The Rev. Chris Nelson is Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, the founding congregation of Spirit Garage and Jacob’s Well. He came to the assembly to give us ways to speak with ease about our faith. The question he was invited to speak on is “Why church?.” In introductory remarks, the Rev. Phil Hirsch, an Assistant to the Bishop in the synod, named that question as following the question of “Why Jesus?” (why we choose to follow Christ) on our re-resenting our faith journey.
Pr. Nelson began by speaking about two forms of the Church – the denomination and the synod. Lutherans need each other for accountability and things we can’t do alone. Congregations in the ELCA are interdependent, along with synods and the Churchwide organization.
He echoed the words of Bishop Crist: “We are in this together,” and that is what we need to talk about when talking about the Church, he said.
He provided statistics on the state of ELCA congregations, and many of them show a decline in membership. In light of this, how can there be a revival in spirituality? He presented questions stemming from these challenging stats, like: How can the ELCA not be part of this conversation?
The ELCA has a lot to offer in terms of the way it approaches theology – comfort with ambiguity, a focus on the cross. Therefore, we as the ELCA have every reason to contribute to the conversation about spirituality, he proposed.
How does the business world operate in terms of human behavior? A noted author – Jim Collins – says it invites exploration of things like:
• “Confront the brutal facts”
• “A culture of discipline”
The steps of decline of business that Collins has determined, which Pr. Nelson thinks can apply to the ELCA:
Stage 1: Hubris born of success
• Successful entitlement, arrogance
• Neglect of a primary “flywheel…” (the thing that turns and makes things work)
• “What” replaces “Why”
• Declining in Learning Orientation
Stage 2: The undisciplined pursuit of more
• Bureaucracy subverts discipline
• Problematic succession of power
Stage 3: Denial
• Amplify the positive, discount the negative
• Erosion of healthy team dynamics
• Externalizing blame
Stage 4: Grasping for Salvation
• Lurching for a silver bullet
• Panic and haste
• Radical change and revolution with fanfare
• Hype precedes results
• Confusion and cynicism
“There is a danger that we in the ELCA can become irrelevant if we continue our slide,” Pr. Nelson said.
• It is too easy for us to say that business experience has nothing to do with churches.
• God has not abandoned us. It is not God’s failure. It is ours.
• There is no quick fix, only very difficult – but good – work.
Why does it matter? Nelson told a story about a woman in Denmark whom he met and who, after 30 years of marriage, had gotten divorced and felt very lost and alone. Nelson asked how many other women in the world were like this who could find a home and a welcome in the Church. He urged us to be good listeners to those around us.