads seem to spin! And so much more!
Never before has change come faster or affected simultaneously so many aspects of our lives!
It helps here to make a distinction between change and transition. Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational; the new home, the loss of job, the new team of leaders, the new policy, the tragedy of California fires, etc. Transition is psychological; the process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external; transition is internal.
During September 11, 2001, four high-jacked airplanes crashed; three into big buildings, one into the ground. That was change, big time! Our nation still is in transition as it makes massive adjustments to that infamous day. Some Americans find it hard to sleep soundly, some break unexpectedly into tears; others never will fly ever again.
Shortly after the change of 9/11 Dr. Dave Benke delivered a prayer for thousands gathered in Yankee Stadium seeking strength and comfort following the trauma of terror. Ever since, the LCMS has struggled with a significant transition filled with terrible charges and countercharges about unionism and syncretism, not just in a manner un-Christian, but truly uncivil at times.
A serious principle ensues from this distinction between change and transition. Change will not be permanent unless transition occurs. When dealing with worship changes, mission strategies, macro funding, polity issues or relationships within and without the Church, the internal, psychological aspect to the change must be dealt with as fully as the other aspects.
A few years ago, my son Jeff, a pastor, helped merge two Canadian congregations. This was a major change and transition for all concerned. What did he and the two congregations learn during this process that can inform our journey through change? Several things:
Acknowledge losses openly
Compensate for losses when able.
Expect “overreaction and signs of grieving such as denial, anger, bargaining, anxiety, sadness, disorientation, depression.
Communicate continuously to overcome rumors and speculation.
Treat the past with great respect.
Trust all to God
I suggest Jeff’s discoveries can apply to our to our current unrest within Synod.
Again, unless there are internal transitions, nothing will be different after the dust of change settles.
A critical aspect of transition is that the starting point is the ending one has to make to leave the old situation behind. Situational change hinges on a new thing, but psychological transition depends on letting go of the old reality and even the old notions you had before the change took place.
Sailors know that you sail by the stars, not by your wake. I’m not advocating tossing overboard all our past. Forgetting our past condemns our future. We have charts of Scripture and the Confessions, and many valuable treasures from our history far too precious to toss aside. Yet somehow we need to divest ourselves of the heavy negatives in our past. Forgiveness and absolution play the crucial role here. Our LCMS has a very difficult time confessing sin and letting go of some things from the past. Think especially of the St Louis Seminary walkout in the 70’s or Synod’s New Orleans or Pittsburgh Conventions. Those events continue as unresolved matters for us, and strangely remain the unacknowledged elephant haunting every room and conversation we share decades later. Some of us have asked that our next Convention set aside ½ a day, at least, to do what Conventions did early in our history…make time to mend relationships with God and others through repentance and forgiveness. That is how God gets us past the past, while we cannot.
Once it sinks in that transition begins with letting go, then the second step is realizing we have now entered what many call “the neutral zone.” This is the zone between the old reality and the new. The old is gone, and the new has not arrived, and we are in between.
Let me make three observations about the “neutral zone.”
First, we dare not overlook this ”neutral zone.” If we do not expect “the neutral zone” nor understand why it is there, we are tempted to rush through it and become discouraged when we can’t. Then our frustration has the potential to make us feel that something is wrong with us, or better yet, with others.
Second, we may get frightened in the “neutral zone” and try to escape. A classic example occurred when our LCMS fore-bearers had to depose their dishonest leader, Pastor Martin Stephan. Then they had to decide whether to stay in Perry County, or return to Germany. Some of the clergy were inclined to believe they had sinned in leaving Germany, and were considering a quick return. Only by the good counsel and godly judgment of the laity, and I might add the influence and consolation of the Holy Spirit, did the Saxon migration press forward in the new land
Third, if we move prematurely from the ”neutral zone,” we not only can compromise the transition, but also lose a great opportunity. Painful though it may be, the “neutral zone” is our best bet for creativity, renewal and development. It’s like being in mid-air between two trapezes. It’s like when Linus’ blanket is in the washing machine! We are temporarily detached from the familiar, a perfect time to think new thoughts. It is in biblical language a “kairos” or opportune moment.
The major LCMS response to change appears on all sides to be an increased desire to control, assert authority, and reprise the past. Some among us want to engage in the powers better suited for God’s kingdom of the left hand. We see great jockeying for power and influence. Psychiatrists inform us that insecurity breeds meanness and a desire for control. I see a lot of “control-ism” in our circles right now tied to the insecurity surrounding transition. The LCMS is struggling in the “neutral zone.”
One example comes quickly to mind: Last fall the ten Concordia College and University Presidents unanimously offered the Board for Higher Education a plan for their future viability. In the face of crippling budget threats they proposed RSO status for their institutions. Roughly $80 million could be slashed from corporate Synod’s debt and the institutions’ Boards of Regents would assume the debt responsibility. The BHE meeting shortly thereafter chose not to deal with the proposal. Apparently the BHE felt that: too much control would go to the institutions; too much temptation for the institutions to “slip their theological moorings” like Harvard, Princeton, etc; and too many valuable assets would be given away. In spite of each of those concerns being addressed directly in the Presidents’ proposal, their work was dismissed, or at least delayed. Why was there no opportunity to even discuss this urgent and critical issue?
Without out going into any detail, here are other areas where control issues, good or bad, keep cropping up.
As a sidebar I would add that the LCMS has not been doing its job in scouting out the future. Where is our synodical mechanism for tracking emerging religious, financial, scientific and cultural trends? We have no coherent think tank, or future’s group that can be working toward a Gospel response to those trends. Some among us are fearful even of futurists who are not LCMS members. Consequently we tend to become more reactionary than responsive to change.
Strategy provides the bridge from mission toward vision over the valley of discontent. We have the vision; we have the mission, (vigorously to make known the love of Christ by word and deed within our churches, communities and the world)” but our strategies lag. Yes, we have ABLAZE, and best practices of congregations to multiply critical events of witness; but what about strategies for funding, for spiritual formation, for restoring trust and reducing tension? Instead of griping or playing the victim, Daystar and others can help our leaders with strategies.
Moving on, I offer these suggestions when participating in transitions:
– Figure out how individual behavior and attitudes will have to change to make something new work. What must one stop doing? What must one start doing?
– Analyze who stands to lose something under the proposed change, and address it. Resistance, either active or passive, acts as a dragging anchor on the ship of change.
– Always “sell” the problem that elicits the change. Too many leaders put too little of their energy into selling the problem and too much into describing the solution. Face it, people are not in the market for solutions until they not only see, but also feel and understand the problem.
– Talk often and publicly about transition and what it means for people. Hold a Jerusalem Council. Go one-on-one with both those people who are critical as well as those supportive in the new venture. Research informs us that only 37% of constituents are usually needed to turn a group around. I believe it can be much less considering the influence of the Holy Spirit and the vast evidence of individual change agents cited in Holy Scripture.
RESPONSES TO CHANGE
In his book SOUL TSUNAMI, Dr. Len Sweet describes three human and group responses to change that he likens to a tsunami, or tidal wave:
First response is denial. In many ways the present world sits on a demolition site while newness is emerging from its rubble and ashes. To deny is to refuse to see the world from any perch other than our own comfort zone. In a tidal wave most are swept away. If we are lucky, we can tread water for a time. Then we go under.
Second response to change is avoidance. “Yes, it is coming and I’m ducking it. I’ll hunker in the bunker. I’ll be a survivalist and hide out.”
There comes a story of a family in North Dakota during the Red River Flood of 1997. As the waters rose, they rallied family and friends, placed sandbags up to the roofs of their farm buildings, and waited for the worst. Their efforts worked. But sadly they watched their neighbors’ animals and even houses float by while they saved their little island of sandbags. You can do that, my friend, hunker in the bunker, but in saving yourself you lose your neighborhood, your community and eventually your world. Just like Jesus said. Those who seek to save their lives lose them. (I’ll let you make your own application to the LCMS.)
Third response to change is acceptance. “Surf’s up, let’s go! We shall ride the dragon.” I have worked with several Commanding Officers who preached and practiced the idea that in the unit only the boss says “No”. The rest of us always were to say, “Yes,” or “I’ll get you someone to help” whenever a request was made or a need surfaced. Those units always had great morale and were innovative as well. In the Navy ancient Noah, not Jonah is the model. Under God’s promise and grace he said “Yes” to God’s demand and built an ark, a new sort of structure. He adopted a new strategy in the midst of a great sea change. My friends, we need more Noah’s, not bunker hunkers or comfort seekers!
Most of the current literature identifies three facets of change always at work, and always worth analyzing. If Daystar or any other group wishes to bring about change, there are things to consider:
First, are change characteristics: Is change:
Controlled or uncontrolled?
Temporary or permanent?
Desirable or undesirable?
Gradual or sudden?
Personal or community-wide?
Next, change coping skills:
How well do we discern change?
How curious and patient are we?
How well do we identify feelings involved?
Third, change contexts:
Are you in peace or war?
Are you alone or with others?
Are you healthy or ill?
Are you in familiar or strange surroundings?
I believe, however, the current literature leaves out the most important factor surrounding change: I call it the faith factor. It is the key to the God’s mission. I say again: we face the future not with fear, but with faith… faith strong and sturdy, forged by the Holy Spirit, solidly planted in Him who came through a stable, off a cross, out of an empty tomb and into our hearts…faith freely shared and received within all sectors of the Church.
Remember the examples of faith-filled sojourners from the gallery of saints portrayed in Hebrews, Chapter 11, such as Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Rahab and King David? Each lived through major change and gave a witness to God and their world that to this day still inspires us.
Are there some notions that can help us when we lead change? I think so: My experience in battle situations suggests help comes through:
Clear vision, strategy and mission, not diffused or unaligned
Consistency and persistence
Loyalty up and down
Face-to-face honesty in all communication
The Apostle Paul reminds us: “For if a man (or woman) is in Christ he (or she) becomes a new person altogether, the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new.”
Don’t under-estimate the experience we already have with change. We do not often think about it, but the day we were born, we went through dramatic change. If given the choice, we probably would have said: “No thanks! It is warm and cozy here in the womb. I’m well fed and cradled. Get born? What an awful change!”
Or think about the day we connected with Christ as Savior. Whether in Sunday school, at baptism, in a foxhole, in church or elsewhere, our life changed dramatically!
Or can we begin to imagine what is ahead when we pass through death and arrive in heaven? Talk about change! We have experienced change many times, so why fear it now?
Change is at the heart of the Christian life. Change is the constant; stability is the exception. Transformed by the Gospel, we now are in the transformation business. Through Holy Baptism and the Gospel we are new creatures in Christ finding ways to connect others to the change God has in store for them. I refuse to believe that our LCMS must head to division, even though I understand how hard it is to put on the brakes when you are upside down. God is the Author of change, and by grace we can be changed to love, serve, and be in mission, one with the other. I pray and hope for an ACTS 15 event.
Those who know me know that I am not a gloom or doom sort of person. That is why I invite you to look with me for a few moments at WESTERN THEOLOGY, a fun booklet by Wes Selliger, published 30 years ago. In extended metaphor he contrasts two notions of the Church: one is settler; the other is pioneer. These pictures tell the story:
Church Courthouse vs Wagon Train
God Mayor vs Trail Boss
Jesus Sheriff vs Scout
Christians Settlers vs Pioneers
Clergy Teller vs Cook
Catechism Courthouse Rules vs Tales of the Trail
District President Bank President vs Dishwasher
A major difference between pioneer theology and settler theology involves their approach to change.
In western settlements the days are more routine and predictable than days on the trail. Homes and stores, streets, schools, places of worship, neighbors and jobs remain predictable and stable. For those in a more settled state, change may become quite threatening.
On the pioneer trail every day is different. Travelers encounter changes in weather, equipment breakdowns, damaged roadbeds, injuries to beasts and people, sickness, buffalo stampedes, mountains, rivers, etc. Sometimes several changes come simultaneously. Riders need to react, dart and dash, often without much time for reflection until later. Change is not so threatening.
Obviously, I see the church and its mission more in pioneer terms than in settlement terms. In the Old West, wagon masters had two objectives: achieve the mission and care for your people. The same objectives, I would suggest, befit the Church as Christ’s mission to the Church.
The eternal destiny of billions of people rests in the balance!
Finally, a musical word from Amy Grant as she ponders carrying the Christ child,; something we each do by grace, through faith, as bearers of His image
WHISPERS I HEAR
-Whispers (actually some screams) about the sad treatment and curtailed service of women?
-Whispers about the less-than-agreed-upon exegesis of passages that may shed light on the scope of Christian service for women as well as men. We have so many disputed questions surrounding the doctrine of the “calling” and “the call.”
-Whispers about why, with 2 1/2 million members, can’t we get a greater variety of men and women, bright, committed, eager, with experience outside the Synod in communications, mission, education, social work, leadership and management to serve on our boards, commissions and committees?
-Whispers why are we spending well over a million dollars to produce a new printed hymnal in what many consider to be a post-hymnal age. Do we really believe one printed hymnal can accommodate all our present and future ethnic, generational, and musically-diverse needs? Can it take into account different dispositions of people toward worship? Why not discuss and offer alternative media resources available for worship?
-Whispers about our fellowship guidelines. Pluralism, syncretism, civic events, First Amendment issues, disaster ministry, etc., require something more than what we currently have for positive Gospel presence and proclamation. Or don’t we hear?
-Whispers about fellowship furniture. Why do we concentrate so heavily on the altar and pulpit and overlook some sort of unity signified in the baptismal font and the pew?
-Whispers about why can’t we put into place a permanent system of collegial conversations/forums to enhance and facilitate our internal discussions? Currently many of our circuit Winkels are not healthy, nor are laity involved.
-Whispers about why, with the current advances in media, can’t we have a communication system to reach all members of Synod’s congregations? Why are we not at least publicly talking about such a system?
-Whispers, no, screams why we are not tackling the trust issue at every level of Synod with a full-court press while at the same time attempting to solve the financial challenge. Our brothers and sisters in the Lord are not stupid. They are caring. They are sorrowful, dismayed, deeply saddened in their hearts. They express anger over the fiscally-induced recall of missionaries at home and overseas. They resist investing in a Synod that lacks trust and harmony. Many are already looking or moving outside the Synod, seeking alternate ways to reach the world with the Good News of Christ. And when Synod does get a budget together based on trust, why not have it intentionally unified, expressing better our oneness in mission? This business of allowing multiple competing entities to solicit funds and swap donor databases irritates the good folks who get dozens of Synod-related solicitations annually. Such procedures diffuse the focus on mission.
-Whispers, no screams, about why we do not confront the pernicious gossip, untested allegations, control-ism, sexism, clericalism, disrespect and racism at every point wherever they pop up in our church? We need not wait for relief from on high. We confront it where we are. I cringe hearing stories that our President and other leaders are treated with disrespect in a church forum, and no one leaps to their defense.
Why are we so fearful of confronting those who disturb our Israel? For the sake of the billions who will die without Christ and spend eternity apart from Him, when will we stop quarreling, shrinking and whining? I thought we Christians worked out of faith, not fear!
One of our Seminary professors recently reminded us that we live in a post-literate age. Only 3% of Americans have library cards. Data confirm that 80% of Americans have their faces in screens 80% of the time when not eating or sleeping. People in America are image-oriented, handle multi-media and multi-sensory stimuli simultaneously with ease. And where are our preachers and teachers learning and applying the information on this Cone of Experience? Or how are they adapting their ministry to this average retention chart?