My blogging friend Erik (koinonia, @erikullestad) recently wrote a post about a new ELCA task force of which he is a member: “Living Into the Future Together (LIFT): Renewing The Ecology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America”. From a November 19, 2009 ELCA press release we learn that
"the task force will examine the relationships among and the key changes that have affected ELCA synods, congregations, the churchwide organization, agencies and institutions, colleges and seminaries, diversity, mission support and stewardship, governance of the ELCA, and external factors such as the effects of globalization and technology on the ELCA."
Their work will be guided by two questions:
- What is God calling this church to be and to do in the future?
- What changes are in order to accomplish these tasks more faithfully?
Wow. Am I the only one who sees this as an amazingly tall order with huge ecclessiological implications? It can be tempting to say that this task force is looking largely at "management" or "administrative" issues – how churchwide ministries are organized and how they relate to one another.
But unless I'm reading too much into the words of the press release, it seems that task force is asking questions that go beyond a simple denominational "reorganization" effort. The task force will examine, among other things, the relationship between synods and congregations, and issues of governance within the ELCA – matters that are filled with essential questions about our ecclesiology. Furthermore, their first guiding question – what is God calling this church to be? – is fundamentally about what it means to be church in the ELCA … a question that has never been settled in our denomination's 20 years.
Speaking of ecclesiology, four years ago I read Tim Wengert and Gordon Lathrop's wonderful book, Christian Assembly (and commented positively on it here and here). Perhaps I should pick it up again as I follow this task force in their important and ambitious work.
Erik promises that the task force will have a web presence in the coming weeks. I certainly hope so, for I intend to follow their work enthusiastically. They are asking critical questions – I'm anxious to see their responses.
UPDATED (Jan 11, 10am):
A brief article in the May 2009 issue of The Lutheran referred to this task force's work as a "structure review." As I said above, this task force seems to be reviewing more than just structure. By asking what it means to be church, they seem to be reevaluating our denominational identity.
A .pdf document summarizing the October 2009 Conference of Bishops had this to say about the task force:
The scope of this study is to ask what our theological, confessional, and liturgical identity brings today’s world; where is God leading us in the midst of change to new mission opportunities; what key changes are needed across ELCA partnerships to make this step forward; will the governing documents need to be changed to reflect this new future?
It will be interesting to see how the task force understands the ELCA's "theological, confessional and liturgical identity" as it as it seeks to bring that identity to bear on our church's witness in the world and our internal governance.
Finally, I found the notes from the November 2009 ELCA Church Council, where the task force was created. I've republished the notes, which give background, scope, funding, and other details about the task force, here.