“God isn’t us looking to create the church, God has called and commanded us to make disciples.” The Rev. Phil Hirsch referenced this in his report, but also jokingly called it “The Tale of a Couple Tables” – referencing last night’s confusion and discussion over by-law changes that would have changed the “divisions” currently mentioned in the by-laws to the “tables” that currently operate in the synod.
Pr. Hirsch began by showing a series of slides with various metrics regarding worship attendance and congregational life, including adult baptisms which peaked in 2009 and sharply declined since and worship attendance which has been steadily declining since tracking began in 2004. A new metric, “Active Participants,” measures people who are active in a congregation but would not be considered members (for whatever reason). It is a new indicator that has been being used by the national ELCA office since 2009.
Pr. Hirsch then called forward the Rev. Dave Sonnenberg, Chair of the Stewardship and Mission Table, who introduced a new resource titled “Embrace Generosity.” That handout as well as “Generosity,” a 30-day devotional book by Gordon MacDonald, are available.
The following is my paraphrased attempt at taking notes on Pr. Hirsch’s presentation on discipleship and challenge that each of us would reach out to a person who is not currently churched and does not know Christ.
- Our efforts to make disciples, to bring people into the faith, cannot be motivated because we want to keep our congregations and the ELCA viable. We need to take a step back… and think about the fruit we hope to be bearing. We know what to do when a young couple brings a baby to us to be baptized, but we don’t know what to do when young couples stop bringing their babies to us to be baptized. Lutherans have historically struggled with creating disciples and bringing new people to Christ. The good news however is that God isn’t us looking to create the church – God has called and commanded us to make disciples.
- What are disciples, and how do we go about making disciples for Christ? Disciples are ones who sit at the foot of a master and seek to become like that master – an apprentice of the master. Pr. Hirsch shared an incredible story about the Rev. Connie Thompson who shared the hope of the resurrection with a server at a restaurant, and he challenged us to do the same. What would happen if in the next five years each of us were able to reach out to someone who isn’t involved in church and doesn’t know Christ? We’d go from a synod of around 30,000 to around 60,000. Nationally the ELCA could grow from 4 million to 8 million. It just takes a lot of courage to meet the deepest human need that is out there – the need for connection in the midst of hurt. Underneath the wealth and pretense of perfection in our region there is a deep pain that Christ can heal.