Friday, October 9, 2009

Two Thoughts Confirmed

At the LCMC Gathering this week I had two thoughts confirmed: Thought #1: We need to be around more mission-minded churches. Thought #2: Everything must change.

Here are some vignettes of the conversations I had.

Jamie is second year student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. He has two years left. He was the only Luther student recognized this year at the Gathering. Why? Because students serious about the bible are fleeing denominational seminary programs because of run away biblical revisionism by many faculty members. What does this mean? It means that in the mid-term, it will become increasingly harder to find young pastors who love God’s word and are faithful to it in the mainline denominations. A tectonic shift is well underway.

What kinds of seminaries are students now going to? Their were about 20 seminarians recognized this year. The majority of them are going to Bethel Seminary where are very own Brent and Tina also attended. No one should be shocked by this. Our friends on the west side, Lutheran Church of Hope, has well over a dozen students at Bethel. These days it isn’t a question of “you must attend a seminary of your denomination,” it’s more “you need to attend a seminary that is faithful to the word of God.” How did mainline Protestant Christianity wind up in such a sorry state of affairs in the US? Because we lost the battle for the seminaries long, long ago. Making our master’s degrees count in the eyes of the world means that seminaries have to be accredited by the world. That immediately requires them to compromise. I was taught in seminary by admitted heretics. They weren’t nasty people by any means, but they didn’t hold with the historic teaching of the church and they were bold enough to tell you so. Because of accreditation, they are all tenured and cannot be removed no matter they teach. How weird is that? Many people insist we send our students to denominational seminaries so that they will have a strong denominational identity formed in them. But the denominational seminaries cannot form a strong denominational or even Christian identity any more and haven’t been able to for years. There were also a lot of students going to church run programs like The Master’s Institute ( )in the TC and the brand new, LCMC endorsed, Beyond the River Academy ( )which runs special programs for older, more established students.

Jamie is currently involved in planting a new church ( ) As he’s learning in the classroom is he able to put what he learns into immediate practice. The seminary didn’t set this up, he was asked to help out by a LCMC church in the Twin Cities. He’s a self starter who has decided to answer the call of Jesus and turn his worldly experience toward kingdom work. Jamie is from Des Moines and has been working with our homeless population for years, preaching at the Bethel Mission. Jamie wants to come back to Des Moines after seminary and plant a church for the homeless. Now, I ask you: isn’t that extraordinary? Here is a guy who isn’t looking for a soft landing. He’s not looking for a nice little church somewhere. He wants to do mission. That’s what LCMC is like because it is full of men and women and churches who have that same heart for mission. People and churches who aren’t afraid to change everything and even die to previous ambitions for the sake of mission.

Met another pastor named Dana from northern LA. ( )He’s been working at his church in an urban center for 27 years. These days, if you want the church to thrive, the leadership tends to stay a long time. He’s now lead pastor. His church and school sit on 7 acres of urban land across from a major medical center that wants to buy them out for millions and millions. Those millions could move his church and school out to the ‘burbs and build a really, really nice campus. But God spoke to Dana in a dream. They are staying downtown. And now, everything must change.

Post war, Lutheran churches in California grew because so many Lutherans from the midwest and east coast settled there. Bill Vaswig, our guest at Zion 2 weeks ago, reportedly said told a Zion member who was visiting him in California, “See that white stuff on the mountains over there? It isn’t snow. Those are all the letters of transfers from Lutherans moving to California.” But now, California has changed. It is incredibly diverse and many, many people have never been to church. So Dana’s church decided that if they were going to stay in the city and minister to the city, they would change their name. No one in their city knew what a Lutheran was so they removed it from their name. Then they selected a new name for their church, one that they felt would reflect their new reality as an urban mission center: LifeHouse Church. Now the new name probably won’t bring in people in droves. But it will change the way that Dana’s church thinks about itself. In the Bible, when people had been changed by God, they frequently got a new name. Jacob became Israel. Saul became Paul. A new name to signify a new way of being: mission. Everything must change.

Met an old seminary classmate of mine. He was always very popular. He could have any church he wants. He’s got it together. But he was white as a sheet for much of the conference. Why? Because my old colleague left the comfort of the established church and the salary and the benefits and is now planting a church in California. There is no safety net. He and his ministry are entirely in God’s hands. It’s been three weeks now and he’s a bit freaked out. Why did he do it? For the sake of the mission. Because everything must change.

I’ll close with this. At the Gathering we learned about 20 new house churches planted by two Iowa LCMC pastors in Vietnam and Cambodia. They are both humble, unassuming men. They love their Thai Dam brothers and sisters and risked imprisonment to bring them Jesus. Because they love Jesus. Because everything in this world must change and will change, when they hear about Jesus. That’s the mission for which he’s invited us along. And I am overwhelmed to see how it plays out in the lives of the people and churches of LCMC.


  1. Small world, a close friend of mine has a child in the school at first lutheran...and here we are in Des MOines

  2. John--

    Bless you. I am grateful for you and your witness to Jesus, and your passion for the Gospel. We know each other from of old, so it will be no surprise to you that some of the things you write in your reflection here, and the one before it, just underscore why I cannot go LCMC. To go any further down the road of low-church congregationalism will eat my heart. There is no room for Evangelical Catholics in LCMC right now, and while I admire your spirit and am glad you found a home at the gathering in Fargo, I remind you that at least one of your troublemaker seminary friends isn't staying in the comfort of the established church for the sake of the the salary and benefits--as a matter of fact I can't think of any place less comfortable right now for this troublemaker. Nor am I any less faithful than the heroes who leave to plant other churches. What? My ministry of the Gospel to my 600 Norwegians and Swedes who are proud of the word "Lutheran" on their church sign is a lesser mission? I am not a mere denominational shopkeeper! No, I am considering staying because I believe that the Great Tradition of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church matters. And it matters a lot. And that it isn't formulaic and dead, or part of a forced choice with "exciting mission!" being the other option.

  3. Dear Rev Mum,
    Sorry for any pain I inadvertantly caused you. I know you're part of the merry band of persecuted disciples. I wish you were closer because I'd have so much more fun hanging out with you and your Rev husband. I grieve your situation and in no way mean to diminish your witness. I'm having the same kinds of discussion with Mark Chavez this weekend. I'm also excited because after 13 years of doing this pastor thing, I finally feel free. I don't mean in worship style or even structure (because the structure was always pretty irrelevant), but I mean free from what I can only call a spirit of darkness that covers our synodical meetings. Even last night, at a local restaurant, my "brother" pastors pretended not to see me. Even when I went to the table to greet them, one wouldn't shake my hand. So yes, I'm excited about LCMC because if I'm going to lay down my life I'd rather do it with brothers and sisters who understand the joy of doing this ministry together. Here's the deal: stay or go from the ELCA the true church is the true church. You know it when you see it. The affiliations we have do not have to define us. Maybe the Holy Spirit is calling some to stay. I know that what unites you and I is far, far greater than what divides. I know you're doing mission. I know you're faithful. I know the call of Jesus to his church is to move to the nearest edge because he's doing something magnificent. Keep the faith. We won't forget our brothers and sisters who stay to give a faithful witness. Next year in the New Jerusalem! PJ

  4. Amen, my brother. And I wish you were closer to us, too.