Congregational Lay Leadership Initiative

We are very grateful for all of the ways in which retired NALC pastor Don Brandt enhances the ministry of Lutheran CORE.  He has an article in every issue of our bi-monthly newsletter.  In these articles he draws on his decades of ministry experience – both serving as pastor of a congregation and consulting with congregations – as well as his many years of research and writing.  We want Lutheran CORE to be a Network for Confessing Lutherans as well as a Voice for Biblical Truth.  We want to provide resources for pastors, lay people, church leaders, and congregations in addition to our work of alerting people to ways in which the historic, Biblical, confessional Christian faith is at risk. 

For several years Don has been providing a consulting service through the Congregations in Transition (CiT) ministry initiative.  Through this ministry he has worked with transition teams – both in situations where the pastor has already retired or resigned to take another call as well as in situations where the pastor has not yet left but soon will be leaving.  He has also worked with call committees in their search for a new pastor.  At this point Pastor Brandt has provided some level of coaching support for twenty-five congregations.  Twenty-one of these congregations are LCMC, three are ELCA, and one is dual-rostered. 

Pastor Brandt has also written powerfully about a dynamic that church leaders and congregational call committees are only too familiar with – the growing shortage of pastors available for call.  This shortage is reaching crisis proportions.

He has written convincingly about the need for many congregations – especially smaller and/or more remote congregations – to take seriously the fact that they might not be able to find another ordained pastor to call.  Instead they may need to transition to a lay-led ministry model in order for the congregation to be able to continue to exist and do God’s work. 

But Pastor Brandt is not just someone who will describe a problem.  He is also someone who will do something about the problem.  And even beyond that, he is someone who will develop a plan so that others also can become involved in doing something about the problem.

Here is a link to the Congregational Lay Leadership Initiative (CLI) page on our website.  Clicking on the link you will find such resources as a description of the concept, including frequently asked questions, as well as a list of steps that a congregation can take to identify, enlist, and train part-time lay ministers.

We are very grateful for the fact that LCMC and the NALC have a similar concern and are taking positive steps so that all congregations can have trained leaders.  It is going to take the best efforts of all of us to address this major concern.  

I frequently hear from congregations that are unable to find a pastor to call or that have found a retired pastor who is able and willing to come one or two times a month but then lay members provide worship leadership on the other Sundays.  We are very grateful to all retired pastors who are willing to serve – even if not every Sunday and even if serving means traveling a considerable distance.  And we thank God for the members of congregations who deeply love their Lord and their church so that they are willing to step up and lead worship and give the message.  I know that some people feel that these lay leaders should receive sufficient training so that they would be ordained.  But I know of situations where I believe that willing and capable lay leaders would be “scared off” if they knew that they would have to be ordained.  Then that congregation might have to close because of a lack of worship leadership. 

Please notice that the Congregational Lay Leadership Initiative (CLI) calls upon retired pastors who would be willing to come alongside of these lay ministers, meeting with them online once a month and providing ongoing counsel and support.  If you would be willing to consider being one of these mentor/coaches please let us know.  We have a document which will tell you more of what would be involved. 

March 2021 Newsletter

Send Me Your (Best) Sermons!

I have a soft spot in my heart for small congregations, congregations of any size in transition, and churches whose isolation and resources make it difficult to field an “emergency fill-in” pastor, much less an interim or called pastor. That’s one reason I compile hymn suggestions and write intercessory prayers, even though they are widely used by congregations of all sizes and staffing. Churches without a regular pastoral presence have enough to do without crafting prayers, selecting hymns to go with the appointed tests… or figuring out how the Word will be faithfully preached every week. That’s what I want to talk about now.

Yes, there are sermon resources online. They’re hit and miss. They may have great illustrations but lack theological “meat”. They may be unorthodox, at odds with classic Lutheran doctrine, or overly pedantic. The Board of Lutheran CORE hopes to provide a data base of solid, biblically faithful, and doctrinally orthodox sermons for congregations to download when the need arises. Maybe they’re house churches or are facing a long vacancy with few prospects for interim pastoral leadership. Don Brandt and his brilliant Congregations in Transition (CiT) initiative helps address some of the challenges such churches face. Or maybe the pastor took ill on a Saturday night and a supply preacher isn’t available. It’d be a blessing for them to have one place to search for good sermons to use: by Scripture, day in the church year, or topic.

So this is a call for pastors to help out congregations in such situations. I want your sermons! Please email them to

  Here are some basic criteria:

  1. When you submit a sermon, make a note at the beginning as to the main Scripture(s) referenced; the day in the church year/lectionary for which it is appropriate; and, if applicable, the general topic. That way we can cross reference sermons so they can be searched in several ways.
  2. Select sermons that you’d entrust to a layperson in your own congregation to preach if you couldn’t be there.
  3. No “First-person” sermons. They’re too unique to you.
  4. Similarly, be careful about mentioning situations or people that may be specific to your own congregation and difficult to modify to be of more general use. If a person’s situation, however, may be more universally shared, please change names to protect the innocent!
  5. Avoid using sermons that feature time-sensitive topics or express specific personal political beliefs. They don’t transport (or age) well.
  6. Sermons should be full manuscripts, not notes, lists, or talking points. Please check for, and correct, errors in grammar and spelling!
  7. If possible, sermons should take under 15 minutes to preach. Someone else will be using your words, style, and thoughts. That’s harder (mentally and physically), than using their own.
  8. I will edit very lightly: Grammar, spelling, factual errors, or the stray name of a parishioner (for privacy’s sake). If I think any other edits need to be made, I will ask your permission.
  9. Please don’t have your feelings hurt if a sermon doesn’t appear online. It may be a time factor and it’ll show up later. If I think a sermon is simply not suitable for use as per the criteria I’ve listed, I may ask you to either modify it or withdraw it. It does not mean I think it’s a bad sermon or you’re a bad preacher!

This is going to take some time to compile, organize, and put online. You can be selecting and submitting topical sermons immediately, as well as sermons from later in Cycle B (2nd half of Pentecost, year of Mark). But also start setting aside, editing, and submitting sermons that can be used in Cycle C (Year of Luke). I will try to give folks a heads-up when more contributions are needed. Again, please send stuff as Word documents to

Thank you!

Grateful Client’s Experience with CiT

Editor’s Note: Jody Ellingson is the former call committee chair and transition team member of American Lutheran Church (LCMC), Long Prairie, Minnesota. She wrote this unsolicited recommendation about the ministry of Lutheran CORE’s Congregation in Transition (CIT) program.

 It was bittersweet reading our pastor’s retirement announcement in the summer of 2019.  Pastor Bill had been the pastor at American Lutheran Church for over ten years and was deeply loved by our congregation.  We were certainly going to miss him!  However, we were also happy for him as he transitioned to the next chapter in his life.  In true Pastor Bill fashion, he set our church up for success as he prepared for his own departure.  Not only did he give our congregation an entire year’s notice before his retirement, he also set us up with CIT.

     When I was asked to join the Transition Team (and eventually the Call Committee), I was excited for the new opportunity, but naive about the process.  Honestly, up until that point in my life, I had never even heard the terms “call process” or “call committee.”  I grew up Catholic and Pastor Bill had been my only pastor since joining American Lutheran Church as an adult.  “What do you mean we have to find our own pastor?  Aren’t we just automatically sent a new one once Pastor Bill retires?”  Nope!  OK, so where do we even begin?  Thankfully, we had our CiT coach, Pastor Don Brandt, to guide us through the process.

     In the fall of 2019, Pastor Don made a trip to American Lutheran Church.  He spent the weekend setting us up for a successful transition and call process.  We held a meeting open to the congregation where he explained the current pastoral supply situation.  We discussed the future of our congregation, including the potential challenges and opportunities facing us during our transition.  Pastor Don then met with the Transition Team, where we dove deeper into the unique characteristics and needs of our congregation.  Over the next several weeks, the Transition Team held multiple conference calls with Pastor Don.  Together, we made a plan to keep all areas of our church ministry functioning during the transition between pastors.  We discussed CiT’s “Wish List” congregational survey results, which indicated the hopes and concerns of our members moving forward.  We also discussed the next steps to take in the call process.  The Transition Team then compiled all the information we gathered into a detailed report for the Call Committee and Church Council.  Pastor Don also provided specific step by step recommendations for the Call Committee to follow.  With all the background work complete, once the Call Committee was formed, we were able to hit the ground running.  We had already received materials from applicants by the time our Call Committee first met!  Even though, at this point, our scheduled calls with Pastor Don were complete, he still maintained close communication with our Call Committee.  He was available via email to answer any questions and to coach us through the call process.  

     We all remember March of 2020 and the difficulties the country faced as the pandemic brought our lives as we knew them to a halt.  As we were in the interview phase of the call process, the shutdown created a whole unique set of circumstances that we had never before encountered.  Words cannot express my gratitude for Pastor Don’s guidance and patience during this time.  His responses and advice were nothing less than thoughtful, thorough, and timely.  With CiT’s help we were able to overcome hurdles, forge ahead (although there were definitely delays) and find the pastor God already had in mind for our congregation.

     Should your congregation face a time of transition and a search for a new pastor, I cannot recommend enough the Congregations in Transition ministry.  What an amazing gift for taking an overwhelming transition process and breaking it down to specific, simplified steps.  I am so thankful we had CiT to guide us through our transition process!

Note regarding CiT assistance during Covid: As the pandemic is still presenting unique challenges for all of us, the CiT process is now entirely “at a distance.”  This involves Zoom meetings, conference phone calls and on-going email communications with “client” congregations.  The good news is that because of this congregations do not have any coach traveling costs to cover.  As a result, the only cost to your congregation is an initial $175 registration fee paid to Lutheran CORE.

Lutheran CORE’s CiT Coaching Ministry: Now Available in a Second Online Version

Congregations in Transition (CiT) coaching has always, from its beginning, been available as an expenses-only, volunteer coaching ministry. But CiT can now provide assistance even when a church finds the cost of an on-site visit by the coach to be an obstacle to its participation. This means that even small and geographically more isolated churches can now afford the services of a trained CiT coach. In fact, the only cost to a church taking advantage of this new online, distance-coaching version of CiT is the initial registration fee of $150 paid to Lutheran CORE.

This means months of coaching guidance—at virtually no cost—to help your congregational leaders navigate through what can be an extremely challenging time in the life of your church. And, in the case of LCMC churches, your CiT coach can advise you not only in the initial period following your pastor’s departure, but also in your search for your next pastor.

            So how can distance, online coaching make a difference for your church? Let me answer that question based on what I have discovered in working with congregations over this last year. I have found that effective coaching of transition teams can take place with conference phone calls, individual phone conversations, and through regular, on-going email communications. And I should not have been surprised. The professional coaching industry—whether church-related or secular—is based, in large part, on the model of online and phone communication, not face-to-face meetings. And unlike forty years ago, long-distance phone calls are free, and on-going written communication can be by email or text, not snail-mail.

            The primary key to making this kind of distance coaching effective is that individual phone calls, conference phone calls, and video conference meetings are based on written answers, from church leaders, to questions that have been provided by the coach in advance of each meeting. Then the answers to these questions are emailed back to the coach, and set the agenda for the subsequent meeting.

            But how does the coach become personally acquainted with transition team members when there is no on-site visit? Through an individual phone conversation with each team member. (Conversations—you guessed it—based on each team member’s responses to questions he/she has received in advance of that phone call.) Then, after these individual phone conversations, the first meeting of the entire team with the coach is by video conference. (Subsequent team sessions can be by conference phone call.)

            Through this kind of ministry your lay leaders can learn—from the coach—about the collective experiences of churches that have successfully addressed the challenges inherent in a period of transition. Additional information about Congregations in Transition can be found on the Lutheran CORE website.

            How can you inquire—before formally signing up—as to whether CiT can help your congregation? Simple. Contact me, CiT Director Don Brandt, either by phone or email. I hope to hear from you.

Dr. Don Brandt

Note: Recommendations and references are available from congregations working with CiT. Click here for more information on CiT.

January 2019 Newsletter

January 2019 Lutheran CORE Newsletter