Saturday, May 21, 2011

LIFTing at Synod Assembly

Today I had the opportunity to talk about the LIFT Task Force with the Southeastern Iowa Synod Assembly during a general plenary session.  A few people asked for a copy of what I said, so I thought I'd post it here on koinonia.

Slide presentation (PowerPoint)

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I am grateful for the opportunity to share with this Assembly the work of a Churchwide Task Force known as -- Living Into the Future Together: Renewing the Ecology of the ELCA...or “LIFT” for short.  

What Is LIFT?
This group of twelve people represents a diverse cross-section of leaders within our denomination.  We were called together in November 2009 to study the evolving internal and external factors surrounding our church.  After 18 months of engaging a broad conversation across this church and its many partners, the LIFT Task Force concluded our work with a “report & recommendations” document.

What is meant by the word “Ecology”?
Craig Dykstra, Senior Vice President in Religion for the Lilly Foundation, referred to the ELCA as an “ecology of interdependent eco-systems.”  The unique structure of the ELCA (now in its 23rd year) means that all aspects of our church (in a broad sense) are interrelated and lean on each other for support and accountability.

LIFT Process Update
The 100-page report and recommendations document was submitted to the ELCA Church Council in April.  From there, the LIFT planning team will develop implementing resolutions to be voted on at the 2011 Churchwide Assembly in August.  

As Reverend Malpica-Padilla mentioned in his report yesterday, the LIFT Task Force was guided by two main questions.

What is God calling us to be and do in the future?
In other words, how is the identity we have in Christ calling us to act in the days ahead?

The second question is - “What changes are in order to help us respond most faithfully?”

This question sometimes makes people nervous because assumes that things will need to be different.  But as people who are attentive to the living Spirit of God, if anything is certain, it is that things will be different tomorrow than they were today.

From the many pages of the LIFT report and recommendations, some key outcomes can be extracted.

  • We are called to be in regular, ongoing discernment about God’s will for the church.
  • We are empowered to claim our identity in a time of rapid societal change.
  • We urge all aspects of the eco-system to produce leaders for mission - not just rostered leaders, but for all people to live out their vocational calls as followers of Jesus Christ.
  • We identified synods as essential catalysts and agents of mission.  The task force spent a great deal of time looking at the role of middle judicatories in such a broad eco-system.
  • We lift up congregations as centers of ministry AND mission.  This church needs congregations to be healthy in order for the church to be healthy.  Congregations are the common denominator for almost every aspect of our eco-system...and it is our hope that the eco-system will continue tending to nurturing, supporting, and challenging congregations to be about vibrancy and vitality.
  • And we will continue studying about what it means for a denomination to function as a network.  
One of our suggestions is for congregations, in conjunction with existing support networks, develop a mission plan.  This plan will affirm the specific contextual assets that are germane to a congregation...and will make connections with other aspects of the eco-system to live out that plan.  More resources will be developed to aid congregations (and their partners) to consider this Mission Plan.

One of the helpful tools that the task force utilized in our work is something I’ve had the chance to replicate with a variety of groups in the last few months.  It begins with Bible Study from the 2nd chapter of Acts, and moves into three critical questions.

  • What items are essential for church to exist?
  • What items are helpful, but not essential?
  • What items are neither helpful nor essential.
From there, we consider what a congregation would look like if it focused on just the essentials and were sent into the world - a nimble, faithful, community of faith - passionate about sharing the gospel with a world in need.

Over the next few weeks and months we will be sharing suggested ways to help congregations that wish to engage in their own LIFT process - a conversation that brings renewal to a congregational eco-system by focusing on communal, contextual discernment.

You can find these resources through a web site, Facebook, and Twitter.

This is a fascinating time to be the church.  I am grateful that our church body has engaged in a process like LIFT, and I am hopeful that we will continue to rely on God’s guidance to help us live into the future together and renew the ecology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. 

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