Ordinary Men

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 5.11.38 PM

Here’s a quote about jury selection from G.K. Chesterton: “Our civilization has decided, and very justly decided, that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be entrusted to trained men. When it wishes for light upon that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know, but who can feel the things I felt in the jury box. When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind, it uses up its specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing around. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the founder of Christianity.”

Interesting thought, especially the final sentence. How ironic it is, therefore, that a national church body I know and love recently voted to withdraw its previous blessing that gave permission for partially trained but carefully supervised “Licensed Lay Deacons” to conduct a ministry of word and sacrament in congregations unable to find or afford a regularly trained and ordained clergyman.

Perhaps more than ironic, I should describe this decision as regrettable. People who know the dates of birth of active clergy in our denomination have announced for more than a decade that in the next ten years at least 50% of these active clergy will reach retirement age. Some will continue to serve, whether for purely altruistic or simply financial reasons. But if that were not to happen, we would need 300 new pastors each year for the next ten years just to stay even.

Put those stats together with this year’s entering seminary student enrollment numbers of fewer than 100 at our two seminaries, combined, and the problem becomes transparently eminent and undeniably urgent. For each of the past several years only approximately 100 new pastors have entered the ministry. That leaves a shortfall of 200 pastors per year, with no sign of improvement, at least in the near future.

The 12 men selected by “the founder of Christianity” were indeed ordinary men. Yet while their affiliation with Jesus did not render them exempt from the faults and frailties of other humans, their faith became strong enough to ignite a movement that exists to this very day. Furthermore, their faith was strong enough to transform them into martyrs.

With all my heart I believe, and through my experience I know, that the same qualities of conviction and commitment that motivated those 12 men two millennia ago still exist in the hearts and lives of ordinary men called by God and set apart by the church today. No doubt some of those men are not in a position to “sell their cow and burn their plow” in order to move to our seminaries in St. Louis or Fort Wayne to become regular pastors.

Yet they have gifts and calling to do what our church recognized in 1989 would be a blessing to many. Sounds like the same thing done by the founder of Christianity many years ago.

Joint Statement of Catholic and Lutheran Leaders

bishop-munib-younan-pope-francis

Credit: Bishop Munib Younan and Pope Francis (Michael Campanella/Getty Images)

A matter of interest that occurred on Reformation Day came to my attention after the fact. Roman Catholic Pope Francis and Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, signed a Joint Statement at this year’s Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation at the Lutheran Cathedral in Lund, Sweden.

The statement begins: “With this Joint Statement, we express joyful gratitude to God for this moment of common prayer in the Cathedral of Lund, as we begin the year commemorating the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. Fifty years of sustained and fruitful ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans have helped us to overcome many differences, and have deepened our mutual understanding and trust…Through dialogue and shared witness we are no longer strangers. Rather, we have learned that what unites us is greater than what divides us.”

For the full text of the statement go to: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2016/10/31/full-text-joint-declaration-for-the-500th-anniversary-of-reformation/.

The 16th century Reformation spawned documents known collectively as Lutheran Confessions. One of them, The Smalcald Articles: Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, was completed February 17, 1537. Written by Philip Melanchthon, it states in part: “… the pope is the real Antichrist who has raised himself over and set himself against Christ…” (Art. II) and “… the doctrine of the pope conflicts in many ways with the Gospel…” (Art. XI). Those statements make unity difficult.

Arguably, those and other confessional comments could be considered descriptive of popes who lived and ruled centuries ago but may not be accurate assessments of all popes since that time. Some in the LCMS and the rest of Christendom might strongly disagree with the application of those words to more recent popes, including John Paul II, Benedict XVI, or Francis.

Be that as it may, here are my perspectives:

  1. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian body in the world with 1.2 billion members. It has many commendable beliefs and practices, yet numerous theological points are problematic, including the doctrine of justification, the authority of the pope, the sacraments, the veneration of saints, the holiness of Mary, and the use of indulgences.
  1. The worldwide Lutheran Church is much smaller in number. About 74 million members are scattered among 160 different Lutheran bodies, 145 of which belong to The Lutheran World Federation. Any healing of the wounds between Lutherans and Catholics that have existed before, during, and since the Reformation would most likely occur at that level. The rest of Lutheranism, including The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, would need to make independent decisions regarding setting aside the differences that have existed for nearly 500 years. It would take a miracle for that to happen in my lifetime.
  1. The overwhelming majority of Christians, including Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, some Baptists, and other Christians confess in the Apostles’ Creed a belief in “the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints …” While that term means different things to different people, my hope, prayer, and conviction is that those who confess the truths of the Apostles’ Creed are the folks I’ll see in heaven, even though we disagree on points of doctrine and practice here on earth. Such disagreement fostered the Reformation and continues to make the kind of unity envisioned by the Joint Statement signed last month a difficult alliance to achieve, assuming it is based entirely on genuine agreement on basic articles of faith and life.

Motivation for genuine unity in the Body of Christ must be based on the words of Jesus himself:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent… I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:1-3, 20-21)

Memorial Service for +Ralph Arthur Bohlmann+

Ralph BohlmannFor God So Loved the World (John 3:16-17)

Jesus said: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 

I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (John 14:1-3, 6)

Jesus also said: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also… I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ!

The first time I saw Ralph Bohlmann was at the national LCMS convention in Dallas in 1977. He was a distinguished looking man who spoke eloquently, evangelically and pastorally about a matter of great importance. I was quite impressed with his obvious leadership skill and ability. Little did I know what the Lord had in store for him and littler did I know what the Lord had in store for me. I certainly never expected to be here today.

During our years in St. Louis from 2001-2010, Terry and I were together with Ralph and his wife Pat on a number of enjoyable occasions. I also had the privilege of taking Dr. Bohlmann to lunch on his birthday, almost annually. Often Sam Nafzger was with us. Both are theological giants whose friendship I will always cherish.

The occasion that brings us to this place on this day at this hour is the death of a man who was dearly loved and deeply respected by many. His service as parish pastor, CTCR leader, professor and president of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod demonstrated humility, integrity, keen intellect and a heart for the Gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In addition, notwithstanding the attention and accolades bestowed upon those who serve in such positions of responsibility and notoriety, Ralph Bohlmann took seriously his duties as husband, father and grandfather. Like many of us in public ministry of any kind, the stresses and stretches on his time and energy no doubt at least occasionally and perhaps more often than he would have liked, demanded his attention, diverted his priorities and diluted the quality of time spent with his wife, his children and grandchildren. Many of us can identify with that from our own personal experience!

Be that as it may, Ralph Bohlmann dearly loved his wife Pat, their son Paul, their daughter Lynn, and their grandsons Jesse and Lucas. You are the ones most personally affected by the death of a man you knew as Dad and Grandpa. You are the ones who will miss the sound of his voice on the phone, the warmth of the hugs he shared when you were together and the security of knowing he was there to lean on in times when only a father or grandfather can provide what’s needed. But now he’s gone. He died.

That’s a painful statement! He died. It’s a dark mystery, this thing called death. How can it be that one moment a person is warm, animated, conversant, mobile and alive, while the very next moment the body of that same person is cold, still, silent, vacant and dead? How can it be that a beautiful woman or a handsome man can over time deteriorate into a pile of dust and a box of bones?

The most helpful insight I’ve ever heard about life and death came from my own daughter, when she was three years old. As I stepped out of the shower in preparation for the funeral of a beloved member of the congregation I was serving at the time, I was greeted by little Angie, who asked the thoughtfully perceptive question: “Daddy, when a person dies does he take off his body?”

For a moment I was completely stumped, by my three year old daughter! As I reflected and recovered, I replied: “Yes! That’s exactly what happens when a person dies!” And to this day, over 40 years later, I still turn to that insightful understanding when death occurs.

The ancients used to think of life as consisting of three parts: body, soul and spirit. In my simple way of thinking, it’s hard to distinguish between soul and spirit, so I simply speak of body and soul or body and spirit. To me, the most easily understandable explanation of life is that everyone has a body in which that person’s soul or spirit, that person’s real being, resides as long as he or she is living on this earth. When death occurs, that person’s soul or spirit leaves the body behind and moves on. Angie had it right. The person who dies takes off his or her body and leaves it behind.

That’s what’s in this box. The physical body inherited and inhabited by the soul, the spirit, the real being, the true essence of the man we knew as Ralph Bohlmann, Dad, Grandpa. This body was baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This body was the home of a soul redeemed by the blood of Christ. This body was the temple of the Holy Spirit. This body contained the man Ralph Bohlmann, who lived his life as both saint and sinner.

So then, where in the world has the real being gone, the soul or spirit of Ralph Bohlmann that animated his body for 84 years? Jesus himself answers that question: 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

That’s the answer. The real being that resided in this body for over eight decades has gone to eternal life. Eternal life. Ever wonder what that’s like? I have. And still do. Eternal means everlasting, undying, perpetual, endless, ceaseless, timeless, infinite, immortal, and never ending.

My brain says “Hold it! That doesn’t compute! I can’t begin to comprehend how life can never end because my experience this side of heaven tells me that everyone I’ve ever known has had or will have, at some point in time, an ending.” I simply cannot understand how someone can go on living or existing forever. But that’s the promise of God. Believing that promise gives me hope.

The words of Jesus read a few moments ago give us not only hope but also assurance. God so loved the world … How much did he love the world? So much that he gave … his Son … his only Son. And unless you’re unfamiliar with the basic beliefs of Christianity, you know what that gift cost God the Father—the very life of his only Son, Jesus.

Terry and I have a son. I love him very much. I love him and the other members of my family more than I love anyone else in the world. I don’t love the world enough to give up my son. I’m not God. God is God. And God gave his Son to this world for a purpose.

St. John writes: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” What would cause God to love the world and its inhabitants, even the most unlovable person you can think of, so much that he would send his Son to a painful death on the cross for the life and salvation of the world and everyone in it?

The Bible says “God is love.” (1 John 4:16) A God of love is constrained to do what he is. Parents love their children and are willing to do anything to protect and save them from harm and danger. God is our Father. He loves us. He was willing to do anything to save and protect us from eternal condemnation, even to sacrifice his Son on the altar of a cross.

The sacrifice Jesus paid is the sacrifice that ended all sacrifices. Instead of bringing animals to temples to be killed so their blood can be sprinkled on the altar and their flesh consumed with fire to gain the attention of God in heaven so he will look down with favor upon his sinful people, as the Old Testament people were commanded to do, we look to Jesus, the Lamb of God. His death on the cross has taken away the sin of the world, once and for all and assures eternal life for all who accept this free gift!

Jesus spoke of his love for the world: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

That’s where Ralph Bohlmann has been since Sunday evening. That’s where Pat Bohlmann has been since September 14, 2012. That’s where my father and Terry’s parents are. That’s where your loved ones are whose life on earth has ended in faith. That’s where, by the grace of God, you and I will also be someday when our life here on earth is over. And in the place that Jesus has prepared for us, we will spend eternity with him.

Although impossible to confirm veracity beyond the shadow of a doubt, testimonies from people who have gone through what is called a “near death experience” in a place appearing to be heaven give a glimpse of the eternal life awaiting believers in Christ.

These near death experiences occurred when individuals were thought and even in many instances declared to be clinically dead, usually as a result of traumatic injury, drowning, choking, auto accident, etc., but later came back to life.

People who have had such an experience have repeatedly testified, as reported in a book titled “Imagine Heaven,” that they saw a man “wearing a robe of brilliant white light down to his ankles, held together by a gold sash, with piercing eyes that see right into your soul, yet also draw you in with a magnetic warmth and love.” They also experienced reunification with family members, both previously known and unknown.

That sounds an awful lot like the way I picture Jesus and life in heaven. Imagine a life that never ends in the presence of someone who draws you near with warmth and love. That someone is Jesus! Imagine being reunited with loved ones forever. That is heaven!

And how do we get there? One day Jesus saw Thomas, who later doubted that Jesus had really come back to life after his crucifixion and burial. Jesus said to Thomas: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the way to eternal life. Jesus is the only way to eternal life!

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles! The Jesus who spent lots of time on earth hanging out with sinners, including prostitutes and tax collectors, looks at you and at me the same way he looked at them. Not as saints whose lives were perfect but as people who are lost and in need of a Savior.

The same Jesus who brought his dear friend Lazarus back to life even after Lazarus had been buried in a tomb for four days has promised to bring us back to life someday. And though Lazarus died again, he, with all believers in Christ, has been given a life that never ends. That’s the life awaiting you, me and all believers in Christ.

So it is that a stranger to Christianity might walk into this beautiful chapel and observe a crowd of people mourning the loss of a beloved father, grandfather and highly respected church leader, yet singing songs without grieving as those who have no hope.

A few moments ago we sang “Abide with me.” It’s a beautiful hymn, solemn in spirit, rich in meaning, courageous in confronting the end of life on earth:

  • Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still if Thou abide with me!
  • In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

And as we say in Texas, we’re fixin’ to sing “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come. Be Thou our guard while troubles last and our eternal home!” I encourage you to sing from your heart the words from this hymn that provide hope for the future.

Sing this hymn with thankful hearts that the God of the universe loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that everyone might have eternal life! He died for all! That’s the great news we Christians are called to proclaim to the people of the world who live in doubt, in darkness, in despair.

And sing with thanksgiving and joy in your heart that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you and for me, even as Ralph and Pat Bohlmann already abide in the place he has prepared for them!

My prayer for you, Paul, Lynn, Jesse and Lucas, is that your hearts will be filled with constant hope and quiet joy. Remember the time you spent with the man whose vacated body, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, is in this box. And look forward to the time when you will see him again, in heaven, where life eternal will be yours as well.

In the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit! Amen!

 

Islam’s Future in America—Part II

IslamIt’s apparent from the numerous responses I received after last week’s initial article on Islam’s Future in America that there is great interest in this topic. Many Americans have Muslim neighbors and their number will assuredly increase. It behooves us to inform ourselves as much as possible about Islamic values, ideals, attributes, and objectives, along with the challenges and opportunities Muslims bring to American life and Christianity.

Next week I’ll continue with excerpts from the article by Dr. Adam Francisco, cited in last week’s Perspectives. Before doing so, I thought it would be helpful to present here a brief summary of Islam per se. Greater detail can easily be found on the Internet.

The simple, concise summary below is provided by Patheos – Hosting the Conversation on Faith (http://www.patheos.com/Library/Islam). In this summary, CE stands for Common Era or Current Era or Christian Era. The abbreviation CE is an alternative naming of Anno Domini (AD – The Year of Our Lord). In addition, BCE is the abbreviation for Before the Common or Current or Christian Era, an alternative to BC (Before Christ). Frankly, I prefer BC and AD.

Here’s the summary of Islam from Patheos: “Islam is a monotheistic religious tradition that developed in the Middle East in the 7th century C.E. Islam, which literally means “surrender” or “submission,” was founded on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as an expression of surrender to the will of Allah, [who Muslims believe is] the creator and sustainer of the world.

“The Quran, the sacred text of Islam, contains the teachings of the Prophet that were revealed to him from Allah. Essential to Islam is the belief that Allah is the one and true God with no partner or equal. Islam has several branches and much variety within those branches. The two divisions within the tradition are the Sunni and Shi’a, each of which claims different means of maintaining religious authority.

“One of the unifying characteristics of Islam is the Five Pillars, the fundamental practices of Islam. These five practices include a ritual profession of faith, ritual prayer, the zakat (charity), fasting, and the hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca). Many Muslims are characterized by their commitment to praying to Allah five times a day. One of the defining characteristics of Islam is the primacy of sacred places including Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. Muslims gather at mosques to worship Allah, pray, and study scripture.

“There is not a sharp distinction between the religious and secular aspects of life in Islam; all aspects of a Muslim’s life are to be oriented to serving Allah. Islam expanded almost immediately beyond its birthplace in the Arabian Peninsula, and now has significant influence in Africa, throughout Asia, Europe, and the Americas.” Here ends the Patheos summary of Islam.

Stay tuned for next week’s continuation of Islam’s Future in America. God bless you!

Entrepreneurial Ministries and Conferences

ConferenceIn the early years of my ministry, programs and conferences sponsored by districts of our national church and also by the national church itself were designed to provide ideas and materials for use by the local congregation. That was then. This is now.

While our national church and some districts still offer such programs and conferences, growing congregations and visionary leaders are initiating ministries and hosting conferences that impact churches across the nation and even around the globe. Today I’m highlighting some of them.

In preparation, I contacted the leaders of each of these ministries or conferences, requesting one long or two short sentences briefly describing their purpose and focus. Those descriptions are posted below my signature. Here are the ministries and conferences, listed alphabetically:

•  Best Practices for Ministry www.bestpracticesforministry.net
•  Dwelling 1:14 www.dwelling114.org
•  FiveTwo www.fivetwo.com
•  J2e3 www.J2e3.com
•  LCMS Mega Church Conference
•  MinistryFocus ministryfocus.org
•  Mission of Christ Network www.MissionofChrist.org
•  Pastoral Leadership Institute www.plinstitute.org

Congregations and individuals with a vision for intentional, strategic, faithful and fruitful Gospel proclamation through word and deed are finding encouragement, support and inspiration through these and other entrepreneurial ministries and conferences. Read the descriptions below and check them out for yourself. I believe you’ll be blessed by what you discover!

Entrepreneurial Ministries and Conferences:

Best Practices for Ministry www.bestpracticesforministry.net is a free conference sponsored by Christ Church Lutheran (that’s not a typo) in Phoenix for those who love the local church, the lost and the LCMS. Last year’s conference had over 1,500 lay leaders and pastors.

Dwelling 1:14 www.dwelling114.org is a ministry that helps leaders disciple their people to join Jesus on His mission in the places they already live, work and go to school. This simple lifestyle is described in Greg Finke’s book, “Joining Jesus on His Mission.”

FiveTwo www.fivetwo.com is a network that fuels sacramental entrepreneurs who start new to reach new. To reach the millions of lost people in the U.S. and beyond, we need a variety of new ministries and the men and women wired to start them.

J2e3 (Jesus to Everyone, Everywhere, Every Day) www.J2e3.com Missions Summit will be held May 4-6 at Concordia Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Tex. Featuring inspiring speakers who will share best practices of missional efforts that effectively reach the lost, the purpose of J2e3 is to send you to be Jesus to everyone, everywhere, every day.

LCMS Mega Church Conference is a fellowship of the senior pastors of congregations of our Synod that have, on average, over 1,000 people in weekly worship. These pastors and their wives meet annually and also offer support and encouragement to one another throughout the year.

MinistryFocus ministryfocus.org is a grassroots organization within the LCMS, established in 2013 to eliminate systemic barriers to the proclamation of the Gospel. To achieve our mission, we provide certain “tools” that are commonplace outside the church, that within the church provide energy and focus for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

Mission of Christ Network www.MissionofChrist.org is a lay-led pastor advised tax-exempt organization whose primary objective is to multiply intentional Gospel proclamation worldwide through existing networks of Christian people groups, congregations and organizations. This includes age appropriate local, national and international short and long-term mission work integrated with long-term discipleship internationally and in your home congregation.

Pastoral Leadership Institute www.plinstitute.org trains and invests in leaders for a changing world. PLI believes pastors and spouses gain confidence and courage to lead in community so that fear and isolation are defeated and ministries can best reach lost and broken people with the Gospel of Jesus.

Best Practices for Ministry

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 10.04.00 PMThat’s the name of the “free conference” taking place this week in Phoenix. It’s called “free” because there’s no registration fee. In addition, no honoraria or expenses are paid to the speakers and presenters, who serve for free. Attendees pay their own expenses for transportation and lodging. The host congregation provides free meals for the duration of the conference.

All this is made possible by the sponsoring congregation, Christ Church Lutheran in Phoenix and Senior Pastor Jeff Schrank. Jeff served for a number of years with me on the LCMS Board of Directors. He’s a humble, bold and courageous man doing a great job of ministry in Phoenix.

This is the conference’s fourth year. The first year about 500 attended. This year 1500 are registered. What’s the attraction? A few things come to mind:

  • It’s “A FREE conference for those who love the local church, the unchurched and the LCMS.”
  • It’s in Phoenix in February and it’s cold in many other parts of the country!
  • It meets a need not met in the same way anywhere else in the LCMS.
  • It includes a healthy mixture of lay, commissioned and ordained participants.
  • It offers practical info on what works with transparency on what doesn’t work in parish ministry.
  • It combines ministry ideas with spiritually refreshing worship and fellowship.
  • It’s a gathering of folks who are finding joy in ministry and folks who seek such joy.

BPM Conference Coordinator Nancy Barton says about conference speakers: “Best Practices for Ministry conference does not happen without all these incredible people. I am grateful for all those who share their God given gifts with the church free of charge. This is an act of grace and service, and I trust the person and work of the Holy Spirit to equip the church to do it well.”

Kudos to Pastor Jeff Schrank, the staff and members of Christ Church Lutheran, the volunteer presenters and all participants in this exciting conference! The spirit of camaraderie, cohesiveness and Christ-centeredness is contagious!

My topic this year is “Quo Vadis, LCMS?” Subtitle: “Wine/Women/Worship/Witness/Warfare: Helping a church born and raised in 19th and 20th century culture passionately engage with the Gospel a 21st century culture indifferent and even hostile to Christianity.” I look forward to time together with many wonderful folks!

The Last Gasps

Credit:  C. Mackowiak

Credit: C. Mackowiak

 

 

Last week I read an article titled The 10 Last Gasps of a Dying Church by Brian Dodd. Click on this link to read the entire article: http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/175170-brian-dodd-last-gasps-of-a-dying-church.html. Here are some excerpts:

******************************************************************************

If you don’t like changeyou’re going to like irrelevance even less.” Those are the words of General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, who [was recently] in the news because of the VA scandal.

There are few things as sad as watching a once great church grow old, become irrelevant and slowly die. What is worse is that they either don’t know they’re dying, or they simply don’t care as long as those remaining are happy. Sadly, I have witnessed this more times than I wish to count. In addition, I have attended this type of church before.

Here is what I have noticed about many of these churches—at a pivotal point, a decision was made to continue doing ministry the way they always have rather than alter their approach to reach a changing community or the next generation. After months of committee meetings and off-line conversations, the church finally utters The 10 Last Words of Dying Churches—“We’ve never done it that way before. We’re not changing.”

Those 10 powerful words subsequently have a ripple effect that lasts generations.

******************************************************************************

Statistics a few years ago showed that 51% of Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod congregations had worship attendance of fewer than 100 per week. Of 5,860 congregations reporting, 1,335 had 49 or fewer and another 1,659 had between 50 and 100 in attendance.

There’s absolutely nothing inherently wrong with small congregations, especially those who face demographic circumstances beyond their control. Nor is there anything particularly virtuous about larger ones. Most congregations I know simply find no joy in becoming smaller.

Whether large, small or midsize, congregations with dwindling worship attendance and their leaders are well advised to reflect prayerfully on the reasons for the shrinkage and to determine a strategy, without in any way mitigating the Gospel, for reversing the trend. Doing so sooner rather than later may help avoid the realities that might otherwise lead to last gasps.