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 22 Stephen P. Bouman, executive


director of ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission, said “a direct correlation [exists] between congre- gations that see themselves as dying and the loss of their connection to their communities.” He echoed Erickson’s conviction


that communities are changing as the world changes. “When our churches remain impervious to the changes around us,” Bouman said, “we lose a sense of mission and, therefore, a sense of hope.”


Listen to neighbors But the situation is far from hopeless. “I’ve seen churches that were so- called ‘dying congregations’ blossom when they took the time to listen to their neighbors, to create and renew relationships to their communi- ties, and to respond to what they’ve learned,” he said.


Inskeep thinks pastors and congre- gations should emphasize engaging the community, citing the importance of what he called “the Lutheran voice” in proclaiming the gospel in diverse neighborhoods, especially among young people. “We know con- gregations grow if they have a strong sense of mission,” he said. An awareness of community is highly significant from Hirsch’s per- spective as well. Congregations need to get reacquainted with the people they’re called to serve, not making assumptions about what community members need. In other words, they need to view the situation with the sensitivity of a missionary. “We need to stop kidding our- selves,” Bouman said. “What we’re doing may be faithful and beautiful and probably is, but if [the church] doesn’t connect beyond its own membership, if it doesn’t in some way make a winsome invitation to this culture, we’re going to continue to struggle.”


24 The Lutheran • www.thelutheran.org How are pastors and other rostered


leaders affected by these struggles? “There is no doubt that [rostered] leaders and congregational viability are intertwined,” said Allan C. Bjorn- berg, bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod and chair of the ELCA Con- ference of Bishops. “But that doesn’t mean a healthy leader can magically transform a congregational culture that is not viable or doesn’t want to change.”


Erickson said, “Being a pastor in this changing world is hard work. Many pastors believe they were trained to serve a church that doesn’t exist anymore.” Traditionally pastors were educated to be a “theologian-in- residence,” to care for and maintain existing congregations rather than to engage in congregational transforma- tion, he added. “There are those who find the challenges invigorating,” Erick- son said, “and they work hard to fashion new ministry objectives, to seek out training and wisdom from others. [Other pastors, however], end up feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.”


Erickson cited his first 13 years of


ministry serving two small congrega- tions struggling with viability issues. “I can recall often feeling like there was simply too much to do,” he said, “trying to maintain and minister to the existing congregation, trying to reach out and create something new, all the while trying to maintain some balance and pay attention to family and home life.”


For his part, Hirsch talked about pastors struggling with all these issues while facing their own finan- cial struggles. The newly ordained are the most impacted, he said, “because they’re trained in a system that often leaves people with thou- sands of dollars worth of debt and the decreasing likelihood of a full-time call that will pay enough to realisti-


cally retire those debts.” Because of such concerns, the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod now talks about finances with students as they enter the candidacy process—and about the possibility of more bi-vocational pastors when those same seminarians are ready for ordination. That’s just one of the ways in which the synod reaches out to struggling pastors and congrega- tions. Hirsch spends most of his time responding directly to calls for help. He provides an assessment tool to determine which of a number of resources will be the most helpful for the congregation’s situation, then he helps parishioners develop an action plan.


Annual themes help


Another way in which the synod sup- ports struggling congregations and pastors is the development of annual themes.


The 2011 theme is “To See Our-


selves As Others Do,” emphasiz- ing what it’s like for newcomers to attend worship. The theme launch at the annual synodwide leadership event in January included present- ing approaches churches can take so worship isn’t the first place they interact with newcomers. Other ideas included developing teams of “mys- tery worshipers” and recruiting visi- tors from the community. The hope, Hirsch said, is that by


the time of the spring synod assembly one or two congregations will be able to report on their success in using the approaches.


This synod isn’t the only one intentionally providing support to struggling congregations and pastors. The St. Paul Area Synod’s Mission Renewal Process came about as part of Erickson’s work in the doctor of ministry program at Luther Semi-


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