The Future of the Church

February 2008 Pastor's Newsletter Article

[Jesus said,] "... every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."

St. Matthew 13:52-53, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

This is a complicated time to be the church. Fewer and fewer of our neighbors identify themselves as members of a church. More and more Americans are sliding into the "spiritual but not religious" category. It is perhaps more important these days than it ever has been for the church to focus its energies on programs and ministries that make a concrete and significant difference in the lives of believers.

Many church leaders are struggling to imagine what the future of the church looks like. What developing realities in our world will affect how people perceive the church's message and ministries? What churches are most likely to thrive in years to come? How are the people of this century different than in previous generations, and what does it take to communicate with them in a way that is clear and compelling? Any attempt to be successful in answering these questions will involve learning what new initiatives and directions are making an impact on other churches, and discovering whether or not they can be helpful at Saint Peter.

Yet at the same time, we are Lutherans: members of an historic church with long-held beliefs and practices, some of which date back to the 16th Century and others which date back to the very first centuries of the Christian movement. We understand our roots to be a gift - a gift that keeps us from being blown to and fro by the prevailing winds of society or contemporary theology. We hold to our roots, trusting that over the centuries, God has helped us to clarify what is central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ - what is central in being a church that is faithful to his mission and message.

As members of a church with the kinds of historic roots ours has, and as citizens of a new century, we are called to prayerfully, thoughtfully and faithfully honor the traditions of our church, even as we explore what new forms of faithfulness God is raising in our day. Like the scribe in Jesus' illustration, we must make use of what is new and what is old, as we seek to be faithful and effective in ministry.

The balance between tradition and innovation is a difficult one to maintain, as an individual believer or as a community of faith. Yet the danger of drifting to one extreme or another is significant. At Saint Peter, we are committed to bringing out of our Lord's treasure chest what is new and what is old, making the best use of our tradition and of the wisdom of our age, as we seek to stay faithful to Jesus' expectations that we make disciples of all people.

I don't expect it to be easy to be the church in years to come, but I do expect it to be a rich and rewarding experience. I am thankful for those of you who are reading and reflecting and dreaming and working to discover what God wants from the church - from our church - today. I pray that your efforts will be as much a blessing to you as they are to me... and to the church.

God's peace to you all,

David J. Risendal, Pastor