Lutheran Core Year End 2023 Giving Letter

KNOWING THE OUTCOME
GIVES COURAGE AND STRENGTH IN THE MEANTIME

Dear Friend in the Savior-King:

For me one of the most inspiring, encouraging, and strength-giving passages of Scripture is John’s vision of heaven in Revelation 7: 9-17, which was the First Reading for All Saints Sunday. There are five elements in John’s depiction of the Church as having survived – as having “come out of the great ordeal” (verse 14). In the words of the beloved hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” these elements give “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”

1. A gathered throng
John writes in verse 9, “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” They are “robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” We all are concerned about aging and diminishing congregations. We are all alarmed over the pastoral shortage crisis. But here John describes the church not just as having survived, but as celebrating.

2. An occupied throne
Verse 9 – That multi-racial, multi-ethnic church is “standing before the throne.” They have not been deserted. They are not spiritually orphaned. Rather the God who is with them at the end has also been with them all the way through.

3. A slain lamb
Also in verse 9 – The church is “standing before the Lamb.” The contemporary Christian group Casting Crowns has a song entitled “Scars in Heaven.” It is about a loved one who has died after going through many painful experiences in life. Some of the words are as follows –
“I know you’re in a place where all your wounds have been erased,
And knowing yours are healed is healing mine. . . .
The only scars in heaven are on the hands that hold you now.”
The church is standing before the Lamb, who bore all our pain, died for our sins, is with us through all our suffering, and who overcame what frightens and threatens us the most.

4. Worshipping angels
Verse 11 – “And all the angels stood around the throne . . . they fell on their faces . . . and worshiped God.” The angels have seen it all – the rebellion of Satan, the fall of the human race, the rejection of the prophets, the death of Jesus, the suffering of the church. They have seen it all, and now they see how it will end. So, in the words of verse 15, “They are before the throne of God and worship him day and night.”

5. Springs of living water
Verses 16-17 – “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” We all need relief from the things that strike us down. We all need the refreshment of living water and someone to wipe away our tears.

Yes, knowing how it will end – knowing the outcome – gives us strength and courage in the meantime.

But for me it is so sad when I see, hear, and read of so many pastors and congregations who do not give God’s people “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” Rather they merely lay on the people the heavy burdens of what they need to do – whether it be more and more deeds of compassion or relentless demands to become more involved in the latest issues of social justice activism.

Everything is at stake. We will continue to keep you posted on the work of the ELCA’s Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church. As we have written in previous communications, because we know the makeup of the Commission, we can be certain of the outcome of their work – social justice activism as the prime purpose and mission of the church, LGBTQ+ ideology, and diversity, equity, and inclusion as the primary value system of the new church. On the day I am writing this letter I saw the first posting regarding follow up to another action taken by the ELCA’s 2022 Churchwide Assembly – reviewing the 2009 human sexuality social statement. The ELCA is now in the process of forming the task force that will reconsider the whole issue of bound conscience – which is ELCA language for eliminating the provision by which traditional views have a place of dignity and respect within the church. Again we will keep you posted on what will certainly lead to a massive breach of trust and the ELCA’s saying to those with traditional Biblical views, “You are not welcome here.” We will also keep you posted when the list of keynote speakers for the 2024 ELCA Youth Gathering becomes available.

During 2024 we will continue our work of providing such things as –

  • Warnings regarding ways in which the historic Christian faith is being rejected by and within the Church
  • Resources such as suggested prayers of the church, daily devotionals, and weekly lectionary based Bible studies
  • A support group for young adults, including seminarians
  • Support for the NEXUS program at Grand View University (Bible study, theological reflection, and vocational discernment for high schoolers); cross-generational, inter-denominational mission trips; and our Spanish-language/bi-lingual ministries Encuentro
  • Video reviews of books of interest and importance and videos on topics related to Biblical studies, Lutheran theology, ministry, and the Christian life

Please select a button below to designate a year-end gift towards our regular operating expenses as we work to be a Voice for Biblical Truth and a Network for Confessing Lutherans. Please also let us know how we can be praying for you. Thank you for your partnership in the Gospel, especially at this critical time when everything is at stake.

In Christ,

Dennis D. Nelson
Executive Director of Lutheran CORE




Summer 2023 Giving Appeal We Need Rest

We Need Rest

Dear Friends –

A few Sundays ago the Gospel reading included the words of Jesus in Matthew 11: 28 –
“Come to Me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

I retired in 2014, but if I were still an ELCA pastor serving a congregation, I would have come to the recent ELCA Rostered Ministers Gathering weary, carrying many heavy burdens, and needing and looking for rest. Post-COVID is a tough time to be a pastor. Many pastors are seeking to rebuild or at least encourage an older and diminishing congregation. They need – and they deserve – renewal and rest. But what was the predominant message that they received at the recent ELCA Rostered Ministers Gathering? That if they are good and faithful ELCA rostered ministers they will make their top priority working to dismantle the structures that have enabled systemic racism ever since the colonial period. They will put their best efforts into working to dismantle white supremacy and male dominance.

I do appreciate the fact that there was one keynote speaker who did express concern for how we are doing personally. He did say that prior to the gathering he had been praying for us and that he wanted to make sure that we know that God loves us. But his was not the dominant voice. One of the keynote Bible studies was on Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus, where it says that Jesus saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. But that dove was not a gentle presence but a Spirit that then immediately drove Him out into the wilderness where He was with the wild beasts. The Bible study leader then said that being in the wilderness with wild beasts sounds like life in the congregation. What I understood that Bible study leader to be saying is that if you do not fully embrace and pursue all the top ELCA values and priorities you are denying or even working against the fact that God has torn the heavens apart, and if you do pursue all ELCA priorities, you will be like Jesus. You will allow yourself to be driven into a wild-beast-infested wilderness (in other words, the typical, change-resistant congregation).

During lunch one day I was talking with an ELCA pastor whom I had never met before. He was telling me that his congregation had recently voted to become Reconciled in Christ (RIC). I asked him what was happening now. He said, “Nothing.” The leaders who had been working so hard on getting the vote to become RIC “across the finish line” (his words) were so exhausted that they were not ready to do anything else. I asked him (without revealing that I am with Lutheran CORE) how he felt about those who believe that if in 2025 the ELCA Churchwide Assembly votes to eliminate bound conscience (which says that traditional views on human sexuality have a place within the ELCA and those who hold them will be treated with honor and respect) then would not the ELCA, which is very critical of the U. S. government for breaking its promises to Native Americans, be breaking its promises to those who hold traditional views? And would not the ELCA, which claims to want to be inclusive and welcoming, be saying to those with traditional views, “You are not welcome here”? His response was very interesting. He said that he was too tired to think about ELCA issues.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you. My yoke is easy; it will fit you perfectly.” The ELCA says, “Take my agenda upon you, whether it fits you or not.” I believe the ELCA Rostered Ministers Gathering was planned not to serve the needs of the rostered ministers, but to advance the agenda of the ELCA.

We have promised that we would keep you posted on the work of the ELCA’s Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church. That thirty-five-member commission held their first meeting immediately preceding the Rostered Ministers Gathering. I attended a workshop led by one of the co-chairs of the commission. Her previous work experience included being a DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) and cultural competency trainer. Whom the commission chose as co-chair certainly shows the priorities of the commission. She shared that during 2023 the commission would be listening broadly, and then those attending the workshop shared whom they felt the commission should be listening to. The person whom I feel was least listened to was an older white male (the only one other than me) who said it was tough going to all these meetings and basically being told that he and people like him are the cause of everything that is wrong. The response of the co-chair was interesting. She said that she could hear his pain, which I suspect is her typical response. She heard and acknowledged his pain, but she did not validate his point. I doubt that he felt really listened to.

We will keep you posted as the work of the commission continues. Many people have expressed deep concern and even alarm over the recent accounts we have given of a congregation that was taken over and closed by the synod and a former ALC congregation that is not being allowed to keep its property as it leaves the ELCA. I will be following up on contacting other congregations that I have been told about that have experienced similar treatments from their synods. We are concerned whether the ELCA – anticipating the votes on the reconstituted Lutheran church and bound conscience in 2025 – is working now to make it more difficult for congregations to leave and former ALC congregations to leave with their property.

As you read this letter, I am certain you understand why as executive director of Lutheran CORE I have such a huge sense of the importance and value of what we do, and why I am so grateful for the encouraging words, prayers, and generous financial support of so many people. Because of your generous giving we are able to continue our work of being a Voice for Biblical Truth and a Network for Confessing Lutherans. We are able to provide financial assistance for four seminarians at the North American Lutheran Seminary. We were again able to be one of the sponsors of the NEXUS program for high schoolers at Grand View University. And we were able to become a sponsor of the interdenominational and intergenerational mission projects of River’s Edge Ministries, an NALC-LCMC congregation in Maryland, where a member of our board serves as pastor. Articles in recent issues of our newsletter CORE Voice have told about these mission trips to inner city Baltimore as well as to help victims of Hurricane Ian in Florida. We are praying that God will show us how we will be able to continue our Spanish language and bi-lingual ministries Encuentros, now that the ELCA’s Metro Chicago Synod has taken over and closed the congregation where it was being held.

Thank you for your prayers and generous, faithful support, which makes it possible for us to do our work. This appeal letter is being sent out by email rather than through the post office. If you would like to write a check payable to Lutheran CORE, you could mail it to our address found below. An optional Response Form may be printed by clicking the “Response Form” button below. Or, if you would like to make an electronic donation from your credit card or bank account, please click the “Donate Now” button below.

In thanksgiving to Jesus for you and for His invitation to come to Him and find rest,

Dennis D, Nelson
Executive Director of Lutheran CORE
P.O. Box 1741
Wausau WI 54402-1741
dennisnelsonaz@yahoo.com




SIMUL: A New Academic Journal

In the fall of 2021, St. Paul Lutheran Seminary launched a new academic Journal called SIMUL, and since that time its pages have featured articles by Bob Benne, Mark Granquist, Brad Hales, and many others.

But Why a New Journal?

When one looks at the landscape of Lutheran publications in the United States, there are many fine journals to choose from, including Lutheran Forum, ProEcclesia, Lutheran Quarterly, and Logia, just to name a few. So what makes SIMUL different?

1) It’s free. Its readers pay nothing to read the articles or share them with friends. The last thing our pastors and laity need right now is to write another check to a theological journal. And so, they are quite proud of SIMUL’s availability without charge. But quite honestly, it does cost money to produce. So if you would like to make a contribution to the production of SIMUL, you can do so by going to our website at https://semlc.org/support-st-paul-lutheran-seminary/  But please do not feel obliged to do so, because just like the gospel, SIMUL is a free gift.

2) It’s online. To keep SIMUL free, it is offered online only. SIMUL can be accessed on their website at https://semlc.org/simul/ and on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/St-Paul-Lutheran-Seminary-139019069505467. It is also accessible through their email list. If you would like to be added to that list, send your email address to dennisdimauro@yahoo.com.

3) It’s readable. Let’s face it – you probably subscribe to a few print journals and actually read only one or two articles from every issue. Then you throw that copy out, feeling a little guilty. No more! SIMUL is a quarterly journal, and they plan on including just four articles per issue. Therefore, SIMUL is a journal you will actually read from cover to cover every three months, and when you are done, there is no need to walk to the recycling bin.

4) It’s academic, but it’s written for the church. SIMUL is an academic journal, and it is written by academics. All four articles in its first issue were written by Lutheran scholars who hold PhDs. The articles you will read in SIMUL are going to adhere to the highest academic standards, and they will include endnotes so you can reference where the authors are getting their information. But just because our articles are written by academics that doesn’t mean you have to be an academic to understand them. SIMUL is going to be readable, but not just by academics, and not just by pastors, but also by our church members, the disciples who move the church forward. And that is their goal – not to simply look smart in front of other academics, but rather, to edify the church.

5) It is going to introduce you to St. Paul Lutheran Seminary. The summer of 2021 marked the tenth anniversary of St. Paul Lutheran Seminary, which offers something very special to the church: an affordable education, available online, from a Lutheran perspective, by professors who also serve the church as pastors. So let’s take a look at the history of the seminary:[i]

St. Paul Lutheran Seminary

St. Paul Lutheran Seminary (SPLS) began with a simple premise in the summer of 2011: to provide churches with an easily accessible, high-quality confessional Lutheran education and resources for mission, with a goal of equipping servant leaders.  SPLS uses a “Paul-Timothy” model for preparing ministry candidates. They utilize pastor/academics to educate and mentor men and women for Word and Sacrament ministry. And SPLS allows students to complete their studies online at one of their residential locations. They offer MDiv, a DMin, and a certificate programs, as well as our Kairos program in association with Sioux Falls Seminary. They currently have 39 students studying domestically and another 33 studying at our overseas locations in Ethiopia, as well as in Mexico and Nicaragua (both of which are offered entirely in Spanish). In addition, another 500 students are enrolled in a weekly lectionary study led by their founder and provost, Dr. Jim Nestingen, and 22 others participate in a short preaching course for those interested in providing pulpit supply. Along with Dr. Nestigen, they have some wonderful professors: Dr. Marney Fritts, who teaches theology, as well as Drs. Bud Thompson, and Orrey McFarland who head up their biblical studies classes, and so many other dedicated pastor/theologians.

So academics are their strength, but they have made the curriculum practical as well. Their program includes a 6-course series called “Being a Pastor,” which is taught by experienced pastors who love parish ministry. The classes feature open discussion on such topics as “how to enter a community,” “maintaining healthy boundaries,” “parish administration,” and other areas of concern to aspiring pastors and church workers.

They are also blessed with an amazing board of directors who lead them financially and administratively, one of whom, Dr. Edwin Spruth offers a wonderful article in their first issue. It is they who govern the seminary.

The result is a seminary which is orthodox, Lutheran, confessional, and ready to prepare students for ministry. To quote their dean of students, Rev. Julie Smith, “All of this theology is for the sake of faithful preaching, for the sake of setting sinners free.”[ii]

What’s Ahead?

We are so excited about this coming year. Summer 2022’s topic is the “Uses of the Law  – 2 or 3?” (they will attempt to remain civil and avoid any further schisms). And their Fall 2022 issue will cover the subject of the sacraments, something which has come under much discussion during the COVID-19 shutdowns.

Their 2023 annual theological conference will be at the historic Jekyll Island Club in GA on April 11th and 12th, 2023  – always a fun time in a beautiful place, with so many wonderful speakers. You can register at https://semlc.org/conference-registration/

So I hope you enjoy the first-ever issue of SIMUL. And if you have any questions about the journal or about St. Paul Lutheran Seminary, please email Rev. Dr. Dennis R. Di Mauro at dennisdimauro@yahoo.com


[i] A more detailed history of St. Paul Lutheran Seminary can be found on our website at https://semlc.org/about/

[ii] Julie Smith, “Address to the Augustana District Conference in 2018,” https://semlc.org/about/ (accessed Sept. 29, 2021).




Increasing (in-Person) Worship Attendance: “One Sunday at a Time”

From a Washington Post article on March 29, 2021: “Church membership in the United States has fallen below the majority [of the population] for the first time in nearly a century … First time this has happened since Gallup first asked the question in 1937, when church membership was 73%.”

Some caveats here: Gallup uses a “scientific” yet relatively small number of respondents for their surveys.  However, Pew Research uses a far larger number of respondents.  And Pew has been seeing a similar, dramatic decline when it comes to not only whether people are formally affiliated with religious institutions (i.e., membership), but also a significant decline in the percentage of Americans who self-identify as Christian.  Second caveat: This Gallup survey was focused on formal institutional affiliation, and Americans have become increasingly cynical about almost all institutions, not just religious ones.  But again, I would refer you to multiple Pew Religious Survey results which have been revealing significant declines not just in formal church membership, but in people self-identifying as Christians by faith.

Now back to this very recent Gallup survey.  From a long-term historical perspective — something Gallup provides — this current survey should be something of a “wake-up call” for church leaders.  One more quote from the Washington Post article: “In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque.”  This Gallup survey “also found that the number of people who also said religion was very important to them has fallen to 48%, a new low point in their polling” going all the way back to 1937.

Not surprisingly, the Gallup and Pew Research findings are being reflected in decreasing worship attendance.  And this worship attendance decline was painfully evident in a majority of Lutheran congregations long before the current pandemic.

In the last issue of this newsletter I wrote of ways to improve what your congregation offers to online worshipers.  And I do consider online worship as a needed outreach strategy in the years to come.  However, do not think you can afford to give up on offering quality in-person worship.  Those who already are — and soon will be — worshiping in person deserve your congregation’s best efforts.  Below are some specific, practical suggestions regarding how you can incrementally increase in-person worship attendance: “One Sunday at a Time.

As mentioned, a majority of Lutheran congregations were already dealing with decreasing worship attendance even before COVID.  Needless to say, this can be demoralizing for faithful members on a “number” of levels.  First of all, for them this is about more than numbers, because this decreasing attendance represents friends who are “missing in action”; whether due to inactivity, their having moved, or illness.  Whatever the factors involved, low worship attendance is perhaps the single clearest indication — to members and visitors alike — of a congregation in decline.  Given this fact, anything that pastors and lay leaders can do to noticeably increase attendance will most likely improve congregational morale and bring added energy and enthusiasm to worship services.

Perhaps the best, initial strategy would be having the pastor and a few congregational leaders commit to meeting monthly to coordinate the implementation — one Sunday at a time — to the following, multiple strategies.  (Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I realize your congregation might already be employing some of these ideas.)  I encourage you to utilize at least one of these ideas on any given Sunday.

1. Special Music – This could be a solo, a duet, a vocal ensemble, or an instrumental performance. Offering this not only improves the quality of your worship celebration, but it also requires the presence of the above musicians; many of whom bring one or more guests to hear them perform.

2. Congregational Sermon Survey – In preparation for the next Sunday’s sermon these very short surveys can be filled out by worshipers during the previous Sunday’s worship service.  Tell them not to sign.  Mention that you will be using some of their comments and opinions in the pastor’s next sermon (or sermon series).  Odds are this will be an encouragement for some otherwise infrequent worshipers to definitely show up the following Sunday.

3. Drama Skits – There are excellent Christian drama skits available.  One example: Drama Ministry at dramaministry.com.  This Christian ministry offers over 750 small-cast scripts for performance. Obviously, a short (usually under 10 minute) drama means the guaranteed presence of not just cast members, but probably their families, and maybe some friends.  Note: Many of these scripts are quite humorous.

4.  Refreshments Following the Service –  Provide a light “brunch”; if not weekly, then perhaps monthly.

5.  Involve Children and/or Teens in Some Part of the Service (They typically come with parents!) – This could be a musical performance, or as Scripture readers, or ushers and greeters.

6.  Celebrate and Honor People from Your Community – Do this as part of your worship service and invite not just members who qualify but non-members from the community as guests on this Sunday.  Some examples include schoolteachers, first-responders, veterans, fire fighters, police officers and especially in this time of COVID, health care workers.

7.  Enlist Additional Volunteers to Celebrate Church Year Festival Sundays – Maybe enlist members who are infrequent worshipers to help out on these Sundays.  In addition to Christmas and Easter, do not forget the first Sunday in Advent, Epiphany Sunday, Palm Sunday, All Saints Sunday, and Pentecost.  Plan for creative ways to utilize these volunteers.

8.  Use Special Video Resources – While this strategy does not increase attendance on a given Sunday, it can improve the overall quality of your worship celebration.  And that will most likely improve attendance over time.  Free resources on the internet include live performance music videos from Mercy Me (“Even If”) and Chris Tomlin (“Is He Worthy”); and many more.  Obviously, you need to be sure that showing any given video does not violate any copyright laws.  There are also short sermonettes online that could emphasize the pastor’s theme for a given Sunday.  Additional video resources that involve a reasonable fee include drama skits from “The Skitguys” at skitguys.com, and video messages available from the ministry Sermonspice at sermonspice.com.

Obviously, this is only a partial list.  And you can no doubt come up with more and better ideas for your congregation.  But remember the principal that underlies all of the above: Working on the quality of your worship celebration not just for your faithful worshipers, but in the hope of connecting with new people over time.  So why not organize that small team, involving the pastor and a few lay leaders, to strategize and plan for worship attendance growth: “One Sunday at a Time.”

Note: In the next CORE newsletter issue I will cover the theme of “How to Disciple Online Worshipers.”




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
503-559-2034
pastordonbrandt@gmail.com

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