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The Decline

February 26, 2013 1 comment

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What’s the good word? We are reading a book as a staff and right there, on page 8, the words stuck out at me: “As a scholar of American Religion, I believe that the decline and even the end of the Protestant establishment is an inevitable outcome of our religious history. The Protestant mainline is no longer mainline; establishment Protestantism simply doesn’t attract a large audience anymore.” What? Wait. Let me go back and read that. Yes, you can too. Let it sink in. That’s where my church is at. My congregation that I serve is a part of mainline Protestantism. We are coming to an end? Well, if you go to any synod assembly, if you read anything that comes out of the ELCA you will constantly hear about our decline. Been hearing it for years. So, could it be that we are nearing the end of that timeline?

As I look at my congregation, we don’t seem to be falling in line with his thoughts. In the three years that I have been here I have seen our worship attendance grow by 6%, 6%, and 13% respectively. But that’s here. What about the rest? As Paul Harvey would say, “What’s the rest of the story?” From the folks that are coming into our congregation, it’s an even split- some are from other Lutheran congregations, some are from other denominations, and some have been away from the church for a long time and are returning home. Here’s what I’m finding out: Those that weren’t Lutheran aren’t joining because we have “Lutheran” in our name. They are joining because of the community they find. It’s not until they are joining that they are asking the question, “What does it mean to be Lutheran?” For some, just learning to be Christian is a hard enough first step. But I think that is where we are heading. I don’t think there will be “an end” to the mainline Protestant establishment, but I do believe we are in for a seismic shift and change. It won’t matter if you have Lutheran, Methodist, or Presbyterian in your name. What will matter is what they will find when they come to your congregation, what your congregation is about, and if the message of God will touch their hearts. Will they be judged, or will they be accepted? Will they be welcomed, or will they be left to wander the labyrinth of a new congregation on their own? You see, I don’t think it matters if you have Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian in your church name or not. You can still be those denominations without them in your name. Because your theology, how you look at the world and scripture will still come through in your messages and in your studies. And I don’t think you will attract more people if you did take those denominational names out of your church names. However, I might argue, you might attract different folks from a variety of different backgrounds. A Majority of new members into denominational churches are strictly through church transfers. 80%. That’s not a whole lot of new folks. Just moving the chairs on the deck.

What about you? Are you a part of a mainline Protestant church? If so, what are your thoughts about that statement? What is OUR response? If you aren’t a part of a mainline Protestant denomination, do you see that as true?

And that’s the good word for today.

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A Lenten Look at The Least of These

February 13, 2013 Leave a comment

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What’s the good word. This Sunday I begin a series at my church entitled, “The Least of These”. Following that, we will launch a series on Easter entitled “Grace,” based on the book by Max Lucado. Let me start this post with a statement that is sure to be an underlying theme of the 40 days of Lent and then heading into the Grace series: grace isn’t fair. We like to think about grace as this good and wonderful thing, and it is, but it also isn’t fair. Here’s what I mean:

When I was growing up there was this chair at my grandma’s farmhouse that I loved to sit in when we went up to the farmhouse during my summer break. It was an old recliner. Every morning my grandmother and I would go up to the farmhouse for a portion of the day and I loved sitting in that chair. Grandma didn’t like it so much that I sat in it, because technically it was her chair. I think about that chair often. I have a new chair in my movie room and while it gives me the satisfaction for a while of that chair at the farmhouse, there’s nothing like the feeling of those moments in that chair. It made me appreciate what I had.

In the book of Deuteronomy there comes a point when Moses is telling the Israelites  that if they forget a sheaf they should leave it and not go back for it. They should leave it for the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned. He goes onto say that after the olives have fallen they shouldn’t go back and beat the branches a second time because they should leave it for the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned. He doesn’t stop there, he goes on to say that once they have picked the grapes in the vineyard they shouldn’t go back for the ones that they missed, but leave them for the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned. Why? Why is that fair? How is that fair because I am the one who has done all the work and it’s my vineyard!

Perhaps Moses was letting them know that it wouldn’t always be this way. They wouldn’t always be in the position of want and need. That once they got to the promised land they would have vineyards, and olive farms, and have plenty of sheaves left in the fields. Perhaps they were not to forget those times. Because what happens is that we loose a sense of gratitude for what we have been given. Perhaps that’s why so many folks give up something for lent. When Jesus speaks all those times about serving and giving during his ministry, he’s not saying those things to give us a long list of things to do, but perhaps he is telling us to serve and give so we are reminded of what we have had all along. Rob Bell once said, “Your overflow is someone else’s necessity.” When we leave that corner of our sheaf we help someone else’s suffering and perhaps we too find ourselves being saved- saved from indifference, from the inertia of inaction, from taking what we have for granted.

Jesus said, “Whenever you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.”

And that’s the good word for today! 

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