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Topics - D. Engebretson

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Your Turn / Succession, Calls, and Vetting of Would-be Pastors
« on: June 14, 2022, 10:53:01 AM »
Rick Warren is a name well known inside and outside of Evangelical circles.  Like many 'successful' mega-church leaders he is also an author with numerous titles to his credit.  He has been popular with many church leaders, including those within the LCMS.

It is interesting, however, to see how they deal with the position of a pastor, and the implications for what we are doing even in our own places, large or small.  First, they don't see the placement of a new pastor as driven by a call.  It is succession.  Rick Warren, like an English monarch, is able to largely determine who follows him and takes over the family business.  Secondly, the scrutiny of would-be successors is greatly heightened in our era of scandalous revelations of past religious leaders (e.g. Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll), something that could be kept largely 'in house' in past times.  I found it interesting that the church employed a professional outside search group to do a background check and then a follow-up review after allegations surfaced from a former staff member.  "The search company was provided video footage, emails, text records and interviews that Echo gathered in its own review of Wood’s actions. Echo had conducted its own interviews, as well..."

I wonder if this will be a sign of the future even for those of us in much different ecclesial backgrounds.  When I applied for a position as a law enforcement chaplain I was told that they would do a 'deep dive' into my social media.  Right now I'm not aware that our districts provide this extensive of a background search, although in some states/districts such as in Minnesota, I believe you do have to pass a sexual abuse background check with the government.   

Regarding succession vs. call: I don't think it is healthy to see a church as an organization branded by one man, which then has to make sure the one following is vetted as to qualifications to maintain the organization's unique identity.  I think it is helpful to know if a would-be senior pastor, for example, has had prior experience with larger churches.  But a congregation should be driven by scriptural guidelines and the mission given it by Christ, and understand its mission apart from the personality of the pastor.  We do not establish little kingdoms in our own honor, but we plant churches to baptize and catechize.  I hope that the Rick Warren 'method' is not widely prevalent in Lutheran circles, but would not be surprised if it is, given his popularity among some Lutheran clergy.

It is clear that we are all under a much more powerful microscope of inspection.  We live much more 'public' lives because of the internet and social media.  One good thing is that it is getting harder for those with dark pasts of abuse to effectively hide and keep operating under the radar as they might have in the past. 

Saddleback Church backs Rick Warren successor despite allegations
Questions have been raised about the leadership style of Andy Wood, pastor of Echo Church in San Francisco, days after he was announced as Warren's successor.

Your Turn / A Fascination with Tradition and Formality?
« on: June 02, 2022, 08:56:33 AM »
A friend on FB recently made the observation about how we in America are often fascinated by the traditions and formality of the British royals, especially on display with the Queen's Platinum Jubilee.  He said he believes there is a yearning for tradition and formality here that we have deconstructed here in America. 

By extension, I wonder if that pendulum has swung or will swing as well within the world of the church.  Some like casual. They resist anything formal. But there is something in us, I believe, that wants to believe we are celebrating something important, something bigger than ourselves. We see remnants of it at weddings where brides and grooms still dress up formally for their big day. Funerals also tend to lean in the direction of formality, as well. Events that involve the military, law enforcement, and fire personnel also betray remnants of formality and tradition. Yet much of pervasive casualness of our own culture degrades that which is important.  And when we get to the church, too often God becomes not the 'holy other' but rather a buddy figure. Sanctuaries strive for the intimate feeling; one I was in even had a coffee bar and couches in the area where the people worshiped.

I am a confessed formalist who treasures tradition. I am also a self-avowed anglophile, so I don't need conversion.  :)

What do you think?  Do you think people by and large find comfort, order, and structure in traditions and formality?  Is there a beauty in this they miss?  What does the fascination with British royalty and ceremony say about some of us?

This was published in the RNS (Religious News Service)

“I do not believe that the circumstances of these unfortunate events and Bishop Rohrer’s involvement in them rise to the level of formal discipline against Bishop Rohrer,” Eaton said.

“However, I believe that Bishop Rohrer has lost the trust and confidence of many constituents, both within and without the Sierra Pacific Synod.”

“Unwise decisions” are not automatic grounds for discipline in the denomination, according to the presiding bishop’s statement. But, she said, she has asked Rohrer to respond to her request to resign after attending the Sierra Pacific’s synod assembly next week, listening to their constituents and prayerfully considering it.

Recently a new agency was created within the DHS: The Disinformation Governance Board. The internet has been abuzz over it with raised concerns about its purpose and scope.  It is even more heightened with the recent purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk, where some are deeply concerned with a loss of control over what is posted on this popular social media site. Previously 'banned' posters, unpopular with progressives, might again appear. 

Having recently lived through the trial in Finland of Bishop Juhana Pohjola and politician Päivi Räsänen, who faced criminal charges of violating the equality and dignity of LGBT people because of what they wrote, I am concerned.  Some are comparing this new board to the dystopian Ministry of Truth from Orwell's novel 1984, where one of the slogans of Oceania is "Big Brother is watching you."

Some might say my concern is over-hyped paranoia, but given events in recent history I think I have a valid concern, as do others.  The focus at present is on Russia, the southern boarder crisis, and other political hot topics, but knowing the ability of government regulatory agencies to spread and grow in scope, I wonder just how far its power will eventually extend. Psaki said "it sounds like the objective of the board is to prevent disinformation and misinformation from traveling around the country in a range of communities," adding, "I'm not sure who opposes that effort." Well, I, for one, would like to know what the scope of "a range of communities" includes. That's pretty broad and deep. And yes, I'm suspicious. I'm all for truth.  But I'm also a big supporter of free speech and I'm very concerned about its future at the present.

Your Turn / Concordia University Chicago
« on: April 13, 2022, 08:01:17 AM »
It was suggested that recent events at CUC probably should warrant a separate thread.  I'm picking up my daughter today from CUC for the holiday break, and I'm sure I will receive another view of things from one who is actually a student on campus.  For the record they protested in chapel.  I think that was unwarranted and inexcusable.  Some places must remain sacred and politically neutral.

I have not watched the town hall, but appreciate the summary provided.  While I understand the premise of diversity, I also appreciate the need for qualified professors regardless of race.  This is a relatively small Christian university that is committed to the specific confession of a larger church body.  I understand that the university would want instructors who support the denominational confession.  This is not a secular university, or one that accepts all confessions uncritically.  And as noted, the pool of qualified instructors that support the university's confession is limited, especially with those from minority groups.

It is possible for a school to be supportive of diversity in race even if their professors can't reflect that.  As to diversity in others areas, such as the loaded sexuality issues, I think we know that Concordia can't go there. 

A 300-year-old church hopes to connect with spiritual but not religious neighbors
Facing a future where organized religion is on the decline, Trinity Episcopal Church hopes to offer spiritual community for the nones.

(RNS) — For three centuries, Trinity Episcopal Church has tried to meet the spiritual needs of the small community of Southport, Connecticut, about an hour and a half outside of New York.

As more and more of the church’s neighbors ditch organized religion but not faith, leaders at Trinity hope a new initiative will help them find meaning and purpose in life even if they never attend a Sunday service.

The church recently launched the Trinity Spiritual Center, which offers lectures, classes on meditation and contemplation, and a sense of community during a trying time, said the Rev. Margaret Hodgkins, the rector of Trinity Church...

About 3 in 10 Americans claim no religious affiliation, according to data from the Pew Research Center, and a similar number say religion has little influence in their life. Only a third of Americans attend church regularly, according to Pew. But only 4% identify as atheists. And many unaffiliated Americans have spiritual beliefs, according to Pew, even if they eschew organized religion.

Grayson, who has long practiced meditation, wondered if there was a way for the church to create a space where people could gather, connect and share their spiritual journeys, no matter what they believed...

The center draws on contemplative practices from the Christian faith and from other traditions, he said, and has hosted programs on spirituality as well as social issues such as racism and gender.

It’s also hosted speakers, including Kimberly Wilson, who performed “A Journey,” her one-woman show about Black women who shaped American history; writer Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, author of “Hollywood to the Himalayas,” which details her life as a Hindu convert; and the Rev. Matthew Wright, an Episcopal priest and Sufi practitioner who teaches about contemplation. A current series features author Mark Greene, host of the “Remaking Manhood” podcast.

While the center’s ties to the church are clear and its events are held in the Trinity parish hall, there’s no proselytizing or promotion of exclusively Christian beliefs. During its startup phase the center will remain under the umbrella of the church but it is treated like a community service, more akin to the preschool that operates at Trinity than a church program...

Linda Mercadante, a former college professor and author of “Belief Without Borders,” a study of Americans who are spiritual but not religious, said that more progressive Christian churches are often more open to adding programs about diverse forms of spirituality. That won’t reverse the decline of organized religion, she said. And she wonders what the Trinity center or similar programs can offer that isn’t already being offered somewhere else.

“I don’t know what they are going to achieve,” she said.

I assume from their website that they will remain an Episcopal Church.

Your Turn / Funerals and the Way We Deal with Death
« on: February 06, 2022, 02:48:20 PM »
Currently I am working my way through a little volume put out by Lexham Press entitled Funerals for the Care of Souls by Fr. Tim Perry (2021), a Canadian Anglican clergyman/theologian. He addresses the contrast of our culture's view and behavior toward death with the witness of scripture.  At one point he deals with how many approach death through denial:
Perhaps the most obvious way we express our denial is the collapse of the word "funeral."  We no longer mark death by ritually moving the dead from the community of the living to the broader community of the deceased.  Instead, we hold a celebration of life that looks a great deal like a retirement party where the guest of honor is conspicuously absent. Lately, Christian "celebrations" - again speaking only from my own experience - seem to lack christological focus. Heaven is described as a reunion with a spouse, parents, extended family, and friends. There may well be good reasons for conceiving heaven as involving a reunion of sorts; this idea can be found in many ancient and modern Christian prayers.  However, problems arise when such talk displaces far more important themes of union with Christ even in death and the hope fo sharing in the Lord's resurrection through death into Life in his fullest.

Recently I watched a bit of a livestreamed funeral for a young man who had committed suicide.  Now the manner of his death was not so much the issue here, but the way the clergyperson approached the life of the deceased and the presumption of where he now was.  Having talked with two family members of the deceased it was clear that the young man was not churched; in fact, had little to no use for church, faith, or God for that matter.  I found myself wondering if the clergyperson really knew much about this young man at all.  She placed him squarely in heaven without qualification and talked as if the family all shared the common convictions of what this life in eternity meant.  I don't think she understood, at all, the audience she addressed that day. 

I devote an entire week for funeral sermons in my online course in preaching each summer.  It's a challenging area of homiletics even for seasoned preachers.  Finding a balance between addressing the life of the deceased with the greater need to proclaim Christ and the life we have in Him seems to be something we don't always achieve.  And as Fr. Perry wrestles with in his book is the cultural baggage with which we are saddled as we approach the issue of grief.  Many who attend our funerals today have, at best, a passing understanding of what death means in a Christian or scriptural context. Too often I encounter funeral sermons that are little more than extended eulogies where Christ is incidental to the occasion. Some of it even becomes comical at times when solemnity should be the tone for such a serious occasion.  My wife played for a Catholic funeral once where the pastor placed a kolache right on the casket and proceeded to carry on about how this defined the life of the deceased.  I attended another funeral where the priest (sorry, I'm not deliberately focusing on Catholic funerals!), who did not know the deceased, had those in attendance fill in stories of the deceased during his homily, which resulted, at one point, where the grandmother described the deceased drunk on the floor of the bathroom.

Have we largely lost something in many of the funerals today, regardless of communion or confession? Has the culture hijacked a proper view of death for many Christians?  It seems that for a lot of people the thought is twofold: 1.) The deceased, regardless of faith or lack thereof, is always in a "better place," and is virtually a saint upon death.  2.) Heaven is conceived as a simple continuation of life here, complete with card games and other trivial behavior (some of it even less sanctified than we might desire!), devoid of being in the 'nearer presence of Christ,' and the holiness that this represents. 

Your thoughts?

Your Turn / Christians and Law Enforcement
« on: January 29, 2022, 09:46:26 AM »
Most, if not all of us, saw at least clips of the Jason Rivera funeral on TV.  Rivera was a young officer on the New York Police Department that was gunned down while responding to a domestic abuse call in Harlem.  You could not but be moved seeing the sea of law enforcement that came out the day of his funeral to pay their respects and show their support.  The widow's eulogy was moving and also biting.  "This system continues to fail us. We are not safe anymore, not even the members of the service."  I wonder what the reaction will be to this among law makers and other leaders in a position to do more. 

There is no doubt that law enforcement has been at the center of more than a little debate and discussion in the last few years.  The movement to defund the police, or at least greatly reduce the budgets of their departments, has been one reaction of those who feel that too much of law enforcement is systemically racist.  Some DAs are taking a much lighter approach to incarceration and punishment, allowing more criminals loose on the streets.  Violence is up in our major cities.  And deaths of law enforcement officers has also increased dramatically. 

I will admit that I am more than a little biased toward these men in blue.  This week I again worked with local officers after a death at a city fire.  After most had left the scene they were the ones that were there as the body was removed, prayed over and loaded for transport.  They deal with too much of the filth and violence and tragedy and death of our cities, much of it out of public view.  Yet, I feel they have been unfairly vilified in past years because of the behavior of a minority.  Morale is not good, as we might expect.

As Christians we have traditionally supported the "kingdom of the left" as God uses these men and women in First Article fashion to serve and protect our communities.  But I feel that even within the greater church there is a division of opinion, and perhaps a division on support.  I am not arguing that criminal acts, even on the part of law enforcement, should not be prosecuted.  That's not the issue here.  The issue is the seemingly lowered support law enforcement is receiving in the population-at-large, and the laws and movements that appear to be weakening their effectiveness and placing them at increased risk. 

These men and women place their lives on the line for us every day.  As a church, do we have an obligation to show them our support, both in prayer and in deed?

Your Turn / The Era of Division and Realignment
« on: January 26, 2022, 10:10:04 AM »
Shortly after I entered the ministry in 1987 it seemed as if the future would be one of more and greater mergers within American Christianity.  The ELCA was born the year after and became, by and far, the largest Lutheran denomination in the US.

Now, well into a new century, we continue not into a new era of mergers and unions, but of realignment and division.  The latest is the Reformed Church of America:

The launch of ARC is part of a larger realignment within North American Protestantism. The last two decades have seen conservative Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Lutherans form their own denominations over LGBTQ inclusion and sexuality, and the United Methodists are scheduled to consider a denominational split in the fall.

Like abortion, which we have again been discussing on another thread, issues related to LGBTQ and other areas of sexuality and gender are not proving to be places where one finds much compromise.  It is not a place of simple compromise, but a matter of confession.  This all reflects what is playing out in the society-at-large as well.  As a related matter the trial in Finland for the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen began on Monday, January 24, and "has been widely criticized as an infringement on religious freedom. Dr. Pohjola is Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and Dr. Räsänen is a Finnish Member of Parliament." I think that this trial will be a bell weather of the moral and religious battlefield conditions that will increase as this topic continues to find legal force of compliance on those who are not in agreement with current sexual and gender trends.

This is a new time and will prove, for some Christians, to be a difficult and trying one. 

Your Turn / The US Continues to Become Increasingly Secular
« on: December 14, 2021, 03:51:34 PM »
This article from the Pew Research Center seemed appropriate given a discussion on another thread of catechesis, and another regarding mission opportunities on the west coast. America is increasingly secular, less and less religious.

About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Are Now Religiously Unaffiliated

Self-identified Christians make up 63% of U.S. population in 2021, down from 75% a decade ago

By Gregory A. Smith

Christians continue to make up a majority of the U.S. populace, but their share of the adult population is 12 points lower in 2021 than it was in 2011. In addition, the share of U.S. adults who say they pray on a daily basis has been trending downward, as has the share who say religion is “very important” in their lives.

Currently, about three-in-ten U.S. adults (29%) are religious “nones” – people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular” when asked about their religious identity...

Back in July 2020 the editor of the Forum Letter, Pr. Richard Johnson, invited me to enhance a post I had made here in the online forum and submit it for publication.  It was entitled "Pastor, can we talk about your sermon?" In the summer issue of Lutheran Forum, which I am trying now to take time to read, there is an article from one of our frequent posters, Pr. Charles Austin, entitled "Reverence for the Words that Proclaim the Word" (pages 35-37).  His observations on writing and preaching seem to resonate with the concerns I had earlier expressed in my modest little article for the Forum Letter. The highlighted sidebar, "Some rules for sermon editing," is a helpful summary for any preacher in examining the actual text of his sermon.  In point #9 he asks if we have considered a "refresher course" in writing or speaking.  In fact, I had taken the "Writing for the Church" workshop several years ago on the campus of our St. Louis seminary, and found that what I learned that week ended up unexpectedly spilling over into my homiletical writing, and, I believe, improving it.  Thanks therefore go to another poster on this forum, Pr. Ed Engelbrecht, who served as one of the instructors of that workshop that year.  Writing for an entire week and having actual editors critique my work was invaluable.  I recommend such an experience for any preacher.  I believe that it no doubt assisted my academic writing, as well, a few years later, when one of my graduate professors recommended one of my papers for publication, which I submitted to LOGIA, and was subsequently included in the Reformation issue of 2011.   

Preachers owe their listeners and the ministry they serve their best efforts, and those include their work with words.  Pr. Austin's short article is worth the read for any preacher of any level of experience.  We all need to periodically evaluate how well we are crafting our messages.  His article is a good contribution to that effort.

Your Turn / A Push-Back on Osteen's Relentless Positivity
« on: November 05, 2021, 09:44:14 AM »
For years I have chafed at Joel Osteen, the "smiling prophet," who relentlessly pushes his prosperity Gospel and the message that happiness is the heart of the gospel.  I noticed early on his lack of what I will call a "theology of suffering."  Can't imagine this man as a real pastor with real people. 

Turns out I am far from alone, and now I have another book worth reading by author Kate Bowler.  I just read about her book in an RNS article: No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear), which is a refreshingly honest look at how life really looks.  She is Mennonite by background, a professor at Duke, and an author growing in popularity.  The book is a push-back on Osteen's 2004 bestseller, Your Best Life Now.

Although at first you might think Bowler to be a somewhat dour pessimist, she really does believe in hope. Biblical hope. She's just realistic about suffering in a sinful, broken world, something Osteen and others are not.  I like that.  It speaks to the world where I live and minister.  I've never had any use for the pat answer: Just be happy. 

Again, I haven't read the book, but it sounds interesting and I may just order it soon.  I think she's resonating with people who realize that Osteen and other prosperity gurus are not realistic or even usable.

RNS recently reported on a Faith Communities Today survey that discovered what many of us already know: Small and mid-sized congregations, especially within mainline denominations, are in decline.  Significant decline.

No doubt the pandemic has hastened what was already in process albeit at a more gradual pace. In fact, I believe that it is a significant reason for the seemingly sudden decline, although the article does not really note this. They note that half of the country’s congregations just before the lockdown had 65 or fewer people in attendance on any given weekend, a drop from a median attendance level of 137 people in 2000." For people like me, who live in a more sparsely populated rural community, the findings are not encouraging as far as growth prospects: "Nearly half of the country’s congregations are in rural areas (25%) or small towns (22%), while the 2020 census found that only 6% of Americans live in rural areas and 8% in small towns." There's a demographic shift, as they also note: "The country’s changing demographics may be key to rural and small-town decline. Young people have been moving to urban areas; businesses and industries have also left these communities bereft of resources and talent."

I think that overall, to be a bit more spiritual about this, the decline has roots in what Paul wrote about to Timothy (1 Tim 4): "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith..." This corresponds with other studies documenting the rise of the category known as "nones" and the falling away of recent generations compared to the older ones. The study notes that while Christian churches are in decline, "the only groups to boost attendance over the past five years were non-Christian congregations: Muslim, Baha’i and Jewish."

For those in the larger 'mega' churches, however, it might sound more encouraging: "Congregations with 1,500 people in attendance were best able to avoid decline; 71% of those large churches grew over the past five years. That may suggest many people are abandoning midsized congregations for megachurches that have full-time clergy, greater financial and physical resources and a diversity of ages and races among members."  They also leave smaller, more traditional churches to go to these larger ones, in my opinion, because of the greater tendency of its worship to favor a more casual and entertainment-type format. Based on the marketing strategies made popular decades ago, they cater to those looking for a place that more resembles their culture and popular music tastes. But these churches are also quickly becoming indistinguishable from the world outside their doors.  It's only a matter of time before this decline catches up with them as well.

Your Turn / Lutheran Mission Work
« on: October 28, 2021, 09:43:19 AM »
Recently a poster commented on the desire here at the Forum for posting on mission work in the church.  Just recently I saw this update on our mission work in the LCMS:

We are involved in 25 countries in Africa, where the Lutheran church (and I suspect the Christian church in general) is growing the fastest in the world.  We support 15 seminaries across 12 countries. 

With 20 million Lutherans in East Africa alone, Trump said that training church workers and planting churches is the Africa region’s highest priority right now. He described the Synod’s blossoming relationship with the Mbulu Diocese in Tanzania and the ongoing work to reach out to the sizable populations living in refugee camps in East Africa. This work includes the training of some young refugee men for the pastoral ministry.   

The article also noted promising outreach efforts in eastern Europe:
The new Livonian Lutheran Project, based in Riga, Latvia, is already training future pastors from 12 countries, with 10 students from within Latvia and 27 students from outside, mostly from areas in European countries where confessional Lutheranism has been virtually nonexistent — “the greatest effort at planting churches in Europe that the Missouri Synod has ever undertaken.”

But we are also very active in our own hemisphere as well:
“In the last number of years through the Dominican Republic and our previous work in Argentina, we have produced 18 Spanish-speaking pastors for Central and South America; this fall, we have 40 men studying to be pastors and 140 women training to be deaconesses. And every one of them going through the seminary participates in church planting. This is extraordinary,” Harrison said, “and it’s a bright shining light.”

Overall we appear to have a robust ministry in outreach and disaster relief in many areas.

Just the other day I saw a picture on FB of my district president in Peru attending an ordination of the first Lutheran pastor in that country. And that came out of mercy ministry we had already been doing. 

Feel free to post mission outreach efforts in your own church bodies.

Your Turn / John Shelby Spong Died on Sunday
« on: September 13, 2021, 09:16:43 AM »
John Shelby Spong, onetime Episcopal bishop in NJ, passed away on Sunday.  I am still amazed that he taught what he did, despite the very liberal tendencies of that denomination.  He denied many cardinal and key doctrines of the Christian faith.

What wonders what his 'legacy' will be.  At the end of the article we read:
“He claimed that he was making it relevant for a new generation who could not believe in the supernatural, often citing his daughters,” Mr. Tooley said of Bishop Spong. “But the irony was that as he was making his case, modernity was ending and postmodernity starting, and his rationalist perspective became passé. There was new openness to the supernatural.”

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