Article: What the ELCA Did This Week

If you didn’t know, our Lutheran church body gathers for a “churchwide assembly” to do the business of our church. It is a like a congregational meeting for the entire Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Over 5 days the assembly: worships, learns, elects and set the course for our national church body. The delegates of this assembly come from every walk of life and are (of course) members of congregations within the ELCA. 

Below is the press release of the “major” happenings of the most recent assembly. I added links to the various actions if you are interested in reading more about the decisions made. 

Gathering under the theme “We are church,” voting members of the 2019 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) made a number of key decisions to further the mission and ministry of this church. The assembly, the chief legislative authority of the church, met Aug. 5-10 at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. 

More than 900 voting members:

  • Reelected on the first ballot the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton to a six-year term as ELCA presiding bishop.
  • Elected Deacon Sue Rothmeyer to a six-year term as ELCA secretary. Rothmeyer, currently serving as executive for administration with the Office of the Secretary, was installed during the assembly’s closing worship on Aug. 10 and will begin her term Nov. 1. 
  • Approved the social statement “Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Call to Action” and its implementing resolutions. The social statement, in part, names patriarchy and sexism as sins and calls the church to action on a range of issues, including gender-based violence, workplace discrimination and economic inequality. Here is a link to that document:
  • Adopted “A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment,” which will serve as church policy for inter-religious relations. The policy statement was adopted with the witness of 39 ecumenical and inter-religious guests in attendance. Here is a link to that document:
  • Approved the triennium budget for 2020-2022, which includes a current fund spending authorization of $68,378,325 for 2020, a current fund income proposal of $68,442,034 for 2021 and $68,507,018 for 2022; and an ELCA World Hunger spending authorization of $21.5 million 2020, and an income proposal of $21.5 million for 2021 and for 2022.
  • Adopted the “Strategy Toward Authentic Diversity in the ELCA,” which consists of a report and recommendations on how the ELCA exhibits authentic diversity and formulates goals for racial diversity and inclusion. Here is a link to that document:
  • Witnessed the presentation of the “Declaration of the ELCA to People of African Descent,” which was accepted by the Rev. Lamont A. Wells, president of the African Descent Lutheran Association (ADLA), and members of ADLA.  Here is a link to that document:
  • Adopted 26 memorials en bloc, ranging in topics from gun violence to engagement in the Holy Land and gender identity to seminary tuition. 
  • Adopted a memorial that affirms the ELCA’s long-standing commitment to migrants and refugees and declares the ELCA a sanctuary church body. Here is a link to a Washington Post article on this decision and the actions surrounding that decision:
  • Adopted a memorial that calls for the development of a social statement and social message on the relationship of church and state.
  • Adopted a memorial to encourage all synods and congregations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ELCA’s ordination of women in 2020, the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women of color in the Lutheran tradition and the 10th anniversary of the ELCA’s decision to remove barriers to ordination for people in same-gender relationships.
  • Adopted a memorial to support the vision and goals of the Poor People’s Campaign that align with the ELCA’s social teachings.  Here is a link explaining The Poor People’s Campaign:
  • Adopted a series of amendments to the “Constitutions, Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,” including one that makes ordination the entrance rite for ministers of Word and Service, and an amendment to no longer count deacons as laypeople for representational principles. 
  • Adopted a resolution that committed the ELCA to support the World Council of Church’s “Thursdays in Black” campaign toward a world without rape and violence. Here is a link to explain this campaign:
  • Adopted a resolution to commemorate June 17 as a day of repentance in the ELCA for the martyrdom of the Emanuel 9—the nine people who were shot and killed June 17, 2015, during a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. (The shooter was raised in an ELCA congregation.)
  • Adopted a resolution to condemn white supremacy, calling all ELCA congregations to engage in a “study of the structures and rhetoric that empower and fuel racism and white supremacy and to take to heart the teaching of Scriptures, so we may all be better equipped to speak boldly about the equal dignity of all persons in the eyes of God.”
  • Celebrated the end of Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA, which concluded June 30 with nearly $250 million raised in cash, multiyear commitments and planned gift commitments. At the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, voting members approved the $198 million campaign to help sustain and grow ministries of the church. 

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: What Are You Seeking and Serving?

Flawed American writer and intellectual David Foster Wallace once gave a commencement address before he committed suicide in 2008.

This is what he said to the graduating class…

“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism …. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And … pretty much anything you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough …. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you …. Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

His words are very true. They are reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s song, “Gotta Serve Somebody”…

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Everybody worships and serves something. Sometimes more than one thing.

The one thing Wallace missed and possibly intentionally passed over is the worship of God, specifically Jesus. He will not disappoint or consume your life and leave you empty or used up. 

Jesus is one we can turn to once we have exhausted all other options for worship. And when we do, here is the promise Jesus makes to us…

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Instead of being bound in servitude to a thing… you can be freed to rest in the love of God. 

What are you worshipping?

What is taking most of your energy these days?

What inside of your is never quenched or satisfied?

Seek Jesus…because He is looking for you. 

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Sunday in Gilroy…and Now El Paso…and Now Dayton

I am distraught.

Like you, I heard about the murders at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on Sunday evening and now the shootings in El Paso, Texas. I am not distraught because it is so close (Gilroy), I am saddened that mass gun violence is prevalent and a part of our culture and this event reminded me that this type of violence in the United States will not end. I am convinced this will continue because it is a part of our national culture.

This Sunday at church, we will lift up the family and friends of Stephen Romero, 6, of San Jose, Keyla Salazar, 13, of San Jose and Trevor Irby, 25, of Romulus, N.Y. We will also pray for those who were wounded and those who were traumatized by this senseless attack.  The prayer list just got longer. We will pray for those affected in El Paso Texas too.

I am generally an optimist and believe that change can happen but not in this case. I guess I am surprised that I actually thought change could actually happen… especially after the mass shooting in Arizona that included Rep. Gabby Giffords, a federal judge and a 9 year old girl. That was back in 2011 and here we are in 2019 and the mass shootings continue without any attempt to curb this tragic problem.  With each and every mass shooting I wondered, “Is this enough loss of life for the powers that be to do something?” The answer is sadly “no.”

I lived a sheltered childhood. I grew up in a place where people didn’t lock their doors and left their car keys in the ignition. The violence of the world seemed so far away and something I didn’t need to deal with or address. As it is, I am powerless. 

I am privileged but I am weighed down… but it is a light, privileged weight. I can only imagine what the Christians of Rome during the reign of Nero must have felt. I can only imagine the fear of Pakistani Christians in Pakistan encounter when they are persecuted. My sadness is but a fraction of what they experience and experienced.  Yet, I know this isn’t about Christians at all, just a reminder I live a sheltered life.

This past Sunday and now Saturday were more stark reminders that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ”Philippians 3:20 and “We do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14

I am not going to go hide and wait for Jesus to return (as appealing as that sounds). Instead I will continue speak out against the unjust ways, people and policies that contribute to the pain and suffering of this world. Personally, I will also to continue to follow Saint Paul’s advice to…

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: 

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; 
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. 
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:15-21

Will you join me?

God bless you,

Article: What I am doing in Illinois

Right now, I am at Leadership Lab. It is a leadership laboratory for Christian students to grow in faith and acquire leadership skills. I’ve been a part of this one week a year “camp” for 34 years or about 70% of my life. 

I personally witness changed lives year after year… including my own. I am fairly sure I wouldn’t be a pastor if my father didn’t make me go to Leadership Lab. Thanks dad!

On Sunday night, one of the directors I work with (and took to Leadership Lab for the first time as a student in 1999) provided us with some statistics to show us the importance and impact of a camp like experience.

One week of Leadership Lab is equivalent to:

  • 28 hours of youth group meetings =  3-6 months of youth group meetings
  • 17 meals with loved ones/mentors/youth leaders/pastors 
  • 22 hours of worship = 5 months of regular worship 

Building relationships and community take time. You need least 8 hours of face time with a person or a group to build community. In church that would mean:

  • 8 weeks of worship
    • 4-8 weeks of youth group meetings 
    • One lock in or mini-retreat
    • Or just Monday and Tuesday of Leadership Lab 

This is an intensive and action packed week… devoted to building up the church and future leaders. 

I wish I could bottle what we do here and bring it home… but alas I cannot do that. I do however thank you for your support as I serve the larger church. 

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Article: Why Churches Die

By Thom Rainer

Whenever I come across an article by Thom Rainer, I take the time to read it. He is one of the best church consultants and church “practitioners” I have come across. I have read many of his books and he is rarely wrong in his assessments.

This past week, I saw an article entitled, Why Churches Dieby Thom Rainer and I of course read it.

Denial is a bad thing and will cause a local church to close its doors. If you didn’t know, the ELCA has been shrinking in membership for a while now. 

I think it is good to know why churches shrink and then close so that we do not fall into the same mentality. 

I am not sounding any alarms or predicting gloom and doom! I just want every church member (where ever you go to church) to know the warning signs and then do the very opposite of what Thom Rainer lists below!

  • Why Churches Die: They refuse to admit they are sick, very sick. I have worked with churches whose attendance has declined by over 80 percent. They have no gospel witness in the community. They have not seen a person come to Christ in two decades. But they say they are fine. They say nothing is wrong.
  • Why Churches Die: They are still waiting on the “magic bullet” pastor. They reason, if only we could find the right pastor, we would be fine. But they bring in pastor after pastor. Each leaves after a short-term stint, frustrated that the congregation was so entrenched in its ways. So the church starts the search again for the magic bullet pastor.
  • Why Churches Die: They fail to accept responsibility. I recently met with the remaining members of a dying church. Their plight was the community’s fault. Those people should be coming to their church. It was the previous five pastors’ fault. Or it was the fault of culture. If everything returned to the Bible belt mentality of decades earlier, we would be fine.
  • Why Churches Die: They are not willing to change…at all. A friend asked me to meet with the remaining members of a dying church. These members were giddy with excitement. They viewed me as the great salvific hope for their congregation. But my blunt assessment was not pleasing to them, especially when I talked about change. Finally, one member asked if they would have to look at the words of a hymn on a screen instead of a hymnal if they made changes. I stood in stunned silence, and soon walked away from the church that would close its doors six months later.
  • Why Churches Die: Their “solutions” are all inwardly focused. They don’t want to talk about reaching the ethnically changing community. They want to know how they can make church more comfortable and palatable for the remnant of members.
  • Why Churches Die: They desire to return to 1985. Or 1972. Or 1965. Or 1959. Those were the good old days. If we could just do church like we did then, everything would be fine.

God bless the Church and God bless you,
Pr. Ben