Thursday, November 26, 2020

(68) Paul Hornung, A Colander, and This Thanksgiving

    (Note: This blog entry is based on the text for Paul Hornung, A Colander, and This Thanksgiving, originally shared on November 26, 2020. It was the sixty-eighth video for our YouTube Channel, Streams of Living Water (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB7KnYS1bpHKaL2OseQWCnw), co-produced with my wife, Rev. Sally Welch.)

   There are things to be thankful for all around us during this pandemic. Sometimes they’re kind of weird. We just have to look. Today, we’ll help you see them.

   Paul Horning, the Hall of Fame running back for the Green Bay Packers during the Vince Lombardi years, “the Golden Boy”, died recently at age 84. I am thankful for that, because I almost killed him in 1965.

   I was driving home, late at night, traveling north on 8th street in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, my hometown, just past fellow Green Bay Packer Fuzzy Thurston’s steak house, The Left End, in slushy snow that was starting to freeze. It was a time when a cool outfit for men was black everything, and, suddenly, from the corner of my left eye, I saw a man with blond hair, dressed in black, step out between two parked cars right in front of me and then lurch back with a surprised expression on his unmistakable face.

   I was also stunned. I thought, “That was Paul Horning. I almost hit Paul Horning. I could have killed Paul Horning, but even if I had only injured him there would be no safe place for me. I would have to move. My family would probably have to move. I would not have to move out of town, or out-of-state. I would have had to move off the face of the earth. There would be no safe place for me.” That’s why the first thing I want to say that I am thankful for is that Paul Hornung live a long life.

   The second thing I want to say that I am thankful for is for the liturgical year. Yes, that IS an odd thing to be thankful for, until you think about it.

   I saw a picture of a liturgical colander a few weeks ago. Do you know what a colander is? It strains out what you don’t want and leaves what is good for you.

   The liturgical calendar is what infuses time with meaning. It is observed in some form in most churches, and a new liturgical year starts this coming Sunday.

   The liturgical has two cycles, the Christmas Cycle and the Easter Cycle, and a long “season” (technically it’s not a season) of reflection on what it means to be the Body of Christ, the Church, in the world. Each cycle has three parts: a season of reflection and preparation, a season of the event itself, and a season of reflection and application.

   The Christmas Cycle begins with Advent, which means “coming”, that prepares us for Christmas, the coming of Jesus Christ, God made flesh, and a season of reflection and application called Epiphany, which means a sudden inbreaking.

   It is followed by the Easter Cycle, which begins with Lent, a time of self-denial or additional acts of service, that prepares us for Holy Week and Easter, the torture and death of Jesus on the cross for the sins of all humanity and resurrection, his taking his life back again, of Easter.  

   That is followed by the Day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Christian Church, and a time of reflection and application of what it means to be a Christian. That takes us back to Advent, with a few special festivals sprinkled throughout the liturgical year. Half the liturgical year is the Christmas and Easter cycles, and half the liturgical year is the time after the Day of Pentecost or what some churches call “ordinary time”.

   The liturgical colander reminds us to let our living relationship with the one true living God, our faith, to feed us and to strain out all the evil that this past year has brought.

   The liturgical calendar reminds us that time is a creation of God, it is in God’s hands, and that it has meaning that has been made known to us in Jesus Christ. This year, the year 2020, I am especially thankful for that.

   Our current surge in new coronavirus cases comes just as we celebrate Thanksgiving. over 50 million Americans will be traveling to holiday destinations. In addition, the flu season and the colder and wetter weather that will place a damper on outdoor activities are beginning. Some are predicting a “twindemic of the flu and the coronavirus this season.

   Our previous indifference to the simple things that could keep people alive and jump-start our economy have ignored has resulted in stay-at-home orders similar to those we experienced months ago.

   It will probably be January before the first COVID -19 vaccines are given. Most will be given in two stages, several weeks apart, and then it will take about a month before they are fully effective. So it will likely be around June of next year before we have a substantial part of our population benefiting from the vaccine. The flu shots are being given right now. Sally and I encourage you to get your flu shot asap.

   So, what do we have to be thankful for in a very rough year, during of a lethal and debilitating global pandemic? The LA area, where we live, is the most infected area in the country, as of last Monday. Yesterday, it was reported that 1 out of every 145 residents of LA County can infect others with the coronavirus.

   Lets take a look.

   I found out this week that a colleague was a part of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine study and was in the group that received the vaccine that has shown itself to be 95% effective. He will soon be allowed to bring Sunday worship services to a local Lutheran retirement home. I’m thankful for that.

   Soon, the first people will be getting that vaccine in a mass inoculation and, by the middle of next year, or so, we should have enough people who have been inoculated that we should be seeing a reasonable version of the New Normal.  I’m thankful for that.

   Today, we live in a country where we are free, where most people are seeking the common good. If you look out your window right now, I will guess you do not see a war going on. Our military shows up every day.

   Our law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, 911-dispatchers and EMT’s protect and serve in a challenging environment under difficult circumstances. They show up every day.

   Our hospitals are nearing capacity and doctors, nurses, therapists, researchers, and other frontline workers are stressed, burned-out, and fatigued, but they are still showing up every day. Truck drivers who bring things to our home and stores and workers at every level of the food providing chain are showing up. I’m thankful for them. Pastors and church leaders are still showing up. Hardware store workers are still showing up. I’m thankful for them all. Very thankful.

   Sally and I are thankful for each other, for our son, thankful for our larger families, for our health, and for the opportunities each of has been given to serve to God’s glory.

   And, with a text I was reminded of this week during devotions in a Zoom meeting (for which I’m sort-of thankful), in the words of Paul to the young church at Philippi, the Philippians:

*Philippians 1:3-6

   What are you thankful for in 2020? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and we’ll respond to every one.



Monday, November 23, 2020

(67) Surge

   (Note: This blog entry is based on the text for Surge, originally shared on November 23, 2020. It was the sixty-seventh video for our YouTube Channel, Streams of Living Water (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB7KnYS1bpHKaL2OseQWCnw), co-produced with my wife, Rev. Sally Welch.)

    We are no longer seeing a spike in new coronavirus cases. Instead, we are seeing a surge. What other kind of surge needs to happen right now to make everyone’s lives better?

   Experts are calling the current increase in coronavirus in the LA Area and all across our country a “surge”. What exactly is a surge?

   Remember “Surge” soda? It was popular in the ‘90’. It was a citrus flavored soda released by Coca-Cola to compete with Pepsi’s Mountain Dew. Lots of caffeine and sugar was supposed to give you a surge of energy. Get it? In about 10 years it sort of fizzled. 😊 But, its wired fans prevailed upon Coca-Cola to bring it back in 2014 in a surge of enthusiasm. That’s Surge.

  An online dictionary says that “Surge” used as a noun can mean a sudden, powerful, forward or upward movement, especially by a crowd or by a natural force such as the waves or tide. (i.e. Recent tidal surges caused some flooding in Seal Beach”. Used as verb, it can mean, the sudden and powerful movement forward or upward of a crowd or a natural force. (i.e. The crowd surged forward when the band began to play.”

   We hear of a candidate’s popularity surging in the polls, patriots experiencing a surge of pride, marathoners feeling a surge of energy, a surging crowd of Black Friday shoppers, and so on.

   It took 100 days to go from one case of the coronavirus in the U.S. to 1 million cases. The most recent million cases took just 6 days. That’s a surge.

   This comes just as we are getting into the Thanksgiving holiday when 1 million Americans will travel by air and 50 million will travel by car to holiday destinations. In addition, the flu season and the colder and wetter weather that will place a damper on outdoor activities are beginning. Some are predicting a “twindemic” of the flu and the coronavirus this season.

   We will likely be hearing of additional closures today similar to the ones we haven’t seen since May. If the number of new cases goes up a little more, we’ll be back to the stay-at-home orders that will only allow people providing essential services and people seeking essential services to be out.

      The LA Times reported that over 72% of the new cases that were reported last Saturday were in people under 50, while 91% of the deaths were those older than 50. In other words, younger people bring he disease to older people and the older people die, even though simple steps could literally save lives. Not only are hospitals approaching their maximum capacity, so are the doctors, nurses, therapists, and other frontline workers who provide medical care. Stress, burnout, and fatigue are reaching dangerous levels.

   At this point, I think that the people who refuse to do the simple things like wearing a mask, washing or sanitizing our hands, not touching our mouth or eyes, avoiding large public gatherings, practicing social distancing, and (for almost everybody) getting a flu shot, just don’t care.

   I don’t think that ignorance can be taken as an excuse anymore. Under all the bluster about conspiracies, having secret knowledge, political hoaxes, economic terrorism, and so on, some people just don’t care. They don’t care about their friends, the don’t care about their church, they don’t care about their parents, they don’t care about their children. They don’t care about anybody, including themselves. They just like being thought of as rebels, independent thinkers, and as authorities unto themselves. They like being paid attention to, whether it is confirmation from their friends on Facebook, or the sense of identity and belonging that comes from negative attention from the “them” that are against the “us”.

[***What do you think?   Do you think I am being too harsh here?

   Share your thoughts in the comment section below and we’ll respond to every one.]

   Synonyms for “surge” include an outpouring, a flood, a stream, an upwelling, or to pour, to gush, and to rise. In other words, “Streams of Living Waters”.

   Like a fountain overflowing it banks with living water, our actions, including our call for compassion in caring for others, are an outcome of the faith that is God’s gift. That comes through the Holy Spirit.

   “Streams of living water” is found both in the Old Testament and the New Testament as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit. We call our YouTube channel “Streams of Living Water” because we are “streaming” our video, get it? 😊

   In the Old Testament, for example, the prophet Jeremiah, speaking as a prophet for God, says:

*Jeremiah 2:11-13

   In the New Testament, Jesus uses this same metaphor in several places, including with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-26) and in this one, in the Gospel according to John, the 7th chapter:

*John 7:37-39

   A surge in cases during a pandemic requires massive changes in normal human behavior that some people are willing to observe, for the common good, and some are not.

   An outpouring of the Holy Spirit causes massive change in normal human behavior. It is what some have called a revival. In the book of Acts, the beginning of the Christian Church, we read:

*Acts 10:44-48

   We talked about “Signs and Wonders” type gifts of the Holy Spirit, like speaking in tongues, a few videos ago, and made the point that there are many kinds of spiritual gifts, whether we believe those “Signs and Wonders” type gifts are still really being given to the Church or not.

   Do we not need this kind of revival to help us handle the pandemic kind. Is this not needed in order to put a spirit of compassion into people whose simple behavioral steps like wearing a mask, washing or sanitizing their hands, practicing social distancing, and avoiding crowds, and (for almost everybody) getting a flu shot, are necessary to literally saving lives and getting the economy back on track?

   Paul writes in his letter to the churches of Galatia: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (Galatians 5:22-23)  Do we not need these things right now?

   The Church is in decline in the developed Western world, and most of our wounds have been self-inflicted. Ross Douthat, near the end of his book Bad Religion, writes that when the Church has found itself in this condition in the past, two things have brought it back: the Arts and holy living.

   Whatever else holy living means, I think that it certainly includes the fruit (the outcome) of the Holy Spirit; that is, the things that are the outcome of the transformational encounter with God that results in being born again, a new creation: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

   Our culture is in desperate need of these things right now. A revival of the Christian Church, in the power of the Holy Spirit, can fill these needs, as it has done it in the past.

   Let our prayer be for a revival of faith (a living relationship with the living God) in the power of the Holy Spirit be poured out upon the shole people of God, the Church, throughout the world but particularly in the developed Western world, including the United States.

   Let there be a surge in those streams of living waters, and let our hearts, in particular, be open to and ambassadors of that surge.



Thursday, November 19, 2020

(66) The New Normal Church, Pt. 3: Post-pandemic Development

    (Note: This blog entry is based on the text for The New Normal Church, Part 3: Post-pandemic Development, originally shared on November 19, 2020. It was the sixty-sixth video for our YouTube Channel, Streams of Living Water (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB7KnYS1bpHKaL2OseQWCnw), co-produced with my wife, Rev. Sally Welch.)

How will church development take place in The New Normal Church, once the pandemic is past. Who will be involved, and how?

   We are now at a point in the pandemic where 250,000 people have died of the coronavirus here in the US, and we are hearing of surges in coronavirus cases instead of spikes. Doctors Without Borders, an international organization, is providing care in Wisconsin.

   This is coming just as we are getting into the flu season and the colder and wetter weather that will place a damper on outdoor activities. And, the number of cases is going up almost exponentially, even though simple steps could be bringing down that curve.

   Here’s some figures that one of my colleagues (Evelyn Panula Weston) posted on Facebook:

Per New York Times and Johns Hopkins Covid Tracker,

confirmed Covid in the United States:

First reported US case on January 19, 2020.

1 million cases on April 28, 100 days later

2 million on June 10, 43 days later

3 million on July 7, 27 days later

4 million on July 22, 16 days later

5 million on August 9, 18 days later

6 million on August 31, 22 days later

7 million on September 25, 25 days later

8 million on October 16, 21 days later

9 million on October 30, 14 days later

10 million on November 9, 10 days later

11 million on November 15, 6 days later

   The pandemic seems to be getting worse, but it doesn’t have to. And, eventually, it will be gone.

   Then will come the post-pandemic New Normal.

   The Good News of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for our redemption remains the same from generation to generation. The means we use to proclaim Christ are always changing. They will be less important than the message.

   What implications does this have for the future of the Church? What is the “New Normal” likely to look like when this pandemic is over, and how can we adapt for faithful ministry as the Body of Christ, the Church, in this world, particularly in the LA area?

   This is the third of three videos on The New Normal Church.

   I want to share a few thoughts that have been rattling around inside me, as a life-long Lutheran Christian and as a pastor for more than 40 years. I serve on a number of synod leadership boards and committees, and I think about where we are going a lot.

   In the first video, I shared some ideas on near term or, “short term”, but I like “near term”, as a phrase for “getting near to birth” changes that will happen either because external circumstances require them, or because we are already headed in that direction.

   In the second video, I reflected on how the means that we use to conduct our ministry, like buildings, seminaries, curriculum, and so on, will change in order to thrive in the post-pandemic “new normal” for the church.

   This the third of the three videos on The New Normal Church. Today, I will make nine statements about what I see as the result of those changes for future Church development.

   All three of the videos will be on our YouTube channel and the theme text will be on my blog today. I’ll put the links in the comment section below. 

    Of course, no one knows what will happen after the pandemic but God. We may see an influx of people hungry for community, both new and former members of the church. We may see formerly faithful members not coming back, and the trends we saw before the pandemic continue.

   All we can do now, however, is to get ready by preparing to be the church God has called and equipped us to be.

Part 3: Church Development

   Here are nine ways in which the development of the Church will change:

   One, the synod will become built around the deans. The deans will tend to be the pastors of the largest churches in the conference and the best models of faithful servant leadership.  They will remain in that position until the pastor of a comparable sized church expresses an interest in being the dean. Then, the conference will holds an election.

   Two, the synod will stabilize around a much smaller administrative footprint. The conference will be the most meaningful connection to the larger church for local congregations, not the synod or the office of the bishop. This will increase the sense of connection to the larger church on the part of members of local congregations, which will improve stewardship.

   Three, the office of the bishop will be focused on administration, stewardship and fundraising, and the defense of, the defense of historical creedal orthodoxy, and on being the public face of the synod in the world.

   Four, congregational vacancies will be filled with those persons recommended by the dean, perhaps in consultation with other deans and the other pastors in the conferences, from people they know personally or from whatever version of the seminaries exist, as well as leadership gatherings and continuing education conferences. First calls will continue to be handled by the bishop in consultation with the deans.

   Five, mentoring will have a more significant role in the preparation and formation of clergy than is currently the case.

   Six, synod-wide agencies will be funded based on their proven contributions to congregational vitality and growth. These agencies will include schools, colleges and universities, retirement homes, social service agencies, hospitals, seminaries, etc.

   Seven, where these agencies decide to separate and go their own way, conferences in consultation with the synod, and synod in consultation with whatever constitutes the churchwide expression of the church/denomination, will fundraise and begin new agencies serving as expressions of the beliefs if the Church in the new realities of the local, regional and national expressions of the Church.

   Eight, synod assemblies will be more frequent, but will be focused on worship, celebration, and education.  Annual business meetings will continue per our constitution and the legal requirements of the government.

   Nine, decreasing services as a result of declining revenue on the part of the churchwide and synodical expressions of this church will likely result in a greater number of dollars staying at the local and conference levels as people have immediate connections there and can see the outcome of their giving.

Closing Thoughts

   It’s my guess that there is plenty in these notes to make everybody angry at least one recommendation.

[***What do you think?   What do you think will change with regard to how the Church is developed in the New Normal Church?

   Share your thoughts in the comment section below and we’ll respond to every one.]

    I haven’t dwelled on the causes that have brought us to this point in American church history. Though I believe it can be useful to reflect on the causes of our current state so that we can fix them and keep them from happening again (see my blog post, Restless Hearts, at https://pastorberkedalsblog.blogspot.com/2020/10/57-restless-hearts.html and the book Bad Religion by Ross Douthat), I believe our time I best spent with the principle of “Fix the problem, not the blame.”

   It is notable to mention that none of summaries of our recent synod-assessment focus group’s SWOT exercises (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) mention evangelism (or the equivalent). Evangelism is invisible to the participants in those assemblies. I think that is a good way to describe the challenges before us.

   We have congregations with wonderful preachers, teachers, choirs, social services, and more. There are many reasons to join those churches, and I’m sure there are many members who invite people to behold those people and programs. How, however, do people come to a living faith in Jesus Christ? And, to those who say that programs are attractional evangelism I would say, “Fine. Who names the name of Jesus? Who connects the dots to a living relationship with God?” This approach as not been working for us, because when everything is evangelism then nothing is evangelism.

   What do we provide people that invites them into the presence of the transcendent God? What alternative to we offer to their lives in this world? Do we expect that if non-believers entered our churches that they would “get it”? Is that happening?

   Why is it that, when people experience an inner emptiness or a need for “spirituality” of some kind, that the Christian church is not often an alternative that comes to mind?

   If a non-believer came to one of our churches, what would we say that would distinguish us from a voting bloc seeking power, a nice family, a local historical tradition, or a social service agency using religious language? What are the mechanisms by which such a person would be challenged and nurtured? Our culture is rejecting the Church and our congregations, those that are left, are shells of their former selves. Do we have any expectation at all that we will be a synod that receives first generation Christians?

   Will our churches be more like hospitals waiting for people to walk in the door or like paramedics going to where the broken people are?

   Our transformation to a church that goes to where non-Christian people are, points to a living relationship with the one true living God, and makes disciples of Jesus Christ of them, nurturing them to greater maturity will be painful, but there is a Power in us that is not in this world.

*1 John 4:1-4

 What is the Holy Spirit calling us to be and to do now? And, will we do it?



Monday, November 16, 2020

(65) The New Normal Church, Pt. 2: The Changing Means

    (Note: This blog entry is based on the text for The New Normal Church, Part 2: The Changing Means, originally shared on November 16, 2020. It was the sixty-fifth video for our YouTube Channel, Streams of Living Water (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB7KnYS1bpHKaL2OseQWCnw), co-produced with my wife, Rev. Sally Welch.)

   What are the most important means you and your church use to carry out ministry today? Will any of them emerge unchanged in the New Normal of the post-pandemic Church?

   We are now at a point in the pandemic where you hear the phrase “coronavirus fatigue” a lot. That is, we’re tired of the masks and the social distancing, the fear of others and the weird work and school adjustments, and we’re getting careless.

   This is coming just as we are getting into the flu season and the colder and wetter weather that will place a damper on outdoor activities. And, the number of cases is going up almost exponentially.

   Folks, this is where character counts. I know you are tired. We’re all tired. Now is the time to do the right things like wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds and washing or sanitizing our hands, even if we’re tired of them.

   Be sick of Zoom meetings and Zoom worship, of Amazon and of not doing your own shopping; be sick of the coronavirus but do the right things so you don’t get sick from the coronavirus.

   The pandemic seems to be getting worse, but it doesn’t have to. And, eventually, it will be gone.

   Then will come the post-pandemic New Normal.

   The Good News of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for our redemption remains the same from generation to generation. The means we use to proclaim Christ are always changing. They will be less important than the message.

   What implications does this have for the future of the Church? What is the “New Normal” likely to look like when this pandemic is over, and how can we adapt for faithful ministry as the Body of Christ, the Church, in this world, particularly in the LA area?

   This is the second of three videos on The New Normal Church.

   I want to share a few thoughts that have been rattling around inside me, as a life-long Lutheran Christian and as a pastor for more than 40 years. I serve on a number of synod leadership boards and committees, and I think about where we are going a lot.

   Last time, I shared some ideas on near term or, “short term”, but I like “near term”, as a phrase for “getting near to birth” changes that will happen either because external circumstances require them, or because we are already headed in that direction.

   Next time, for Part Three, I’m going to reflect on what I think are the implications of the needed changes for future church development. 

   But, today, I’m going to reflect on how the means that we use to conduct our ministry, like buildings, seminaries, curriculum, and so on, will change in order to thrive in the post-pandemic “new normal” for the church.

   Of course, no one knows what will happen after the pandemic but God. We may see an influx of people hungry for community, both new and former members of the church. We may see formerly faithful members not coming back, and the trends we saw before the pandemic continue.

   All we can do now, however, is to get ready by preparing to be the church God has called and equipped us to be.

Part 2: The Changing Means (for Doing Ministry)

[means like buildings, worship services, pastoral ministry, and curriculum, seminaries, etc.)

   What are the trends in the use of the means we use to do ministry that will have already begun to change, but will take 5 or 10 years and beyond to fully form:

  The increasing secularization of the Southern California area is producing an increasing need for the living relationship with the one true living God for which humanity was created.

   In this cultural atmosphere, we find an increasing relevancy of the experience of the Holy Spirit among the first Christians described in scripture to our own circumstances.  We in the 21st Century are a Church that more and more resembles the 1st Century Church than the 20th Century Church. The Holy Spirit will nourish and shape the Church like streams of living water.

   We see this in recent history in the observation that, “The Catholic Church opted for the poor. The poor opted for Pentecostalism.” (attribution unknown)

   Here are the adaptations of the means we currently use that we will need to make in the LA area and beyond.

   First, I think that we should expect that there will be very few of our congregations maintaining their own buildings, as we now know them. Buildings have become albatrosses around the necks of our shrinking and aging congregations that can no longer financially support them. This was happening before the coronavirus pandemic, and it will likely, though not certainly, continue after it’s over. Churches will be smaller and more nimble, more emotionally expressive of their faith and focused on the immediate needs of their communities. I don’t think that Zoom, or its successors, will take the place of buildings, but they will provide one continuing mechanism for outreach. People who come to faith in Christ will continue to desire the high-touch, the love, that we offer in living Christian communities, and face to face ministry will likely take place in small groups bound together by the love of God and one another.

   Second, Ministry will be carried out by everyone, not a professional clergy class, but by a called group (pastors) of trainers. It will be missional, not invitational, and it will belong to everyone. Our evangelism won’t be based on things like, come and hear our pastor preach or our choir sing, or see our beautiful church or our wonderful youth program. We will no longer say things like, the church isn’t a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners. That’s discipleship. Our evangelism will be more like the paramedics. We will go to where the hurting and broken people are.

   Nowhere in the Bible does it say, Go build a church. That has been the way Christians in many times and in many places have seen the goal of community building. Jesus gives instructions for the Church at the end of the gospel of Matthew, in the words we call The Great Commission:

*Matthew 28:18-20

We’ve talked a lot about this approach in the past, it will soon become a necessity.

   In this regard, I recommend a little book called How to Knock Over a 7-Eleven and Other Ministry Training as scalable model for ministry in the 21st Century. (One sentence summary: a new ministry start begins by establishing needed local businesses as a service to the local community before beginning the traditional worship and education ministries of the church.) It’s the opposite of how we organize local ministry now.

   Third, I think that very few ordained pastors will be able to be supported solely by the giving of the congregations they serve. Bi-vocational ministry will be the norm and we need to encourage our seminaries to enable students to become workers and workers to become students. Our pastors will be less concerned with maintaining their professional status in the community and more resemble servant leaders more attuned to the community’s sense of the call of the Holy Spirit, and less accountable to a few big givers, leading families, or bullies.

   Third, the synod, or regional expression of the Church, will send a general profile to our seminaries clearly stating the kind of pastors we will accept for placement in a call in our synod’s conferences (local area expression of the church) in light of the realities of the New Normal.

   Fourth, synod should operate on the “what gets measured, gets done” principle and begin posting synod congregations’ average weekly worship attendance, how much it has gone up or down, and the numbers of adult and the numbers of child and infant baptisms, as four additional measures of congregational vitality and growth. We already post similar numbers regarding congregational giving. I would propose that congregational growth, measured as people in these areas, is ultimately at least as important to the future survival of the Church in the LA area as financial giving, and should be posted concurrently.

   Fifth, the synod and conferences will declare to their congregations its policy of assigning resources in such a way that the demographics of our synod as a whole will grow to resemble the demographics of the communities that we serve as a whole. Each congregation will be encouraged to do the same regarding the area that it serves.

   Sixth, we will hire consultants/trainers who have a proven track record of leading congregations like ours through transformation and growth.

   Seventh, the synod and conferences will conduct regular workshops and goal setting exercises focused on congregational vitality and growth led by pastors and consultants with proven track records in doing those things. They will make attendance at and application of these workshops required for the reception of synodical and conference resources.

    Eighth, policies, programs, and funding (in most cases) will be established based on this premises: God provides everything needed to accomplish the work God has called us to do. Our congregation members have all they need to fund a vibrant congregational ministry; they just chose to spend it someplace else. Our congregations, as a whole, have all they need to fund a vibrant synodical ministry; they just choose to spend it someplace else.

   Ninth, as has been pointed out by others, many if not most of our churches are built on valuable Southern California real estate. A growing number will knock down their buildings and build the tallest buildings local codes will permit, building in church and school space, and hosting, retail, office space or whatever the local community needs and will support, and use the proceeds from them, not for operational expenses but to supplement local giving for evangelism and church growth as good stewards of that real estate.

[***What do you think?   What do you think will or should be the changes we will see in the means we use to carry out ministry the New Normal after the pandemic is over? Do you think I’m right, or do you have other ideas? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and we’ll respond to every one.]

   Next time, for Part Three, I’m going to reflect on what I think are the implications of the needed changes for future church development.



Thursday, November 12, 2020

(64) The New Normal Church, Part 1: Near Term

    (Note: This blog entry is based on the text for The New Normal Church, Part 1: Near Term, originally shared on November 12, 2020. It was the sixty-fourth video for our YouTube Channel, Streams of Living Water (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB7KnYS1bpHKaL2OseQWCnw), co-produced with my wife, Rev. Sally Welch.)

   What adjustments has your church already made during the pandemic? What kinds of further adjustments will we need to make in order to be ready to continue faithful ministry when pandemic is over, and beyond?

   I mentioned last time that Pfizer had announced that the end phase of the trials for their vaccine has pointed to a 90-plus % rate of effectiveness, and that it could roll out next month. Health Care professionals, first responders, people in nursing homes, and people over 65 and/or with underlying health conditions will get the vaccine first, which will be delivered with two shots 3 weeks apart. Then, everybody else. That’s huge, and it’s a very hopeful sign. Too, hopeful, maybe, as health officials are concerned that this good news will result in a relaxation of the precautions people have been taking, and, a spike in cases and deaths.

   Ten million people have been infected with the virus in the United States, and 1 million of those were infected in the week prior to last Tuesday! Cases in California are up 42% in the past week.

   And, we are headed into colder, wetter weather and into flu season. (I got my shot yesterday. Please get yours asap.)

   Millions of people got a texted alert a couple days ago in LA County that new cases of the coronavirus were spiking, and to ramp up the well-known precautions.

   The gradual re-openings of public facilities are now going backwards.

   What does this say about how long we will be staying at home, wearing masks, relying on Zoom, fearing other people, and so on?

   What implications does this have for the future of the Church? What will the “New Normal” likely to look like, and how can we adapt for faithful ministry as the Body of Christ, the Church, in this world, particularly in the LA area?

   I want to share a few thoughts that have been rattling around inside me, as a life-long Lutheran Christian and as a pastor for more than 40 years. I serve on a number of synod leadership boards and committees, and I think about where we are going a lot.

   Next time, I’m going to reflect on how the means that we use to conduct our ministry, like buildings, seminaries, curriculum, and so on, will change in order to thrive in the “new normal” for the church. In the following session, Part Three, I will share what I think are the implications of the needed changes for future development. But today I will focus on the relatively near term (or, “short term”, but I like “near term”, as a phrase for “getting near to birth”), the changes that will happen either because external circumstances require them, or because we are already headed in that direction.

   Of course, no one knows what will happen after the pandemic but God. We may see an influx of people hungry for community, both new and former members of the church. We may see formerly faithful members not coming back, and the trends we saw before the pandemic continue.

   All we can do now, however, is to get ready by preparing to be the church God has called and equipped us to be.

Part 1: Changes in the Near Term (the first 5-7 years after the pandemic)

   I am optimistic about the presence of the global Christian Church, the faithful proclamation of the Gospel, and the creative and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit among Christians of all kinds in the LA area.

   Paul, here, confesses Jesus as the promised Messiah, and Jesus here speaks of this confession (for Protestants) as the foundation of the Church, the Body of Christ:

*Matthew 16:15-18

   I am also quite certain that, over the next two videos or blogs, there will be enough here to make everybody mad. Nevertheless, I hope you will hear me out, and give serious though and prayer to what I am suggesting.

   The changes I propose will need to be done in light of two realities: the fracturing of our Church into various self-interest groups that will fight to maintain their current identity and power, and the utter disinterest in many of our churches in doing evangelism in a way that people come to live in faith and our churches grow.

   Because of the second reality, we focus way too much of our time and attention on the first. That is, because we are not really interested in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ for the world, or in providing the attention, mechanisms, value, and funding to develop first generation Christians in our increasingly secular society, we focus on social services, being a nice family church, maintaining a choke hold on power locally, and providing entertaining and pandering worship.

   What kinds of changes will need to be made? The church structure with which I am most familiar of my current one: the congregation, then a group of around 10-12 congregations called a conference, then a group of around 100-120 congregations called a synod, then the national church expression or denomination. A congregation is served by a pastor, a conference by a dean, a synod by a bishop and the national expression or denomination by a presiding bishop.

   First, we will first need to ask ourselves, “What is the bare minimum of staff needed to accomplish the ministry that we have been called and gifted to do by the Holy Spirit, or, maybe I should say, that we are willing to do.

   Second, I think that the Church, at every level will become more local and less hierarchical.

   I think that synods will become primarily administrative in nature, not pastoral. Pastoral functions will be reserved for the deans. In this regard, and others, the office of dean should be strengthened to include that of “applier of resources”, and empowered to handle issues brought to them by pastors and congregational leaders, bringing only the issues that  they are unable to handle to the appropriate synod staff or, as a last resort, to the bishop. I think that the deans will be drawn from among the larger congregations and/or those with a proven track record of receiving and nurturing First Generation Christians in each conference and, considering their additional responsibilities, should be reimbursed with a nominal stipend from the conference budget. (The conference budget will be supported by congregational mission support, particularly if the synod choses to rely primarily on endowment funds for its mission, separating and further distancing itself from the congregations.)

   Third, I propose that 100% of the proceeds from any congregations that close, and we are currently seeing one or two close each year, be set aside for future ministries and allocated based on visionary leadership and existing or promising congregational growth.

   Fourth, as the hierarchy flattens the reduction in synod staff should be accompanied by an accompanying reduction in services provided to congregations by the synod. It is not right to expect fewer people to do the same work. Some of these services may be taken over by the conferences. I believe that it will come as no surprise to anyone that lower mission support to the synod results in lower services from the synod, especially when it looks like churchwide expression of the church is reducing services. This will have to be handled extremely carefully since, as Rev. Robert Schuller said before things fell apart for him, “No one invests in a sinking ship.”

    The congregation will be the place where the most transformation will take place, particularly with regard to our current “utter disinterest in doing evangelism”.

   Whether our motivation is to encourage others to receive God’s gift of faith and so be saved, or whether we believe that everybody will be saved but want to invite people to know the joy of what God has already given them, the imperative is the same, if not the urgency.

   In addition, I believe that most people understand that the only way to avoid cuts to our budget is to raise revenue. Increased number of people coming to Christ and participating in the life of our congregations generally results in increased revenue.

   These efforts have in the past been dismissed as an unseemly emphasis on “bodies and bucks” or “nickels and noses”. Our new realities will need to include a different perspective on evangelism and congregational development and recognize them as basic to our nature as a Christian church, something that nourishes, transforms and flows naturally from the Christian life, like Streams of living waters, a Biblical metaphor for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

   Next session, we’ll look at how the means we use to conduct ministry in the new normal will change. Join us to do the hard work now and be ready for the New Normal Church.

[***What do you think?   What do you think will or should be the changes we will see in the church in order to adapt to the New Normal after the pandemic is over? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and we’ll respond to every one.]



Monday, November 9, 2020

(63) Signs and Wonders

    (Note: This blog entry is based on the text for Signs and Wonders, originally shared on November 9, 2020. It was the sixty-third video for our YouTube Channel, Streams of Living Water (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB7KnYS1bpHKaL2OseQWCnw), co-produced with my wife, Rev. Sally Welch.)

   Do you ever wonder what you have to offer your church to help it survive and thrive during this pandemic? Did you know that you are gifted just for that?

   New cases of the coronavirus are spiking upward, and 1.2 million people around the world have died. But, Pfizer has announced that phase of trials for their vaccine has pointed to a 90-plus % rate of effectiveness. That’s huge, and it’s a very hopeful sign.

   We likely have elected a new president. Politicos and pundits, economists and everyday people, will all be looking for signs of what our next president will do first. We want to know, because those actions will have a great effect on how we live our lives for many years.

   The early Christians, after Jesus had died, rose, and ascended into heaven, after the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit, God’s personal presence for good in the world, was showered upon the very first members of the Christians church, didn’t know what to do next. The Holy Spirit moved through them to give signs and wonders pointing to the origin of this new Christian Church, and the book of Acts, the record of these first year of the Christian church is pepered with them.   For example,

*Acts 5:12-15

   Signs and wonders are the extraordinary acts of God, like divine healing, words of knowledge, and speaking in tongues, that characterized the ministries of the early apostles, the disciples of Jesus and Paul, who had been send into the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

   They were gifts of the Holy Spirit. They were not given to the apostles, but through them for the building up of the Body of Christ, the Church. The Body of Christ is the principle metaphor for the Church, the sum total of all baptized believing Christians, with Christ as the head of the body, and all the members (a part of the body) providing certain functions for the sake of the whole Body.

   These functions are all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so that each member, or part of the Body, can accomplish the work God has given to the church at every level.

   We receive our gift, or gifts at our baptism. It’s not clear whether we get one gift or multiple gifts that are expressed one at a time. They give us our spiritual job description. They are not special talents, related to our work, or based on our hobbies. There is a distinction between gifts and roles.

   Peter Wagner, from whom I have read and taken a course on Spiritual Gifts, tells the story of taking a class in seminary from a professor who apologized for getting to class late one day. He explained that his car wouldn’t start, so he had to take the bus. But, he said, when he boarded the bus there was only one seat left. He sat next to a sad young man and, by the time the professor arrived at his stop, the young man had opened his heart to Jesus and received the gift of faith. He had the gift of evangelism. Young Peter Wagner was so inspired by this story that, the next day, he intentionally to the bus to school. As he boarded, he scanned the bus. He sat next to someone who looked like they needed to know Jesus, and by the time Peter Wagner arrived as his stop, they were mad at him. He didn’t have the gift of evangelism.

   We all have roles as givers, teachers, and evangelists, etc, but all of us have a special gift or gifts. I served as a pastor for almost 41 years. The gift of pastor wasn’t even in the top three when I tried to discover what my spiritual gift or gifts might be. Preaching, administration, and teaching were my top three possibilities. They all served my contributions in the role of pastor. One with the gift of pastor sees a group of people as individuals. My wife Sally can walk into a gathering of people and in 10 minutes knows their names, their birthdates, their children’s names, where they were born, etc. I look at a gathering of people and I see groups. Sally is an ordained clergyperson. That is not necessarily a requirement for those with the gift of pastor. Pastor is their gift, not necessarily their role.

   The signs and wonders gifts are different. These gifts were given to get the ball rolling.

   If someone came to your door, and you asked, probably through the door, what they wanted, and they said, “I’d like to tell you about a new religion.” You probably wouldn’t open the door.

   But, if they walked down the street and a neighbor’s child got run over by a car and this person prayed over them and healed them, or raised them from the dead, word would get around!

   God created us for a living relationship with God, and eventually God did not want people to believe in him because they were forced to by a suspension of the laws of nature, but by open hearts receiving God’s gift of that meaningful relationship: faith.

   The vast majority of Christians today and throughout history have believed that the signs and wonders gifts went out of existence with the death of the last apostles.

   That is, until 1906 when William J. Seymour, an African-American Preacher began the 3-year Azusa Street Revival in which people began speaking in tongues and healing the sick, right here in LA; the Pentecostal Church, that is, Signs and Wonders gifts of the Spirit movement was founded from that revival.

   In 1913, a radio evangelist named Aimee  Semple McPherson began a ministry that included the signs and wonders gifts and it resulted in the formation of the Angelus Temple and the Foursquare Church Pentecostal denomination.

   Other Pentecostal denominational churches, like the Assemblies of God, were founded in the aftermath of the ministries of these two individuals.

   In the 1960’s, a movement formed within the historical churches that claimed that the signs and wonders gifts were still active today. It was called the Charismatic Movement, after the word charis, of “gift” in ancient Biblical Greek.

   Most Christian churches still believe that the Signs and Wonders gifts are not a contemporary reality, that they are only a counterfeit of the real thing. The more secular minded dismiss them as the product of mass hysteria or hypnosis.

   One aspect of what are called the spiritual gifts is less controversial, however, and that is the historical view that there are many spiritual gifts and the vast majority of them would not be called signs or wonders.

   In fact, there are many places in the New Testament where spiritual gifts are described, and they are mostly non Signs and Wonders type gifts, but there are three principle passages: 1  Corinthians 12:4-10,28, Ephesians 4:11 and

*Romans 12:4-8

   Do you see how many are not what we would ordinarily call Signs and Wonders?

   Yet, we all receive Signs and Wonders as gifts from God.

   What is a wonder? It is something beyond ordinary experience. What is a sign? It is something that points to something else.

   What are the things in the Christian life that are beyond ordinary experience and that point to something else, some deeper reality, today?

   The Word of God: the Bible centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation, but most importantly, the primary place of encounter in which God speaks to us, and we are given the gift of faith.

   The Sacrament (sacred event) of Baptism, of God’s gift of inclusion in the Body of Christ.

   The Sacrament (sacred, that is Holy, event) of Holy Communion: God’s gift of communion, or immediate relationship, with God in the common forms of bread and wine.

   The signs and wonders of God are all around us.

   With the Word and the Sacraments, we do not need extraordinary experiences or the suspension of the laws of nature. We have everything we need as gifts from the hand of God.

   God has given us an eternal sign, and God has filled us with wonder in the Word and the Sacraments, the places where God comes near to us.

   We are a changed people, changed from the inside out.

   We are a servant people who God has served in the death of Jesus on the cross.

   We are a people who have been made a new creation, a people set apart, saved from Sin, that old separation from God, and born again into a living relationship with the one true living God that begins now and extends for eternal life.

   This is all God’s doing.

   Here are the signs. Here are the wonders. Streams of living water.  

   You are gifted! Do you know what your gift or gifts may be? Try them out, look for confirmation from others and a feeling of satisfaction in your work for the Church. Go online and look for an inventory, or quiz, to help you discover your gift. Pray about it. Study how the gifts are used in scripture.

   You are gifted for service in your church, your part of the Body of Christ. You have received the Signs and Wonders of the Word and the Sacrament.  

   You have everything you need to be a contributing member in the pandemic mission of the Church, The Body of Christ.

   Be that.