Forming and Reforming

A depiction of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church Door on October 31, 1517
A depiction of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church Door on October 31, 1517 – the day of the year that Protestants now remember the Reformation on annually.

This weekend many Christians in Protestant faith communities remember or acknowledge the Reformation. This is particularly true among most Lutherans. In remembering this, many sanctuaries may be dressed in red this weekend and Psalm 46 might be used in worship as well.

In the spirit of Reformation and with all this in mind, I want to add six observations this year for ways the church I believe is reforming and being formed, and perhaps needs to.

1) Acknowledge Collaboration and Partnership and Strive for It

Your congregation is not an island. Despite what it may seem, if you are part of a faith community you have partners in that faith beyond your group or immediate community. For the church this might mean synods and denominations, as well as the larger catholic (with a small “c”) or universal church. These many faith communities can do much more good in the world through partnership and collaboration with combined resources and perspectives.

Congregations and faith communities can do a better job of acknowledging existing partnerships in their own faith communities. For example, Lutheran congregations could do so much more to tell the story of the good work of so many Lutheran NGOs and non-profits like Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Mosaic, and Lutheran Services in America. Chances are, the majority of your faith community have no idea these organizations exist and about all the work they do.

2) The future of the church does not rest with large mega-churches

Despite what the media and pop-culture might lead you to believe, the future of the church does not rest with large mega churches. Why do I think this is true? Simply put, because such large communities aren’t sustainable. They may be sustainable economically, but too often they are built around a charismatic leader. When that leader is no longer there, the faith community implodes or at least goes through a very tumultuous time of change. The larger mega-churches that have been sustainable have one thing in common, an emphasis on building smaller communities up within and as part of the larger church in order to build relationships.

3) Focus on depth, not just breadth

For too long we as the church and society have focused on numbers, or breadth. How many people were in church today? What was attendance like? Why don’t we ask instead, how many people were equipped and empowered to share their stories and perspectives of how they see God active in the world and their lives? The church grows when it builds connection, intention and an ability in people to see God at work and be able to articulate that in meaningful ways for themselves and others.

4) Name the values and perspectives and then live them out authentically and transparently

What shapes your community? Is it a particular understanding of some Biblical passage(s) or theological framework? Whatever it is, name it and reflect and point to how these understandings shape and guide the work and ministry of your faith community. If there is a disconnect between the values and what your faith community is doing, this means that it is time for deep reflection and community discernment. Invite your faith community in, and be transparent in the process.

5) Days of hierarchical leadership in the church are numbered

We have already seen this with the rise of millennials, and as Jean Lipman-Blumen wrote about in the move from “Stage 2 to Stage 3” leaders. The church is catching up. Just look to the way leaders in congregations who have been on pedistals like Mark Driscoll or Catholic bishops who participated or turned a blind eye towards clergy and sexual abuse. Hierarchy is falling away as the laity is empowered. This is exactly what the church should be striving for if part of its work is to spread the gospel and create disciples. By creating disciples, leadership is broadened and diffused. (Even though Luther might have been mixed on the idea of the Priesthood of All Believers, I am a fan of it.)

6) Above all- grace and love

Whatever your faith community is about, remember that grace and love abound and transcend. Err on the side of both grace and love when contemplating change. But most importantly, make sure that grace and love guide, reflect and inform all that you do and all that you are as a faith community and leaders within it and out of it. The church has always been about this, but today is as good as any to reclaim and reaffirm itself in this.

I suppose I could have styled this in 95 points in honor of the 95 Theses of Martin Luther.  That would have taken far too long to write,  though and be far too long for a blog post. So, that’s probably enough for now.

What ways do you see the church forming and reforming? What comes to mind for you this year regarding Reformation?

Image Credit: Luther and 95 Theses

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