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n intern pastor asked me if I thought his home congregation held as many people with stories of such profound broken- ness as does ours. Not knowing the other congregation, I couldn’t make any compari- sons. But I told our intern that those who serve in pastoral roles are in a unique position to learn people’s stories. And our congrega- tion is good at attracting people whose lives have had their fair share of messiness. Becoming aware of the overwhelming brokenness in our community is something that happened along the way. It developed as we worked hard to create an environment in which the truth about our lives could be told. Have you ever been part of a commit-

tee charged with outreach or evangelism? Often when we congregational leaders talk about reaching out beyond the walls of our buildings, we immediately jump to possible events and programs. That’s unfortunate, as this can overshadow the need for deeper dialogue about the ambience of a community of faith.

Unlike shows on the Home and Garden

Our congregation’s welcome rests in the theology of the cross

By Bill Uetricht

Uetricht is pastor of First Lutheran Church, Muskegon, Mich. Read his blog at

18 The Lutheran •

Television network, congregational ambi- ence isn’t about candles and throw pillows— something to be planned, programmed or measured in a verifiable kind of way. Yet it is real. Newcomers sense a congregation’s ambience when they gather with the com- munity. They sense an ambience marked by anxiety and control, as much as they sense an ambience of freedom and joy. What visi- tors sense and experience helps determine whether they want to return. For Lutheran congregations, God’s gen- erosity (justification by grace through faith) centered in a theology of the cross shapes

our ambience and culture. As members of Christ’s body, we are called to reflect the generosity, radical hospitality, authenticity and vulnerability Christ first showed us. As congregational leaders, our discussions should center not on programs or events but on how those we serve are being shaped by the generous God we meet in the crucified Jesus. Sound a bit too lofty for you? Actually, it’s not. An ambience of hospi-

tality, authenticity and vulnerability can help our congregations receive real people whose lives reflect real brokenness.

The church is a hospital for sinners seeking true health and healing, not a country club for people who have it all together. Our ambience lets people know truth-telling is something we are free to do as disciples of the crucified one. Telling the truth about our questions, struggles, pasts, what



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