Author Topic: The Declining Mainline  (Read 5375 times)

Eric_Swensson

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #45 on: July 05, 2007, 06:09:15 AM »
We do not create faith.

Who is this statement aimed at? Who in this forum has ever said that anyone believes this.

One question: Are Lutherans taught, and do they practice, the Word is preached as Law and Gospel, each having its own work, and does not the Law convict us of our sin.

This idea of yours that God is "at work in all people" may not be the antithesis of Law and Gospel, but you would have to convince us that it is compatible.

Charles_Austin

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #46 on: July 05, 2007, 08:10:15 AM »
Posted on a couple of recent active forums, with apologies for the repetition:
This will probably be my last posting for some time. (The sound of cheering arises from the galleries.)
1. Tomorrow, five of us have chartered a boat and are heading out into the Atlantic for fish.
2. Parish duties will occupy me a good portion of the week-end.
3. Next week, I meet a dear friend of long standing in New York for a fine meal at a French restaurant we have known for years. This lovely and intelligent woman, raised Roman Catholic, has great compassion for the world and its people, but has felt only rejection and rigidity in the Church. Despite this, she has kept me as a good friend.
4. Then I leave for two weeks in Argentina and Brazil. It has been many years since my last visit and I look forward to the trip.
5. I am “working” at the ELCA assembly and do not think I will take time for online discussion. Much of the assembly will be online; and numerous people from this forum will be there; so I shall leave the reporting and interpretation to them, at least for the time being. I expect the Assembly to be a place where the gospel is rightly (but not perfectly) preached, the sacraments are rightly (but not perfectly) administered and the fellowship and mission we have in the ELCA is discussed, debated, and celebrated and – deo volente – advanced.
6. My faith is renewed daily by the Spirit; but where I once found some stimulation and encouragement in these forums, I rarely do so now. Pastor McCain’s condemnations have, I believe, particularly poisoned the waters here, despite Brian’s patience. I know exactly why the LC-MS considers me a heretic, and I do not need him or others here to continually stab and hammer at the ELCA to teach me that. Eric’s persistent assertions make me fear that he does not know how to love the church body to which he belongs and is not interested in doing so, for he seems to feel that – outside his parish – all is lost. I cannot tell whether the “Hess team” is in the ELCA as loyal critics, or outside as enemies to what the LCA stands for. To me, all this adds up to a  toxic situation that is draining of the spirit rather than challenging.
No doubt others will disagree. I hope everyone here has a fulfilling summer.


Gary Schnitkey

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #47 on: July 05, 2007, 08:41:27 AM »
The usual reason for mainline decline is liberalism.  No doubt this contributes to mainline decline.

However, this reason is incomplete.  The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod would not be viewed as liberal.  LC-MS is losing members, particularly in recent years.   

What reasons can be given for declines including the fact that non-liberal denominations are in decline as well.

1Ptr5v67

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #48 on: July 05, 2007, 09:32:51 AM »

This will probably be my last posting for some time. (The sound of cheering arises from the galleries.)
. . . . . . . .
5. I am “working” at the ELCA assembly and do not think I will take time for online discussion. Much of the assembly will be online; and numerous people from this forum will be there; so I shall leave the reporting and interpretation to them, at least for the time being. I expect the Assembly to be a place where the gospel is rightly (but not perfectly) preached, the sacraments are rightly (but not perfectly) administered and the fellowship and mission we have in the ELCA is discussed, debated, and celebrated and – deo volente – advanced.
6. My faith is renewed daily by the Spirit; but where I once found some stimulation and encouragement in these forums, I rarely do so now. Pastor McCain’s condemnations have, I believe, particularly poisoned the waters here, despite Brian’s patience. I know exactly why the LC-MS considers me a heretic, and I do not need him or others here to continually stab and hammer at the ELCA to teach me that. Eric’s persistent assertions make me fear that he does not know how to love the church body to which he belongs and is not interested in doing so, for he seems to feel that – outside his parish – all is lost. I cannot tell whether the “Hess team” is in the ELCA as loyal critics, or outside as enemies to what the LCA stands for. To me, all this adds up to a  toxic situation that is draining of the spirit rather than challenging.
No doubt others will disagree. I hope everyone here has a fulfilling summer.

Last time I checked,  this is a Pan Lutheran Forum,   where a wide variety of opinions and ideas are to be freely asserted and discussed.   In my opinion,  while I may not always agree with Pastor McCain,   I certainly do not view any of his postings as "poison" and/or as having the effect (as asserted by Charles Austin) as "poisoning".      Nor do I feel it is fair for Charles Austin to characterize the  the collective effect of postings by Pastor McCain,  Pastor Swensson,  and Lou and Deb Hesse,   as adding "up to a toxic situation that is draining of the spirit rather than challenging."

Instead,  I ask myself why Charles Austin is so quick to view their postings in this negative light.      Since Charles Austin feels free to characterize Pastor McCain,  Eric,  and "Team Hesse",  I believe it is in order to characterize Charles Austin.  In spite of his many contributions to this forum, in spite of his outstanding Lutheran pedigree of many decades, (including a reference to part-time journalist),     I have long viewed the effect of his postings on this forum (whether intentional or not - - whether official or not) as fullfiling the role of "mole" for the ELCA bureaucracy.  I submit that it is from this perspective (actual or constructive official staff member of ELCA bureaucracy)  that one can begin to understand why Charles Austin would refer to "poisoning" and "toxic situation that is draining of the spirit rather than challenging."     I have learned not to take offense from any of Charles Austin's postings -  which is possible if one continually reminds one self of the apparent and effective role that Charles has played on this forum.

Also, I note that Charles Austin makes an oblique reference to "working" at the ELCA assembly.     While Charles Austin has often referred to one of his  his vocations as being part-time journalist,   I do not recall Charles ever fully disclosing one of his official positions;  i.e. that of computer review editor for Lutheran Partners  a bi-monthly magazine of the ELCA for the ordained and lay leaders , on matters concerning computer technology and parish work.
http://www.elca.org/lutheranpartners/about/staff.html.   

Therefore,  Charles Austin should disclose whether the "work" that he will be doing at ELCA assembly will be in his official capacity for Lutheran Partners or some other official role (paid or volunteer) for the ELCA bureaucracy.
« Last Edit: July 05, 2007, 10:45:14 AM by 1Ptr5v67 »
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ptmccain

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #49 on: July 05, 2007, 10:08:22 AM »
Gary, you raise a very good question about why The LCMS continues to experience declines, small though they may be, the trend is downward.

Some in our Synod say it is because many of our congregations are not "missional" but in a "maintenance" mode.  

The interesting thing however to take a look at when talking about these issues is the average Sunday morning worship attendance. To me, this figure is, from a human perspective, about the best 'guage' of congregational health possible. How many members are gathered around Word and Sacrament, on average, every Sunday?

The smaller and medium sized congregations have the highest percentage of their members coming to church. The large "mega churches" in our Synod [as Lutherans define "mega" at least], have the highest numbers of members on the church rolls, but also have the highest percentage, typically, of their members in fact not attending church.

My take on the "why" of gradual decline is:

Demographic realities of the movement of populations from rural to urban areas.
The general decline in religious commitment.
Birth rates dropping.

And...theological identity/brand loyalty issues.

Let me explain my theory about this.

Thesis: If we give people no clear, compelling reason to be, and to remain, Lutheran...they will not.

In other words, where our Lutheran Church has watered down its message, its unique, specific message that distinguishes Lutheranism from all other confessions, to that extent we are depriving our members of reasons to be, and to remain, truly Lutheran. And, in this situation, of course they will drift away to other denominations and other "experiences."

In a way, I have said it would be like MacDonalds deciding one day to try to start looking like Burger King. MacDonalds franchises do vary from one place to another in some ways, but you never have a moment's doubt where you are and what the basic content is of the product they are delivering. You don't walk into a MacDonald and get handed a Burger King or Wendys product, but you get MacDonalds, without apologies,and without defensiveness about it. They unhesitatingly well tell you that they are your best choice, and will give you reasons why.

It seems to me to be common sense that the degree to which Lutheran Churches attempt to conform themselves to other choices in the crowded "market place" of denominations, to that extent it is only giving our membership less reason to remain committed to the Lutheran Church. To the extent that Lutheran congregations do not clearly teach and instruct their membership why being, and remaining, Lutheran is so important, to that extent, members really have no reason to remain and will, at the drop of a hat, pick up and leave for some other place.

And, finally, I do attribute the decline to a lack of passionate zeal for outreach and mission in reaching out with the unique Lutheran confession and really playing up our uniqueness as Lutherans: we offer a deeply historic life of worship and spirituality, rooted and grounded in the ancient worship of the Church. We offer a real "encounter" with God: sacraments. We offer a deeply comforting message of the Gospel, in all its powerful purity. Historic, genuine Lutheranism offers, in my opinion, the "best of both worlds" of the Evangelical substance that is the Christian Faith, with the catholic style of the historic Christian Church in the West.

I actually believe that Lutheranism is the most well positioned denomination of all, if only we will be bold and passionate about making our unique offerings known and if we would stop just trying to imitate other churches.

Imitation, they say, is the best form of flattery, but it is not good strategy.

So, these are some of my thoughts on the issue of the "why" of decline even in the conservative LCMS, and of course, I believe the same could be said of the decline across the mainline. It seem to the extent that they move away from the traditional "Great Tradition"of historic, orthodox Christianity and replace it with a "progressive" message that ends up watering all that down and turning the Christian Church into, more or less, an extension of the Red Cross or the YMCA or any other social agency in the community [all fine and noble services, mind you], but this is not what the Church is, at its heart and soul. And the extent to which the Church conforms itself to the culture that surrounds it, to that extent it loses it prophetic voice of Law and the heaing voice of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For what it is worth, that's my .02 on this issue.

« Last Edit: July 05, 2007, 10:16:38 AM by ptmccain »

Dave_Poedel

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #50 on: July 05, 2007, 06:52:26 PM »
Also, (piggy backing on Paul's post above), when I arrived at the congregation I serve a bit over a year ago, I asked our Office Manager for a list of those on our membership rolls, and also a list of those who have not been in church in the past 12 months.

The list of "inactives" was twice the number of those who attend regularly.  So, I made a very concerted effort to contact each of those on our rolls who have not been in church for over a year.  Most could not be found, some had gone to other churches and had not asked for a transfer of membership, some told me to ___ off.

I reported a decline in membership of those who could not be found or declined to return to active participation.

Since then, we have over 90% of our baptized membership in regular attendance at Divine Service, the 10% are regularly visited by me with the Eucharist.  We have gained a few by adult Baptism, a few more by infant Baptism and a few that show up every week, have an orthodox confession of faith, and are contemplating what membership means.

I did the same thing 12 years ago when I was called to a parish with something like 340 on the rolls and 25 in attendance.

So much of our reporting is so inaccurate, and I agree with Paul McCain that Divine Service attendance/shut-in numbers is a truer indicator of the health of the congregation than the "membership".

Gary Schnitkey

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #51 on: July 05, 2007, 07:26:02 PM »
To the LC-MS list, I would add two observations.  First, LC-MS may get hurt with all the bad publicity associated with the ELCA.  Sexuality concerns likely will keep many orthodox Christians who are not familiar with Lutheran distinctions from walking into any Lutheran church.

Second, the demographic problem may be related to not having an aggressive church building program to match changes in location of the U.S. population.  As an illustration, I was a Missouri Synod Lutheran until a move took me into an area where there were no Missouri Synod churches.  At that time, I joined a church with an ELCA affiliation.  I don’t know how many people find themselves in a similar position, but you will not go to a church that is not there.

ptmccain

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #52 on: July 05, 2007, 07:28:50 PM »
Dave, thank you for your very important note that we not forget our homebound members who are active saints in the congregation! Such precious saints they so often are who devote themselves to prayer for friends, loved ones, their pastors, their fellow congregants, the church throughout the world and the spread of the Gospel. Such a gift!

J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #53 on: July 05, 2007, 07:51:31 PM »
Dave, thank you for your very important note that we not forget our homebound members who are active saints in the congregation! Such precious saints they so often are who devote themselves to prayer for friends, loved ones, their pastors, their fellow congregants, the church throughout the world and the spread of the Gospel. Such a gift!

Aye.

Dave, I believe that the better indicator of the health of the congregation is the number of "CCC" (Confirmed, Communing, and Contributing) members; then, from that figure, the percentage of Confirmed members who are CCC and what percentage of CCC are represented by worship attendance.

Paul and Dave, how true of these precious, faithful saints.  One of my older shut-ins has been bedfast from a series of strokes for eleven years now; the first year she was mute, but once she regained her speech she began to ask me about how other folks on the prayer list were doing.  Her sons visit every day....they read the church bulletin and the newsletter to her cover to cover.  And Rod Ronneberg's "Brief Lessons" are prominently displayed on her bulletin board.  Would that the more able-bodied be so faithful-spirited!
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