The whole church has to be about transformational ministry so strong congregations can get stronger, said Stephen Bouman, executive director of ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission. "It's not just about pathology. It's about growth and renewal."
The 2011 Churchwide Assembly took action to make support for the work of congregations one of the ELCA's highest priorities. The assembly requested congregations, in collaboration with synods, to begin, develop, review or redefine their unique mission plans.
But congregations can struggle as they work toward transformation, Bouman said. Some obstacles include "acting as if Christ has not risen," he said. "If Christ has risen, what do we need to be afraid of? What is there that God cannot give us? We therefore think too small. We need to take our own faith seriously and act as if it were true."
Other times parishioners may oppose change. "In the Lutheran tradition, we are always reforming — we are always being made new," said Neil Harrison, ELCA program director for congregational renewal. "We know that not only in the church, but in life in general, whenever there is something different, there is going to be resistance and a whole range of emotions."
Those emotions can include grief and anger, Harrison said, adding, "We train leaders to be grounded in change theory and grief processes to help them engage congregations effectively for those realities."
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