Recently I participated in the installations of two new pastors who were called to serve churches set in very different contexts. One was a thriving congregation in an affluent suburb, the other was a new mission start in an eclectic urban neighborhood.
Both of these installation services were distinct and wonderful. Still, each shared a common, clear statement that the call of these pastors came from the “whole church” – that is, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America through its three expressions. For Lutherans, this “three-fold” understanding of the church is foundational to our life together as the body of Christ.
For Lutherans, a “three-fold” understanding of the church is foundational to our life together as the body of Christ.
Of course this is not news to most of you who will read this post! But if you’re like me, you may have lost sight of this connectedness a time or two – like when you are in a church finance meeting wondering how you’re going to make ends meet, or when you’re planning an outreach event and wishing you had more volunteer resources to pull it off, or when you want to renew your worship experience but don’t quite know how to do it.
God calls us to serve and “go deep” in a particular context, but we are not called to do this service alone. I like how succinctly our ELCA website describes our life together: “Since our beginning in 1988, the ELCA has been one church body organized in three expressions — congregations, synods, and the churchwide organization. Each expression has its particular functions but all three together share a common mission of doing God’s work in the world and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.”
AT OUR BEST, LIKE nutrients flowing through the vital systems of our human bodies, life-giving resources flow freely throughout our three expressions. Financial offerings, prayers, leadership training, justice-seeking efforts, and faith development resources all work together to strengthen and support the building up of this body – all for the sake of sharing Christ’s love with the world.
This is the season of annual meetings, election of new Church Councils, the beginning of new fiscal years, and a renewed sense of purpose as the people of God in our unique contexts. As you review your congregation’s Annual Report you will find (hopefully!) reports from Bishop Svennungsen, Presiding Bishop Eaton, and possibly other ministry partners from across the larger church. Let those be a reminder and an encouragement that you are not alone, that we are the body of Christ together for the sake of the world!