Thoughts about mission, vision, core values, and the main things
from Bishop Peter Rogness
We are one expression of a three-expression church. With the churchwide organization, 64 synods, and 10,500 congregations in the ELCA, we engage in ministry under the following mission:
“Marked with the cross of Christ forever, we are claimed, gathered, and sent for the sake of the world.”
Our vision characterizes how we wish to shape our mission. In 2000 we adopted a threefold vision for the first decade of the millennium; but when the decade concluded in 2010, the three emphases—equipping leaders, inviting others to a life in Jesus Christ, and uplifting the lives of the poor—will continue to be pursuits that are central to our life together. But the tag line that proceeded the three emphases of mission—congregations as catalysts for mission—continues to hold out the vision of the most effective work of a synod as connecting points for collaborations and alliances among congregations and ministry partners.
The third element of our identity, along with mission and vision, are the core values that inform how we go about our work.
Four core values inform our mission and vision and direct the way in which we carry out our work, particularly the work of synod staff and the church in its synodical expression. These core values aren’t precise or all-inclusive, but they seem to be imperatives for us in the context of this synod:
Relationships are more important than programs.
Structures and committees can be helpful in serving as a vehicle for connecting people who wish to participate in the life of the church, but programs and committees impinge on already frantic schedules and responsibilities. Maintaining the church of the past won’t engage a culture or generation that is slipping away from us. Relationships draw people into meaningful communities; relationships engage those on the margins.
Outreach is fundamental.
In almost every ministry site profile prepared prior to calling a pastor, leaders list the goal of attracting more members. But the desire for more names on the membership roles won’t draw anyone; the “evangelism of the unlocked door” no longer works. Communities, families, and the culture have changed. New strategies are crucial. The church is a body, and a body either grows or dies. Therefore to become a growing church once again, we need to proclaim to the world, to care for the world, to love our neighbor, to become more engaged in the world. God is in the world. Outreach is the growing edge for us because it will make or break our church, breathe life and possibilities into the whole body. I’m not suggesting that discipleship isn’t important—it’s absolutely necessary—but discipleship without outreach is narcissism, a preoccupation with self. Health, growth, and a hopeful future will only be possible if we look out beyond ourselves and our congregations and into needs of the people in the immediate community in which we live.
We are “repairers of the breach.”
Everywhere we turn today, we find people separated. We live in a global village, and proximity has drawn us closer to one another economically and socially. But the proximity has also underscored the differences that divide us. It’s human nature to bond with those most like ourselves—in class, race, background, tastes, life experience. Our families, churches, communities, and world are full of divisions. We can claim the opportunity to be a different kind of people and church in this synod. While the approaches to ministry and congregational life vary, we have the power not to be a people who sort and divide, but a people who connect, invite, and embrace one another. I anticipate the time when local mission partners moves from a task force in this synod to a mindset and orientation that we are gathered together to be joined in mission and ministry. I anticipate a synod which sees lively discussions of differences as a strength of those gathered around the cross of Christ, not an embarrassment or a weakness.
Being a Lutheran is an asset.
For Lutherans, Scripture stands at the center of our faith. Law and gospel. The Bible is the living word of God, not a rule book that sits on a shelf for reference. Our confessional foundations don’t isolate us, but propel us into the world to witness to the truth of the gospel and enter into dialogue with others different than ourselves. Because Lutherans claim that God’s grace lies at the core, we can live within the many shades of gray, the ambiguities, the tensions in our understanding because we believe in a loving God who claims us and renews us. We are positioned to engage the world in its need!
The Main Things
As the weakened economy has placed additional challenges on congregations, synods, and our churchwide organization, we have tightened our belts around staffing—reducing from 9.5 FTEs in 2000 to 7.5 FTEs in 2010. Reductions in staffing forced us to think carefully about the work we do as synod staff, so we asked ourselves: Among all the things we do as synod staff, what three things are so centrally important that if we don’t do them well, nothing else we do matters?
Here’s what we identified:
- Equip, resource, and support leaders and congregations. We embrace a posture of collegiality and partnership. The bishop is the synod’s pastor, and the Office of the Bishop equips the whole people of God in the synod to be God’s presence in the world. Specifically, that means we need to be clearly focused on doing those things you—congregations and leaders—need us to do in order to maximize the church’s vitality in every community. We work intensely with you during times of transition and crisis. We hold gatherings to support and equip both rostered and elected lay leadership. We make ourselves available to walk with you in ways that empower the whole work we do as the body of Christ in this place.
- Serve as catalysts for mission and vision. We are not simply a spare parts department to keep the machinery of your congregation running. Since we are most often called on at times of transition and crisis, we play a role in raising the mission question, calling attention to the church’s role in the world, the breadth of the church’s work, the many ways we become powerful together and missional locally. We remind folks of the key questions in those times: How is God walking with us into the world? Where are we going? How do we get there?
- Create and sustain competent infrastructure that connects congregations to the wider church. We are aware of the need for basics like competence and efficiency. Too often the church settles for organizational mediocrity, and in a time of increased need and scarce resources, we believe competence, responsiveness, attention to detail is important. When you expect to count on us, we expect ourselves to be dependable. We look to help create a church where all people can expect that from one another.