Below is a recap of a discussion I guided as Counselor of the Raritan Cluster—it might be helpful for others.
“To recap for both those who were at today’s Raritan Cluster meeting and those who were not:
We started off with the premise that those things “that will make both ears of anyone who hears it tingle” (1 Samuel 3:11) included the centralization of worship and government (vs. the Prophetic Bands and Tribal Judges tradition) and that the Israel that existed before Samuel was extremely different than the Israel that existed after Samuel. These changes were a mixed bag—God was no longer King, a civil war transpired, the Levitical Priests living outside of Jerusalem starved, Israel was more politically stable, etc.
From there we thought a bit about trends and changes we’ve experienced and where they may be going. What a before and after Samuel world could be for the ELCA and our congregations in particular. Here are the three categories we mainly looked at:
Disestablishment of the Church—Being a good citizen in America doesn’t mean being a good Christian in the minds of most people
--We’ve all ran into the problem of kids playing sports, this is a symptom of disestablishment; now being a soccer mom is just as much a sign of being a good American as being a Christian.
--Additionally, in the future this may change our not for profit tax status. Being taxed will shock us into thinking anew about being a community attached to a building.
--The good news is we no longer have to “play nice.” The Church is freed from the shackles of respectability…
--for example, when I first started Pub Theology one person asked, “What will people say?” “No one will say anything, being part of a church that meets in a bar won’t push you into society’s margins.” They followed up, “You might as well be in a brothel.” I was able to respond, “You know of a brothel in town? Point me in that direction, they need to hear about Jesus!”
Decentralization—Small groups of people without anyone in charge can now influence the world
--Two examples of decentralized systems would be Terrorist cells and the internet
--Thinking about what the internet does, in addition to being decentralized it is also semi-anonymous and depersonalized, which makes people crabby and hurtful… congregations are often non-anonymous and highly personal, that can be valued in an internet world.
--Decentralization often delegitimizes central authorities, these include: the Church writ large, Pastors, and denominational loyalty.
--It also gives us new mediums for preaching the gospel, for example small groups and putting sermons and songs on YouTube.
Demographics—America is changing both racially and economically
--Lutherans are often an ethnic club with a religious grounding… when we come to grips with the fact that there are no new immigrants from “the old country” coming, we can focus on what makes us uniquely Lutheran—hint isn’t not the Lutfisk or the bratwurst.
--The ELCA tends to draw members from the “Middle Class”… but in the last two decades what it means to be Middle Class has changed—less manufacturing jobs, more student debt, the necessity of two incomes, etc… the middle class is being squeezed and so is the ELCA… the time and money of middle class people is in short supply, the Church is lacking both of them. Perhaps this will allow us to take the cries of the poor more seriously, being that we are beginning to feel the bite of what they have for so long been mauled by?”