Two Elephants (and a Mastodon) in the Sanctuary

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Paul Raabe recently identified six “elephants in the room” confronting our Lutheran denomination today. He closed the post asking what elephants readers see in the room.

For Christianity in America, here are three additional pachyderms in the sanctuary.

The Secular Worldview of Americans

This is the mastodon overshadowing the elephants. A “worldview” is the pattern of beliefs, ideas, convictions and behaviors that help us make sense of the world around us. It shapes attitudes, guides decisions and motivates behaviors.

I believe the American worldview is formed more by the culture than Christ, shaped more by society than Scripture. The secular philosophy of society is the dominate influence on Christians and non-Christians alike.

This may explain why non-Christians in America are so resistant to the Holy Spirit. It largely explains why Christians in America are deeply divided, as was noted by Raabe.

Addressing this challenge is a daunting task. The most potent resource available is God’s Word. So addressing Raabe’s elephant of biblical illiteracy will be key. First and foremost, this is an issue of sanctification and discipleship.

Creating a “Sending Culture” in Churches

Raabe observes that Americans no longer value participating in churches. This elephant has a twin: Churches must learn how to send out members to love their neighbors as Christ loves them.

Sending has a powerful biblical basis (Matthew 10:5-15, Luke 10:1-12, John 20:19-23). There are a number of ways to accomplish this.

  • Preach and teach themes that lend themselves to “sending.” Preach a series of sermons on Christian vocation. Teach on the Mission of God. Create devotions on people in the Bible whom God sent according to His purpose, such as Abram and Jesus and Paul.
  • Connect with the community by partnering with established local organizations. Volunteer in local parks. Serve in area social agencies. Tutor in neighborhood schools.
  • Start a ministry away from the church that meets community needs. Yesterday I visited with New Hope Lutheran Church in Licking County, OH, which is opening a storefront in the heart of downtown Newark, OH. This will both provide a place for Christians to engage in God’s mission and space to connect with unchurched people.

Funding Churches

This elephant is often allowed to stand still and silent in the room, ignored until it’s too late. The financial landscape for churches has dramatically changed the past three generations.

At one time, churches received an overwhelming percentage of charitable donations in America. Today non-profits other than churches receive hundreds of millions of dollars in donations.

The Baby-boomer generation questioned giving to institutions. “Generation X,” started giving to causes as well as churches. Millennials overwhelmingly give to causes. Church leaders, I assure you, these last two generations don’t see the offering plate as a “cause”.

Ministry costs, from utilities to worker benefits, have outstripped member giving.

Professional church workers struggle with excessive student loan debt. Pairing financially struggling churches with financially strapped church worker places both at risk.

Churches are testing a number of solutions for these problems.

  • Church leaders are learning to be more transparent with how funds are spent, including explaining how financial gifts tie to church’s purpose and mission.
  • Electronic giving in churches is increasing.
  • More and more churches are funding outreach and human care ministry through direct giving.
  • Endowment funds are keeping a percent of churches afloat financially.
  • Churches are starting to use social enterprises to help fund church ministry.

What elephants do you see in the sanctuary? Note your observations in the comments section or shoot me an email.

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3 thoughts on “Two Elephants (and a Mastodon) in the Sanctuary

  1. Emergenetics (https://www.emergenetics.com/) is a new player in this arena. They focus on thinking and behavioral preferences, merging aspects of the MBTI and DISC. I’ve also found the StrengthsFinder and Enneagram to be helpful as well. Thanks for the reminder that the DISC can change as my scores seem to change each time I take it.

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  2. I think a lack of emphasis on prayer also plays into all this, which may be related to resistance to the Holy Spirit. Take away the chapter break between Matthew 9:38-39 and 10:1ff; is the sending an answer to the disciples praying as Jesus told them to?

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    1. I agree that the lack of emphasis on prayer plays a role. As for the transition between Matthew 9 and Matthew 10, I’ll give it a deeper look. It is intriguing that 9:37 refers to disciples in general, where 10:1 is specifically instruction to the twelve.

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