Insiders and Outsiders

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

Here’s my hunch. Everything for me rises or falls on this bet. I’m putting all my eggs in this basket:

The turnaround of the mainline churches will happen when we in those churches care as much about those outside the church, as we do those inside. To embrace relevance, we will have to let go of survival.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. If I’m wrong, fire me now. I’ll die on this hill.

What does this mean?

My theory is that the mainline churches have ceased to be relevant to the culture, because insiders trump outsiders every time.

Decisions are made for the benefit of those inside rather than those outside the church. In every single decision, even the little ones, insiders trump outsiders. Take hymns, for example. Musical decisions are not made considering what will attract spiritually hungry outsiders, but what will please the card-carrying, bill-paying membership. Most church outsiders don’t care if you ever sing “How Great Thou Art.” They won’t be slightly offended by a guitar in church. Time and time again church leaders receive heat from church insiders upset about this or that, because the insiders are trying to recreate their childhood church experience or simply have a rigid idea of what church is supposed to be. Church leaders cave in to these insiders because try control the purse strings.

More facts on the ground: insiders are inherently change-averse. People don’t like change, especially those who have status in the church. Pete Steinke taught us that every church is an emotional system. Some people are benefitting from the system as it currently is. Some benefit emotionally. They are revered as church saints. Or they are validators to whom everyone turns for approval of decisions. They are having an emotional need met by receiving recognition. Or perhaps they are simply tirelessly defending The Tradition, regardless of how new or unhelpful that tradition may be. People in power, who have privileges in the current system, will resist change and make life really hard for any leader who seeks to be a change agent. Pastors are paid from members’ giving, so there is a potential conflict of interest. If they do the right thing, some leaders will end up losing their job (or up on a cross, to reference an often-told story).

Why is this happening?

Church structures were set up to preserve what exists, not change it. These stable structures work well when society is changing slowly, imperceptibly. If something is working, protect it at all costs. But what if it is not working? What if the rate of societal change skyrockets, and old patterns and structures no longer work? Peter Drucker once said, “When the rate of change outside the organization exceeds the rate of change inside the organization, the organization is doomed.”

What do we do about it?

Change. Adapt. The church has adapted, survived and even thrived in times of tectonic change in the past. It can again.

Stable structures are a high value in a stable culture, but when in a climate of rapid change, adaptability is the higher value. In a time of stability, experience is crucial. In times of change, experience can be a liability, especially if the experienced make the fatal mistake of assuming what garnered success in the past, will guarantee success in the future. What got you where you are now will not get your where you need to go in the future. Sorry. Leaders who don’t get this are in for some rough sledding.

Let’s face it, change is hard. Change, however is non-negotiable. The only constant in life is change. There is no growth without change. As someone once said, “The only one who likes change is a wet baby.” Any kind of change creates conflict. Leaders can only tolerate so much discontent. And even a little discontent sounds LOUD when you’re in the hot seat. So when things heat up, leaders circle the wagons, which is precisely the wrong thing to do. Instead, leaders need to sin boldly. Lead boldly. Look at any successful enterprise and you can be certain that someone, at some point, took a huge risk along the way. Nothing great is accomplished without risk.

“The trouble with Steve Jobs: Likes to make his own rules, whether the topic is computers, stock options, or even pancreatic cancer. The same traits that make him a great CEO drive him to put his company, and his investors, at risk.”

—Fortune Magazine

But risk is risky, and change is simply too difficult and painful. Most organizations won’t change until they’re desperate, like the alcoholic that won’t go to rehab until s/he hits rock bottom.

So what will give us the courage to take those risks?

This takes us back to the beginning. Churches will not adapt to the new realities until they care as much about reaching those outside, as appeasing those inside.

The world is hell-bent on destruction in countless ways. It is desperately in need of a church that offers a Way of peace, truth, compassion and hope, as opposed to the world’s way of power, materialism, exploitation and violence. It needs leaders willing to risk comfort, status and economic security for the life of the world and the outreach potential of the church. It needs a church that looks less like the Pharisees’ religion and more like Jesus’ ministry. It needs a church that is willing to sacrifice everything for those outside: buildings, budgets, sacred cows, traditions, structures. It needs a church that so loves the world, that she’d be willing to die for it.

So here’s the plan. New policy. Every decision, every single decision made by staff, council and every committee is made on behalf of those not yet here. Every sermon choice, every hymn, song and musical choice, every building and grounds choice, every spending choice is made with outsiders in mind.

When we become a church for the world, the outsider, when the pain of staying the same (and dying of irrelevance) for those already here exceeds the pain of changing (and sacrificing old ways) for those not yet here, we will be the church for which God incarnate came to this earth and gave his life.

150 thoughts on “Insiders and Outsiders

  1. (I’m coming at this from a musical angle, but I suspect this is just one facet among many.)

    I recently wrote a report about the state of music in a particular local church (Church of England), where the minster was keen to change things, including giving a strong outward focus in general. But the established music was basically very inward focussed (traditional in style in this church) and anything modern was regarded as more fringe than central. The mindset was one of “let’s occasionally go to the fringe (modern for this church) but basically retreat to the centre (trad. for this church).” There was a profound mismatch between the objectives of the church and the implementation of its music.

    My very starting-point in the report was to focus on the 167 hours per week that we spend outside church, and the music that we, and our day-to-day “secular” friends, listen to; and to suggest that there should at least be a common meeting-ground of that with our church music. That was by no means to suggest any sort of large-scale transition to “modern” music, but to highlight that our church’s music, as well as having one viewpoint of being “holy” and separate to the world, desperately needed also to be “incarnational” and engaged with the world. There can be a tension here, but that is a tension we are called to live with and explore, not to shirk.

    In such terminology, it is easy to match “holy” to “traditional” and “worldly” to “modern”. But (as will become clear) we should be wary of that labelling trap.

    We can look at modern megachurches with their modern music-styles and be tempted to ape their content and presentational styles. Yes, they attract people. But another, perhaps surprising, area of church growth (at least here in the UK) is in the traditional major cathedrals, whose musical styles are very, very different from the megachurch.

    But might, actually, these two very different types of growing church share more in common in their music than is at first apparent? I suggest a possible area of musical commonality between them, from which we might learn. They both do their music, albeit in very different styles and ways, to a high standard of “performance”. (I’ll unpack that word shortly.) I suggest that in today’s world, whether we consciously think about it or not, that we are attracted by good performance and that we shy away from things done badly. To proclaim, share and live the gospel, I think we ought at least to acknowledge that aspect of our nature, and see whether we can learn from it.

    So (from a musical perspective) I think our adaptation needs to recognise that whatever we do, in whatever style we do it, we need to do it well. And THAT is much of the problem in today’s music in many churches: we spend far too much time debating the “what” of our music (trad. vs. modern, etc.) but we shirk, duck and avoid the hard issue about how well our music leaders “perform” it. (That’s where both the trad. cathedrals and the modern megachurches seem to score well.)

    Let me unpack my use of the word “performance”. I am a passionate believer in congregational singing: in getting congregations to sing, and to sing well: “performance” in the good sense. Part of that is that we, the music leaders, must play and sing the music (our “performance leading”, if you like) in such a way that it specifically enables the congregation to sing confidently. In the modern church-music scene that generally means refusing to use microphones (which dominate and drown the congregation) but rather giving a clear, not necessarily loud, sung lead. (The congregational singing in modern churches with amplified bands can be very poor!)

    Returning to that particular church that I described earlier: the outward discussion of the music focussed on the content: trad vs. modern. But the heart of the problem was that its chosen style was being “performed” poorly, not focussed on developing congregational song. The tiny number of week-by-week music leaders were the remnants of a much earlier, larger choir; no-one had joined them for many years. Nor, sad to say, did anyone want to join them, despite the fact that there were several in the congregation who could potentially have helped shape the music and congregational song, given the chance.

    Let me give a totally different, and completely non-musical, illustration of the same “performance” thing. Some thirty years ago here in the UK, a major movement, part secular, part church-led, developed to highlight awareness of the gross injustices of international trade and the exploitation of workers in third-world countries making goods for us in the West. In those early days of what we (at least here in the UK) now call “Fair Trade”, we were all young and keen and idealistic, and a good start was made. But, in reality, the quality of the goods was poor and the range limited. We, the insiders, were committed to the cause, but the unfamiliar quality of the goods made it hard to engage outsiders into the reality of the movement. Fortunately, this lack of quality (equivalent to poor “performance” of church music) and its implications were recognised, and the action was to continue the “fair trade” (which by definition included long-term commitments to suppliers) but radically increasing the quality (“performance”) of the goods. This became a win-win; the trade picked up, western consumers could engage with decent quality products and many more producers in the Third World could benefit from the long-term commitments and justices of Fair Trade; Fair Trade has now been established in every major supermarket for many years; the underlying movement had been largely led by outward-focussed churches.

    Fair Trade is a “success story” of outward-focussed churches. Can we apply such ideas more widely to the life of faith that we, the community of Christ, are supposed to live in the world for an hour on Sunday and 167 hours during the rest of the week?

    • I agree that the quality of the music is more important than the style. Most congregations cannot compete with what folks are hearing from the professionals on their static-free iPods. (Some congregations can’t even manage a static-free sound system.) I’ve heard it argued that congregations might be better off with a part-time minister and a full-time music director.

      However, the quality of music is only the first step; the second is that the people in the pew are willing to talk about it to the “outsiders”. I believe that the reason “contemporary” style services often grow is because the attenders are excited about it tell others about this “different” service. When folks get just as excited and vocal about an exceptional organist, I think that those services will also grow in attendance. I’ve been at a couple worship services where there was a standing ovation for the organist after the postlude.

  2. Perhaps a change of language can aide this conversation.

    Rather than simply drawing an insider/outsider dichotomy, maybe we can look at three unique images of the church: family, army, and business. Like a family, we are brothers and sister one to another, caring for the very least among us. Like an army we have a vital mission from God that commands our attention, proclaiming the good news of Jesus the Savior. And like a business, we are called to be good stewards/managers of the resources that God entrusted to us. No one image trumps the others; they need to work together. Congregations tend to emphasize one image over the others, but I am guessing God has empowered gifted people in each arena. As a pastor I need to be a juggler, keeping all three images moving and active.

    Having served in a Lutheran mega-church in the 80’s and 90’s, one key factor in our growth was “we counted new members.” We devoted time, energy, staff, conversation to reaching new members. The entire church seemed to be excited about reaching out. And we always had a pipe organ.

  3. I don’t know how much more Mainline churches can engage themselves in the Social Gospel and put “All Are Welcome,” “Fully Inclusive,” and “Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds,” etc., on their signage before you will consider them compassionate enough toward outsiders.

    My thoughts: Mainline churches will have to provide a VISION for the people to get excited about old-school denominations again. Right now (at least since the Modernist movement), Mainline churches are the lowest-common-denominator when it comes to doctrine — in other words, we don’t want to offend or look fanatical, so we water everything down. That’s not to say that Mainliners can’t find consensus with a majority of Americans whose beliefs in the Divine are in flux. The trick is how do you get people excited about compromise and tepid faith in an amorphous Judeo-Christian-flavored deity? The non-churched expect more.

  4. The mission of the Church – and thus churches – is to preach Christ, and Him crucified, not to be relevant to the culture. The moment that a church takes its eyes off of Christ and His work and starts worrying about its appearance is the moment that it starts to die. Sure, megachurches are “relevant” – they have the latest music, lots of emotion, and they address all of the pertinent social issues. But they neglect to preach the Gospel, and the congregations are often going to church to their own damnation. What is worse is when a minister attempts to preach “relevant” sermons, and actually goes against God’s Word! Too many preachers embrace the world’s sexual, moral, and ethical fads when they should be warning their congregations against them.

  5. I know it has been done in the past, but what do you think of encouraging outsiders, and by that, I mean complete outsiders, to your church and have these outsiders provide honest reviews about what the church service is like? I am familiar with Jim Henderson’s Off The Map group and his work with atheist Hemant Mehta, which involved Mehta providing through feedback to church leaders about what he like and didn’t like about their church.

  6. A few thoughts:

    Risk is necessary, but bringing up Steve Jobs is a bad example. The risk he took on treating his cancer probably shortened his life unnecessarily. Then again, Jobs could have been tired, knew he was going to die anyway, and decided that doing something that wouldn’t help wouldn’t hurt.

    While an organism that doesn’t change is dead, we need to remember that there is nothing new under the Sun. Certain patterns and needs are not going to change, as people are still people. Whatever we are going through now has happened before.

    This may make it sound like I am against change. Nothing could be further from the truth. We need to make sure we have something appropriate in place to make sure we are not substituting what we think the outside world wants for what the outside world wants. Sometimes we are surprised at what the outside world really wants.

    In Seattle, Washington, the 9:30 pm compline service at St. Mark’s Cathedral has been going for around 50 years (http://www.complinechoir.org/). You don’t find a guitar, projection screen, or microphone in sight. You do find that the cathedral filled with teens and 20-somethings. It has been this way since the beginning.

    These are the same teens and 20-somethings that are going to dance clubs on Friday and Saturday night.

    Everything about that compline service is “wrong” when we read about what we need to do to attract new people. But, it does attract new people.

    Maybe it could be because the people doing it are faithful to themselves, and not trying to fake it for the benefit of others?

    Again, do not think that I think that there is only one way to do things. Praise choirs can work. That said, here is my humble list of a few things what would help:

    1. A renewed and active diaconate (as understood by the historic church, as an order of ministry). A deacon is supposed to take the church to the world and to take the world to the church. We need called and ordained deacons that are free to tell us what they see.

    2. Don’t turn liturgy into therapy. Yes, sometimes good liturgy can be therapeutic, but that is a side benefit, not the main benefit. If group therapy is needed, then say and do so. The reason to go to therapy and liturgy are different.

    3. There is nothing wrong with buildings, unless the building is the center of your church life. Good things can happen in buildings. However, our buildings the public must feel invited and welcomed in our buildings, and we need to leave the buildings to serve the public.

  7. Great article, ten years too late. A lot of people have been saying these things for a long time, and they’ve been systematically brushed aside, marginalized and run out of the ELCA. I applaud Bishop Rinehart for saying these things, but this is nothing new or earth-shattering. In fact, it’s just a little sad. Too many pastors who believed these things have already been abused to the point of leaving ministry altogether; too many lay people who wanted their church to be this way have already given up and left. Why didn’t the ELCA Conference of Bishops get together ten years ago and make a commitment that every bishop in the ELCA would preach this message in every congregation in their synods within two years? Back then it might have changed something. Now, my fear for the ELCA is that it is too little, too late.

  8. I agree that as a church to “embrace relevance, we will have to let go of survival.” It seems to me I’ve read somewhere that those who seek to save their lives will lose it and those who lose their lives for the sake of Christ and the Gospel will save it.

    I do, however, take some issue with the focus of your article and many of the responses. It is not primarily about style or focusing on insiders or outsiders. It is not primarily about systems or Tradition or a rapidly changing culture. It is not primarily about outreach or being relevant.

    It is about the proclamation of the Gospel. If we are being faithful in that, then congregational leaders won’t have to worry about losing their jobs because of spending too much time on folks outside the congregation, because that is the place their members will be ministering anyway! If we are faithful in proclaiming the Gospel, then the Holy Spirit will move and lives will be transformed whether that proclamation comes in organ led worship or one with a band.

    I believe we have lost sight of this over the years.

    I have grown up in the Lutheran church and have served as an AiM for 14 years in all kinds of parishes. I saw, to one degree or another, the same kinds of struggles in each, and I wonder… If our peculiar Lutheran understanding of the Gospel is correct. If I cannot, by my own understanding or strength, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord of come to him. If it is indeed the Holy Spirit who calls and enlightens me and the promise is that Spirit is present when the Gospel is proclaimed. If that is all true and we have been doing that, then should not the transformed lives be apparent? If those transformed lives are not to be seen, then either we’re wasting our time and there is no god… or maybe we haven’t been proclaiming the Gospel.

    Yes, we need to proclaim in a way that can be heard and understood. Yes, that proclamation will include the Law which will cause some people discomfort and distress (it’s supposed to!). Yes, we need to change with the world around us. But the main thing is the proclamation of the Gospel, through word and deed. In many ways I don’t think it matters how we do that. It just matters that we do that.

  9. It’s wonderful to see that there are some within the “mainline” church who are taking their heads out of the sand and at least trying to figure out what is the issue. It is commendable that you are clearly trying to understand the problem. Unfortunately, it seems to me that there is a fallacy in your theory especially regarding your questions of “What does this mean?” and “Why is this happening?”
    First, it seems to me that the why has more to do with the inception of the mainline church. Ask yourself who put together the Nicene Conference and I believe, if you are truly honest with yourself, you will acknowledge that at that time, there was a plethora of sects practicing “Christianity” and few of them agreed with one another on what that was. The “Orthodoxy” was invited to confer with Constantine, a pagan Roman Emperor who had an agenda. Since the Orthodoxy had adopted the Hellenists’ religious model of an elite priesthood which provided an organizational structure that Constantine could relate to and use in his own quest for power, it is only logical that the Orthodoxy would be chosen and promoted by Constantine at the expense of all other sects which were eventually driven underground and over time, eliminated. The evidence is there in the “Dead Sea Scrolls” and the Gnostic Books etc. The mainline churches are structured to control rather than to promote the spiritual awakening which Jesus preached. There is plenty of historical evidence that it was not the Romans who considered Jesus a threat but rather the Sanhedrin and the Sagacies because Jesus was such a free thinker and was impacting their livelihood and giving rise to general questioning of their authority and relevance.
    It would seem that the what is that people are tired of the same old idea that they are not worthy and are sinners and are going to burn in hell for eternity that the mainline church has preached for centuries and are hungry for the truth that Jesus taught and has been misinterpreted for far too long because of the mainline church’s need to control and maintain it’s power. It really is a house of cards and is about ready to fall.

  10. Some starter ideas: Beer cans with bible verses at the bottom? Beer bottles with bible verses hidden inside? Perhaps we can have drive through churches for those on the go? Drive through get a extra spiritual meal #4 with a devotional, prayer, and blessing. You could supersize that to include the sacrament. Or, to really win the crowd, have male and female strippers paint bible verses on their bodies while leading worship, that could really draw the crowds of unchurched….the possiblities are endless if we can free ourselves from the archaic and outdated things like liturgies, creeds, and…doctrine. Get more ADHD driven worship and eliminate theological language…imagine what we would have….church that wouldn’t even feel like church anymore.

  11. The way I look at it is that we are to worship God with praise and thanksgiving, with gratitude and acceptance of the great outpouring of love manifest in Jesus the Christ. As the Body of Christ, we are to be about Christ’s work in the world, reflecting that great outpouring of love.
    I am a Disciples of Christ and belong to a progressive, warm and hospitable congregation. We strive to reach out to the community in which we sit, as well as the greater community of our State, Nation, and indeed, the World, with our hearts, souls, and bodies.
    The problem is that we “reside” in a New England Congregationalist style building, built in 1950. Maintaining this facility is draining our budget. I would love to see us raize the building, construct something much simpler and more user-friendly, and then with the savings in our budget get even busier being Christ in the world.
    Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening because of the power-holder contingent that is fearful of such drastic change. I am saddened by that attitude because it will most likely kill a very significant congregation in an area where Christ’s love and hospitality is so badly needed.
    I am hopeful hearing such voices for change, however! Thank you!

  12. Good thoughts, but there’s an underlying assumption that may or may not be true. I’m not sure that a numerically declining church is failing, or that a numerically increasing church is succeeding. How many people come, are served, or become members is still placing success in parochial reports. Rather, how is God’s kingdom revealed in our neighborhoods? How is Christ’s forgiveness made real to the people living around us? In what capacities are mercy shown?
    Bishop, you are right in calling the church to live for those outside our membership, but the measure of success cannot be whether they join us or not–rather, whether we, with Jesus, join them.

  13. You are only half right and that is why the mainline church is not turning around. They get the social part, but forget about the gospel. Let’s love everyone, but not tell them why. That’s why the mainline church will struggle until it understands and lives out… Seek first the kingdom of “God” then all these things shall be added unto you.

  14. As long as we think “church” we are going the wrong way. “You are the salt of the earth.” A little salt is good; a lot of salt is toxic. Every time Jesus became popular he got discouraging of the masses who seemed to want to follow him. I think Jesus never intended a church or a popular movement, especially a movement so culture drunk.

  15. And when you’ve been ordered by the Deacons/Elders/Consistory/Wardens not to preach about change anymore because the people think you’re scolding them? It’s time to move on, this is a church that has decided to die.

  16. I believe the whole premise is wrong. If the bishop wants to save his and other mainline churches by persuading outsiders to come IN, even as Bjorn suggested, to give their critique, he’s missing the point, which is for the churches to be going OUT. The goal is to make Christians, not church members, or does everyone take that for granted? Remember the days when Paul Jonggi Cho led a church in Seoul that had hundreds of people gathering to pray EVERY DAY, IN THE MORNING, BEFORE GOING TO WORK? There is a Church Planting Movement based on making disciples and letting them form their own churches in their own cultural setting. There are disciples in the mainline churches who are ministering to the marginalized, but to expect them to re-grow the mainline churches is wishful thinking.

  17. I am an ex-Lutheran atheist, so I guess that makes me somewhat qualified to speak on this topic. I found this article through a FB post of my bro-in-law who is a Methodist minister.

    First, I do agree with Pete Steinke that churches are an emotional system. I would go so far as to say that almost all religion is based on emotional hooks, with little or no factual basis. But, then again, I’m an atheist, so I understand if you disagree. As an atheist, I also consider most religions to be on the cafeteria plan. They tend to pick and choose the tenets they follow based on changes in society, though generally lag a decade to a Millennium depending on the issue. Don’t get me wrong. I’m very glad that most religions these days don’t support slavery, animal sacrifice, or treating women and children as lesser beings. I do wish they would keep more up to date.

    That said, I do agree with the Bishop that churches need to change to attract new customers. The Mormon church has done so successfully and are enjoying a resurgence. When bigamy was looked down on, they adopted monogamy exclusively. When the black revolt of the sixties came, they changed their doctrine concerning the status of blacks. And they’ve managed to soften other aspects of their tenets to make themselves look more normal. Of course, they also have a huge investment in recruiting new members.

    From studies I’ve seen, Lutherans aren’t the only ones lagging in membership. This seems to be pretty much across the board. Catholicism is on the rise in the US only because of Hispanic migration. In Europe, membership is falling. Though, the numbers are sketchy because, like most religions, they more freely add people to their doles than remove them. I was actually baptized a Catholic, so I’m probably counted as a Catholic by them and a Lutheran by my old synod. Since my wife is from Iran, I’m probably also counted as a Muslim. But statistics are showing a greater percentage of empty pews, no matter what the stated membership is.

    The need for change isn’t the only consideration. Guitars in church aren’t new. We had them when I was church-going, which was decades ago. But keep up the change. I consider the musical choice cosmetic, but there are other changes happening in churches that bring them closer to humanistic ideals. That is a good thing. I think the main reason that churches have been so good at staying stagnant and still keeping the membership is that they really had little scrutiny. Religions have operated under the presumption of goodness. Critique of religious tenets was not only considered rude and offensive, in some places and times it was worthy of the death penalty. That shell of sanctity has pretty much shattered, though you’ll see many adherents still riling whenever any slight is aimed their way. Bill Donohue comes to mind for the Catholic church. He’s a one-man army against anything that doesn’t hold Catholics in the highest regard. Unfortunately for him, the stories of pedophilia and baby stealing have irrevocably tarnished the Catholic reputation. Well, the Inquisition and the Dark Ages did, too, so maybe I shouldn’t say “irrevocably”. Society does have a short memory. On the Protestant side, there is a side-show of religious extremists ranging from Bachmann to the Westboro Baptist Church that are just begging for public religious critique. This, I think, has hurt religion even more than books written by the “New Atheists”.

    So, when deciding how to revise your song list and musical instrument collection, remember how outsiders view the church at this time. There are very real reasons why people are keeping a distance. The main thing that needs to change in religion is its attitude. The idea that “The world is hell-bent on destruction in countless ways. It is desperately in need of a church that offers a Way of peace, truth, compassion and hope, as opposed to the world’s way of power, materialism, exploitation and violence.” implies that those who aren’t members are evil people. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the church is not the sole source for peace, truth, compassion and hope. It has to recognize that there are many ways to that goal. I agree that there is an unbalance of power, to much value placed on possessions, exploitation of the weak, and way too much violence. However, much of it comes from religious people. In fact, I would say that a person’s religious beliefs are a poor predictor of their morality. I’ve seen good and bad Christians and good and bad atheists. Nazis were mostly Lutheran. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, both atheists, are giving half their wealth to charity. And there plenty of counter examples. In short, we have to find common ground to address common issues. This requires a baseline standard for dialog that doesn’t rely too much on “God said so”, which is a fine pat answer for insiders, but doesn’t cut it outside the church walls.

    Hope that helps some and gives some outside insight.

  18. Bishop Rinehart,

    Thank-you for your meaningful thoughts on this topic. I’d like to bring forth that the true Gospel is never irrelevant. I believe the Body’s focus need not be on superficial exterior relevance, but on preaching the word — the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit to any who will hear.

    God Bless You,

    Greta

  19. My husband and I have served in many congregations over the years as Youth Pastors. And several of those congregations have let us go because we spent more time reaching out to those “outside” of the church, mentoring the youth from inside to reach the “outsiders” and we ourselves lived outside the box of church…..you have hit the nail on the head and I pray that everyone that reads this message will support and encourage their church to live outside the box to reach those outside the walls of their church!

  20. I live in WI where we have 5 bishops and 5 synods. My synod is dealing with shrinking resources, and so what monies they have go to fund the office and their staff, and less and less go towards ministries (such as Lutheran Campus Ministry in Madison, WI). Congregations are not the only ones who need to live by this message, but the institutional agencies need to as well. I wonder if we need to consolidate those 5 synods down to 1, 2 or 3 and then use those resources for ministry to people in need. But which synod will volunteer to go first? It isn’t so easy in the particular.
    Through a relationship that I have been blessed with, I have been introduced to Athletes In Action, which is a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. As a Lutheran pastor, I would have ignored what they were doing because I don’t agree with their theology. However, through this relationship with a woman I now affectionately call “my daughter”, I’ve been forced to listen, watch and withhold judgement because of my love and respect for this young woman. She is an example of someone outside the church who faced techtonic changes and events in her college life, where a Christian reached out to her and ministered to her. AIA and CCC are on to something, although I could never truthfully ascribe to some of their theology (like creation in 7 days, only men can be pastors, etc). AIA and CCC has such a poignant way of empowering Christians to reach out to the people around them with the gift of Christ. Their organization is lithe, flexible. They see themselves as unfolding a movement of Christ in the world. They also have numerous people who willingly offer themselves up as “missionaries” to do ministry on college campuses—and these missionaries must fund themselves!!!

  21. One of my favorite quotes reminds us that Christians are not curators– those who protect objects from the past. If something is cared for by a curator chances are its value lies in its historical significance not in its relevance to today’s world.

  22. Thank you. This is as clearly stated as can be. Let me just push you a little further. Decisions made within the church with those outside the church in mind still suggest that “church” is mostly about worship, fellowship, and the internal system of intra-congregational power and well being. Are you willing to say that every decision needs to be made with those who will never be “in” the church but who are part of God’s creation in mind? Whatever we do in worship and when we gather “as church” needs to be done with the motive of sending Christians out into the world to live as servants and witnesses. I think your post is implying that, so I’m just inviting you to a Part-II post. As for dying on this hill, Michael, you already died and were raised. Thanks for expressing baptismal fiestiness. Blessed Advent.

  23. To point out that what the bishop is saying isn’t new, on August 13, the 2003 Churchwide Assembly adopted “Sharing Faith in a New Century: A Vision for Evangelism in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” Documents and helps on that initiative are available through the ELCA website. Most of this evangelical emphasis was overlooked because homosexual issues took center stage. Perhaps now we can revisit that topic with the same fervor that many had in regards to homosexual relationships.

  24. The question of “how” congregations are to make the shift from fearful nesting to a vibrant outward focus remins unanswered. My own bias is that congregations, especially mainline, need to recover a contemplative spirituality. The required interior liberation from our fearfulness is something we cannot accomplish. Only via a contemplative interior consent to the transformative activity of the living Christ is this possible. See Merton/Nouwen/Keating

  25. I speak out of the the Weslehyan tradition. The passion that drove John and Charles Wesley and the most eloquent preacher of the early movement, George Whitefield, in England during the Eighteenth Century and that drove the circuit-riders that crossed the frontiers on the American continent on their horses was singular: They wanted to save souls. Every aspect of society and theology has changed since then. The Church’s theological task is unsettled and unsettling, but fundamental to focusing its mission. Honing a world-view and consequent vocabulary that makes sense to those for whom common theological language is unfamiliar is a basic task. Berating the Church for not doing this or that is simple. Creating an energy and model for addressing the world that exists nowadays is hard.

  26. I have to say, when I go to a church, I’m not fond of the word “relevant”. I’d rather find a church that is focused on the Gospel, gathered around the sacraments weekly, doing works of justice and mercy in daily life, and intentional about welcoming others. I suspect those churches do just fine even when their worship style is ancient.

    • Relevant would mean having meaning for us right where we are- nothing to do with ancient or modern or postmodern worship. We do live in this world and should not turn our backs on it to worship (except for the in this world but not of it part). My fairly liturgically formal church uses the Book of Common Prayer and orders of worship that go back to ancient roman rites –they speak to us where we are. My point was that the emphasis seems misplaced if it is on defending the old and failing to find ways to offer what is of ultimate worth to the world.

      • The thing is, becoming part of any community involves learning how that community does things, it takes some buy-in, it has a learning curve. I think there is value in conserving the tradition of the church– it deserves respect and defense, *as long as* the Gospel is preached, the sacraments are administered, justice & peace is lived out in the world, and a hearty welcome is extended to all, including new people. But that does not mean that the ones who are welcomed will have no challenges in becoming part of the community. Living with other people is always challenging.

        I do not think there should necessarily be a seamless-ness between church and society. I do not think “relevant” should be the defining characteristic of the Church. When we are focused on Christ and his Gospel, we necessarily DO care for others, welcome new people, do works of justice, and so on. But we focus first upon Christ and his Gospel, and upon loving God and loving the neighbor. That is our Christian vocation. That is the radical thing about us, which makes people want to join.

  27. I experience the truth of your words in our 2011 U.S. culture, particularly in my small town in the Midwest.

    For insiders, comfort with what is ensures that there are only 2 answers to every question: No, because we’ve never done it that way. And, No, because we’ve always done it that way.

    I’ll never forget last summer as good church members gathered in committee upstairs, bemoaning the few people left in the pews built by immigrant Swedes, downstairs in the fellowship hall 200 frightened Latinos gathered to talk about the small town’s new immigration law that had consequences for all who appeared to be Latino.

    “There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”. Anais Nin

  28. I agree with most of what you say. In a clergy meeting the other day one of the pastors stated that he did not allow any music copyrighted before 2000. My first thought was, I guess he only wants people 21 and younger. That leaves out a lot of people.

    Back in 1968 I was on my way to advanced flight school and then to Vietnam. I remember stopping at an old Lutheran Church that had a graveyard on the west side. (I still have a picture of the church.) Even though it seemed very old it was a life changing event for me. It provided peace, comfort and a moment with God to clear my thoughts and prepare for what lay ahead. And I was not a fan of old slow songs.

    What we sing in church today is a very difficult task to complete. Should it be CW, Jazz, Blues, Rock, Rap, New Age, Classical, or, or, or, or what! Some of the “old stuff” is filled with emotion, some of the new stuff beets a different kind of emotion. Sometimes what the outsiders need is not a new kind of music, they need someone to sit with them and be quiet.

    I like the movie “Drum Line” for several reasons, but the best is the line something like, “some of the old and some of the new … honoring our past with our present.” We are not going to throw out our scriptures but we interpret them in today’s world. We should not throw out our music, we need to update it. One of my favorites is the updated version of “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEpDFA7LAy8

    The Gospel is always relevant and, like you say, it is for those outside the church and for those inside the church. Sometimes, I think the ones inside need it more.

  29. What Bishop Rinehart writes is a need if the mainline churches are to effectively minister and survive and not die on the vine. A few years ago I read some statistics comparing two religious groups with which I have been personally associated. These are the Disciples of Christ and the Baptist Bible Fellowship. Back in the 1960’s the DOC was approximately 1,000,000 in membership while the Baptist Bible Fellowship which began in about 1950 was around 500,000. When this article was written a few years ago the statistics were reversed: The Disciples of Christ had decreased to around 600,000 while the Baptist Bible Fellowship had increased to around 1,000,000. What a change and the question is…. WHY? In my opinion, having personal experience in both groups, here is the difference which created this drastic change.

    1. First lets deal with the Disciples of Christ. From 1967 they became more organized in their political structure from the national on down to the regional and local church level. This change had been coming about for a number of years and culminated in the regional level having a great amount of influence and power over the local church, especially in areas such as pastoral change. The DOC seminaries became more liberal in their teaching which influenced the local churches in the area of Biblical teaching/truth. This subtle change slowly but effectively influenced the local Churches over the years and liberalism increased. The Churches did exactly as Bishop Rinehart stated, they protected status quo as did the denominational structure from a regional and national level. However, the primary killer was the liberal status which denied the Biblical heritage from which the DOC had its beginning as taught by Barton Stone and Alexander & Thomas Campbell. Form and function no longer met the needs of the people while the Biblical area decreased at the same time. The Great Commission as stated in Matthew 28:19,20 was being served based on a warped viewpoint of what it should entail. This was the final straw which brought about the decrease of the Disciples of Christ between the 1960’s and today.

    2. In the Baptist Bible Fellowship the opposite was true in comparison to the Disciples of Christ. Where the DOC held to liberal viewpoints of the Bible the BBF clung to conservative theology and practiced a Biblical viewpoint of the Great Commission based on Matthew 28:19, 20. Consequently what they did was center their ministry around the Great Commission. Yes, they became “other” centered as Bishop Rinehart suggests but the key was the focus on mission not method. For this reason alone the Baptist Bible Fellowship grew and new Churches were started throughout our nation. This trend continues today in the BBF.

    SUMMARY:
    One can dispute the summary of this writer but what can not be disputed is the fact that the Disciples of Christ have decreased in numbers (and are continuing to do so) while the Baptist Bible Fellowship Churches have increased in numbers (and are continuing to do so). In examining the reasons it also can not be disputed that the DOC and its Churches are liberal in their theology while the BBF is conservative in their theology. One holds to a liberal view (the DOC) of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19,20) while the other practices a Biblical conservative viewpoint (the BBF) of the same Great Commission.
    If a Church group becomes “Other” centered and stays liberal in their theology they will still die eventually, it will just be a slower death. However, if a Church is “Other” centered and is not liberal in their theology they will grow. God will bless because the mission the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19,20 has been followed from a Biblical standpoint!
    Ted H Welch Sr., Pastor
    Filllmore Christian Church
    THD, Baptist Bible College
    Springfield, Missouri

  30. Yes, we need to focus on the outsider. Yes, we need to be in mission to the world. My concern is that we so often define that as “What’s currently popular in society.” And that is hugely problematic. I believe that the church needs to be other than popular society, for at least two reasons: first, because the values that make it “popular” are precisely the ones that lead away from Christ-like love of God and neighbor, and second, because the church almost never does “popular” as well as the world, and when we do, it’s usually because we have sold out. So, then, the challenge becomes, what is the third option: not church insider focus, not popular wannabe? How do we communicate with the outsider?

  31. I agree. And I add that we also need to keep growing those inside. The outsider who decides to stay and the people who have been inside for many years as a seed unsprouted, need to be watered so that we can sprout. For the ideal to occur, the church reaching out to those who aren’t part of some Godly group, the disciples inside need to understand that sharing does not decrease oneself but actually grows our own faith.

  32. It’s interesting that the churches that are growing by leaps and bounds are very conservative churches. They certainly do not “adjust” to the modern world just to appeal to new members, yet they draw in many members. Maybe what people crave is strong moral guidance and strict spiritual leadership regardless of what is popular in the modern world. We should change but not in a response to what is popular and not just to bring in members. We need to look at our beliefs and stay true to the original church as set forth by St Peter. Have we drifted? Another Reformation?

  33. I’m just glad I’m not an “insider” in this person’s church. I don’t sense much love for them. Although I do wonder what kind of people in the communities of his experience have led to this attitude. My experiences have been quite different. Lovely, committed, and eager to serve God people equally deserving of God’s love and grace from all of us, and they have been very mindful of others – in and outside alike.

    The writer’s proposition creates a paradox: If we treat outsiders as we do insiders, do we treat outsiders with the same prejudice and disdain as the insiders railed about in this writer’s article? Then what do we do when the outsiders decide to become insiders – lump them as evil too? Sounds like good reason to return or remain on the outside to me.

    About songs to sing: Any community that sings has to sing songs that someone has taught them. Everyone in attendance of any event where participatory singing is to be done has to place their personal subjective favorites list on the shelf in favor of a meaningful communal list. As a result, communities develop their own memory bank based on their collective experiences and inputs. …But then they’ve become “insiders”. Rats. So we basically can’t sing since “insider’s songs” are exclusive, and “outsiders” don’t know songs. This explains why the church seems to want to give up the idea of singing in favor of entertainment. Or we could just be wise about teaching songs that are worthwhile, high quality and NOT in any one taste pallet which shows preference over another. We can do a better job with the songs (hymns) time has gifted us with. I won’t believe that it’s about style (and have learned that the hard way). It’s about enthusiasm of the invitee to song, and the recipients willingness to enter in by singing. (but be careful: don’t become an ‘insider’!)

    My hope is that as church we will discard the notion of “in” or “out-siders” – as it makes no difference to God. We are all pilgrims in various places in the faith journey. We all serve and are mindful of others in a variety of ways – including any decisions we make. Why create another point of prejudicial exclusion?

  34. Bp. Mike —

    I’m responding to your blog after also having read Clint Schnekloth’s piece where he advocates thinking about the church as a “centered set,” not a “vacant set.” Part of his point is that insiders can’t stop being insiders even if they’re convicted (as I am) that “insiders trump outsiders every time.” I think the main question is this: “for whose sake does the church operate?” It’s clear that, most of the time, the church (in all its expressions) serves itself. It’s also clear that some of that is necessary — we need to be nourished by the means of grace in order to have anything to give anyone else. But all too often we stop (I stop) at the point of getting what we need and forget that God serves us in Word and at Table so that we are equipped to go and do likewise. When we do remember that the “Sending” is still part of the Mass, and act on that, we “go in peace” as insiders for the sake of the outsiders.

    Some of those outsiders may just become insiders. There’s a risk to current insiders in that, because the outsiders-become-insiders will change what it means to be an insider. My hunch is that this is one of the primary fears that perpetuates “insiders trump outsiders every time.” But if we can embrace what the outsiders-become-insiders bring to the table (or is it the Table?), there is blessing in it for everyone.

    Thanks for your provocative post. You’ve got the whole church thinking!

  35. I am commenting today because I went from “insider” status to “outsider” status in my former church.

    Yes, I am a former Lutheran. Born and Bred! I was on every committee at one time or another in those churches. I was a real “insider” but felt something missing. I found what was missing when I was introduced to in-depth Bible study at a neighbors church. The missing link. These studies had practical life applications which allowed me to see God’s hand in my day to day struggles, joys and routines. I wondered why I had never been exposed to this in my church? I felt like an outsider after that…inside my own church. If it didn’t say Augsburg Printing company on it, we weren’t really supposed to trust it…..

    Today the “Outsiders” are mostly unlike me. Most have never stepped foot inside a church. Yet they show up. Do they feel accepted? They are hurting and need a relevant church to give them hope to get through their week, their crises, their hurts, their fears, their sorrows. They show up in our churches and are watching us. They want to hear and see how God’s gift of salvation has impacted your life. If insiders cannot be vulnerable and “real” with outsiders….they won’t be back. Outsiders need to know that you hurt just like they do, that you make poor decisions just like they do. That Christ’s love and grace are real and meant for them.

    When outsiders can trust you, then they may be open to trust God and look deeper into what this Christian thing is all about.

    I now worship in a Denominational church whose mission is: to BUILD a loving community that follows Christ in order to REACH the community that is all around us, both locally and globally.

    -The pastors and staff make all decisions based on this mission statement. If it doesn’t fit the “build” or “reach” framework, it isn’t done.

    -The “teaching team” (pastors) prayerfully consider and discuss with the whole staff what the message series will be….a theme that goes on for several weeks with applications to utilize and think about in our regular outside lives. Retreats and prayers are held by staff to take time away with God and listen to what He is leading them to.

    -The teaching team intentionally avoids political hot topics. History has shown that those sitting in the pews (“venues” as we call them) are representing countless viewpoints. Speaking on “hot topics” from a position of “power” (the “platform” or pulpit) would be divisive and take the outsiders and insiders eyes off of Christ, the center point of the reason we are there in the first place. Christ’s message of truth and hope is what they come to hear not a church bodies political viewpoint.

    -The staff intentionally choose language that is neutral in order not to confuse/turn off the 60% in the pews (venues) who are there “kicking the tires of Christianity”.
    An outsiders ears tune out when churchy words are used, and so they say “message” instead of “sermon” etc….

    -The downtown worship venue rents space in a bar/theatre in order to be easily accessible to the people in that community. A “venue” that is neutral and not at all “churchy” for those outsiders who would never step foot inside a church building.

    -Each year the church shuts down completely on a Sunday, and we “do worship” in service projects all over the city.

    -Through these projects the mayor of our city publicly stated that “one line item of his budget was removed because of the service of these people ” (the cost of cleanup after an annual college block party and the painting of several schools in the cities public school system).

    -What if every church in our town could erase a line item from our cities budget?

    -Also, there is no collection during worship. There are boxes on the back walls where monies can be deposited. This church does not want to guilt anyone (insiders or outsiders) into giving when the offering plate is passed. God desires a cheerful giver, and we respond privately in our giving. Guess what? A balanced budget each year!

    -Communion? Is offered to all who place their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. And it is gluten free bread, and grape juice (which my recovered alcoholic husband appreciates). In our travels, my husband has had to only take the bread at certain Lutheran churches because only wine was offered for Communion.

    -Our church has a Care Team (staff and trained volunteers) present at all times, on call for people (24/7) with any need or concern. This is printed in the bulletin and is promised to be confidential care.

    -And the church does not want more members. The majority of attendees call the church their home, but aren’t pushed into becoming a member. The only benefit to membership is the ability to vote….if you become a member, you will not be asked to fill out a “tithing sheet” or hounded to join a committee. This church wants members who desire to grow in their faith. Again, back to the mission statement: toBUILD a loving community that follows Christ in order to reach the community that is all around us, both locally and globally.

    -This church encourages attendees (no need to be a member here) to join “life groups” where the message of the week can be discussed and applied to our daily grinds of work, home life.

    I could go on and on, but all to say that I am blessed to be connected to a church body whose purposes revolve around sharing Christ’s message of salvation to our outside community. I am supported and encouraged to study God’s Word and given opportunities to do so inside the body of Christ followers. I have grown in my relationship with God through this process and am excited to reach out to the hurting world around me to serve those in need. I no longer feel like an outsider inside my church.

    • I’m a dissillusioned soon-to-be-former insider. I too have found a Bible based, Spirit filled church where my prayers are more important than my volunteer time.

      I’m keeping the list of your church’s activities – AWESOME! I epecially like this one:

      -Each year the church shuts down completely on a Sunday, and we “do worship” in service projects all over the city.

      And yet I bet that even that one would be little more than rhetoric if it was out of context of your church’s mission statement and willingness to pray about things before simply adding another program.

  36. For me, the key sentence is the following: “The turnaround of the mainline churches will happen when we in those churches care as much about those outside the church, as we do those inside.” We can’t afford to pit insiders and outsiders over against each other. This is binary, fallacious thinking. You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody on the faculty of our seminary who’s more concerned about “outsiders” and about social justice in society than I am! However, that doesn’t displace–and shouldn’t be pitted over against–my abiding and deep concern for persons already inside any given congregation. I’m a trainer in the Stephen Ministry program; it’s designed to train laypersons in Christian caregiving to persons in and around the congregation. Our congregation invested in this because the charter members were aging and getting frail, and the pastor alone couldn’t do all the caregiving that was needed. The decision to invest in Stephen Ministry was to addess the needs of “insiders”–as well as outsiders who might eventually join. I’ve taught in seminary for three full decades, and studied in-depth the history of my field for the last century. What has happened time and time again is the proverbial swing of the pendulum. For once, let’s avoid that mistake!!! Let’s promote holistic “third way” thinking and theology that synthesizes the two sides that seem to be polar opposites, but really are not!! We need to show how the wellbeing and flourishing of people already inside the church is deeply tied to and interrelated with the wellbeing and chances for flourishing of people outside the church. If you tell congregants that decisions are going to be made on the basis of OUTSIDERS and not insiders as well, you’ll lose them from the outset—and rightly so, because posing such a binary is silly in the first place. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that feminist writers are way out in advance in overcoming these false oppositions. Read their stuff!!

  37. Your posting was listed on a what’s hot tab in wordpress so here I am after reading your posting. I feel after reading your writing that you wish to embrace change and engage those outside as well as within the church. Let me preface my question with a little about myself I am a 52yr old heterosexual male who has read quite a few books on theology. Today I read that 25% of Americans are gay so by embracing change do you accept gays to your church? If a gay couple wishes to marry would that be acceptable or verboten? It’s quite alright if you don’t allow this post to get through but I was just wondering what your feelings truly were on the subject. I realize it’s quite controversial to many however to me I say, live and let live. I only wonder if some churches in America are adapting to the reality that their are gay people who are in fact worshipers of God who would like nothing more than to be accepted by a church they could proudly call home. What might be your thoughts on this?

    • As a member of a congregation within the TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod, Bishop Rinehart’s synod, I can speak from my congregation’s experience. Since 1996, my congregation has been a Reconciling in Christ congregation, a program through Lutherans Concerned/North America, and we state that we believe that God has called us to love everyone, regardless of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression. Over a decade ago, a gay couple in our congregation married and in 2005, we formally adopted a policy that our wedding guidelines would apply to weddings involving all gender combinations. These policies are especially appropriate given our location within an area of Houston with a high percentage of GLBT persons. I think Bishop Rinehart supports any congregation that ministers to and is inclusive of all those in its community.

  38. I was with you 100% right up to the last line of your excellent article when you wrote…..we will be the church for which God incarnate came to this earth and gave his life. The things jumped off the page at me. Jesus was not God incarnate any more than we all are. Jesus came to this this earth the same way we all got here. And Jesus did not give his life, it was taken from him by the Romans and the Religious leaders of his day who didn’t like his message. Yes the church needs to care about the outsiders, and many of us are outside because we can no long remain inside because of the Christian dogma that says God incarnate, Jesus came, and Jesus gave. We want a church that concentrates on Jesus’ message not his divinity or his being sent to save us.

    • Dear Jim,
      If you start taking parts of Scripture out as unworthy ot not relevent, then you might as well join one of the other non-Christians sects wandering around the world. Scripture tells us truth and the truth is that Jesus was incarnate, the very Son of God who was one with God the Father. Take that away and you have nothing which means that I must now pray for your soul!

      • Rev. Miller, I appreciate your prayers, but would much prefer for you to get some up-to-date religious scholarship about the Bible. Many books are out there that will help you to understand the context in which it was written, and will help you understand, as thery have for me, that it is not the Word of God. In fact God doesn’t write books, nor cause “His” words to be written for “Him” by others. The Old Testament is merely the mostly mytholigical history of the Jewish people. The New Testment is best understood as man’s attempt to describe the life and meaning of the man Jesus who brought the message of a loving God to the people of those times. And it is the teachings of Jesus that we need to know, understand and follow if we can. Not because he was God’s son, but because he was right about how best to live our lives in relation to others, all others. Let me finish by saying that you cannot know anything about the Bible by reading only the Bible.

  39. Thank you, Bishop, for your thoughtful essay. I appreciate and agree with your perspective and offer an unfortunate, yet real tension.

    In a congregational polity (I am UCC) not only is the Pastor tied to the purse-strings of the congregation, but her/his continued ministry is also at the mercy of the congregation. The unfortunate reality is that the Pastor may spend significant energy navigating how challenging he/she can be. If a congregation becomes too upset with “change,” then they vote to fire the Pastor. It is there way of maintaining homeostasis in the system.

  40. Mr. Lockerman, you had to be part of the conversation. Every time someone brings up change in the Lutheran church, a cry goes out to protect our 400 years of worship music.

    Where would we be if Martin Luther did the same? I’m not suggesting that the songs he wrote or otherwise introduced into the liturgy were bar songs (as in drinking songs). He introduced worshipful hymns that could be sung by the congregation. He modernized psalms, used German folk tunes. and adapted some from the Latin service – in German so the people could sing them and relate to them.

    I’m 60 years old and I don’t relate to organ music. It’s ok sometimes. Classic hymns and organ settings are part of the culture of the Lutheran church and I respect those who want to worship in a traditional style.

    But worship comes in many forms. Traditional settings are wonderful. Is it so wrong to fill up a church and bring the message of Jesus to people who want to worship with contemporary music in a contemporary style?

  41. The only thing that will change people, outside or inside the church, is the power of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, seeker friendly or traditional are irrelevant. They are both man made systems, as we try our best to do “church” the way we best think it should work. But I tell you from personal experience, both in my life and the lives of others I know and work with in ministry… It is when a person experiences the power and miracle of God’s love in a personal way, everything else is just a hamster wheel. It can be a nice and pretty and well-intentioned hamster wheel, and maybe even a well-built and well-working hamster wheel, but a hamster wheel nonetheless.

    Even social justice, with all of its talk today and genuine nobility, without individual liberation is good, but not God. Yes it is true that faith without works is dead, but works alone cannot save a soul or the world. It is better to get into heaven with one eye, than to go to hell with both.

    The bible says it is the goodness of God that leads a man to repentance, not the relevancy or system of the church. After all, the Church is the people, not the institution and its system. Fixing the institution and the system will not fix the Church. When we as Christians humble ourselves before God, really pray and seek the face of God…and experience His real love and power, however that may come, that’s when our issues within the lower case C church will begin to resolve.

    But ultimately, the good news is that the Church is more important than the church, and we can all affect the Church, even if not the church, because each of is the Church.

    Seek God. Pray. Fast. Flee from Sin. Experience God and His power in a real way. Be transparent to others, and they, too, will overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word or your testimony (and later their own testimony). This is the bible. This is being the Church. Let every effort, whether it be seeker friendly, social justice, or tradition be lead by the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Believers.

    Let us be more concerned about our relationships with God than how to fix the church. Because if we get our relationship right with God – a real intimacy and transparency and holiness – that in and of itself is fixing the Church. And as we each begin to fix the Church (ourselves), the church (the institution) will begin to heal, and the world will follow.

    I heard a preacher from India say this, and I paraphrase: “The world depends on the Church.” And I’d like to add a clarification. “The world depends on the Church, not the church.”

    That is it for now. Pardon any typos.

  42. I belong to a different denomination than the one that hosts this website, and I got a link to this (terrific!) opinion piece from my minister. When I went to the home page to find out who owns this site, I could not find anything that would answer my question, only “Texas,” Louisiana,” and “ECLA,” an acronym with which I am unfamiliar. The website owners would do well to look at their home page from the “outsider” point-of-view, as the author so forcefully tells us.

    • Ben, Bishop Rinehart is the bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod (think – diocese or Presbetery) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. They synod covers southeast Texas (from a little west of Houston to the Louisiana border) and South Louisiana (from the Texas border to the Mississippi border and basically the foot part of the “boot”).

      Hope that helped!

  43. I disagree with the good Bishop in as much as I believe that the church has moved too much to the left under the guise of becoming more welcoming to those on the outside. The biggest problem as I see it is that the church has moved into a mode of being too much wound up in the world and not focusing on what is in store once we leave this earth. We have whitewashed sin so much, even in the ELCA and other mainline denominations that those on the outside are not informed of the results of not turning back to God, the God of Creation and Jesus Christ who is their source of salvation. Think what kind of a church we would be if we came out of our sanctuary closets and proclaimed the gospel from the sides of the road on in colorfull parades likes others have done in recent generations. Jesus Christ will not be washed away by the liberalism of today’s world and woe to all who think and practice otherwise!

  44. I think the Bishop’s message sounds nice, but is based on the ‘insider’ fear of dwindle. ‘We’re not what we were and so we’ve got to be relevant.’ Not so. I think — rather, we have to know what we offer and we have to have confidence in what we think we bring to the oecumenical table… if we die, we die; but those who seek to keep their life will lose it and those who lose it will find it… won’t they? Christianity won’t be over or done with if our institutions die, so let’s quit worrying about it. There are plenty of ‘relevant’ Christians out there and they’re doing a great job. We need not recreate this or be like ‘them’.

    The value of stability is an important one. Stability isn’t the same as ‘fearing change’.

    The value of humility is another good one. Do we really want to be a big Church?

    The value of being theocentric in worship is another good one. What does God want when we worship Him?

    The biggest thing we can do as a Church is remember that identity is important. What does it mean to be a Christian… a Lutheran, and Anglican etc. Who are we corporately? Do we ‘like’ who we are corporately? I think Lutheran have a very important voice in the oecumenical choir. Anglicans do too. They might not be popular at the moment, but there’s nothing wrong with holding firm while the fashions come and go. And there’s nothing wrong with dying if that’s what God wants for us. But in the mean-time, there’s nothing wrong with being who we are — so how about we act like it and embrace our heritage, our way of being Christian etc. And then we can communicate who we are, what we like about ourselves and then make meaningful invitations to those who might also find it meaningful.

    The formerly main-line Churches need a self esteem boost. We need to quit trying to be something we aren’t (people can tell) and we need to be ok with what God’s plan has been for us in this place and in this time.

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