The Ministry Challenges We Face in 2024

Consider the contrasting good news and not-so-good news ministry challenges that are confronting many of our congregations in 2024:

Good News: Many local churches have now been blessed by the return of members to in-person worship services now that the pandemic is over.

Not-so-good News: A great many of our congregations have nevertheless experienced a significant decrease in overall weekly in-person worship attendance when compared to 2019; i.e., before the pandemic.

Good News: Many smaller congregations are in good financial shape; benefiting from the generosity of  the active Boomers who make up a majority of their membership.

Not-so-good News: These aging Boomers will not remain active indefinitely.  And there are very few Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Z members to take their place; whether as generous givers or volunteers.

Good News: Both the LCMC and NALC are continuing to attract new congregations.  The NALC now has a total of 500 congregations, and the LCMC is now made up of almost 1,000 churches.  (75 of these churches belong to both the NALC and LCMC.)

Not-so-good News: A significant percentage of these new congregations have been dealing with extended pastoral vacancies.  Some of them are joining, in part, in the unrealistic expectation that they will now have an easier time finding and calling their next pastor.    

Good News: Most LCMC and NALC congregations are aware of how important it is for them to prioritize and pursue the Great Commission.  As a result, their congregational leaders are both aware of the importance of reaching out to the unchurched, and are motivated to take action.

Not-so-good news: Effective congregational outreach and evangelism is actually more challenging now than in the past.  The reasons include…

1. The on-going and increasing secularization of American culture; a process that has only accelerated with the advent and ubiquitousness of social media.

2. The politicization of so many American congregations in a time of unprecedented levels of divisive and partisan political conflict.  Many congregations have been dealing with controversial political and social conflicts that have directly led to significant internal conflict.  Of pastors who admit to considering leaving the ministry, 38% said that “current political divisions” were one important factor.

3. The growing percentage of Americans who claim they have no religious affiliation.  Gallup has asked about religious affiliation going all the way back to 1950, when more than 90% of respondents identified as Christian.  In 2012 it was 77%.  In 2023 it was 68%.

     However, I would like to conclude with some extra good news as you and your congregation plan for the immediate future.

Most of you belong to church bodies—like the LCMC and NALC—which adhere to and advocate for basing our Christian identity on the centrality of Scripture.  As a result, your pastors and congregational leaders don’t need to make apologies for being part of a national church body that has based its primary identity more on secular causes than on the Great Commission.

While our culture has indeed become increasingly secular, and fewer people identify as Christians, many unchurched Americans are in almost desperate need of the kind of supportive and loving community that the local church—your church—can provide.  The need of many unchurched Americans to be a part of a caring community is now greater than ever.  The pandemic became a profound reminder, to millions of Americans, that they have been living lives characterized by loneliness and social isolation.  This presents an amazing opportunity for local churches to incarnate the love of Jesus Christ for the isolated and hurting people living in their local communities. 

So consider challenging yourself and the individual members of your congregation to pursue these three simple steps:

A. To each think of an unchurched friend (or acquaintance) living in your local community.  Begin to meet regularly with this person; walking alongside him/her as he/she faces the challenges of life.  This is primarily a listening ministry, and learning to ask the right questions as a way of bonding over time.

B. When the time is right, invite your friend to visit your congregation on a Sunday.  Offer to pick your friend up on that first Sunday.  And give two or three of your church friends (and the pastor) a “heads-up”, letting them know you are bringing a first-time visitor.

C. In this role you will essentially become your congregation’s ambassador for Christ to this new friend (and now visitor).  You will be the one to not only assure your friend’s welcome on that first Sunday; you will also increase the odds that he/she will be assimilated and discipled by the members of your congregation.

D. One more thing: Even if the new friend is unwilling to visit, do not end the relationship.  Keep getting together, even if this becomes a solo ministry on your part.  Ultimately it’s not necessarily about membership; it’s about discipleship.

Pastor Don Brandt

Congregations in Transition

The Congregational Lay-leadership Initiative

March for Life and Y4Life Conference in January!

The NALC Life Ministries team is once again preparing for the March for Life in Washington D.C. this January, but our plan is a little different. Instead of holding a life conference, NALC Life has decided to team up with Lutherans for Life (LFL) and participate in their events at the March! Their youth conference, Y4Life, will be held at the Hilton Crystal City Hotel from Thursday, January 18th, 2024 through Saturday, January 20th, 2024 and it has over 400 kids already registered. Click here to register. We encourage all our Lutheran youth to participate in this conference.

On Friday, January 19th we will be once again participating in the March for Life under the NALC banner, and I hope you can join us at 12th and Madison Sts., N.W at noon as we march to the U.S. Capitol. Before the march there is a prayer service at DAR Constitution Hall 1776 D St. NW (18th and D St.) Washington, DC 20006 starting at 8:30am. All our Lutheran friends are invited to attend this service and our clergy are invited to participate (stoles are white). If you have any problems at the march, please contact Pastor Dennis Di Mauro at (703) 568-3346. Pastor Di Mauro can also host you in his home if you would like to stay overnight in DC. We can’t wait to see you in our nation’s capital this January!!

Image courtesy of Pr. Dennis Di Mauro (blue hat)

In Faith

“We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.” 2 Thessalonians 1:3

The congregation of St. Paul located in Pensacola, Florida began the discernment process of leaving the ELCA in 2018. We had the 2nd vote to leave the Florida-Bahamas (FB) Synod of the ELCA in 2019. We expected some challenges in leaving because of the small group of members who wanted to remain in the ELCA. The congregation voted with a super-majority to leave the FB Synod. St. Paul applied to and joined the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) in 2020. Shortly after being received into the NALC, the congregation council received a letter from the FB Synod informing us that we could not leave.

The congregation council of that period were faithful in their commitment to Christ. They had a strength in faith that was unwavering. It proved to be a blessing for us as the FB Synod attempted to stop the people of God from leaving. To resolve the issue of St. Paul leaving the ELCA, the congregation council filed a motion in court. This was to maintain our rights to the building and the financials of St. Paul. During the legal process, letters with false statements were sent to the church members of St. Paul (NALC). Slanderous statements were made against the council and me. The ugliness of letters from the FB Synod showed a lack of Christian love for others and did not speak the truth of the intentions within the ELCA. The object of the ELCA was and I believe still is to “suppress the truth” of what they are doing or what they have done. We had suggested that the majority (us) and the minority (them) could share the building. But that was met with another ugly response. The Bishop of the FB Synod stated in words like these: Any other denomination but the NALC would have been okay. But not the NALC.

Eventually after many legal disputes the FB Synod Bishop filed a summary of judgment with the claim of ecclesiastical hierarchy. Taking the matter away from the civil court and giving it back to the FB Synod to make the final determination. The ruling gave our building, bank accounts, and endowment funds to the FB Synod and the small group of people who wanted to stay in the ELCA.

This could have been crushing for us if it were not for “faith.” Instead, the ruling of the judge based on the ecclesiastical hierarchy was freeing! Shortly after we lost everything to the ruling, God founded a new name for us. Led by the Spirit, Epiphany Lutheran Church became our new name. In 2021 we sought and found a new location for worship. I was introduced to Rabbi Tokajer in September, and we began worshipping at the Synagogue on Nov. 7, 2021.

In faith we left the building in Pensacola for a new beginning. With our vision clear and our faith steadfast in Christ, we began rebuilding and evangelizing for God’s church in the new location. With little financial stability we stepped out. In our faith journey, we didn’t think about what was lost. Instead, we recognized how much God was providing.

I encourage pastors discerning their call to contact the General Secretary of the NALC. The threats from the ELCA that place fear into individual pastors is nothing more than evil. If you want to remain faithful to the Word of God, I encourage you to place your assurance in Christ not the ELCA. The letters I received informed me that I was nothing without their endorsement. The ELCA didn’t call me into ministry. God called me into the ministry of Word and Sacrament. What about my pension and medical benefits? Have faith! As God is my witness, this question came to my mind too. It was a fleeting thought as I discerned the call to serve in faithfulness. 

In March of 2023, I spoke to the congregation about our faith walk. I referred to the summary of judgment and the loss of our assets and property. In the message of faith I said, “We lost everything for the sake of Christ.” It is in this loss that we found out just how strong and faith filled we were. As I’ve said many times, “It’s easy to have faith when everything is going well in your life.” With the help of God, we’ve grown in number, in spirit, and in faithfulness. Like the letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, we lift up the church and all those who continue their journey in “faith.” We share the love of Christ with new believers and all visitors at Epiphany Pensacola. All are welcome to experience the love and joy of Christ in worship.

As I am writing this article it just dawned on me that on Nov. 7, 2023, when we break ground on a new church building it will be our 2nd anniversary of this new start congregation in Pensacola, Florida. God has blessed us with generous financial support for the church property. The mission and ministry have been financially supported by several NALC churches. We’ve received domestic mission partnerships from other NALC churches. The congregation has grown, and the people of God have been generous in supporting the mission and ministry of Christ. Losing everything for the sake of the Gospel has been transformational to the members of Epiphany Pensacola.   

Faithfully Serving,

The Rev. Dr. Franklin J. Gore

Epiphany Lutheran Church


“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

Photos courtesy of Brenda Ekstrom and Donna Busarow.

The Creeds Don’t “Sparkle”

Note from our Executive Director: Many thanks to Kevin Haug, ELCA pastor in Texas, for his article about the Sparkle creed.  This so-called “creed” has received a lot of attention and stimulated a lot of discussion since its recent use during a worship service in an ELCA congregation in Minnesota.  We should all be alarmed over the way in which this statement rejects Biblical teaching and orthodox theology in its promoting the LGBTQ agenda and transgender ideology.  We are saddened but not surprised as we read of many ELCA pastors who are praising it as a way to connect the Christian faith with life today.  We are also saddened but not surprised by the total silence of ELCA leaders about it. 

“Pastor, what are we going to do about this?”

Those words were spoken by one of my octogenarians after she heard two news stories about the “Sparkle creed,” a statement that received national attention because of its use at an ELCA Lutheran Church in Minnesota.  The congregation recited it at worship, posted the video online, and it went viral.

The “Sparkle creed” has actually been around for a year or two, but it was not until conservative news sites and blogs discovered it that it caused a bit of an uproar, and that uproar is not without merit.  However, care needs to be taken when addressing this issue. I will attempt to show why.

First, let me define creed as a statement of belief.

In a very real way, everyone has a creed of some sort.  Individuals have creeds. Organizations have creeds. Individual congregations have creeds.  In fact, many biblical scholars say that the first creed was quite simple: Jesus is Lord. Those three words actually led to the death of Christians who would not say the Roman creed: Caesar is Lord.  

Because everyone has a creed, one could argue that having a creed is actually a neutral concept.  People believe all sorts of things. That they believe them is undisputed and neutral, but what they believe can be problematic and either good or bad. For instance, if I believe that all human beings are endowed by their Creator with fundamental rights, then that is a creedal statement.  And I would happily argue that it is a good creedal statement for various reasons.  Someone could hold a different position: that human beings are not endowed with rights from a Creator, but that governments decide what rights a person should or should not have. I would argue that this isn’t a very good position to take, but that doesn’t prevent some nations and people from holding it.  

To change positions literally requires a conversion process as many, if not most, creedal beliefs are actually statements of faith not statements of science.  For instance, science is practiced by using the scientific method: state a hypothesis; test and measure to see if the hypothesis holds water; formulate a theory; test the theory repeatedly.  Is the scientific method a true way of getting knowledge? Well, you have to assume that it is.  You have to trust that it is.  You cannot test the scientific method by using the scientific method.  Philosophers call this circular reasoning. Trusting that the scientific method is an accurate way of obtaining knowledge is a creedal belief. It is a deep, foundational belief, but it is a belief none-the-less, and one does not change those sorts of beliefs easily.

Which brings us to the Creeds of the Church, and I am intentionally capitalizing the letter C on both of those words. There is a reason for this as I shall get into shortly.

Within the Christian Church, there are three, recognized, orthodox Creeds: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, and what you need to realize about these statements of faith is this: these Creeds were recognized by the whole Church as true affirmations of the Christian faith.  They were based in Scripture. They were developed over time or argued over or carefully thought through. They were not put together in a pastor’s office to make a particular group or segment of society feel welcomed or accepted.

In general, they were written to stomp out heresy. They were written to unify a divided Church. They were written to solidify and codify what the Church believed about God the Father, Christ the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  And as such, they are not to be trifled with.

Imagine for a minute if you will, gathering with a group of Christians circa 250 A.D. You are in hiding because Christianity is still not a recognized religion of the Roman Empire. It is the Easter Vigil, the time that it has become traditional for converts to be baptized into the faith. As the baptismal liturgy begins, the presider looks into the eyes of the converts. He begins addressing them and asks them three questions: Do you believe in God the Father? Do you believe in God the Son? Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? And the converts begin reciting what they have been taught about who God is; who Jesus is; and who the Holy Spirit is. These statements have come together over decades of persecution and trial. Speaking them would immediately set these converts apart from the dominant culture and could lead to arrest and persecution.  Such is the nature of the Apostles’ Creed.

Or consider a church divided by various sects all claiming to represent the one true faith. Yet, those beliefs are contradictory at times. Some are not grounded in scripture. Some are off the charts. What does it mean to be a Christian? What are the foundational beliefs? Is this world truly, totally evil? Does only the spiritual count? Was Jesus indeed fully human and fully divine or a really good human being only adopted by God and infused with the divine Spirit?  What do you Christians truly believe? And bishops from far and wide gather to hammer such things out.  They consult deeply with the scriptures; argue their points vehemently and passionately; and put together a statement of faith which declares: this is it.  These are the non-negotiables. It is accepted by the church council and has stood the test of time for centuries. Such is the nature of the Nicene Creed.

The “Sparkle creed” shares none of this history. It was written for entirely different reasons and has not even come close to being vetted by the whole Christian Church on earth.  In fact, the majority of the Christian Church on earth would outright reject it. 

Therefore, it follows, that it has no standing to replace the Creeds in worship.

I mean: if someone wants to say that they adhere to the “Sparkle creed,” then they can personally say that they believe exactly what is in that statement. If a congregation wants to go so far as to use this creed in worship, then they are free to do so, but I strongly believe it should be introduced as a statement of that individual congregation, not of the Christian Church–it is not “the faith of the Church, the faith in which we baptize.” 

For to use it in such a manner is to actually separate one’s self and congregation from the global Church.  It is to become myopic and rather self-centered. Arguably, it is creating one’s own personal faith and religion—dare I say one’s own god.

And yes, I am quite aware that I belong to a denomination whose founder separated himself and then many congregations from the larger Church body of the time. The irony is not lost on me; however, Luther didn’t mess with the Creeds.  He affirmed them and what they stood for repeatedly. He didn’t tinker with the Creeds or try to change them for he never wanted to split with the Church of Rome.  These statements of belief were not up for negotiation or reformation. They were good “as is.”

They still are. They are meant to hold us together despite our disagreements on secondary issues. Trying to put “sparkle” in them only causes more division.

Leave the Creeds alone.

ELCA Moves In and Takes Over

In my Summer Letter from the Director I told in great detail the disturbing story of how Bishop Yehiel Curry of the ELCA’s Metropolitan Chicago Synod threatened, intimidated, bullied, and abused power in order to gain control of a CORE-friendly congregation that was doing its best to reach out to its bi-lingual and Spanish speaking neighborhood with the love of Jesus.  A link to that letter can be found here.  That bishop and synod council used chapter S13.24 in the Model Constitution for Synods as a way to move in and take over the congregation. 

I recently become aware of another situation where the synod council of another ELCA synod – Southwest California – used the same constitutional provision to seize the property of a congregation.  As a former ALC congregation, according to the ELCA constitution, Faith Lutheran Church of San Dimas, California should have had no problem keeping their property as they voted to disaffiliate from the ELCA and join another Lutheran church body.  But that synod council used chapter S13.24 of the Model Constitution for Synods, along with rejecting the legitimacy of LCMC as a recognized Lutheran church body, to claim to have the right to the congregation’s property.  My concern has only grown greater as I wonder whether these are two isolated incidents or is this a pattern – an intentional strategy – that we will see continue to unfold throughout the ELCA.

In part the relevant constitutional chapter reads as follows –

S13.24 – The Synod Council, itself or through trustees appointed by it, may take charge and control of the property of a congregation of this synod to hold, manage, and convey the same on behalf of this synod, if. . . .

d. The Synod Council determines that the membership of a congregation has become so scattered or so diminished in numbers that it cannot provide required governance or that it has become impractical for the congregation to fulfill the purposes for which it was organized.

e. The Synod Council determines that it is necessary for this synod to protect and preserve the congregation’s property from waste and deterioration.

The congregation shall have the right to appeal any such decision to the next Synod Assembly.

The way in which Bishop Curry and the Metropolitan Chicago Synod Council used this provision to gain control of a former ALC congregation and its property I described in my Summer Letter from the Director.  Here I will tell how the Southwest California Synod Council used the same provision to justify demanding the deed to the property of another former ALC congregation. 

Six years ago Faith Lutheran Church in San Dimas, California, was a thriving congregation led by a very gifted, hardworking, faithful, committed, and orthodox pastor.  I would say he was one of the best.  After his retirement the congregation struggled as it had an extremely difficult time finding another pastor who would be appropriate for them.  Attendance and involvement dropped and the preschool had to close during the COVID pandemic.  Finally, after two years, they did find a pastor, but that pastor turned out to be a disaster.  Later they discovered that that pastor had embezzled funds from a former congregation.  (That information was shared as public information during the discussion at the synod assembly.)  Attendance dropped even further, many of the positions on the congregation council remained vacant, and the congregation had to request forbearance on the loan for their beautiful new sanctuary. 

Needing help with their situation, the congregation entered into a Synodical Administration arrangement with the synod.  This arrangement is described in S13.25. of the Model Constitution for Synods, which says, “This synod may temporarily assume administration of a congregation upon its request or with its concurrence.  Such synod administration shall continue only so long as necessary to complete the purposes for which it was requested by the congregation or until the congregation withdraws consent to continued administration.”  Three local ELCA pastors were assigned to the congregation to help them through their difficult times.

But the real turnaround for the congregation occurred when they invited a non-Lutheran new church start to begin meeting on their property.  With the presence of the other congregation and the dynamic, outreach-oriented leadership of the young, evangelical pastor, new energy came to the place.  The synod continued to be unable to provide the congregation with a suitable pastor to call – or even a supply pastor or an interim pastor that would be appropriate for them.  I understand from a former member of the executive committee of the synod council of that synod, that of the approximately one hundred congregations in that synod, forty-two of them are without a pastor.  Because the synod could not provide a pastor, the ELCA congregation asked the young, dynamic, energetic, outreach-oriented pastor of the new, non-Lutheran church start to provide them with pastoral care and leadership.  The non-Lutheran pastor would lead the ELCA congregation’s traditional, liturgical service at 9 AM and then the new church start’s contemporary service at 11 AM.  The ELCA synodical bishop, seeing how the Lord was blessing the ministry, agreed to the arrangement. 

The problem came when the congregation voted to disaffiliate from the ELCA and join LCMC (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ).  As a former ALC congregation, they should have had no problem keeping their property.  But the synod council accused them of joining LCMC only as a way of getting out of the ELCA with the intent of then joining this non-Lutheran group.  The young, dynamic, energetic, outreach-oriented, evangelical pastor of the non-Lutheran church start offered to take courses in Lutheran theology so that he would be better equipped to provide pastoral care and leadership for the Lutheran congregation, and he was also mentored by a retired ELCA pastor, but that was not sufficient.  The synod council said that the congregation can leave the ELCA, the congregation and the non-Lutheran new church start can rent the church building from the ELCA, but the congregation must surrender the deed to the property to the synod.  The congregation appealed the decision to the synod assembly which is how I became aware.  The appeal was decisively denied. 

During the discussion at the synod assembly it was revealed that after the congregation voted to disaffiliate from the ELCA, the synod council changed their relationship with the congregation from Synodical Administration (S13.25), which is voluntary and temporary, to Synodical Preservation (S13.24), which is involuntary and permanent.  (It is interesting that the president of the congregation said that they did not know that the synod had taken that action and changed the terms of the relationship until six months after the change had been made.)

The synod council used chapter S13.24 of the synod’s constitution to argue that demanding the deed to the property was something they needed to do and had the right to do in order to “protect and preserve the congregation’s property from waste and deterioration.”  But the congregation’s property was not in danger of “waste and deterioration.”  Energy had returned, attendance was up, the preschool had reopened, the congregation was able to resume payments on the loan, and people were again involved in ministry and willing to serve in positions of leadership.  The synod misused this provision in the constitution because they did not like the fact that the congregation was moving in a different direction – and in a direction which was working out better for them.  In fact, a pastor who is a member of the executive committee of the synod council argued in front of the assembly that the synod needed to invoke S13.24 and seize the property in order to keep the property “from deterioration into a non-ELCA entity.” 

The synod council also argued that LCMC was not really a valid church body, so in joining LCMC the congregation had not met constitutional requirements in order to be able to keep their property.  For me one of the most alarming parts of the discussion was when Synodical Bishop Brenda Bos said in her initial presentation that LCMC is “a very, very loosely affiliated Lutheran denomination” and then suggested that “LCMC may have been created for exactly this constitutional clause so that congregations that do not want to be Lutheran anymore can go into that system and keep their property.”  During the discussion the member of the executive committee mentioned above quoted from the LCMC website which says, “We’re not a denomination, we’re a movement” and then said about LCMC, “They are imposters.”  (It makes me wonder how often the same line of argument has been used or will be used against other former ALC congregations that will vote to leave the ELCA and join LCMC.) 

As I watched and listened to the discussion in the You Tube recording of the second day of the synod assembly, there were two images that came to mind.  The first is the old proverb, “If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his whole body will soon follow.”  Once the congregation invited the synod to come in and administer the congregation (under S13.25), it was very easy for the synod to remain, take over, and seize the property (under S13.24).

The second are the words near the beginning of the book of Exodus – “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8).  Bishop Bos of the Southwest California Synod obviously did not know – nor did she bother to find out about – the actual issues that led to the formation of LCMC.  It was not to give churches who did not want to be Lutheran anymore a chance to get out of the ELCA and keep their property.  Rather the precipitating event was the ELCA’s approving the Called to Common Mission agreement with the Episcopal Church.  In that agreement a certain structure – the Episcopal version of the Historic Episcopate – became mandated.  The founders of LCMC argued – on the basis of Article Seven of the Augsburg Confession – that “the Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.”  Therefore, no particular human, governmental structure is necessary in order for the church to be the church.  LCMC was formed in 2001.  Since then the organization has grown to be an international movement of around one thousand congregations, including around eight hundred congregations here in the United States.  Many of those congregations are former ALC congregations who voted to disaffiliate from the ELCA and kept their property as they then affiliated with LCMC.  Precedence strongly supports former ALC congregations’ being able to leave the ELCA, join LCMC, and not have any problem keeping their property.  As time passes more and more synodical bishops and other ELCA leaders are not going to have been a part of the issues and struggles that led to the formation of LCMC and the NALC.  They are simply not going to be aware of them, let alone understand and appreciate them. 

But a third thing that completely floored me was when Bishop Bos, at the end of her presentation, called upon the assembly to “deeply consider the legacy of the Lutherans that came before.”  During the discussion leading up to the vote which denied the congregation’s appeal, the argument was made that for over sixty years faithful Lutherans had been working and giving to start and support a Lutheran presence and ministry in the city of San Dimas.  Therefore, the assembly should not break trust with six decades of faithful Lutherans and allow a schismatic group to now take the property and give it to a non-Lutheran ministry.  I was absolutely astounded hearing this line of argument.  I realize that the young, dynamic, energetic, outreach-oriented, evangelical pastor of the new church start does not have a sacramental view of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but I truly believe that his view of the Scriptures, moral values, and the mission of the church is far closer to that of the founders of that congregation than the ELCA is today.  And since when does the ELCA care about not breaking trust with faithful Lutherans of the past? 

The 2025 ELCA Churchwide Assembly is approaching, when voting members will consider a plan to reconstitute the church, review the 2009 human sexuality social statement, and possibly (probably?) eliminate the provision for bound conscience.   Bound conscience is the language that the 2009 human sexuality social statement uses to declare that a variety of views on same sex relationships – including traditional views – do exist within the ELCA and will be viewed as valid, and those who hold them will be treated with honor and respect.  I assume the ELCA knows that there may well be another wave of congregations wanting to leave the ELCA, so are they taking steps now to make it as difficult as possible for congregations to leave with their properties?  As congregations continue to decline and congregational, synodical, and churchwide income continues to drop, will the ELCA grab as many properties as possible and make it as difficult as they can for congregations (even former ALC congregations) to leave with their property?  Please let me know if you know of other examples of this dynamic. 

One final thought.  The August 2022 ELCA Churchwide Assembly overwhelmingly approved a Land Back Memorial, in which they supported a resolution which called upon the ELCA to “support creative programs of restorative justice in partnership with Indigenous people, including, but not limited to, whenever considering a transfer or sale of real property, including returning land (and any structures built on it) after satisfying any financial obligations, to the appropriate Native nations, and when direct return is not feasible or not desired by the Indigenous people, to return the proceeds from the sale of the land to the ELCA Native American Ministry Fund or other local Indigenous led ministries or organizations.”  Will the Southwest California Synod, in order to not be complicit in something that they are so concerned about – the stealing of land from Indigenous people – follow through with and make good their concern and give the newly acquired property – or the value of that property – to Indigenous people? 

The Potency of Missional Engagement

Dear Friends—

A most happy and blessed New Year to you and yours.

No doubt, many of us reading this article can readily receive such a greeting; but, for some, these words may be welcomed but not so easily received or even believed. This may include an individual who just discovered they have a very difficult illness to contend with or maybe it’s a husband who lost a beloved wife of 35 years or one trapped in overwhelming bondage to an addiction or perhaps it’s a family who experienced a natural catastrophe and lost everything. The list goes on. When facing such a reality, it can be much more difficult to receive a word of blessing, while happiness is illusive at best. This is precisely when the Community of Faith, the Body of Christ, is called to rise up and consider the potency of missional engagement. It is helpful for us, as brothers and sisters who are bound up in Christ, to be aware of those who are struggling and then allow the Great Commandment to settle deeply into that place of compassion: “‘ … and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:30, 31) This will necessarily push us towards mission which can quickly and graciously re-prioritize the living out of these most challenging days. 

In 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul paints a beautiful and profound picture of what it means to be a community of faith and concludes with these striking, life-altering words: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (v. 26) The writer of Hebrews says it a bit differently in 12:12, “ … lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” Again, we can see our ‘calling’ to come alongside and help lift up and literally be the hands and feet of Jesus, especially for those whose hands are failing and knees and feet weak. This is what it means to be fully engaged in mission.

This brief article is an invitation for you to join us in an upcoming missional event or better yet, and more practically speaking, connect with a local church body and engage in mission … in your own backyard! Prayerfully consider engaging—Not only will it help bring restorative healing to any given situation but you will experience restoration and healing as well. Just engage.

Last year, I wrote an article for the July CORE Voice Newsletter (click here) regarding the power and potency of such missional engagement. It is there that I describe a particular outreach called City Mission (CM) which was birthed out of Cross Country Mission (CCM). Dennis (Nelson) asked that I write this article to share just a bit about our upcoming CCM. Again, though I’m inviting you to participate in this event, more so I’m inviting you to simply participate in mission at some level, somewhere.

On January 30th through February 4th (link for more details @ ), River’s Edge Ministries will be headed to Pine Island, Florida, for our eleventh disaster relief/rebuild effort. We are a multi-generational group of ordinary people coming together from many denominations to be His Church. Our fervent hope is to be a Christ-centered family on mission and avail ourselves to the needs of those who were severely impacted by Hurricane Ian, causing over 150 fatalities in Cuba, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia; but most of the deaths were in Florida. Ian also caused catastrophic damage with losses estimated to be more than $50 billion. The cities of Fort Myers Beach and Naples were particularly hard hit. Millions were left without power in the storm’s wake, and numerous inhabitants were forced to take refuge on their roofs. Sanibel Island and Pine Island were hardest hit by the storm surge. Clearly, thousands are still in the recovery phase and are only now rebuilding their future. It will be our sacred honor to be part of that rebuilding.

Please note that we are currently working with Mary Bates (NALC Disaster Relief) who has established our base of operation, housing, missional work, etc. (Thank you, Mary, for all of your extraordinary work for the Kingdom of God, especially as it manifests itself in the midst of utter chaos and ruin.) Our plan is to arrive to First Baptist Church on Pine Island by the evening of January 30th. Upon arrival, we’ll set up our base camp on the church grounds in their building and outside in the parking lot, etc. We will work from 9:00 until 3:00 on January 31st, February 1st and 2nd, and then depart on February 3rd and arrive back home to MD by February 4th.  We will travel just over 1000 miles by car, van, and truck with the hope of bringing a small caravan of hurricane clean-up-rebuilding workers and prayer warriors. Some are even flying in. As alluded to before (cf. Mark 12), our hope is to minister to heart, soul, mind, and strength. There will be a broad range of work tasks, including ongoing clean-up, framing, electrical, drywalling, roofing, meal prep, and on-the-ground intercessory prayer. We are praying for many skilled and unskilled co-laborers, but mostly willing hearts! At the present time, nearly 20 have committed to this event; but, it seems that we’ll have closer to 30 brothers and sisters participating in Cross Country Mission: Pine Island, FL; again, from 16 to 70+ years of age and at least 7-8 different denominations. And to think that we, a church of the NALC, get to sponsor this event—What an honor and joy!

If by chance you become interested in participating in this effort or have an interest in hosting a similar event in the future, please register here or contact me directly. But the gentle invitation and challenge from this article remains: Simply engage in mission somewhere … it’s right in front of you. I’d like to thank CORE and many individuals for supporting this missional endeavor with resources and encouragement. 

Do take care, stay the course, and keep your eyes on Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith.

K. Craig Moorman

River’s Edge Ministries, Mt. Airy, MD

(Images in this post: Flickr)

Jim Nestingen Tribute

Pr. Jim Nestingen

I first got to know the name James Nestingen through what I still believe is the best confirmation text ever produced — the first edition of Free to Be co-written with Gerhard Førde. (Jim was unhappy with the later revision of it by AugsburgFortress.)

But while I heard him speak from time to time, the first occasion I spent at length with him was the Lutheran CORE Conference at Lindenhurst, Illinois, on September 28, 2007. Many of Jim’s friends and students describe him with the word “prophet,” and he was certainly in full prophetic mode at that event regarding the directions the ELCA was taking. The event gathered those of us who would lead the response to the sexuality decisions that would be made a few years later, leading to the change in strategy of Lutheran CORE and the formation of the North American Lutheran Church.

Jim represented a somewhat different version of Lutheranism than I had grown up with in my eastern LCA context, and I found it enlightening and refreshing, not to replace but to supplement the ways I had come to understand the faith. I learned from him to say with regularity, “we sinners,” as I would preach and teach. Jim would tell us that we should always listen for a confession in conversations with people. He understood the brokenness of our fallen world, and exulted in the Word of absolution that we dare to speak on the authority of the Son of God Himself.

Not that Jim ever claimed to be anything other than one of “us sinners.” And he could sin boldly from time to time. For him, theology was not an abstract intellectual enterprise, but God’s life-saving intervention in the world with the Word of Life we are empowered to speak through Jesus. He stood on “grace alone,” knowing that even our repentance is God’s gift through the Holy Spirit, channeled through the Word and the Sacraments.

Jim was not given to moderation, because his life was a huge love affair with Jesus. He and I had one difficult time when he demanded that Lutheran CORE rescind our invitation to a speaker with whom he had personal and theological conflicts. When we refused, our relationship was tense for a while, but we both moved beyond it. Lovers sometimes over-react, and Jim threw his whole being into the service of the Lord he loved. He was indeed a jealous lover of the Lord who he knew loved him with the same intensity.

As a speaker, nobody could hold the attention of an audience, lay or clergy, as well as Jim could. His repertoire of Sven, Ole, and Lena jokes along with often-scatological humor (which prevented most preachers from stealing his material) interfaced well with his profound theological insights, always centering on the Word of forgiveness Jesus proclaims through us. His North Dakota Scandinavian farmer persona helped humanize his brilliant teaching, and he could share personal stories of his encounters with real people and how the Word of forgiveness encountered them. Often he and all his hearers were in tears as he recounted these stories, even stoic Germans like me.

I still remember his story of visiting a dying friend, whispering in his ears as he was leaving this life, “The next voice you hear will be Jesus.” That is how real and concrete Jim’s faith was, and I know I became a better pastor because of my contacts with him.

Jim has been bothered these last years by painful ailments, and while he limited his travel he still managed to make it to NALC conferences and events, and to serve on our Commission on Theology and Doctrine (CTD). He arrived early in Dallas for the CTD meeting in November as my deans’ meeting was ending, so we got to spend a little time conversing together. While he was in obvious pain, somehow he found a way to fly there and continue to offer his guidance to the church body he helped bring into existence. I remember with thanksgiving these last conversations I had with him until we two redeemed sinners meet again around the Throne.

His death was sudden, and there was evidently nobody to whisper in his ear, “The next voice you hear will be Jesus.” But Jim already knew the voice of the Good Shepherd whom he loved and served so faithfully, and he surely knew Who was welcoming him into his heavenly home.

No Acceptance of Confessional Faith at My ELCA Seminary

Note from CORE’s Executive Director: Many thanks to a seminarian, who wishes to remain anonymous, for writing about what it was like to attend an ELCA seminary.  Students considering enrolling in an ELCA seminary, as well as members of orthodox congregations still in the ELCA, need to know what is being taught and what they can expect from their future pastor.  Will this kind of woke educational experience train someone who will provide good pastoral care and leadership for your congregation?  Those who believe that theologically solid pastors are and will continue to be available within the ELCA should know that there are some (Thanks be to God!) but the number is decreasingly rapidly.   

I attended United Lutheran Seminary (United), in Gettysburg, for 3 semesters. My time there led me to realize that there was no place for a confessional Lutheran faith within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Growing up in central Pennsylvania, I knew nothing of the other Lutheran denominations. Every Lutheran church within an hour of my house was ELCA and that was all I knew. Upon entering seminary, I was assured by my synod’s bishop that there was a place for a confessional Lutheran in the “big-tent,” that is the ELCA.

United did not share this view and I realized this in my first semester, when I began questioning the “sacred doctrines” of the ELCA that were invented in the last 10 years. My first semester I took the class Systematic Theology 1: Creation, Sin, and New Creation, which I thought would provide me with a greater understanding of the ELCA’s newly held positions as well as a basic overview of theological concepts and systematics. I hoped that it would answer some of my questions and strengthen my ability to conduct ministry faithfully. I was disappointed to find that much of the class was heavily focused on womanist, feminist, and other niche and modern theological interpretation rather than core or confessional concepts. This was the only theology class that I was required to take. This lack of true theological instruction allows seminarians to believe they understood yet have made strawmen of a Biblical Christianity. Much of what the Church held for the last 2000 years could be dismissed as “privileged,” “racist,” or “sexist.”

My first (and only) sermon I gave at United was for my homiletics class. I was assigned to preach on the first week of Lent, which includes the Gospel reading of Christ being tempted in the wilderness. In my sermon I mentioned, not as the message of the sermon but to highlight the goodness of Christ, that hell was real. I felt relatively proud of my sermon while giving it. Given that it was my first sermon, it could have been better, but I stand by my message today. It shocked me when my homiletics professor opened my sermon up for critique and she implied that I shared a heretical message. I did not realize that the acknowledgement of hell was such a faux pas. After my professor shared that I was a heretic, much of my peers’ remarks echoed her idea. I called my parents as well as a mentor that evening and shared that I wanted to leave seminary because apparently, I did not understand anything about the faith.

Getting raked over the coals for believing that Christ was not lying when He spoke of hell was the straw that broke me. I realized that I could not stay at United, and I would not be welcome in the ELCA, if this is where the publicly acceptable discourse is.

Some of the common talking points that the professors would push in a variety of their classes include: using non-masculine pronouns for God, the merits of a variety of sexual relationships, how the church has been a force for bad in the world, and leftist political talking points.  It is a shame that there could not be serious theological discussions concerning these topics as to disagree with any point carried with it accusations of being “not-loving,” among other unflattering titles, and being shut down by the professor.

When I told my synod’s bishop about leaving the ELCA, I told her how I felt betrayed by a church that I grew up in and how I was lied to when I was told that there was a place for me. She was sorry and could not defend the actions of the ELCA from polygamy to the disbelief in hell. There is no Biblical defense, and she couldn’t spin one. When I went to my home congregation to tell my pastor, whom I grew up with, he was not nearly as cordial. He tried to challenge me as misinformed when I pointed to the ELCA’s radical direction. He accused me of being political for not agreeing with the ELCA.

Although the gospel is not preached there anymore, it is sad to know I am no longer welcome in my home congregation.

Since coming to the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), I have appreciated the professionalism of the professors in the North American Lutheran Seminary (NALS), the comradery among clergy, and general support from congregations. It is refreshing to be able to read the Bible and confessions in a seminary setting and have genuine discussions about the application and use of the concepts. There is a fellowship among the students as members of Christ’s Church, here for Christ, unlike what I have known within the ELCA.

I write this because this is my story. I could have shared more anecdotes about the inability of United to form its students, the unprofessionalism of the professors and ignorance of those who followed the party line, but these examples make my point. I do not want to slander the ELCA or any pastors or congregations in it. I only want to bring light to what is going on in the once great Lutheran seminary of Gettysburg, PA, United Lutheran Seminary.

It breaks my heart to have had to leave but I have found a home in the NALC.

The NALC Pastors’ Conference: One of the Best

It is always a joy when you go to a Pastors’ conference and leave with a sense of energy and enthusiasm for ministry.  Over my twenty-eight years of ministry, I have been to my share of such events.   They have been a mixed bag.  To quote Forrest Gump, they “are like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’ll get.”  Some are definitely worth your time.  Others are mediocre, but since you have the chance to see old friends, you don’t mind.  Others leave you positively frustrated.  Of all the conferences I have attended, good, bad and indifferent, I must say that the NALC Pastors’ Conference held in Orlando, Florida, from February 15 to 18, was one of the best. 

Although I am not a pastor in the NALC, I was able to attend as a representative of Lutheran CORE.  The theme of the conference was: “Always Be Ready: Apologetics in Real Life,” based on 1 Peter 3:15.  The keynote address was given by the Rev. Dr. Mark Mattes, with plenary addresses by Rev. Dr. Maurice Lee, Rev. Dr. Dennis DiMauro, and Rev. Dr. Thomas Jacobson.  Each speaker addressed the topic of apologetics from a different perspective.  Rather than giving a full synopsis of every presentation, I will mention what were the highlights for me.

Mark Mattes identified one of the major mistakes that Christians made in the second half of the 20th Century.  This was to adopt the world view of unbelievers and skeptics, in an attempt to show that the Christian faith can be made to fit into those worldviews.  Instead of arguing against people from the point of view of modernity or post-modernity, we should argue with them from the point of view of the Christian faith.  Our goal should be to help people see what difference it would make if the Christian worldview were true.

Maurice Lee reminded us of the approach taken by Justin Martyr.  As his name indicates, Justin Martyr was not only an apologist, but died as a martyr.  Justin sought to refute false rumors about Christianity and engaged with pagan philosophers like Socrates and Plato.  However, he had a third strategy.  This was to describe what happens in the liturgy of the Eucharist.  In addition to saying what Christianity is not, we need a picture of what it is.  There is no better place to find this than weekly Sunday worship.  The same is true in 2022.

Dennis DiMauro recounted an experience he had while doing door to door evangelism.  A young man whom he met shocked him.  He wasn’t interested in general information about Christ, or the Church.  What he wanted to know was what had happened in Pastor DiMauro’s own life to make him believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He reminded us that while there are intellectual arguments and rhetorical strategies that can be helpful, what is most important is being able “to give an account for the faith that is in us.”  Lutherans tend to shy away from the term testimony.  Nevertheless, we need to be able to testify to what God has done for us.

Thomas Jacobson reminded us of the class differences that need to be taken into account in reaching the unchurched.  Lutherans have tended to follow Schleiermacher by focusing on the “cultured despisers” of Christianity.  The problem is that the largest group of un-churched people in America today are not the cultured people of the upper middle-class.  They are the blue collar and the poor.  In recent decades, church attendance remained fairly stable among the successful and well to do.  Meanwhile, among the poorer classes, the bottom has fallen out.   We need to find a way to speak to them too. 

While at the NALC Pastors’ Conference, I was also able to attend two break-out sessions.  The first was led by Rev. Doctor Russell Lackey of Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.   He spoke about the NEXUS Institute, a summer theological institute for high school youth, which is held each summer at Grand View.  (This summer it will be held on June 12-18.)  Pastor Lackey shared information about research that has been done on such summer theological institutes.  This research was cross-denominational, cross-cultural, and multi-faith.  It indicated that summer theological institutes are very effective.  As many as 25% of young people who attend these summer theological institutes end up entering the ministry in their respective religious communities.  With the growing shortage of ministers in the Lutheran Church today, institutes like NEXUS are extremely valuable.

In the summer of 2022, there are twenty-five spots for young people at NEXUS.  Bishop Dan Selbo challenged the pastors at the conference to make sure that there will be fifty attending NEXUS in 2023.  I was so impressed that I rushed home and nominated a young person from my congregation for this year’s institute.

The second break-out session that I attended featured Pastor Dave Keener.  It was an introduction to the newest phase of the Life-to-Life Discipleship.  I was excited to hear that the NALC is developing its own resources for Discipleship ministry.  These resources will be tailored specifically for Lutheran congregations. The first will be a 24 week-long introductory curriculum on discipleship.  Those resources are meant to be available on the NALC website in the near future.

Of course, like most conferences, there was good fellowship.  I was able to reconnect with old friends and make new friends.  I also enjoyed visiting my hometown of Orlando, where I was born in 1964.  As I returned home, I was grateful for the six insights that I shared above.  They either confirmed what I am already doing or gave me new areas of ministry to explore.  If you have never been to the NALC Pastors’ Conference before, I encourage you to attend next year.  I also encourage you to get in touch with the speakers above if you want to learn more about what they shared.

Rev. David Charlton

Vice-President, Lutheran CORE

January 2022 Newsletter