Lehr, J. Fred. Becoming a 21st-Century Church: A Transformational Manual. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017. 88 pages, paperback.
Richard K. Klafehn
Writers such as Phyllis Tickle identified the need for the church to adapt to the significant cultural shifts of this era. However, congregations and their leaders often do not acknowledge, understand, or accept them. Consequently 80% of the congregations across mainline Christianity are stagnant or dying.
J. Fred Lehr wrote this clear and helpful guide to illumine the cultural shifts and how the emerging 21st century church may respond and yet be faithful to the Gospel. Based on personal research and 45 years of ordained ministry, including 5 interim pastor positions, Lehr seeks to help leaders find real and practical applications for their setting.
The 11 chapters have discussion questions at the end, so that adult study groups, congregation councils, or vision and strategic mission planning teams may read it together and find directions suitable for their mission context.
After “500 years of a sola Scriptura church,” Lehr writes, “the new authority of the church is now the Holy Spirit. The key question now is not what is in the book, but where is the Holy Spirit leading the church?” (pp. 5-6) Lehr names the shift as from sola Scriptura to sola Spiritus.
The 21st century church will be more relational and less didactic: focused on knowing Jesus and one another on our faith journeys, rather than about Jesus, the Bible, or catechism.
The 21st century church will be flexible rather than uniform, provide experiences of the Holy through worship, community service, and outreach, open ended, and responsive to the needs of the community and beyond.
The role of clergy shifts from resident theologian or expert to companion on the spiritual journey.
The 21st century church will see itself less as “institution” with a focus on policies, constitution, bylaws, and the like. The church will seek to be more a “movement”, people in action together, alive, driven to make a difference for the cause of Jesus. “Orthodoxy”, knowing and believing the right stuff, is not as important as “orthopraxy”, living rightly what is said to be believed.
Lehr’s third chapter offers a “Spiritual Life Survey” for congregation members to assess their own spiritual maturity. Lehr charts four levels of spiritual maturity based on the New Testament. The first level is “crowd religion”. The 21st century church, Lehr says, will challenge individuals to step out of the crowd and become disciples. Discipleship, however, is only the beginning of the journey to spiritual maturity.
The final chapter offers a practical step-by-step process for implementation. Given the state of unrelenting violence and tragic mass shootings in our country, the title of step 6, “Ready-Fire-Aim” is regrettable and poorly chosen. Lehr’s worthy goal, though, is for congregations to be willing to make changes, experiment with new ministries, and even fail.
How is the 21st century church faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? The church will continue to offer the good news that we are already saved by Jesus, hope, conditional love, and an open future that does not depend on one’s past. The church will continue to keep the main thing the main thing (Steven Covey) and be excited and faithful to the gospel of Jesus.
How do you enter a new congregation quickly? My personal method is the “25 Interviews” Approach.
It includes my normal research, reading ten years of Annual Reports and ten years of Council minutes. Then, at an early Council meeting, I announce my plan to visit a representative sample of about twenty-five families, old, young, new, old, etc. I request Council’s assistance in suggesting families to visit. For each family suggested, I ask whether council would rank that family as a priority A, B or C. I usually have a prioritized list of suggested families (priority A, B, or C) within about 30 to 40 minutes. I add or subtract names later as that seems advisable.
I make an appointment with the 25 families I’ve selected, either at their home (preferred) or in the church. My interview consists of only two questions (which I tell them in advance if they ask.) Question #1 is “Tell me about yourself,” i.e., getting to know each other. Question #2 is “Tell me about St. Nowhere’s.” I schedule two hours. The interviews average about 90 minutes, although some are shorter and some go much longer. I can usually complete all 25 interviews within about 4 – 6 weeks.
My goal is to hear from the members themselves how they perceive their church, because I don’t want to depend on possibly biased sources of information, such as the previous pastor. (I speak with the pastor after the 25 interviews.) During the interviews, I try to keep my mouth shut (really!), because one key piece of information is what subjects they choose to voluntarily bring up. I sometimes refer to this as “taking the emotional temperature of the congregation.”
I’ve found this method to be very helpful. It’s fast and it provides me with face time with key members of the congregation, which usually includes most movers and shakers. By the end of the 25 interviews (and my reading), I have a fairly good idea of the emotional mood of the congregation and what’s on their minds, as well as face-to-face relationships with most of the key players. Of course, that’s when the difficult work begins!
Rev. Richard A. Mathisen is an Intentional Interim Pastor in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod ELCA, where he has served 12 congregations in 16 years. He also serves on the board of the Interim Ministry Association of the ELCA (IMA-ELCA).
|Three things to bring to your attention:
1. The current NALIP training schedule is on our website. The Basic Education for Intentional Interim Ministry classes currently are scheduled for the NorthEast Ohio Synod at Stow, Ohio and Concordia Seminary in St. Louis in April and the East Central Synod of Wisconsin in September. The annual training at Luther Seminary will start October 29. Registration information about each of these venues is on the NALIP website. Please share this information with others you think have interest and skills for intentional interim ministry. We will add information on our website about other training sites as soon as they are finalized. Meanwhile, if you think your synod or district might be interested in hosting a training event, contact the NALIP office.
2. The NALIP annual conference information is on our website. Consider attending this great annual event. We will meet June 21-22 at the Sheraton Westport Hotel, St Louis, MO. Join us and presenter Dr. Israel Galindo as we explore the theme: Perspectives on Congregational Leadership. The Conference Planning Committee is working on the final details of the conference. We look forward to another successful gathering. Book your room early to insure the conference hotel rate.
3. The future of NALIP will be a topic of discussion at the conference. At the 2017 conference the annual meeting directed the Coordinating Council to move forward to implement the recommendations of the Membership and Governance Task Force. This year we will seek final approval of the process and lay out remaining details for the changes in name, membership and other details.
Thanks for your interest in Intentional interim Ministry.
Rev. Ken Ruppar
Executive Director – NALIP
What is a Large Congregation
To help accomplish a deeper understanding of the large congregation I found two books that were helpful. First, there is Inside the Large Congregation. Through her work, Susan Beaumont identifies five basic leadership systems that need to be in alliance for the large church to work in a healthy way: (1) clergy leadership roles; (2) staff team design and function; (3) governance and board function; (4) acculturation and the role of laity; (5) forming and executing strategy. She observes that problems in a large congregation are often linked to the fact that one or more of the five systems is inappropriately structured for the size of the congregation. In other words, the church is not acting its size. Beaumont is invested in helping large congregations ‘right size’ their leadership systems to better serve their ministry context.
The second book is When Moses Meets Aaron written by Gilbert Rendle and Susan Beaumont. As leaders of staff teams, senior clergy must play the dual role of both the visionary and the detail-oriented leader if the large congregations are to flourish. They need to be skilled with the tools of human resources and can set a vision that motivates both staff and congregation.
Five Basic Leadership Systems
How well does an area parish keep in alliance the five basic leadership systems? Not very well. The area parish often comprised of small congregations is suddenly transformed into a large congregation. This is a quantum leap and the area parish is certain to right size down to a small congregation. The attendance in the area parish starts with worshiping over 250 on a week end now after eight years is worshiping under a 120. The same drastic decline occurs with the offering plate. At one time the offering is annually around $250,000 has right sized to around $150,000. The clergy leadership was at one point a lead/senior with one or two associates is now down to one fulltime and one part-time clergy. How did this happen?
Some of the challenges for serving area churches involve the distance pastors drive to offer ministry. Monthly church council meetings and annual congregational meetings consume a lot of time and can number in the 50’s and 60’s annually. The churches at one time had a pastor for each congregation, now have fewer pastors and yet, the expected workload has not changed. Every congregation wants the pastor to visit and bring communion to all their home bound, shut-ins and nursing homes. With aging congregations, the number of funerals is normally greater than the number of weddings. The result is obvious, overworked clergy and staff.
 Susan Beaumont, Inside the Large Congregation (Herndon, Va.: Alban Institute, 2011, (Kindle Location 153).