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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pastorates Manuscript #12

(A word of explanation:  Much of my work at Central over the last several years has focused on "pastorates," which are mid-sized groups of 25-35 people of all ages meeting together in homes for worship, hearing God's word, sharing communion, and vibrant fellowship.  Pastorates have become a core practice for us at Central Lutheran Church, imitating the model developed at Holy Trinity Brompton in London.  This series of posts is taken from the rough draft of a manuscript on pastorates I'm writing.  My goal is to encourage and enable other churches to consider whether pastorates might be a good fit for them.  This is #12 in a series.  Eventually these posts will all be shared on this page when the manuscript is finished.)

Size, Schedule, and Newcomers

I often refer to pastorates as “mid-sized” groups to distinguish them from the “small” groups people are so familiar with.  However, a pastorate is not primarily defined by its size.  A group of 30 people meeting in a home may not be a pastorate if they function more or less like a small group.  A group of a dozen people might be a strong pastorate if they function like one.

Small groups usually function like a single-celled organism.  The emphasis in a small group is on being together -- together in the same conversation, together in a discussion about a Bible passage, together around a table enjoying a meal.  

One main principle of pastorates is that there is never just one conversation going on.  Tim Matthews, the pastor who has overseen the pastorates ministry at Holy Trinity Brompton for the last five years, says that when he sees his pastorate starting to all share in the same conversation, he’ll intentionally turn to someone next to him and start a new topic.  That way there are at least two conversations going on.

What’s the big deal?  Why worry about having more than one conversation at a time?  Simply this: If we function as a single cell, it limits how many people can function in leadership, how many people can comfortably join the group, and how many people’s needs can be met through the group’s time together.  Pastorates always function with more than one cell, more than one conversation.  

In every facet of a pastorate’s gathering, you’ll see this principle at work, with one possible exception.  The possible exception is that during worship and word time, the pastorate is usually all focused together, just as a larger congregation gathers as one unit to praise and to hear God’s word.  So in this way, a pastorate functions a little like the larger church gathering, the “celebration.”  In every other time, however, the pastorate functions with multiple cells:  During the meet-and-greet time, there will be a half dozen tiny knots of people enjoying independent conversations.  After hearing the word, the pastorate may separate into buzz groups for conversation and prayer.  Even going out into the neighborhood or into the world in mission, the pastorate usually has several smaller knots of people working together as multiple cells.  

It is often tempting to have one large group discussion in a pastorate.  However, this is a way of growing the pastorate down into a small group and should be avoided.  

Scheduling is another way pastorates function differently than small groups.  As noted above, pastorates meet twice each month for a three-month term, then take a month off (April, August, and December).  Because pastorates are significantly different from small groups, it’s wise to encourage people to form their own cell groups to complement the life of the pastorate.  At Central we call these cell groups D4D groups (Designed For Discipleship).  They are groups of two to five men or women -- groups are gender specific.  They are not expected to multiply, but rather to grow deep together into God’s word and into one another’s lives over time.  Most often they meet twice each month, ideally on the “off” week when the pastorate is not meeting.  D4D’s function most often as closed groups, not inviting newcomers in.  As people observe D4D’s and want their own, they’re encouraged and supported to form new groups.

So pastorates, by virtue of the fact that they’re always multi-celled, are inherently able to welcome newcomers.  D4D groups are not expected to do that.  Those who crave the stability, depth, and intimacy of the small group are able to experience it, and yet the pastorate provides an engine for evangelism, for mission, and for leadership development.  Pastorate leaders always try to cater to the newcomer so that the discussion avoids intensity that might be off-putting to a newcomer.  That kind of conversation is more appropriate to the cell group.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Faking it?

Taking a break for a moment from the series of Pastorates Manuscript posts.  (Thanks to those of you who keep coming back!)  We'll be back to the pastorates shortly.  For now, what do you think when you hear the term "faking it"?

"Faking it" is never a good thing.  Think about the phrase -- doesn't it give you a nauseous feeling in the pit of your stomach?  You don't want to be close to those who are faking anything.  Words like lying, hypocrisy, and broken trust follow quickly behind.

The same is true in the church.

Here's a fascinating exchange that happened during Christianity Today's 2013 interview with Rick Warren.  The interviewer asked the question in bold, and Warren responded:

More resources are expended on evangelism in America than in almost any other nation. Yet surveys say the country is becoming less Christian. What’s your take?

Cultural Christianity is dying. Genuine Christianity is not. The number of cultural Christians is going down because they never really were Christian in the first place. They don’t have to pretend by going to church anymore. 
I don’t trust all the surveys out there. Newsweek did a cover on the decline of Christian America based on a Pew survey that said the number of Protestants has dropped precipitously. That’s an old term. It’s like saying I’m a Pilgrim. Nobody calls themselves a Pilgrim or a Puritan anymore. So the number of Pilgrims and the number of Puritans have dropped precipitously in America! That’s a straw man. 
Of course Protestantism has dropped. The only people who might still call themselves Protestants are the liberal Protestant churches—the ones that have died the most.
I think Rick Warren has nailed something here.  Church attendance in big, mainline churches is dropping like a rock.  This is no surprise.  Cultural Christianity -- the sort of social system that sees itself as more-or-less-Christian -- is dying.  Look around you:  Schools don't avoid programming on Wednesday evenings (if you're over 40, do you remember "church night"?)  and even if the schools avoid Wednesdays or Sunday mornings, for that matter, the community leagues are all over those time slots.  Cultural Christianity is no longer part of the social expectations that most people live with.

So in essence, what Warren is saying above is that people don't feel pressure to "fake it" anymore.  They don't have to pretend.

What do Jesus followers do with this bit of information?  We can grieve the loss of power.  We can mourn that people no longer feel pressured to behave like Christians.  Or -- and this is a big change -- we can recognize that we have an opportunity to be salt and light in a darkened culture.

Churches that get what it means to be in the world but not of it -- to live in the world and rub shoulders with the world, but not to soak up its values -- will thrive in this environment.  Churches that don't get how to live for Jesus in the midst of a world that doesn't share those values will decline.

Pretty simple.  But look at the churches around your neighborhood.  How many get it?  How many are wishing we could go back to the days when people felt the pressure to fake it?

What about you?  Do you wish we could go back to the days when the church was at the center of social power?  Or do you recognize the movement of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to a time when Jesus' followers have an opportunity to be salt and light in their own neighborhoods?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pastorates manuscript #11

Implementing Pastorates

So what do pastorates look like? What are the practical details of implementing pastorates in a congregation?

Very few congregations can simply start a wholesale pastorate launch successfully.  Pastorates are close enough to small groups, close enough to more traditional worship services, close enough to mission teams, that a congregation with experience in any of these areas will find pastorates morphing into “what we already know.”  

Because of this, it’s important to lay some groundwork before implementing pastorates.  First, it’s worth taking time to get to know the model.  Do some research beyond this book.  Go to Holy Trinity Brompton’s website -- the church that started Alpha, the church from which we learned about pastorates -- and find out how they conduct their pastorates.  The Alpha USA website also has a library that contains quite a bit of information about pastorates.  Nicky Gumbel, vicar of HTB, has written a small booklet called “Pastorates: Life at the Heart of the Church” that is a helpful resource.

Once you’ve done some research, gather some interested people.  Share the vision of what pastorates are and why you believe they’re a good fit for your church.  Gather a group of potential leaders.  Pray together for your church and for God’s Spirit to help you discern if this is the appropriate vision for your church.

If it seems good to you and to the Holy Spirit to move forward, this gathering of people can become a prototype of a pastorate.  Make clear to this group of people from the very beginning that you are hoping they will become champions of the pastorate model and that you’re hoping they will become leaders of the pastorates that form in the future.    It’s important to plant these seeds from the start; otherwise the natural affinity people build in the life of a pastorate will make planting new pastorates very difficult.  

Meet together for a defined period -- three months at a minimum, probably six months maximum.  During this period build your pastorate with great care on the model described below.  This initial prototype will become the template in people’s minds of what a pastorate is supposed to be, so it’s critical to make this as much like the pastorate model as you can.  

After that time of learning, growth and discernment, discern what is the best way for this group of people to give birth to multiple pastorates.  Launching three or more pastorates in this phase will help later on; having multiple pastorates in the life of the congregation will help your church to avoid some of the initial resistance to growth and allow some diversity within styles of pastorates.  

A word of caution: In most churches, only about 15% of attenders are willing to jump on board a new program of any kind.  While it’s fun to think what your church might look like if everyone was part of a pastorate, it might take a while to get there.  It may be easier to launch pastorates for 10-15% of your worship attendance to start with.  If your church has a strong history of participation in home-based groups, you may be able to start with a slightly higher percentage.  However, in this case it’s critically important to help your leaders buy into the pastorate vision or the inertia of the church will pull the life of the pastorate back to the style of whatever groups have been dominant in the church before this.

Recruiting and training your new pastorate leaders is critically important.  The Book of Acts contains several examples of how seriously the early church took recruitment of new leaders.  Acts 1, Acts 6, Acts 13, and Acts 20 are all examples of how the early church dealt with recruiting leaders.  The books of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are primarily about leadership issues.  This is important stuff!  Choose those who are your best leadership, who have the Spirit-driven gifts to shepherd people, who are experienced in handling God’s word well.  Choose them with prayer.  Choose them in the context of confidential, open conversation among one or two of your leadership team members.  Don’t have a leadership team?  Start one just for this purpose.  Pastorate leadership is too important to go solo on recruitment.

At Central we have handled training a few different ways.  Our initial training generally covers about six hours of theological and biblical material, description of the pastorate model, discussion of shepherding and leadership.  One of the most important ingredients of our pastorate leadership training is that we run through an actual pastorate evening complete with food, worship, word, communion, and prayer as part of our training.  This tangible experience is especially helpful to those who have less experience in actual pastorate life.

Six hours is not really much training, but it’s enough to launch.  Depending on the strengths and weaknesses of your church, you may want to move to a general sign up next, encouraging people to find a location and time of the pastorate that works best for them and plan to attend.  Pastorate leaders should be encouraged to recruit their friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.  Nicky Gumbel talks frequently about HTB’s pastorate leaders being encouraged to “mine the church” -- to look around on a Sunday morning at worship for those who may not be involved in a pastorate and to invite them.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pastorates manuscript #10

NOTE: I am well aware that the previous post was marked #8, and this one is #10.  In my intention for the finished manuscript there will indeed be a section between these two -- but I haven't got it written yet.  So I'll jump ahead to this section, which might be of most interest to clergy, but I'll post it anyway.

What do pastorates mean for the current leaders in the church?  Specifically, what does a pastorate structure require of the church’s pastor?

One of the most drastic changes the church has experienced in the last century has to do with the status of clergy.  A century ago, pastors were important people.  They enjoyed prestige in the community and deference from nearly everyone, even other professionals.  Even the United States tax codes recognize the status of clergy through special exemptions, deductions, and allowances.  In implementing these special classifications for clergy (of all faiths, though by far the majority of people able to take advantage of these have been Christians), the government has affirmed that the church provides services that are critical to the general welfare of the United States and therefore, without discrimination or bias, the U.S. government wants to support the work done by clergy.  Many of these special tax classifications are being eroded away today.  The benefits accorded to the clergy are changing.

Partly because of increasing education among the general population and partly because of a decreasing respect for the church as a whole, pastors no longer enjoy as much public authority and prestige as they did in the past.  While those of us who are ordained might grieve for these changes, we have to recognize that God is at work here.  These changing perceptions are no surprise to him.  

It is important for pastors to realize that Jesus had a great many things to say about power and how it is exercised in the gospel community.  Rather than exercising power over one another, Jesus said, leaders in this community are to be servants.  Rather than seeking our own advantage or control, leaders are to give away power.

This idea of giving away power is deeply personal for me.  Before I went to seminary, I served in various non-ordained roles within the church for many years.  I enjoyed not being a pastor, helping other lay people to recognize that they, too, could live lives wholly dedicated to following Jesus.  Radical Christian lives were not just for pastors.

As I served in the church, I became increasingly frustrated by a variety of “glass ceilings.”  Over and over again I encountered limits to what I could do in the church because I was not ordained.  At a retreat in February, 1994, I vented my frustrations to a friend who was also a pastor.  I complained about how my Lutheran church loves to talk about the priesthood of all believers, but then we create systems where pastors have power and the rest of the church sits by, passive.  I railed about how pastors function like a good old boys’ club, holding the authority to make decisions on behalf of the church, then making those decisions in ways that protect their own power base.  Paul listened to my tirade attentively.  When I was through, he quietly nodded.  “I think everything you say is true.  Pastors are often guilty of protecting their own power.  We create systems that preserve our own authority in selfish ways that hurt the church.  Do you know what will change the church, Jeff?” he asked.  

I was still quite frustrated and I became a little sarcastic.  “No, what’s going to change the church?”

“The only way these things will change is if good people who understand what you have been saying get ordained and then give away their power.”

It was like the Holy Spirit used his words to stick a pin in my ego.  I could almost hear my indignant rage leaking out like helium out of a balloon.  Within a week my wife and I had made plans to sell our house and I put in my application to seminary.  Since that time, my heart has been bent on being a pastor who gives away power.  I have returned again and again to Ephesians 4, where the apostle Paul describes how God gifted the church with pastors (and other leaders) in order to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  So if pastors try to do the ministry ourselves, we are working against God’s plan for the church, working against scripture.  The ministry -- the mission of the church -- is properly the work of God’s people, who are to be equipped and empowered by pastors and other leaders.

When I completed seminary and began serving two congregations in western North Dakota, I discovered (not for the first time) that it is not only pastors who resist the priesthood of all believers.  Often members of congregations enjoy being armchair quarterbacks in the church, able to second-guess decisions without taking responsibility.  Others take a perverse pride in having hired a pastor to do the work of the church on their behalf.  Many who bang the drum loudest for what they think is traditional Lutheranism also carry the most resistance to Luther’s idea that every Christian is ordained a priest in their baptism, authorized and responsible to carry out the ministry of the church.

As I have pursued the vision of pastorates for the last seven years, I have constantly been challenged to give away power in big and small ways.  One of the earliest lessons -- and one that is repeated most often -- is that if the gospel is going to create community, I have to give up the traditional pastor’s role of “answer man.”    Today when I sit as a participant in the pastorate my wife and I attend, I sit and listen, and if someone directs a question to me, I redirect it to the person leading our pastorate.  I find that this accomplishes several goals.  First, other participants are forced to grapple with their own questions and answers rather than simply looking to the pastor for the correct answers.  Over time this practice creates greater learning and develops in those who participate the ability to read and interpret the Bible for themselves.  Second, the leaders of our pastorate are reinforced, encouraged, and empowered in their leadership as they learn to lead through what are sometimes difficult issues.  Third, I tend to learn a great deal as I listen to the perspectives of my brothers and sisters in Christ!

In our church (meaning Central Lutheran), we have laid the groundwork for many years to empower pastorate leaders.  After a major staff transition in 2002-2004, we focused most of our pastoral attention on building toward this empowerment.  (At the time “pastorates” were not even remotely on our radar.)  The first steps of this empowerment included focusing our staff attention on teaching the Bible and on helping people understand what it means to have a dynamic relationship with Jesus.   (We were beginning with a congregation that was self-focused, biblically illiterate, and overwhelmingly complacent about everything from participation to mission.  The sad truth was that our new mission statement at the time, “Making Jesus Known”, caused quite a bit of controversy in some quarters.)  At the same time we intentionally created group experiences and raised up leaders to oversee those short-term groups.  We developed a strong Alpha ministry and trained a cohesive team of leaders who understood many different tasks -- set-up, clean-up, cooking, prayer, group leadership, administration, childcare, hospitality, and more -- as many different tasks that worked toward a common goal of evangelism and discipleship.  Alpha also created a natural association in the minds of both leaders and participants between relational groups and spiritual growth.  We used other small group experiences throughout the church to reinforce that connection.  To put it another way, belonging and believing were tied together.  This is a biblical idea that too often gets lost in our churches.

Another aspect of the culture changes we pursued during these years included saying “no” to many things that did not directly serve our mission.  In those days our mission statement was “Making Jesus Known.”  A worship team that enjoyed playing together but refused to pray together (it seemed to them like an exclusive practice) was held accountable and eventually dismissed from leadership.  We realized that families had fallen into a pattern of simply dropping their children off for Sunday School and then going out for brunch, and nothing we offered for adults seemed to draw them in.  So we did away with Sunday School, instead offering a children’s education time during worship for children who began and ended the worship service sitting in the sanctuary with their parents.  

These examples highlight a painful fact: You can’t give away power within structures that function to keep people ignorant, complacent, and avoiding responsibility.  Sometimes the structures themselves need to be changed in order to help people discover a willingness to take on authority and accountability.  

Along with our “Extreme Sunday Makeover” that deep-sixed traditional Sunday School, we began to teach parents intentionally that they are the primary faith educators of their children.  That simple message returns again and again as a challenge and encouragement to parents.  Many have stepped up and taken on their God-given authority as parents to disciple their children.  Others have walked away from Central and have gone looking for a church that still offers Sunday School.

Another challenge of giving away power is that it will not only challenge complacent pew-sitters; it challenges controlling pastors.  Many pastors lament the unwillingness of people in the pews to take responsibility.  However, these same pastors are unwilling to give up control.  You can’t ask people to take ownership if they have no say in the outcome.  Pastors have to go through an intentional process to give away power.  First the pastor -- the one who holds nearly all the power in the traditional Protestant model -- needs to discern a specific area in which to give away power.  Second, the pastor needs to back away from meeting everyone’s needs in that area.  In effect, the pastor has to create a vacuum where ministry is not being done, or highlight an area in which ministry is lacking without stepping in to meet people’s needs.  If there are no legitimate needs, why would people step up to take ownership?  Third, the pastor needs to recruit people who are willing to do ministry, equip them with both authority and with skills, and then walk alongside them as they begin to do ministry.  It is fascinating to read about Jesus’ methods in this regard.  In Luke 9, for example, Jesus first gives the disciples authority to complete the mission.  Only after he gives them authority does he instruct them and send them out.  Too often in our churches we are guilty of giving people jobs to do but no authority to make changes necessary to complete the job.  

As we learn to give away power within the church, we find several New Testament texts taking on new depth and meaning.  We read 2 Timothy 2:2 and discover that the New Testament vision of leadership development is multi-generational.  That is, as a pastor it’s not just about how I raise up leaders; rather, it’s about whether those leaders can raise up still more leaders who will be able to train and equip others.  So in effect, I can’t judge the effectiveness of my leadership development until my spiritual grandchildren are training faithful disciples.

When we read Ephesians 4, we discover that the reason Jesus gives leaders to the church is in order to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  In other words, as a pastor my job is not necessarily to do the work of ministry myself, though of course some of that will happen; rather, my job is to multiply the number and quality of people doing ministry by giving other Jesus-followers the tools they need.  What is more, only through this process of equipping the saints and releasing them to do ministry will we come to maturity, to the knowledge of Jesus.  

Think about it.  This is the same pattern Jesus followed with his disciples.  He walked with them, taught them, and lived with them, for a brief time.  Then he gave them authority and sent them out to do specific ministry.  He continued to walk with them through this process as they returned and reflected on their ministry, then went out again.  As they grew and matured and experienced successes and difficulties they became more and more able to do the work of ministry they had seen Jesus modeling.  The ministry of equipping is very near the heart of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Pastors and church leaders would do well to imitate him!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pastorates manuscript #8

Pastorates do many things better than traditional congregations.
Not only are pastorates better at doing many things than traditional small groups, they are also better for many things than the traditional congregation.  Much of what the church does happens best in pastorates rather than in the larger congregation.

Pastorates excel at pastoral care.
One of the greatest things about pastorates is the level of care they can provide both for their participants and for others.  Several of our pastorates have walked with a member of their group through significant illnesses, and some have experienced the death of one or more of their members.  

In a congregation, a pastor often strives to provide significant spiritual care during this kind of crisis, but a single visit, or even two or three, is usually the best the pastor can provide.  

In contrast, pastorates have often set up around-the-clock care for a person in need.  They fill each other’s freezers with meals during a hospitalization.  They have done fundraisers to help cover medical costs.  They become an extended family at a time of death, walking through grief with a new widow, for example, in ways beyond what one ordained pastor can provide.  Recently one of our pastorates walked through lung cancer and death with a member.  A few weeks before Adeline’s death, she and her husband Hartley celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary.  She was not able to move out of her home, but the pastorate hosted a wonderful anniversary party for the two of them.  Pastorate members greeted guests at the door, provided refreshments, and made sure every guest understood Adeline’s limitations.  A few weeks later the entire pastorate attended Adeline’s funeral along with hundreds of other people.  That evening was the regular pastorate meeting.  Even though he was exhausted at the end of a very long day filled with grief, Hartley was there and the pastorate suspended their regular plans as Hartley shared story after story of his 68 years of life with Adeline.  The pastorate continues to walk with him through his grief, and he recognizes how important the pastorate is in his life.  

Pastorates excel at getting God’s Word into people.

The trouble with so many of the ways we do church is, as we’ve examined, that people are so often passive.  Any teacher will tell you that the more active a learner is in the process of learning, the better the material will be absorbed and applied.  And that is exactly the key -- not only absorption, but application.  

In a pastorate, there are usually two or three people involved in directly teaching and proclaiming the Word of God.  This means that you have two or three people digging deep into scripture as they prepare.  If they are properly coached and encouraged, this act of preparing to teach can be fertile ground for the Holy Spirit to work in these teachers to deepen their knowledge of scripture and their ability to apply it.  

Participants in the pastorate not only hear and discuss God’s Word.  Traditional small groups also do this.  But the pastorate is actively seeking ways to apply that Word immediately.  Pastorates are actively inviting others in, and they are seeking ways to do the mission work of the gospel in the world through serving in some hands-on way.  This means that the Word that is heard in the pastorate is applied, and this means that the Word has greater opportunity to transform the lives of individuals and to transform the collective life of the community.

Pastorates excel at discipleship.

Mike Breen, who has worked with pastorate-sized groups for many years, points out that the basic problem with institutional Christianity is that its structure imitates the structure of social life that dominated the Middle Ages, a system known as feudalism.  In many of our churches, a “lord” (the ordained pastor) and a few “nobles” (the staff, perhaps, or a church council or board of elders) have nearly total control over a large group of people who are responsible to do the work of the “serfs” (the members of the congregation).  In return for their work, the “serfs” have a claim on the “lord” to feed them and protect them.  Breen points out that this goes a long way to explain the conversation that happens in so many church parking lots after worship on Sundays.  “I’m just not getting fed at this church” is a comment and criticism heard far too often after worship.  This attitude and assumption about what’s supposed to happen in worship sets us up with a faulty paradigm for what the church is about.  

Breen goes on to say that Jesus rarely fed the masses.  Instead what he did is he invited people in (“Come, follow me”) and then challenged them (“You give them something to eat”).  This invitation and challenge is the basic framework for discipleship.

Pastorates are full of invitation and challenge.  We invite people in to attend, participate, eat, enjoy.  About the time people really start to appreciate the fellowship of the pastorate we challenge them to serve beyond themselves.  Individual pastorate members may be challenged to share their testimony, to provide teaching, or any of a number of other leadership functions.  Anyone who has been around Christianity for any length of time -- and many who are brand new to it -- recognize that this is what it’s all about.  We are putting into action what has only been theoretical for too long.

One of the keys to the success of the pastorate model is that pastorates are expected to live out the gospel.  Pastorates are expected to make disciples.  And they do.  The most effective disciple-making churches are those that structure themselves at all three levels of the church -- celebration, congregation, and cell -- capitalizing on the strengths found at each level of Christian community.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pastorates manuscript #7

I am utterly convinced that the Spirit of God is moving across the globe, creating a revolution in the church that is rooted in biblical community.  In many parts of the world these biblical communities are simply house churches.  In North America where we live with an image of “church” as a specially dedicated religious building, it might be more helpful to refer to these groups as “mid-sized communities” in order to distinguish them from the more familiar “small groups.”  

Small groups -- groups of 8-15 people -- have been popular in the church since the days of Serendipity in the 1970’s and before.  Without a doubt small groups have been a great vehicle to create deep relationships and in-depth biblical study in certain situations.  But pastorates, mid-sized communities, are quite different from small groups.  Traditional small groups have some significant weaknesses that have become all too familiar within church leadership circles.  Mid-sized groups like pastorates, properly led, are strong where small groups are weak.  One of the greatest temptations for churches considering pastorates is to build small groups -- possibly slightly larger than average small groups -- and call them pastorates.  Trouble is, there are certain dynamics to mid-sized groups that simply don’t happen in small groups.  So let’s take some time to distinguish between small groups and pastorates.  

There’s always a temptation to settle for smaller groups.  Small groups are more comfortable -- everyone can have a chair around the living room.  (Note:  The most common objection from people who first learn about pastorates is, “How do you find houses big enough for 30-40 people?”  I immediately tell people to stop counting the chairs in their living room and accept that it might be a good thing to have people sitting on the floor, the stairwell, the windowsills.  Almost any average sized house in North America is large enough to host a pastorate.  This minor bit of crowding helps people get beyond their personal space issues and creates a collective energy for worship and for the Spirit’s movement.)  Small groups allow everyone to participate in one big conversation.  Small groups allow us to really get to know each other intimately.  Trouble is, as we pointed out above, for exactly these reasons small groups don’t grow, and they don’t function to make new disciples.  We get used to each other and comfortable in “our little group.”  It’s awkward for newcomers because they don’t feel like they’re part of the group, and they will probably not return.  A small group may settle for just “Bible study.”  Bible study is good and valuable, but many groups have studied the Bible for decades without ever growing significantly in numbers, in faith, or in mission.  It’s easy for a small group never to serve beyond themselves.  

One young pastor in his first parish was quite excited to find that a small group had been studying their way through the entire Bible every year for six years.  They met together each week and dug into the Word under the leadership of one gifted teacher within their group.  When the new pastor encouraged the six members of this small group to begin to teach others, they were horrified.  “Oh, no!  We could never teach anyone else.  We don’t know enough yet!”  Their small group was comfortable and even though they had studied the entire Bible for six years, they did not want to reach out beyond themselves.  Perhaps less obvious but equally important, the small group allows people to maintain a distance from the need to develop and exercise their own gifts.  

So what can a pastorate do that a small group can’t?  Fact is, pastorates are better at many things than small groups.  As we’ll see later, pairing pastorates with a smaller-than-usual form of small groups makes a complementary structure that is hard to beat.

Pastorates are better at evangelism.
Small groups don’t do evangelism well.  Once a group is established, it’s hard for anyone else to join.  If you are bold enough to visit an established small group, you will bump up against inside jokes and conversations that leave you on the outside.  Group members already know a lot about each other and your presence as a newcomer makes conversations awkward.  This is why many small groups choose to be “closed” groups that don’t take in new members.  Pastorates are never closed.  If you visit a pastorate, you will find half a dozen small knots of conversation and you can be welcomed into any of them.  Relationships are more open, and people come and go from the group fairly regularly.  As a newcomer to a pastorate you’ve also got a better chance of finding someone you can connect with.  Because pastorates tend not to get as in-depth in Bible study and discussion as small groups do, newcomers are less likely to feel stupid, like everyone else knows the Bible through and through.  Since a pastorate is larger -- 2-3 times as large as  a small group -- there’s less pressure to know everyone’s name early on.  It’s much easier to be a newcomer.

Also pastorates tend to do more activities than small groups.  Small groups tend to focus on just one activity -- usually Bible study in church groups -- and that’s it.  Pastorates, however, have a social gathering three or four times each year.  Pastorates seek out mission activities like volunteering at a food shelf or landscaping a school’s flower bed or holding a garage sale to raise money to support a mission project.  These additional activities appeal to many people who would never come to a group that was just doing Bible study.

Pastorates are better at leadership development.
One person can lead a small group, but pastorates are far too diverse and too large for one person to lead.  At a minimum it takes a team to lead a pastorate, and if the leaders are wise, they’re constantly delegating tasks out to potential leaders within the pastorate.  Again, this kind of natural leadership development is structured into the pastorate model.  Over time, people’s spiritual gifts and natural strengths rise to the top within the pastorate.  Quite often, new leaders emerge who serve within the pastorate.  These individuals may find that their gifts grow as they are used, and they may find new opportunities to use their gifts in a larger context.  If their gifts allow, they can also feed back into the larger church, so the pastorate network becomes a leadership development engine for the whole church.  Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity Brompton in London says that when, for a short time in the 1990’s, they gave up pastorates in favor of small groups, their leadership development dried up as well.  When they went back to a pastorate structure after a few years, they began to see new leaders emerging once again.

This leadership development happens because the pastorate is too big for one person to lead.  Pastorate leaders have to intentionally recruit others as often as possible.  Over time the various activities and relationships within the pastorate become a potent place for new gifts to be identified, called out, and developed.

Another key to leadership development within pastorates is that the pastorate provides a perfect place to try new things and fail.  Most of us learn and grow far more from failure than we do from success.  A pastorate becomes a supportive community where failure is met with encouragement and the opportunity to try again.  Too many potential leaders don’t weather their first failure well, and they never dare to attempt anything of the sort in the future.  With the encouragement of a pastorate, fledgling leaders may see that what they perceived as failure was, in reality, simply the first shaky steps toward success.

Pastorates are better at multiplication.
Once a small group is established, it’s almost impossible to get it to multiply.   From the very start, pastorates talk about multiplication.  They actively seek to grow “too big” so that their pastorate can give birth to another.  Because the relationships within the pastorate are less intense, less intimate as a rule than those in a small group, multiplication becomes a real possibility.  Because leaders are growing and developing constantly within the pastorate, it’s natural to consider whether they’re ready to step out and lead a new pastorate on their own.  This multiplication creates a sense of expectancy and excitement.  The entire pastorate model drives toward this growth and multiplication.  A large part of this growth happens because of the new leaders that are being developed.  As individual leaders begin to realize their gifts, they are more confident to move into forming a new pastorate with the support of the larger congregation and the love and encouragement of their original pastorate.

Pastorates are better at mission.
Because small groups tend to focus on just one thing, it’s often hard to add in a missional aspect to the small group.  Pastorates, however, are diverse and there is often a person in a pastorate who functions as a “mission champion” keeping the pastorate focused outward toward some missional activity.  Some pastorates collectively sponsor an orphan through World Vision.  Others financially contribute to support a missionary.  Others adopt a local program to aid homeless people.  Others volunteer to host a worship service in the larger congregation, serving as ushers and greeters.  Others send some of their members to volunteer in the church’s Alpha course.  

Pastorates are better at getting beyond themselves.  Anyone who has tried to coordinate activities for a group knows how tough it can be to coordinate schedules.  Pastorates include enough people that even if not all the people can show up, enough will come to make the mission work worthwhile.  Recently one of our pastorates booked a day with a local organization, “Feed My Starving Children,” that packs non-perishable meals to be sent all over the world.  This pastorate committed to 96 slots, then invited a couple other pastorates to join in.  Not only did they step up and do this amazing activity together, but this evening of volunteering together drew in quite a few newcomers who experienced the joy and excitement and camaraderie of these pastorates.  Cooperative mission resulted in evangelism!

There is certainly a place for small groups within the church.  At Central we have emphasized both pastorates (groups of 25-35) and our own brand of small groups that we call D4D groups (groups of 3-5).  We find that these two kinds of groups, along with regular large-group celebrations, create a healthy sense of Jesus-centered community.  Pastorates focus on word and sacrament, multiplication, mission, and caring for one another.  The D4D groups focus on building in-depth relationships, digging deep in to Scripture, and creating community that includes a lot of accountability.  These two are complementary.   What effectively happens is that the church begins to function at three distinct but interrelated levels:  the “celebration” or large-group gathering of a few hundred for weekly worship; the “congregation” or pastorate, a mid-sized gathering; and the “cell” or very small group which meets for accountability and in-depth study.

Most often, it’s helpful for individuals to stagger their schedules.  What often happens is that a pastorate will meet twice a month on the first and third weeks; the D4D group will meet the second and fourth weeks.  This keeps overall time commitments manageable.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Pastorates manuscript #6

The global south

I remember listening to a missionary in the 1980’s, recently returned from Africa, who talked about a model of leadership training that was growing by leaps and bounds in Africa.  It was called “theological education by extension” or TEE.  In this model, students did not travel to a seminary to take several semesters of classes.  Rather, the teachers traveled to the village where the students lived.  In these scattered villages, the professor led classes over a weekend or maybe a week.  The students were probably already leading local churches and many worked at tentmaking jobs in addition.  They took a few days to study in order to be better equipped for ministry.  This model did not produce theological sophistication in its students but rather equipped them for the fast, portable work of leading local congregations.  TEE was a response to rapid growth of the church.  To the great surprise of many in the west, African Christianity had begun to grow by leaps and bounds, and TEE was one of many desperate moves to try to provide biblical leadership.  

About the same time liberation theology began to echo out of Latin America.  In a bid to deal with the consequences of corrupt politics, a hierarchical Catholic Church, and devastating poverty, small groups of Christians called “base communities” began to live together, sharing their meager wealth and their spiritual lives.  They began to read the Bible differently, recognizing that God had a “preferential option for the poor.”  Without a doubt much of liberation theology was deeply influenced by Communism, but it was also influenced by Acts 2 and other passages in scripture.  These Christian communities started within Catholic roots but rapidly expanded beyond the Catholic Church.  As pentecostalism grew by leaps and bounds in Latin America, many Jesus-followers took a page from the flexible leadership and communal lives of these base communities.  

After Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China, many missionaries thought the Christian church within China would be devastated.  All the missionaries had been expelled, after all, and there would be a serious lack of Christian leadership.  When China began to reopen after a few decades of being entirely closed to western Christianity, the first Christians to visit this new China were shocked to find a vibrant, under-the-radar Christian presence in house churches, led by pastors who had never been to seminary but who had been educated in the “school of suffering.”  That church had grown dynamically in the absence of professional leaders.

In the global south, the church was growing by leaps and bounds.  Two characteristics of these growing churches are worth noting:  First, they were not passive, but active, because they were gathering in home-sized groups where each member had definite roles and responsibilities.  To borrow language from Bonhoeffer’s classic book Life Together, there were few if any “unemployed” people in the church, in the sense that they were non-involved in the life of that church or passive in regard to its ministry.  Second, they were led not by degree-wielding, seminary trained pastors, but by minimally trained, spiritually gifted leaders.

Please note that I am not arguing against the existence of professional pastors.  Ephesians 4 makes clear that one of Jesus’ gifts to his church is the leadership of pastors.  However, I believe that professional pastors have made serious mistakes in the way we lead the church.  We have too often failed to disciple new leaders.  Instead, we have chosen to focus on our own gifts and abilities.  We have failed to find effective models for equipping the saints to do the work of ministry and instead, we have done ministry ourselves while people watch us.  We have organized our churches in such a way that our own roles as preachers and teachers are highlighted, often to the exclusion of other gifts and other leaders.  

Pastorates are a powerful tool to help the church function as it was intended.  Precisely because they do not encourage passivity, pastorates can help fill the void in leadership development in our churches.

If we pay attention to the Spirit’s movement over the last several decades, we have to acknowledge that on the level of local leadership, a seminary education is not necessary to a healthy church.  I’m not suggesting that theological training is of no value; quite the opposite.  Theological training as has been traditionally done at the seminary level will increasingly belong at the level of oversight, not at the level of local shepherding.  The idea that we have to require a four-year degree (or more) before a person can lead a house-sized congregation flies in the face of what God has been doing for several decades in the global south.  

Today we are seeing these same patterns -- local gatherings of moderate size, meeting without the burden of mortgages and salaries, led by gifted persons who are passionate for Jesus -- expanding across the increasingly dechurched western landscape.  Networks of missional communities have taken root in England, in continental Europe, in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere in the United States.  Something is happening as western churches are listening to and imitating their brothers and sisters in the global south.  The Holy Spirit is calling us to a way of being the church that is flexible, portable, and easily replicated. The pastorate is one particular model of this movement of the Spirit.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

And now a word from our sponsor ...

Okay, break from the pastorates manuscript excerpts for a second.  We'll be going back to those momentarily.  But first, take a look at this poignant cartoon (click for a larger image):

Monday, September 2, 2013

Pastorates manuscript #5

An excursus for Lutherans and historians

Protestant churches take great pride in Martin Luther’s theology.  We beat the drum of “justification by grace, through faith” and claim our theological inheritance as descendants of the Protestant Reformation.    Luther’s rediscovery of the New Testament’s teaching on justification has rightly been the idealogical cornerstone of Protestantism since the 1500’s.  

But what if we inherited Luther’s theology, but missed out on other critical parts of his teaching?  

Luther never tried to create a systematic theology.  As far as we can tell, Luther had little interest in writing timeless theological statements.  In nearly every case, he wrote theological statements that were firmly rooted in the practical concerns and contexts of his day.  This is why it’s not hard to find Luther saying things that sound completely contradictory.  To make sense of Luther, it is tremendously important to understand what context he was addressing.

Luther had a kind of conversion experience around 1514 as he was preparing to lecture on the book of Romans.  This conversion amounted to a paradigm shift that would shake western civilization.  It sounds simple enough in the beginning -- Luther realized that the “righteousness of God” in the book of Romans referred not to God’s holiness that gives God the right to smite sinners, but rather to the gift of righteousness that God gives to those who trust in Jesus, and to God’s character in giving this free gift.  

Luther spent the rest of his life working out the implications of this paradigm shift.  One of the greatest questions Luther grappled with was what this shift in understanding means for the church.  Almost immediately Luther saw that much of the church’s hierarchy, much of the church’s traditional practice (including indulgences that started the Reformation rolling in 1517 as Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church) did not fit with this simple teaching that God makes people righteous as a gift for Jesus’ sake.

In 1520, Luther published three critical books that laid much of the groundwork for the Reformation.  In these three books (An Address to the German Nobility, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On the Freedom of the Christian) Luther laid out basic doctrines that drove the Reformation forward -- the priesthood of all believers, the authority and accessibility of scripture, and the nature of Christian vocation lived out in community.

For the next decade, from about 1520 to 1530, Luther developed these ideas -- all rooted in the basic truth of justification by grace through faith -- and their practical implications for the church.  Obviously, if scripture has authority and can be interpreted by any Christian, the people need to be able to read the Bible.  So Luther translated the New Testament in 1521-22.  In 1526, Luther published On the German Mass which gave some specific guidelines for worship in the evangelical churches (more on this in a moment).  In 1528, Luther and a few others visited many churches in Saxony and realized that the churches desperately needed some basic teachings to help priests and people alike understand the basics of what it means to be a Christian.  After these visits, Luther wrote his catechisms -- The Large Catechism intended mostly for pastors, and The Small Catechism intended for use within households.  Both of these instruction books were designed to help Christians understand the basics of what it means that we are justified freely by God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  

Throughout this decade, in many of his writings, Luther teased out the implications of justification for the church’s life.  Too often theologians have read Luther’s writings about justification but have not studied the practical consequences of this doctrine in his other works.  Luther himself was deeply concerned about practical matters.

Students of Luther at the beginning of the 21st century would do well to remember that Luther’s world was quite different from our own.  Luther could not have imagined a world in which the church’s hierarchy was divorced from worldly power, even though he often railed against the abuses of power in the church.  Luther was immersed in “Christendom,” that system in which the Christian Church stands in league with worldly powers and functions as a great political power in its own right.  As we read Luther today, it is important to translate some of his ideas and advice for our own times, when the church has been pushed largely to the margins of society and the church’s own political power ebbs with each passing day.

Yet in Luther’s thought and writing there are hints of what he dreamed for the church beyond Christendom.  It is worth noting that Luther constantly sees the community of Christians, the church itself, as the first consequence of justification.  Christian community is not just a byproduct of salvation.  Rather, Luther sees Christian community as the necessary consequence of our justification.  For example, in Luther’s Small Catechism, his explanation to the second article of the Apostles Creed (“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord …”) lays out in great beauty the reality of justification:

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.  At great cost he has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature.  He has delivered me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
Immediately following this explanation, in his explanation to the Third Article (“I believe in the Holy Spirit …”) Luther talks about the reality of Christian community created by our justification:  

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.  In this Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all my sins and the sins of all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.
Throughout the remainder of his life, the Christian community was critically important to Luther.  No doubt his passion for the church was deeply shaped by his experience of living in community in the Augustinian cloister when he first became a monk.  Throughout his career he yearned for the church to function as a gospel community, living out the consequences of justification.

When, in 1534, Luther and his wife Katie were given the building that formerly housed the Augustinian monks in Wittenberg, they created something of a house church of their own. With their own children and numerous students who boarded at their home, their house became a boisterous place full of theological conversations serious and comical (many are recorded in the volumes called Table Talk in Luther’s Works) as well as more focused prayer and worship times.  Luther loved to pull out his lute and play Christian songs, some that he had composed himself. 

In 1536, Luther wrote what he thought of as his theological will and testament, The Smalcald Articles.  When we consider how important the experience of Christian community was to Luther, it is worth noting that in The Smalcald Articles, when Luther writes about the gospel, he explains that justification is communicated to us through the word and through the sacraments, two categories that are familiar to any Lutheran theologian.  “Word and sacrament” has almost become shorthand for the Lutheran understanding of the church.  However, Luther immediately adds a third category that he gives equal weight with Word and sacrament.  He says that the gospel is also communicated through “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.”  By this Luther is referring to that experience of Christian community in which Jesus-followers hear each other’s confessions (formally or informally) and declare God’s love and absolution to one another (formally or informally).  

In short, Christian community was absolutely critical to Luther as the first consequence of the doctrine of justification.  Luther would have resonated with the idea that “the gospel creates community, and must be lived out in community with those it is trying to reach” (Reggie McNeal, Missional Communities).

Luther was very realistic about conditions in the evangelical churches in Germany.  He recognized that they could handle only so much change at one time.  In the 1520’s the churches of Germany were reeling from both theological and political shifts.  Luther’s writings had created enormous changes in the German churches.  At the same time, zealots took Luther’s writings as an excuse for their own violence in the iconoclast movement in 1522, and political tensions between the classes broke out in the Peasants’ Revolt in 1525. In just a few short years Luther and the other reformers had made enormous changes, and it took time for people to adapt and grow into these changes.  Some of the resulting societal changes were bloody and bitter.  Because he saw the potential for anarchy firsthand, Luther was careful to slow the pace of change when chaos threatened.  Yet at the same time, Luther dreamed of more.  

In the aftermath of the Peasants Revolt, in 1526 when he wrote On the German Mass, Luther allowed himself to dream in writing about what the church might look like someday.  First Luther described the Latin mass and the German mass which were both in common use in the evangelical churches at that time.  But then Luther went on:

“The third kind of service should be a truly evangelical order and should not be held in a public place for all sorts of people. But those who want to be Christians in earnest and who profess the gospel with hand and mouth should sign their names and meet alone in a house somewhere to pray, to read, to baptize, to receive the sacrament, and to do other Christian work.  According to this order, those who do not lead Christian lives could be known, reproved, corrected, cast out, or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ in Matthew 18.  Here one could also solicit benevolent gifts to be willingly given and distributed to the poor, according to St. Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians 9.  Here would be no need of much and elaborate singing.  Here one could set up a brief and neat order for baptism and the sacrament and center everything on the Word, prayer, and love.  Here one would need a good short catechism on the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Our Father.  In short, if one had the kind of people and persons who wanted to be Christians in earnest, the rules and regulations would soon be ready.  But as yet, I neither can, nor desire to begin such a congregation...for I have not yet the people for it, nor do I see many who want it. But if I should be requested to do it and could not refuse with a good conscience, I should gladly do my part and help as best I can.  In the meanwhile the two above-mentioned orders of service must suffice … until Christians who earnestly love the Word find each other and join together.” 

Sadly, Luther never saw this dream realized.  No doubt some of those conversations and prayers in his own home were a bit like this.  Other leaders down through the years succeeded in limited ways in creating this kind of Christ-centered community.  Count von Zinzendorf and the Moravians experienced a bit of this life together.  Philip Jakob Spener and the pietist movement he founded began to push in this direction.  John and Charles Wesley created groups that prayed and held one another accountable in their methodical way.  Many tiny congregations across the frontiers of North America must have worshipped in much this way in the 1800’s.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer experienced this kind of community life with his students in the illegal seminary at Finkenwalde.  But especially among Lutherans, the patterns, hierarchies, and liturgies of the state churches of Europe resurfaced again and again to dominate the church’s community life and to disrupt Luther’s dream of dedicated believers meeting in homes, sharing communion and baptisms, centering everything on the Word, prayer and love.

The state churches of Europe had grown out of Luther’s temporary solution (again, trying to avoid chaos) to the question of authority in the church.  In the early 1520’s Luther himself asked the princes to step in to take care of the church’s needs for discipline, ordination, and the like.  It seems clear from Luther’s writings that he fully expected this temporary solution to last a short while and then to be replaced with some more desirable solution.  However, the way history unfolded, Luther and the reformers never found a better solution to the question of church order.  Within a few decades, this “temporary” measure had been transformed into a state church system in which the government paid the clergy and churches were regulated by and loyal to the state.  The hierarchy became entrenched.  The clergy and the state both recognized that lay-led movements of groups meeting in homes could be a potent source of political resistance to the state.  So the church and state hierarchies across Protestant Europe frequently found themselves in the curious position of outlawing home Bible studies!  In each of the Protestant areas of northern Europe, however, the Holy Spirit working through the proclamation of the gospel drove again and again toward dynamic Christ-centered community.  The Word raised up leaders who founded communities.  Each of the countries in northern Europe has a slightly different history of non-clergy Christian leaders outside the state church system.  These leaders were persecuted by the state church because they preached in public, met for Bible study in homes, or formed unauthorized church bodies outside the state church’s authority.

In America things were a bit different.  The American Lutheran churches were actually making great strides toward creative ministry and cooperative work with other denominations in the mid-1800’s.  For these American Lutherans, it was easier to see the church as a voluntary organization rather than a state-supported structure.  Cooperation between Lutherans and other Christians was becoming more and more normal.  Lutheran distinctives were not obstacles to cooperation any more than the Anglicans’ Book of Common Prayer or the Presbyterians’ Westminster Catechism.  In the mid-1800’s, however, a flood of immigrants began to arrive in America, most of them from the Lutheran countries in northern Europe.   Immigrants were looking for stability and familiarity in worship, and the American Lutherans recognized both their responsibility and their opportunity.  These successive waves of immigration from Europe swamped the reforming work within American Lutheran churches.  “Home missions” was the term the American Lutheran churches used to describe their massive efforts to show hospitality to immigrants from the Lutheran countries of Europe.  These immigrants were understandably seeking something familiar in the midst of the upheaval in their lives, so the churches went back to forms of worship patterned after the state church liturgies in the old countries.  In the late 1800’s, hundreds of new congregations were founded speaking German, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and other languages of Europe.  These massive home missions efforts were hugely important, and they shifted the course of American Lutheranism for generations.  It took a hundred years and more for generations of immigrants -- and their descendants -- to be assimilated into American culture and to begin to learn again how to cooperate with other Christians.

Today those European immigrants’ great-grandchildren rarely remember their European roots.  They speak English, surf the internet, talk and text on smartphones.  If they worship in a Christian church, they probably sing worship lyrics projected by LCD projectors on gigantic screens.  They are no longer drawn to the hierarchical church systems or high-church liturgies of the old country.  Those that are Christian are probably not worshipping in Lutheran churches.   Home missions was a success, more or less, in that the immigrants were well served, many churches were founded, and for a few generations the Lutheran churches grew along with the birth rate of the immigrant population.  

That wave of increase has passed.  In any case, caring for European immigrants is not the primary task facing American Lutherans in the 21st century.  Today we face many challenges -- including the following:

  • How can churches function with less worldly power without compromising our mission?
  • How can we effectively create leaders who will be faithful to the gospel?
  • How can we make disciples of Jesus here and now?
  • How can our Lutheran roots inform a mission that is appropriate for the needs of the 21st century?

The answer to these questions may well be tied into the question Luther asked in 1526: 

Have we come to that time in history when Christians who earnestly love the Word can find each other and join together?

If our answer is yes, Luther gave us a template, a pattern by which we can create gospel-centered community in which we can live out the reality of justification by grace through faith.  If we look around us, all over the world the Holy Spirit seems to be raising up this kind of community.  On every continent, whether among persecuted Christians in Beijing,  in the shadows of empty cathedrals in London, or in the trendy suburbs of Seattle, groups of Jesus-followers are meeting in homes.  They are experiencing the joy and fullness of Christian community centered in the Word, prayer and love.  Amid the crumbling ruins of the traditional church, the Holy Spirit is on the move.  Martin Luther’s dream for the church is being realized.