The Role and Importance of Apologetics in Retention of Young Adults in Church Life and Membership

Andy Wrasman
Practical Theological Interpretive Missional Case Study
Spring 2019

The following case study was written for an Introduction to Practical Theology course at Concordia Seminary.  To better understand this case’s sections labeled priestly listening, sagely wisdom, prophetic discernment, and servant leadership, please consult Osmer’s book, Practical Theology.

“Are Young Adults Leaving the Church in Large Numbers, and if They Are What Should I do About it in my Future Congregation as a Pastor?”

Priestly Listening

I’ve heard grumblings for a long time (back to the late 90s when I was in high school) about how the Church must do something to keep youth from leaving the Church.  Typically, I have heard that this is a problem that occurs when young adults graduate high school, leaving their families and hometown to go away to a university.  Maybe the university is within an hour or two from their parents’ home, maybe it’s within the same state in which they grew up, or maybe it’s on the other side of the country.  It doesn’t really matter where the university is, what I have heard is that many Christians end up leaving the Church during university and that they don’t usually come back anytime soon – if ever. I’ve also heard that in general 20 to 30 year olds are leaving the Church in larger numbers than any other age group.

What Will I Do in Response to These Troubling Ruminations I Keep Hearing?

In this paper, I will first seek to find reliable studies that would objectively demonstrate if this alleged young adult exodus from the Church is real or not.  I’d like to find studies that look at the differences of attendance loss in this age demographic in various denominations, not just the Church in general.  Is one denomination doing better than another in retaining the 20 to 30 year olds of their church body?  I hope to find data on this demographic in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.  If the concerns I’m hearing are not grounded in reality, then I can correct such worries with facts.  If there really is a Church wide exodus in America occurring when youth enter universities, the LC-MS needs to have a plan in place to ensure retention.  I, as a future pastor, will need a plan of action in place to ensure that the kids who have grown up in our congregation do not leave the Church and potentially reject Christ all together once moving away from the spiritual care of their families and our congregation.

To create an effective plan, I will seek to find reliable studies that give insights into why the young adults of the Church are leaving.  Also, I want to speak with someone from my home congregation growing up who I know has left the Christian faith to find out why.  I will also evaluate what I discover from these studies and my former Sunday school peer with the words of Scripture to see what insights God gives to why people leave the Church.  From here, I will formulate a possible solution (or plan of action) to pursue in resolving this retention problem, which will be subjected to Scriptural approval and guidance, as well as to priestly listening and sagely wisdom, before a plan of action in servant-leadership is presented.

Sagely Wisdom

Decreasing Church Attendance and Membership for 20-30 Year Olds

 Gallup has followed church membership and attendance since 1930 and in the article, “The Religiousity Cycle”, George H. Gallup Jr. explains that Gallup has observed that there is “a cyclical ebb and flow in religiosity among Americans.”  Gallup Jr. explains this cycle as, “Americans find religion early in life and lose some during young adulthood, only to find it again as they mature.”  Combining the findings from the 2001 Gallup Poll Religion Aggregate and the 2000-2001 Gallup Youth Survey, Gallup found the following: “Fifty-four percent of teens aged 13 to 15 reported having attended church in the past seven days, as did 51% of 16- to 17-year-old teens. The figure drops to 32% among 18- to 29- year-olds but rises again to 44% among 50- to 64-year-olds and 60% among those aged 75 and older.”  This data is presented in the following bar graph:

Graph 1

Gallup also found from these two studies a drop and rise across the ages of life concerning church membership: “Sixty-nine percent of 13- to 15-year-olds report being members of a church or synagogue, compared to 59% of 16- to 17-year-olds, 60% of 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and 80% of those aged 75 and older.”  This data is presented in the following bar graph:

Graph 3.png
It is worth noting that these studies combine both church and synagogue attendance and membership, though through much of the summary of these two studies findings, Gallup Jr. does not always make this combined study of the two religions, Christianity and Judaism, clear.  He usually in his summary only speaks of church attendance and membership, not mentioning the Jewish people polled.  I’d want to investigate further, was the drop and rise in religious participation the same in both the Christian and Jewish religious bodies?  If both religions are experiencing a drop in attendance in these ages, what is occurring that spurs this drop in both religions?  It’d also be good to see what is bringing these people back into their churches and synagogues?  Gallup Jr. suggests the following answer:

Religion becomes more important again as young adults progress through their 20s, possibly marry, have children and settle down in a community. Many Americans want religion to play a role in their children’s lives, and this desire may draw people back into their religious communities. As people grow into their middle years, they begin to experience the loss of parents and increasingly face the inevitable changes of life, which may deepen their religious beliefs even further. As people advance into their final years, they can be expected to be more likely to reflect on the meaning of life, as well as the end of their own.[1]

From the Gallup research I am convinced that there is a significant number of young adults who leave the Church, but I think it’s important to look at any data that can be found on denominational levels.

At the 2002 Annual Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)  the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life presented that “88 percent of the children raised in evangelical homes leave church at the age of 18, never to return.”[2]  This number is a number that is beyond shocking.  It’s hard to even believe this statistic to be true.  There are no details provided as to how this statistic was found by the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life, but the statement still stands on the SBC’s “Newsroom” of their 2002 Annual Convention.  It also isn’t too helpful to my question of specific denomination loss of young adults, because this number is for evangelicals and not specifically the SBC.

Though, I couldn’t find specifics on other denominations’ loss or retention of young adults, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LC-MS), my denomination, has conducted thorough research on this matter.  The study is entitled, “A SURVEY OF LCMS CONGREGATIONS PART 1 OF A BROAD STUDY OF YOUNG ADULT RETENTION” and it was released in 2017, tracking the church attendance of confirmands from 2004-2006.  The findings were that “Congregations report that roughly 1-in-3 of young people confirmed in 2004-2006 worship at an LCMS church today. Another third lost contact with their home church (or rather, their home church has lost contact with them). The rest either attend another denomination (11%), worship only sporadically (15%) or do not attend church at all (11%).”[3]  It is rather startlingly to think that in a little more than a decade a LC-MS congregation will have no connection at all with 40% their confirmed youth – having no idea where they are or if they are members of a church or regularly attending a church (any church).  Are many of these confirmed youth now a part of the 11% that no longer attend church?  And those that sporadically attend – why?  Do they believe?  Or are they just attending due to family obligations?  This drop seems to match that of what was found by the Gallup studies.

Christian vs. Secular University Attendance Makes an Impact on Church Attendance

Dr. Steven J. Henderson, President of Christian Consulting for Colleges and Ministries, Inc., conducted research on the differences that attending a Christian or secular university has on the faith of college students after his daughter entered into a decade of drug use after attending a public institution of higher learning.  His study found the following key discoveries:

  1. Attendance at a public or private non-religious college lowers religious commitment. Fifty-two percent (52 percent) no longer claim to be born-again, or quit attending church after three or four years at a secular college or university.

  2. Attendance at a religious college maintains or raises religious commitment. Only seven percent (7 percent) no longer claim to be born-again with a very small drop in overall church attendance after three or four years at a religious college.

  3. Students who attend institutions that are members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) showed significant gains in religious commitment. The differences in choosing a CCCU type school versus a non-CCCU school are dramatic: students at CCCU schools experience only one-fourth the drop in church attendance, and one-seventh the drop in prayer and meditation, but nearly five times the increase in overall religious commitment4. While attending private or public secular colleges, students coming from more conservative religious backgrounds lose their faith at a higher rate (up to 67 percent loss) than students from less-conservative denominations. (Editor’s Note: Typically, AG students would fall into the category of being from more conservative backgrounds, which gives them an even bigger challenge to maintain their faith while they are attending a secular school.)5. The biggest degree of change is in the first year away from home. Statistics show that students become significantly less religiously active during the first year of college. One of the greatest benefits of attending a Christian college is to be in an environment where both peers and faculty will encourage you to make Biblical decisions. Conversely, being in an environment where both peers and faculty are critical and even hostile to Christian faith and values make the first year of college a much more difficult one for a Christians.

The Religious/Anti-God Positions of Faculty Professors

Taking note of Henderson’s last key takeaway from his study, the question arises, “Are secular schools more critical and even hostile to Christian faith and values?”  Are there any studies that could objectively demonstrate that secular universities are more critical of the Christian faith?  Or even more hostile to it?

In 2007, Neil Gross, then an assistant professor of sociology at Harvard University, and Solon Simmons, then an assistant professor of conflict analysis and sociology at George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, conducted a study, called the “Politics of the American Professoriate”, which was administered by the Center for Survey Research at Indiana University.  In their study, they found that the majority of the faculty at universities believe in God.  The next largest group believes in a Higher Power of some sort.  The atheist and agnostic group was the smallest with 23.4%.[4]  However, this percentage is significantly higher than that of the general public which in American in 2007 which, according to Pew Research, was only 4%.[5]  That means in 2007, there were five times the number of atheists and agnostic professors in American universities than in the general public.  This greater number of atheists and agnostics for Christian university students encounter who are in teaching positions could have a sway on their leaving the Church.

Gross’ and Simmons’ review did survey faculty at religious institutions too and they split the numbers out.  They also gave a breakdown of the different demographics at the different types of universities.  Below is an image that demonstrates these differences.

Graph 2.png

In a very similar study, “Religious Beliefs and Behavior of College Faculty” by Gary A. Tobin and Aryeh K. Weinberg for the Institute for Jewish & Community Research found very similar numbers.  Their study demonstrates that 46% of faculty asserted that they have a personal relationship with God, 19% answered that they have no relationship but believe in God, 19% said they do not, and 17% preferred not to answer. Within the public, 66% answered that they have a personal relationship, 27% answered that they have no personal relationship but believe in God, only 4% said they do not, and 3% chose not to answer.  Their study also looked at the tolerance of faculty towards students of various religions by gauging their warmth/favorability and coolness/unfavorability towards specific religions.  Jews and Buddhists were the students who faculty felt most favorable towards with Jews with 73% of faculty saying they have warm/favorable feelings towards Jews with only 3% saying that they have cool/unfavorable feelings.  68% of faculty said that they feel warm/favorable to Buddhists with only 4% being cool/unfavorable.  One group produced a high rate of negative feelings among the faculty: Evangelical Christians.  Only 30% ranked their feelings toward Evangelical Christians as warm/favorable, with only 11% feeling very warm/favorable, the lowest ranking among every other religious group, and 53% said that they have cool/unfavorable feelings towards Evangelical Christians.  The chart below gives a visual image that marks how stark the unfavorable view of Evangelical Christians is among the faculty of American universities compared to students of other religions.[6]

Graph 4.png

For the purposes of my question, it would be good to see if such an unfavorable disposition towards Evangelical Christians from faculty professors has any influence or sway on Evangelical Christians who attend universities to leave the Christian faith.  It would be good to also see how school teachers would answer this question to know if there is any change in the tolerance and favorability conditions in the educational environment switch from high school to university studies.  Are Christian Evangelicals being prepared for the intolerance and unfavorable dispositions they should expect to receive at university campuses? Furthermore, would I as a Lutheran be conceived as a Non-evangelical Christian or as an Evangelical Christian by university professors if they did have any religious interactions with me or from any of my Christian apparel or swag?

The Reasons that Young Adults Quit Attending Church

Pew Research has found that 78% of America’s adult “Religious Nones” (Atheists, Agnostics, and Nothing in Particular) were raised in a particular religion before leaving that religion in adulthood.  Almost half (49%) of these “Nones” who were brought up in a religious community said they left because they didn’t believe the religion’s teachings.  The common examples cited as to why they are now unaffiliated with the religion they were raised are:

  • “Learning about evolution when I went away to college.”
  • “Too many Christians doing un-Christian things.”
  • “Religion is the opiate of the people.”
  • “Rational thought makes religion go out the window.”
  • “Lack of any sort of scientific or specific evidence of a creator.”
  • “I just realized somewhere along the line that I didn’t really believe it.”
  • “I’m doing a lot more learning, studying and kind of making decisions myself rather than listening to someone else.[7]

Generation Z: The Culture, Beliefs, and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation is a 2018 release in which Barna Research Group reveal their findings of a comprehensive study into the perceptions, experiences and motivations of 13- to 18-year-olds in Generation Z.  The findings as summarized by J. Warner Wallace in his summary of this work in “Are Young People Really Leaving the Christianity?” provides helpful insights into what this age group finds to be the barriers to the Christian faith:

“I have a hard time believing that a good God would allow so much evil or suffering in the world” (29%)
b. “Christians are hypocrites” (23%)
c. “I believe science refutes too much of the Bible” (20%)
d. “I don’t believe in fairy tales (19%)
e. “There are too many injustices in the history of Christianity” (15%)
f. “I used to go to church but it’s not important to me anymore” (12%)
g. “I had a bad experience at church with a Christian” (6%)[8]

Wallace summarized the prominent reasons for why youth the leave the church from another book, Why Kids Leave the Church, by Tim Bisset, as such:

1. They left because they had troubling, unanswered questions about the faith.
2. They left because their faith was not “working” for them.
3. They left because they allowed other things to take priority.
4. They left because they never personally owned their faith.[9]

The Reasons Young Adults Stay in Church and Major Factors for People Attending Church

Turning attention to reasons that young adults stayed in church, the LC-MS study I referenced earlier found four factors that were a predictor of high retention of a congregation’s confirmands.  Those four factors are:

1. Being a larger congregation
2. Having a large number of young adults who joined after high school
3. Having a reduced number of confirmands leave before graduation
4. Having younger adult leaders, specifically, younger than 32 years old[10]

The LC-MS study also found that the age of the senior/sole pastor, having a large portion of young adults in worship, presence of local colleges, and changes to the confirmation process or youth ministry had no direct impact on retention, thou the study team had suspected that these factors would.[11]  No suggestions were given for retention from this study, since it was still in its first phase.

As to why people go to church, Gallup in a March 2017 study, sought to discover the reasons people attend church.  The answers might be shocking if one is accustomed to the idea of having fun and entertaining programs for children and the whole church body, or having the best praise band in town.  The number one and number two reasons for why people attend church both had to do with the sermons: sermons that teach Scripture (76% said this was a major factor) and sermons that are relevant to life (75% said this was a major factor).  Spiritual programs for children and teens had the third highest result as a major factor for church attendance with 64%, beating out social activities to get to know people in the community, which only received 49%.  Coming in at seventh place out of seventh possible factors for church attendance that Gallup provided was “a good choir, praise band, cantors or other spiritual music” (38% said this was a major factor).  When Protestants are separated from Roman Catholic responses to this survey, “sermons that teach about Scripture” jumps up to 86% as a major factor and “sermons that help connect religion to own life” jumps to 83%.[12] The image below shows the seven factors that were polled in this survey.

Graph 5.png
Priestly Listening

Interviewing a Sunday School Peer Who Left the Church

My Sunday school class in high school was rather small.  There were only about ten of us in the class on a high attendance day, and those of us in the group came from three different high schools.  For the most part, we only saw each other at church.  We had the same teacher for my four years through high school.  I believe it was a very tight-knit group for the minimal amount of time we spent together each week and for a few of the service, social, and spiritual activities and trips we had together as a youth group. After high school graduation, most of us left the church congregation, going away to university or getting jobs and just didn’t come back to the church (to the best of my knowledge that is having not been back to the church myself in over ten years).  I stayed in the congregation for three years after graduating, because I stayed in the area working, and I became the teacher of the Sunday school class for the last of those three years.  Once leaving Tennessee for California in 2003, I haven’t seen anyone from that Sunday school class.  At one point, I heard from one of our youth group leaders (different people from our Sunday school teacher) that I should pray for Sara because she wasn’t attending church and seemed to not want to.  Numerous years later, somehow, Sara and I connected as “friends” on Facebook.  We actually lived two hours away from each other in CA at the time, but we never met up.

At one point, I saw a post from Sara that appeared in my Facebook feed that led me to think she had left the Christian faith, or at the very least was likely far from active in church attendance.  For investigating this question of why young adults are leaving the Church, I thought Sara would be a good person to ask since she was someone I had personally gone through Sunday school with.  I wanted to know what was different from her experience and mine that might have made the difference in her leaving or staying in the Church.  Before reaching out to her, I did check to see if there were any indicators of what she currently confessed or identified with religiously.  Her Facebook profile stated that her religion was “Love.”

I messaged her with some details about this project and why I thought speaking with her could be helpful for my research and understanding why young adults leave the Church.

I gave her some questions in that message: “Would you still confess the sort of things that were taught at Trinity so many years ago? Would you say that you had faith in Jesus then? What about now? If then, but not now, what would have been the turning point(s) for you?”

She responded, “I’d be happy to discuss more over the phone some time. This seems like a lot to type in a message. It sounds like you are pursuing some interesting studies which is awesome! I agree, our Sunday school class was the best and probably what kept me going to church during school.”

Through a conversation that lasted a little over an hour, I learned much about why she was attending church and what she got out of her attendance and some insights into why she no longer attended church. Much of her feedback was in-synch with the data listed in the “sagely wisdom” portion of this paper.

Sara expressed that she grew up “really poor” with her mom.  She explained that her mom bounced from being Wiccan to Christian, but that in middle school her mom wanted to have her in a church congregation, and that her mom wanted it to be a Lutheran church.  In Gallatin, where Sara lived, that only left one option, Trinity Lutheran Church, without having to travel far outside of her hometown.  I never recalled seeing Sara’s mom in church – not once.  By the time my family joined Trinity, Sara’s mom had started work on Sundays and no longer attended.  Sara was brought to church by another family.  She told me the community and friendship she received from that family and from others at the congregation and in our Sunday school class were major factors in why she kept attending Trinity.

For Sara, this community element was much more a draw to attending Trinity than the Christian faith from what I could gather from our conversation.  In the 90s, in Tennessee, when she was active in the congregation, she saw that everyone in her high school attended church.  From her view of church attendance, it was very much a social club or social activity that everyone she knew participated in somehow.  I agreed with her on this point.  I can only think of two or three students in my entire high school who openly identified as being not-Christian.  The football coaches at my public high school even exhorted the whole team to go to church on Wednesday nights and to go to Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings; which I willfully did, as much for the social element as for any faith reasons.

Sara considers herself to have had faith in Christ while at Trinity, and she did go through confirmation classes to public confess that faith before the congregation.  She expressed that her beliefs are still Christian, or that she’s not opposed to Christian beliefs, but that now her Christian beliefs have broadened.  This broadening means that she considers that God’s revelation isn’t restricted to the Bible and that the Buddha could be a path to God or that Muhammad could be or that other religious leaders could be.  She recognizes that the belief systems of these religions are contradictory in particular doctrines, but she thinks that there are elements of truth within each of them too, and that those elements of truth are enough.  Enough for what? She stated that she also rejects traditional views of heaven and hell.

This broadened view of Christian doctrine began when she attended university.  These beliefs didn’t emerge immediately, but over time.  When she left her hometown to study art at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, she simply never pursued finding a church community.  I couldn’t gather from Sara exactly why this was the case, but it seemed to be that she just never desired it or needed it.  Knowing that she attended Trinity mostly for the community element and not because of the Christian faith, her answer seems reasonable.  As to her beliefs changing during this time at school and beyond, Sara thinks people commonly leave the Church in their 20s and 30s because in these years of life they are encountering experiences that are putting them into contact with other religions, other views, and different responsibilities than what they encountered while growing into adulthood that generate new questions, concerns, or doubts about the religion they were taught in their youth.  She did mention that this questioning often begins to occur in high school and that it did begin then for her.

I shared with her that recent studies indicate that many young adults leave the Church as a result of not having their questions or doubts about the Christian faith adequately answered, and I wondered if she thought that could be true for her.  She agreed that it certainly was.  Sara expressed that I knew how many difficult questions she had in our Sunday school class (I didn’t remember this).  I asked if she could recall one of these questions that she didn’t think was answered very well.  She said that most of her questions were situational ones.  She recalled asking, “What should a person do if married to an abusive person when the Bible teaches you should forgive and forget –  are you to remain with that abusive person?”  Though many of her questions weren’t adequately answered, she expressed that she had nothing but absolute love for the Sunday school teacher.   Sara did think that these questions had some impact on her not seeking out a church when she went to university.

If Sara were to go to a church again, it’d probably occur if she had any children.  She’d want them to grow up in a church, and she said she’d likely take them to a non-denominational church because she thinks they are more open-minded than the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and other denominations.  Through more dialog on what she meant by openness with some critique on her stance about non-denominational churches being more open, I gathered that what she meant was that she would be open to attending a Unitarian Universalist Church congregation if she had children, not a non-denominational one, which does fit her description of her broadened Christian beliefs.

From all that Sara shared in our conversation, her life’s experiences matched fairly well with the information I gleaned from the previous studies.  Trinity Lutheran Church in Gallatin, TN, only possessed one of the four factors for high retention of confirmands into adulthood (having young adults placed in to positions of leadership).  She had questions and concerns about the Christian faith that she felt were not adequately answered.  She grew up in a household that was already religiously liberal with her mom shifting back and forth between Wicca and Christianity, which likely became more of an important barrier to Christianity in college as she encountered more beliefs contrary to the exclusive doctrinal positions of Christianity.  Neither Sara nor I were drawn to Trinity for the sermons, but we were drawn to the Sunday school class, which was a regularly a serious Bible study with all of us having an open Bible in front of us after a time of sharing and prayer.  The Gallup study showed that sermons are the major factor for most people attending a church service, so I’m curious if she had heard sermons that taught her something about the Bible and that applied to situations in her life, if she would have found more incentive to find a church community in university. She expressed an openness to return to the Church when she had children, which matches one of the reasons the studies suggested as to why young adults return to the Church later in life (of course her return would not be to a Christian church).

The Value of Teaching Christian Apologetics to High School Students

For nine years I taught a World Religions/Christian Apologetics course to senior high school students at Crean Lutheran High School in Irvine, CA.  The first semester was World Religions and the second was Christian Apologetics.  After learning the belief systems of five of the world’s major religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, which looked at eight different denominations, and Islam) and 15 minor religions (Daoism, Shinto, Jainism, Sikhism, Falun Gong, Yoruba religions, Wicca, LaVeyan Satanism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, Christian Science, Unitarian Universalism, Rastafarianism, and Baha’i), the course shifted to defending the truthfulness of Christianity.  As the final Theology course at Crean, the students already had a good grounding in what Christianity teaches having had Old Testament, New Testament, and Christian Doctrine courses (in that order starting as freshmen).  As seniors, they were then exposed to the many diverse beliefs of the world’s religions, before being taught why they can know Christianity alone is the only true religion.

The opening unit focused on the historical reliability of the New Testament texts, both in their transmission and in their relaying of facts by eyewitnesses (or by the testimony of eyewitnesses), Jesus’ claim to divinity, and the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection that affirms those claims.  At the end of this first unit, I’d ask three questions concerning what the students learned: “Did studying the reliability of the Gospels and answering questions about who Jesus is help you?  Did these studies answer any questions you previously had?  What was the most significant thing you learned from this section of the class?”  The following are some of the answers that I saved from the Spring 2012 semester:

“This section significantly helped me. Not by strengthening my faith, I didn’t actually have any doubts or skepticisms about the Gospel that needed answering. I am already very strong in my faith. The way it helped me so much, is by making it easier for me to answer other people’s questions. Being a faithful Christian, many of my non-religious or skeptical friends, come to me looking for guidance or answers regarding Scripture. I would give them pretty good answers that would generally leave them feeling satisfied. Now I feel like I can answer all of their questions 110%, eliminating any doubt or fear in their minds.”

“This apologetics section definitely helped me to learn to better defend my faith. I have a lot of non-Christian friends who I regularly converse with about my religion, so this class gave me new tools & talking points that I can discuss with them, as well as raised new questions that I have further researched on my own. The most significant thing I learned was about the historical authenticity of Jesus’ life & the fact that there were pagan historians who affirmed Jesus’ life.”

“Yes, after studying this past month I have learned that I knew very little about how to defend my faith to those who don’t understand.”

“Studying the reliability of the Gospels and answering questions about who Jesus is helped me throughout my beliefs and doubts. As I was researching and reading the book, my doubts on Christianity faded away, since it seems so true! There are so many evidences that Jesus was a real, existed figure and that he has been resurrected. These studies answered my question of if Jesus even existed because I sometimes thought that Jesus could be just a fictional character.

“Studying the Gospels and the questions about who Jesus is really helped, as it helps me to have more apologetic evidence to further back my faith, both in my own mind and to defend it to other people. The most significant thing I learned were the reasons for believing the resurrection. Since I don’t often see miracles, hearing of someone being legitimately dead, and then rising again, is worthy of attention. But it is also hard to believe. Reading the evidences for it helped strengthen the idea in my mind.”

“Studying the reliability of the Gospels and answering questions about who he is definitely helped me. I have gotten into situations before where I wish I had the knowledge that I need to answer various questions from friends. I feel more equipped to get into discussions from now on.”

“These questions have made me much more knowledgeable on the Gospels and Jesus. Before I just believed in these things because I knew that I should. Now I know that these things actually happened and are actually true. I feel a lot more confident in my faith now and feel like I can talk to people about Christ more now because I can support what I believe in.”

Every year in every section of the course, I received this type of feedback on this question.  One year a student confessed on this question that he was a homosexual and that because of what we covered in the opening unit of Christian Apologetics he could no longer reject the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality.  That confession led to some very great one on one conversations with that student and then later his mom.  Every year, I’d receive numerous letters from students before graduation.  One of the comments in a letter from my first year teaching the course really stood out to me and I’ve never forgotten it.  The student said, “I’ve always gone to Christian schools, and I’ve always been taught how to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, and strength, but it wasn’t until this year with your course that I learned how to love the Lord with all of my mind.”

Multiple years the World Religions/Christian Aplogetics course was mentioned in either the salutatorian’s or valedictorian’s graduation speech.

Once, a returning alumni spoke in chapel and his message was almost exclusively on how the Christian Apologetics course was the most helpful course he had at the school and that it played an instrumental role in him seeking out a Christian club at his public university, and how being a part of that Christian community on campuses has radically blessed him with growth in Christ, since seeking that club was something he had to decide to do; it wasn’t something that he had to do, like going to Crean because his parents made him.

Routinely on the end of the semester surveys that all teachers were required to give, a good number of students for the Christian Apologetics course (usually about a third) would write in one of the few open response questions that the course was the best theology course at Crean, that this was the first theology course that they learned anything new in having gone to church their entire life, or that I was the best theology teacher (a response that I think was largely given due to the subject I was privileged to teach).  Numerous times I had students ask, “Why aren’t we being taught this in church?”  Or, “Why am I just now hearing about this?”

Taking into account this “priestly listening” from high school students benefiting from a course in Christian Apologetics, I think pursuing teaching Christian Apologetics in LC-MS congregations in sermons and in the high school Sunday school classes, or even the confirmation classes, is one important action to take to help increase retention of young adults in the Church after high school graduation.  From the feedback I have heard from high school students over nine years of teaching Christian Apologetics, most of the reasons cited for why young adults leave the Church were directly addressed and answered through the course.

Lutherans Are Anti-Apologetics

This possible solution of incorporating Christian apologetics into the life of my congregation, or even the life of the Synod’s congregations, is one that I think will need to be addressed through prophetic discernment to demonstrate a Biblical precedent or approach to apologetics.  This is because from my understanding, Lutherans have by and large been anti-apologetics.  When I was first introduced to Christian apologetics, I was told that Lutherans don’t do apologetics.  Dr. Rod Rosenbladt taught Christian Apologetics at Concordia University Irvine and he was the professor who introduced me to Christian apologetics.  He expressed that Lutherans don’t do apologetics.  He stated that Concordia Seminary in St. Louis didn’t even have an apologetics course, and that Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne might offer one course in apologetics as an elective.  He also seemed to bemoan the fact that Concordia University Irvine only had one apologetics course.  Being a Lutheran who taught apologetics for almost a decade and putting a lot of my work in that theological field of study online through blog posts and Youtube videos, I have received a good bit of feedback to support Rosendladt’s claims – “It’s good to see a Lutheran doing apologetics.”  Most of the people I encountered in the rather large apologetics community in Southern California were usually a little perplexed that I was a Lutheran; I didn’t fit into their typical theological paradigms.  People were typically Calvinists or Arminian in such circles, not Lutherans.  One person, a Calvinist who has settled into a LC-MS congregation, sent me a message once stating that I was “the only LCMS guy putting out on a regular basis apologetics in a brand name.”[13]

During my first week of Greek class after becoming a student at Concordia Seminary, I received an email from a LC-MS pastor who greatly supports and engages in apologetics who was disappointed that I was at the seminary.  He was hoping I wasn’t already here so he could dissuade me from pursuing ordination, so that I could keep teaching at Crean.  Once I replied and he found out that I was already at the seminary, he sent me some wonderful and encouraging advice.  The last piece of advice however was a warning: “Oh, and beware of the anti-apologists… they can be well-meaning but will think you are in favor of “decision theology”[14] or are “reformed”[15] (the go-to bogeyman for Lutherans).”

Soon after this email, I learned of an entirely different reason why some Lutherans are not in favor of apologetics.  I have sense heard that a type of apologetics that defends the historical reliability of the New Testament Scriptures to make a case for the historicity of the resurrection is putting trust in historical methods, or trust in evidence, and not putting trust in Jesus.  Essentially, I was told that it could lead people to idolatry.  That it was putting faith in the arguments and not in Jesus.  I even understood it to be said that in such apologetics it is even turning the Bible into an idol.

In the face of the many objections that will be raised against the Gospel and the truthfulness of the Bible, this Lutheran said that he would simply say, “I can’t prove anything to you, I can just tell you that I believe these promises to be true.”  Needless to say I was beside myself and nothing I said seemed to be convincing to this individual.

I have also recently heard a big swipe at the work of Josh McDowell and his book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, which has been recently updated with the help of Josh’s son, Sean, to The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict.  The critique was: “What does the title, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, tell you?  It says, “If you disagree, you’re stupid.’”  It was said in the context of McDowell’s approach of making a case for the truthfulness of Christianity and the title of his book as being such that keeps people from even hearing or considering Christianity because it places people in a position of being stupid if they don’t agree with McDowell.  I have a completely different take on that title.  It’s simply saying that the evidence demands that a person pay attention to it and give a response.  The evidence demands an audience, a listener.  There is so much evidence, it shouldn’t be ignored or unheard, and even in “decision theology” circles such evidence proceeds from the Gospel proclamation and points back to that proclamation.  The book is in fact simply debate notes that were compiled and source-cited for the purpose of giving Christians a tool to use in conversations and potential debate settings or research papers they might find themselves writing in academic settings.  The book is written first and foremost for the Christian who already believes the Gospel to have evidence to support their Gospel proclamations when they are asked to do such.

Prophetic Discernment

Since this paper is being written for a Lutheran professor at Concordia Seminary with primarily a Lutheran audience in mind for future readings, I won’t spend time here addressing the very real possibility of a believer falling from the faith as taught in Scripture, since our confessions already state that Scripture teaches against the Calvinist doctrine of “Preservation of the Saints.”  For the purpose of addressing why many young adults are leaving the Church, it’d be helpful to glean from Scripture the reasons people do fall from the faith or give up meeting with one another in church services. However, since I have chosen to pursue an action plan of integrating apologetics into my future congregational instructions based on the sagely wisdom I have gleaned and the priestly listening I have done, and I would recommend pastors across the LC-MS to do this too across all of our congregations, I think it is best to focus my prophetic discernment on the Bible’s depiction of Christianity as a reasonable and evidential faith and its exhortations for believers to defend the truthfulness of the Christian faith against the lies of the evil one.

Christians are Called to Examine Their Faith Critically and to be Fully Convinced of it in Their Minds

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21
Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good…

1 John 4:1
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Romans 14:5
Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.

2 Timothy 3:14
You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them…[17]

Jesus Valued Evidence and Pointed his Disciples and his Audiences and Hearers to Evidence to Support his Claims about Himself

John 14:11
Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

Acts 1:2-3
…until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.[18]

From the Gospel biographies more details are given as to what Jesus did in the appearances mentioned in the opening chapter of Acts to serve as convincing proofs.  I’ll provide some details on just a few of these appearances. In Luke 24, Jesus appears to The Eleven and other disciples. His appearance scares them. They think they are seeing a ghost, but Jesus encourages them to look at his hands and feet, and to touch him; ghosts don’t have flesh and bones, he explains. (Evidence!) He eats fish in their presence and they are amazed. (Evidence!)  In John 20, we are told that Jesus appeared to ten of The Eleven and that he showed them his hands and his feet and that he spoke with them.  (Evidence!)  Thomas was the missing disciple and he couldn’t believe that the others saw Jesus back from the dead.  Later in that chapter, Jesus appears to all of them.  This time Jesus personally invites Thomas to touch his wounds, providing him with the evidence he needed to believe.

The Apostles Pointed to Evidence to Affirm and Defend their Gospel Proclamations

On the day the Church was formed from Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, we see Peter making an apologetic argument for Jesus being the Christ.  First, Peter makes the defense by pointing to Jesus’ miracles and reminds his hearers that they know of these wondrous signs personally, because he did them in their midst. (Acts 2:22) He then quotes Psalm 16 (Acts 2:25-28) and explains how this is prophesy from David concerning the resurrection of the Messiah.  (Acts 2:29-31) Peter then states that God raised Jesus from the dead and that they (the disciples speaking in tongues – a miraculous evidence in and of itself) were witnesses of the resurrected Jesus. (Acts 2:32) Peter concludes these evidences (these defenses) with the only proper conclusion: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 is an apologetic speech.  He’s in court on trial for speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God (Acts 6:11).  The Jews had set up false witnesses against him.  The Biblical story that Stephen gives in Acts 7 is his defense (his apologia, literally he’s in court) against the false witnesses.  His Biblical story details how God’s chosen people have always rejected the prophets.  His conclusion is that “It’s not me, but you who have rejected the prophets and now the Christ.”  (Acts 7:51-53)

Acts 17 demonstrates that Paul’s approach to witnessing to Jews who accepted the Scriptures to be from God and to pagans who did not.  With the Jews, Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (Acts 17:2-3).  To the pagan audience Paul speaks to in the Areopagus, Paul says that God “has given assurance to all by raising him [Jesus] from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

When Paul reminded the Corinthians of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 he cites what is commonly considered to be an early Church creed.  It is considered a creed because Paul states that it is what he first received and what he passed on to them.  The language Paul uses indicates that what he shared was a formula that he too had received (probably as a new Christian himself) and as such he used it to teach the Corinthians the faith too.  This creed goes as follows:

That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15:3-7)

In this creed, the central Gospel is proclaimed and it is supported (defended) by the prophesy of Scripture and the testimony of the apostles and others who actually saw Jesus alive after being dead.  Paul states that at one time five hundred people saw Jesus after his resurrection.  He points out that many of them are still alive, which is essentially an invitation by Paul to the Corinthians to search them out if they are not convinced.

The Apostles Pointed to their Eyewitness Testimonies as the Reason to Trust their Message with Certainty

What we find within the text of the New Testament are the authors’ claims that they were eyewitnesses of Jesus or that their writings are based on eyewitness testimony.  With these claims they argue that they are writing so that others might believe or that their readers can trust their testimony to be true. The following are some verses that illustrate this internal evidence:

John concludes his gospel by saying, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:24–25).

John also claims to be an eyewitness at the start of one of his first epistles, saying, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

Peter echoes John’s words, claiming that the apostles’ accounts are not fabricated tales: “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

Luke provides no eyewitness claim for himself but assures his reader that he is relaying testimony that he received directly from eyewitnesses: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1–4).

Scripture Exhorts Christians to Make a Defense for the Truth of Christ and the Hope that we Have

1 Peter 3:15 states, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

The word defense in this verse is the Greek word apologia.  It is from this Greek word that the word apologetics is derived.  This word refers to a reasoned, logical defense of one’s position.  The defense for the hope that is in us can be as simple as speaking the Gospel.  If someone sees that I have hope which other men do not have, the answer is the hope that I have come from the hope that I have in Christ.  But, what if a more pointed reason is requested for why I trust this Gospel message to be true, or what if an attack against that message is given, does this verse support giving a defense for the Gospel in these circumstances too?  I’d argue that it does, but for those who would like to interpret this verse as simply speaking the Gospel as the defense for the hope that Christians have, I’d point them to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”  To destroy arguments and opinions raised against the knowledge of God, one does not simply say, “I can’t prove anything to you, I can just tell you that I believe these promises to be true,” as the one professor said he’d do if asked why Christianity is true.  We are called to reason with non-Christians as Paul did.  Being far removed in time from the eyewitnesses of the first century, we still appeal to their testimonies, but now we have to defend the reliability of their testimonies’ transmission to us and the validity of their claims to be eyewitnesses and even their authorship of their Biblical books.  When Christians are taught how to do this and trained how to do this, they’re excited and eager to share their faith with others, having been equipped to do such, as the feedback from my students indicated.

A Lutheran Approach to Apologetics to Address the Problem of the Young Adult Exodus from the Church

If Rosenbladt and the pastor who emailed me are correct, then one of the major reasons Lutherans don’t typically teach and practice apologetics is because of a fear of falling into “decision theology.”  I wholeheartedly believe that apologetics can be used within our confessional and doctrinal framework and not fall into “decision theology,” but addressing that issue seems completely irrelevant for the purpose in which I am suggesting incorporating apologetics into congregational life and teaching.  Since the goal with this practical theology case study is to find out how to best keep young adults from leaving the church, the apologetic arguments are being taught and shared with people who are already believers.  The arguments are not being given in such a way to force them into “making a decision for Christ” in conversion.  Post-conversion, having been made alive in Christ Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, we must daily decide to follow Jesus.  We must daily decide to walk in our baptism.  Those are decisions we make in cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives of sanctification.  Falling away from the faith and rejecting Christ after conversion is a very real possibility for all of us when we cut ourselves off from God’s presence through his means of grace.  I opened this section on “prophetic discernment” by stating that I wouldn’t proof-text the possibility of a Christian being de-converted, and I’ll try to refrain from doing that now.

The point that must be addressed is why are the young adults leaving the Church and how the Church can work to help keep them in the fold.  The Body of Christ is a unit made up of many parts.  When one part is suffering, we all are, and the “sagely wisdom” that Gallup has produced indicates that 20 to 30 year olds have been leaving the Church in large numbers for almost a century. As the Body of Christ we must be concerned for these members who are suffering, and if they are not only dropping Church attendance, they are rejecting faith in Christ all together and finding themselves once again as objects of God’s wrath.  The reasons that the “sagely wisdom” segment of this paper have produced to explain the major factors as to why young adults leave the Church are largely pertaining to a grappling of religion and logic and science, as well as unanswered questions, concerns, and doubts about the Christian faith, in particular in light of the religiously pluralistic communities they find themselves.  Good apologetic instruction can help to preemptively alleviate these questions, concerns, and doubts for high school aged students before they reach those years of young adulthood in which they misuse their new found societal freedom to walk away from the Christian faith they were raised.

Again, apologetics refers to a “reasoned defense” of a particular position.  Apologetics is not “offense.”  As a defense, apologetics is primarily first and foremost for the Christian.  Apologetic arguments serve to protect the Christian against deception, lies, and doubts against the Christian faith.  I can think of no reason this approach to apologetics would be against our Lutheran confessions or most importantly the Scriptures.

Servant Leadership

A Plan for Action at my Future Congregation

  1. I’ll teach the high school Sunday school class.

In my high school Sunday school class, our Sunday school teacher didn’t even believe Lutheran theology.  I didn’t know this until I became a student at Concordia University Irvine and I encountered teachings that were contrary to what I had heard in my Sunday school class.  I think an elder, or a Director of Christian Education, or another pastor can teach the adult Sunday school class.  The more impressionable young men and women of the congregation in high school should have the best theologian, or at least the most trained theologian, as the teacher in their class.

I’d teach the theology curriculum from Crean Lutheran High School, repeating the cycle every four years and adapting the curriculum pacing and schedule to the needs, questions, and concerns of the students.  This means that everyone will get the course in World Religions/Christian Apologetics that I taught at some point before high school graduation.

This also puts them in a unique relationship with their pastor.  I’ll be able to know a lot about each and every high school student in the congregation and I should be more knowledgeable about the struggles or temptations they have that can lead to their exodus from the Church if they are not properly addressed.

  1. Incorporate apologetics into the confirmation curriculum of the congregation.

The Director of Christian Education at Faith Lutheran Church in Oak Ridge, TN, had done this and she’d be an excellent resource and aid for me to follow in this endeavor.

  1. Create opportunities to attend high school aged appropriate apologetics conferences.

An annual apologetics conference for high school students is reThink Apologetics Student Conference with the same weekend conference taking place in four locations each year: Orange County, CA, Minneapolis, MN, Dallas, TX, and Birmingham, AL.  The conference is put together by Stand to Reason.

  1. Take weekly evangelism trips to college campuses and bring high school students with me.

I partook in weekly evangelism trips to college campuses in Orange County for seven years.  Taking high school students from my congregation with me to do this will be a great way for them to engage in religious dialog with adherents of other religions or with agnostics/atheists/nones and New Agers before going to study at a university themselves.  Integrating the conversations, I had on campuses into my classroom discussions was one of the reasons I think students trusted me as a person of authority on the subject, because they knew it wasn’t a book knowledge experience, but a knowledge that came from personal experience.

  1. Ensure we have a college aged ministry at the congregation.

4 out of the 5 Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod congregations I have been a member has not had a college aged specific ministry, even though the congregations were near colleges or universities.  The ministry doesn’t have to be a separate age group division within the congregation, but it could be.  If there is a university nearby the church, when I take weekly evangelism trips to the campus, I’ll be sure to let the students from the congregation at that school know when I’ll be there.  They can meet and greet with me for a while and I can pray with them or schedule a Bible study time on campus for them that would take place before or after the evangelism time.  Working through the students on campus that are members of the church, I’d want to start a Christian club on campus.  I’d work with LC-MS U to see what resources are available and if it’d be helpful to start a LC-MS U club.

  1. Connect university students with LC-MS pastors in the area of their school.

Knowing the importance of getting connected into a Christian community soon after a student leaves home and enters into a dorm setting at a university, I can’t simply sit back as their pastor and trust that they’ll go out and find a good church to attend and hopefully be a member.  I will search out what LC-MS congregations are in the area and determine which one would be the best fit for each student as they leave our congregation.  I’ll ensure that the student knows the name of the church, its physical address, as well as its online address (it’s url).  I’ll also reach out to the pastor of that church and give him the students name and contact information.  The church is going to go to the student; I’m not just going to trust that the student will go to the church.  Along these lines, I’d also check to see what Christian clubs are on campus and give advice in joining them.

  1. Ensure that every high school student has an active servant role or opportunity in the congregation and place them into leadership positions as soon as they are ready after high school graduation.

The LC-MS study I cited in the “sagely wisdom” section found that having young leaders in the church, at least by the age of 32, helped retain young adults in the congregation.

Starting in high school, students can be greeters at the door, hand out bulletins, pass the offering plates, serve as trustees, cook the Easter morning breakfasts, help put away chairs and tables after pot lucks, visit the shut-ins in senior assisted living centers, and depending on the congregation I find myself, read the Scriptures during the service.  Serving in these roles will help them connect with members of the congregation at all age levels.

After high school, I’ll know these students pretty well from having been their Sunday school teacher for four years.  I’ll know what they believe, and I’ll know which ones I can trust to be leaders in the congregation and in what role they’d best be able to serve, and I want to give them the opportunity to not only serve, but be servant-leaders in the congregation.


As to the speed of enacting these plans, I’d like to have approval for much of these ideas before I even start my convertible vicarage.  These are all points that I listed on my Personal Growth Assessment as desired ministry expectations.  I’d love to hit the ground running on these ideas, because I honestly think they will have an impact on not only keeping young adults in my congregation (or keeping them in a congregation wherever they go), but that they will also help ensure that they’ll thrive in our congregation and that the Body of Christ will benefit from their presence and good spiritual well-being. If it takes a year or two to work these ministry ideas into my pastoral duties and expectations at the congregation that’s perfectly acceptable to me, because I think these are ideas that people will eventually accept and embrace.

As an ESTP/Eagle with a results-oriented personality type, I perceived the problem and had all the answers in my head before I even began the process of researching to learn what “sagely wisdom” there was on the issue… and the DISC and MIPS results say that I’m almost always right with whatever I perceive to be the problem and the way to solving it.  I knew all of what I’ve written down in my head rather quickly after conducting the research, but it took me hours on end to put what I knew almost instantaneously and could speak on the fly onto paper.  What I find most interesting now at this point, is to see what others think of what I’ve put together. Do they agree with my findings?  Do they agree with my action plan? Would they do something completely different and why?  I’d love to get more feedback on what my “sagely wisdom” and “priestly listening” could mean on the synodical level for the LC-MS in terms of using apologetics in our congregations.  Could one day an apologetics course be taught at Concordia Seminary?

The process of researching the statistics on how many young adults are leaving the Church and why was very beneficial.  Calling and talking with Sara was also helpful.  I’d like to take the time to converse with other peers from my Sunday school class.  I’m curious if they are still in Christ and how they are doing.  I wonder what I can glean from them concerning this Church wide problem.  What I think is most beneficial to me from having gone through this process with this case study is simply having all the “sagely wisdom” research and statistics at hand to share with others.  I think the data I have uncovered will prove useful in convincing others of getting behind my action plan.  I also found it very fun to start from a position of grumblings, ruminations, of this problem of young adults leaving the Church.  I’ve heard it all my life, but I’d never heard the numbers, never seen the studies, never demanded it even.  I’ve seen many people in the congregations I’ve been a part of pursue things to keep the youth in the Church that were far from meeting the needs that needed to be met from the studies I found.  Having these studies saved and readily accessible should help guide such members of my future congregation away from those ideas and into the direction we should be facing.

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[1] Gallup Jr., George, “The Religiousity Cycle”, Published on: Jun4 4, 2002. Accessed at on April 30, 2019.

[2] Walker, John, “Family Life Council says it’s time to bring family back to life”, Published on: June 12, 2002. Accessed at on May 2, 2019.

[3] “Millennials and Their Retention Since Confirmation”, 2017.  Accessed at on May 2, 2019.

[4] Gross, Neil and Simmons Solon, “How Religious are America’s College and University Professors?”, Published on: Feb 06, 2007.  Accessed at on April 29, 2019.

[5] Pew Research Center, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape”, Published on: May 12, 2015. Accessed at on April 29, 2019.

[6] Tobin, Gary and Aryeh K. Weinberg, “Religious Beliefs and Behavior of College Faculty”, 2007.  Accessed at on April 29, 2019. 

[7] Lipka, Michael, “Why America’s “Nones” Left Religion Behind”, Published on August 24, 2016.  Accessed at on May 2nd, 2019.

[8] Wallace, J. Warner, “Are Young People Really Leaving Christianity?”, Updated on January 12, 2019.  Accessed at on May 2, 2019.

[9] Ibd.

[10] “Millennials and Their Retention Since Confirmation”, 2017.  Accessed at on May 2, 2019.

[11] Ibd.

[12] Saad, Lydia, “Sermon Content is What Appeals to Most Churchgoers”, Published on April 14, 2017. Accessed at on May 2, 2019.

[13] Brand name referring to my Contradict Movement website with a registered Contradict trademark:

[14] Arminians

[15] Calvinists, or those who hold to the Five-Points of Calvinism (AKA TULIP)

[16] This is a reference to the historical apologetic argument laid out by the Lutheran, John Warwick Montgomery, in his book History, Law, and Christianity.

[17] Wallace, J. Warner, “The Reasonable, Evidential Nature of the Christian Faith”, Published on February 23, 2018.  Accessed at on May 3, 2019.

[18] Ibd.

The Church and Its Pastors

The Christian Church properly speaking is the Body of Christ, all true believers from all time.   The Church is recognized by the assembly of Christians around the preached Word of God and the delivery of Christ’s sacraments to his people: baptism and communion.[1]  This assemblage of the Church is implied from the Greek word ἐκκλησία which the early Church chose to use to identify itself.  This is also the word that Christ himself used to speak of his people in Matthew 16:18. The word did not have a sacred origin when Christ used it, but a secular and political one.  In the Greco-Roman world, an ἐκκλησία was “a regularly summoned legislative body, assembly.”[2]  The word literally denotes a people who are called out – separated from society in some form or fashion – think of those in Congress.  Christians by being called Christ’s ἐκκλησία are “called out ones,” called out from this wicked world as they are the holy citizens of God’s eternal kingdom and members of his family.

The following is Christ’s usage of ἐκκλησία found in Matthew 16:18: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church [ἐκκλησίαν], and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This verse reveals seven key traits of the Church.  First, the Church is Christ’s.  It is his and all authority in it belongs to him. It is not Peter’s Church nor your Church nor mine.  Secondly, Jesus is the one who builds his Church.  He builds it as he sees fit, as he desires.  Third, Jesus builds his Church on himself.  In the context of this verse, the rock upon which Christ builds his Church is the confession made by Peter, that Jesus is the Christ, the living Son of God.  Jesus’ true nature and personhood is the confession and as such Jesus is the foundation upon which the Church is built.  Fourth, there is only one Church.  Christ is not building multiple churches.  Fifth, the Church is growing.  The future active indicative verb οἰκοδομήσω can be translated to say that Jesus “will be building” his Church.  Our current historical context lets us know that this is a proper translation, since Jesus did not build his Church in a once and done action – even to this day more people are being placed into this building as living stones.[3]  Sixth, when Jesus says that the gates of hell shall not overcome the Church, he indicates that the Church is advancing against Satan and his realm, rescuing souls from sin, death, and the Devil.  Seventh, if “gates of hell” is meant to refer to the realm of the dead[4] and not particularly to hell, then the promise Jesus gives is that his Church has eternal life.  Based on point five, we know that point six is true, even if Jesus meant point seven with his use of “gates of hell.”  Regardless of Jesus’ intended usage, we also know from Scripture that point seven is most certainly true.

The Nicene Creed further clarifies Jesus’ teaching that there is only one Church in its confession, “I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”  Holy is clarifying that the true Church is saints – believers.  Catholic refers to the universality of the Church in its geographic scope and apostolic refers to the Church’s confession of the paradosis – the teachings delivered by the apostles to the Church.  Hermann Sasse explains how catholic and apostolic are synonymous and work together to modify the oneness of the Church:

The word “catholic” tells of the universality of the church spread spatially over the face of the earth. The word “apostolic” tells of the identity of the church of all times with the church of the beginning. To catholicity belong “all nations” (Matt. 28:19) and “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8); to apostolicity belongs “always, to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:20).[5]

The Nicene Creed follows its confession of the oneness of Christ’s Church with a confession on baptism: “I acknowledge one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”  This too elaborates on Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16:18 – how is the Church to be built, how are people to be engrafted into Christ’s Church?  Through baptism, because it is in baptism that believers are united with Christ, being buried with him in his death and raised with him to new life, which also explains why the next line of the creed is: “and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”[6]    Along with baptism we know from Scripture that the forgiveness of sins is also promised in the proclamation of the Gospel and the Lord’s Supper.  These are the means by which Christ has promised to save souls from hell and place people into his Church as “called out ones.”  As such, as previously stated, the Church is recognized visibly on the third rock from the sun by the assembly of Christians around the preached Word of God and the delivery of Christ’s sacraments to his people. The Church therefore in addition to being the people of God, the Body of Christ, is the place where God has located his grace – his salvation of mankind.

This leads to speaking of how God’s grace is located and delivered within the Church.  The permission and authorization to forgive sins or to not forgive sins has been given to the whole Church by Jesus Christ himself and is called the Office of the Keys.  To demonstrate the Scriptural teaching of this doctrine, Luther’s Small Catechism states the following: “This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:22–23)[7] Even though the Keys have been given to all Christians by Christ, Christ has called and designated certain men to hold a unique office within his Church for the public proclamation of the Word of God and the distribution of the sacraments.[8]  This office is called the Office of the Public Ministry.  The German name for this office is predigtamt – the office of preaching.  In Protestant circles, the man who holds this office within our congregations is typically called a pastor. Since the means by which salvation comes to humanity are located in the Church, God has placed men into this office to ensure that the delivery of grace is not left to chance.  This eliminates any wishful hoping that the Word of God will be rightly proclaimed and the sacraments distributed in God’s holy Church.  The men in the predigtamt have been placed there to ensure that the grace that brings salvation is delivered to God’s people in the Church.  This ultimately means that all church congregations have a pastor… or they are not recognized as being part of the Church.

It has already been stated that God places men into the predigtamt.  This office is not a human institution.  It was divinely created by Christ.  Men are called into this office by God.  This call happens mediately through the congregation of God’s people in a specific geographic location.  Though the congregation has been used by God to call a pastor to publicly exercise the Keys on their behalf, the congregation still possesses the Keys themselves.  The individual Christians of the congregation have not relinquished their authorization from Christ to forgive sins when they called a pastor to speak in Christ’s stead for them.  And through their calling of a pastor, they have not given the Keys to the pastor – no – the pastor received his authority and the Keys from Christ.  To emphasize this point, I’ll reiterate – the call into the predigtamt came mediately through the congregation.  This means that God himself has called the pastor to publicly preach the Word and distribute the sacraments to his people in a particular congregation – he has just worked this call through the congregation, who he has also given the authority of the Keys.

God has put this organizational structure in place to nail down where his grace is located – to ensure that it is delivered faithfully and rightfully.  Just as God delivers his grace through more than one means (the Gospel and the sacraments), so too absolution from the Gospel is delivered through more than one means.  Absolution can come to us through more than one office (or vocation).  Sometimes the nature of an individual relationship might lead a person to confess sins to a friend before going to a pastor.  That friend who has the Keys and the authority of Christ to forgive sins can forgive his friend’s sins in the stead of Christ just as the pastor does.  But just because that friend might proclaim absolution to his amigo, it doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for him to then take the pulpit and publicly preach.  That would not be his office – that’s reserved for the man called into the predigt amt, the man called to be the congregation’s Absolution Man.    To make things more personal, my wife in her office as my wife can forgive my sins and due to her office as my wife that forgiveness has a special quality to it due to the nature of our relationship.  When my pastor in his office forgives my sins, reminding me that he is called and ordained by God to be God’s mouthpiece to me and that he is speaking in the stead of Christ himself when he says, “I forgive you of all your sins” – yeah, that has something special to it.

The Keys and the authority to forgive sins being given by Christ to the congregation and to the predigtamt – the Church – is not by chance or mistake.  The Church is Christ’s, it’s built on him, and this authority to forgive sins by both the congregation and the predigtamt is by his order and design.  Respect it, and stick to the order he has given to his Church to ensure that the Gospel is rightly proclaimed and the sacraments rightly distributed in good order.

[1] Absolution can also be included depending on how sacrament is being defined. (AAC Article XIII)

[2] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 303). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[3] Borrowed language from 1 Peter 2:4-5: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (ESV – Emphasis added.)

[4] πύλαι ᾅδου – Hades as place of the dead; Ibd.

[5] Sasse, Hermann. Jesus Christ, translated by Norman Nagel, Volume 1, St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 1984, pp. 94-95.

[6] Romans 6:1-5 – “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (ESV)

[7] – Luther likely did not write this section of the catechism.

[8] Romans 10:15, Jeremiah 23:21; Acts 14:23; 20:28; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6; 2:2; and Titus 1:5.

Contemporary Worship and the Divine Service – Adiaphora Issues!

Adiaphora is a term that refers to things that are neither commanded nor forbidden by God in Scripture.  In these things we are to have a position of indifference, meaning that we recognize that there is Christian freedom in these areas.  An area of great contention in the realm of adiaphora is that of what transpires in our church services – in our worship services.  Scripture does not mandate the following of a church calendar for instance, so the observance of church seasons and festivals such as Advent and Lent and Christmas and Easter are adiaphora issues.  The use of vestments and collars for pastors is also an adiaphora issue.  It is never commanded in Scripture what exactly must be worn by a pastor in his day to day work for the Church or in the church services; though there are commands such as dressing modestly in Scripture that are commanded, the details of what that might look like are not commanded.  Even the mode of baptism is adiaphora.  Scripture does not tell us how the water should be applied to a person in the sacramental washing nor how much is to be used or what type of water.  The same applies for the distribution of communion, as well as to the type of bread and the type of wine – these things aren’t commanded one way or the other.

This adiaphora issue comes to the head a lot in Lutheran circles debating if churches should use the Church’s traditional liturgy or partake in what is called contemporary worship.  I have heard it many times that to be Lutheran is to be liturgical, and I’ve heard it spoken that the Divine Service is not adiaphora, but in such cases Divine Service seems to be referring not just to the proclamation of the Gospel and the distribution of the sacraments in a church service, but at times is conflated to also refer to the particular traditional liturgy service named, the Divine Service.  It is here that I want to spend some time – is the Divine Service adiaphora and is contemporary worship adiaphora?  Can a congregation engage in either and still be considered Lutheran?  To answer this question, I’ll first define what the Divine Service is and what contemporary worship is (or could be).

The Divine Service is the liturgy of the Lutheran Church.  It is a Christocentric liturgy that emphasizes God coming to us, to serve us, offering us his presence and his grace through his Word and sacraments.  Using the liturgy every week is a great resource for consistency, teaching the Christian faith, and ensuring that the Gospel is proclaimed even if the pastor doesn’t properly distinguish between Law and Gospel in his sermon, or even fails to proclaim the Gospel in his sermon.  It consists of two services, first the service of the Word, and then the service of the Altar.  Each of these services have components to them that are typically repeated and present each week and work together to show God’s grace to his people and our response.  For example, the service will start with an invocation (in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit), followed by an invitation to confession of sins, a confession of sins to God by the congregation, and then an absolution proclamation from the pastor to the congregation.  The service has elements such as a common confession of Christian faith before partaking in communion, usually by reciting the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed together.  Many more elements are present in the Divine Service and they all are derived from Scripture with the purpose of allowing God to come to his people and to serve them through the means by which he has promised to work faith and salvation in our lives.

Contemporary worship conjures different meanings and practices among those who use this term.  If by contemporary worship, we mean a complete stripping away of the Divine Service to have a gathering comprised of random praise songs from various theological backgrounds, unscripted prayers, and a sermon each gathering, we run a great risk of becoming anthropocentric in our worship with a shift to emphasizing OUR service to the Lord instead of HIS service to us through Word and Sacrament.  However, this wouldn’t mean that a contemporary service along this format would have to fall into such a pattern or error.  Contemporary worship services can also follow a church calendar and have lectionary readings, and even use the Divine Service as a framework – updating or changing language as needed to fit the current situation and context of the congregation.  Contemporary worship typically embraces such freedom.

Based on these definitions, contemporary worship absolutely falls under adiaphora, though Word and Sacrament ministry is not adiaphora for any service since the Great Commission demands it.  When it comes to an adiaphora issue of this magnitude, since it does directly correlate to the mode by which the Word is proclaimed and the setting in which the Sacraments are distributed, there are a couple of questions that must be considered: 1.) What is the heart position behind the decision? and 2.) Which action or tradition best serves the proclamation of the Gospel?  Answers to these questions will vary from location to congregation to context, and we must be OK with that… since these are adiaphora issues.  If we were to force an adiaphora issue to be a required rule of a worship setting, then we will have destroyed the Gospel.  Supporters of the Divine Service must be aware to not force the historic Church liturgy upon congregations as if it is a law that must be adhered to in order for Christian worship to occur.  Those who advocate for contemporary worship must be careful to not look down upon their brothers who use the Divine Service and follow its liturgical calendar as not being free in the Spirit or not being loving by refusing to change with the times to “connect” or “relate” to people.  Both camps are living in their convictions and should not judge their brothers in such matters as long as both are faithfully proclaiming the Gospel and delivering the Sacraments.

The American Mind Meets The Mind Of Christ Part 1

This blog post is the first part of a book review of The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ which was written by ten Concordia Seminary professors and edited by Robert Kolb.
Why does American Christianity need The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ?

In Southern California, NOTW bumper stickers litter the back end of vehicles as much or more than the popular Coexist sticker.    It took me awhile to figure out what the NOTW sticker meant – “Not of this World – in reference to Jesus’ statement about his followers in John 17:16 in which he says, “They are not of this world, just as I am not of it.”  Though Christians are members of God’s eternal kingdom and are “aliens and strangers in the world,” as Peter describes us, we are still very much in this world. In other words, the reality is that Christians who are NOTW still coexist in a culture and society with people who display the Coexist bumper sticker sold by Peacemonger, a printing company that specializes in stickers that lean towards religious syncretism and the endorsement of New Age beliefs and Eastern spirituality and are only negative against the Christian faith.  It is in this state of social pluralism with a multiplicity of religious beliefs and values that the Christian daily swims, and though the conservative Christian with the NOTW sticker on his car can likely agree that we need peaceful tolerance of diverse ideas and expressions of belief in American society, he probably hasn’t drunk deeply of the other message that Coexist is often interpreted to espouse – that all religions are equally valid and true paths to God.

Even though many Christians have avoided the growing ethos of religious universalism, there are many American Christians who belong to church bodies who have not successfully held on to the exclusivity of Christ’s message to be the only way to the Father.  But the NOTW sporting Christian shouldn’t grow too comfortable, thinking he’s escaped the culture war or religious unionism due to his sticker, because culture is a multi-headed beast that is the conglomeration of all the people’s diverse opinions and experiences in a society that blend together to form uniquely particular presuppositions about life and the world for the group as a whole.  Since not everyone in American society is “not of this world” it means that American Christians have certainly had their worldviews formed by cultural presuppositions that are derived from the ways of this world that stand in opposition to the mind of Christ.  This leads us to have to struggle to discern and know the mind of Christ revealed to us in Scripture, because we inevitably are bringing our American-tinged minds to the interpretation of God’s Word.

The American Mind.jpgTo help American-Christians wake-up to elements of the American way of life that stand in opposition to the message of Christ and his will for our lives and to aid us in proclaiming the goodness and truth that God has gifted to us within our culture, nine Concordia Seminary professors have taken on the task of thinking deeply on various aspects of our “American minds” to see how they align with the “mind of Christ.”  The articles they have generated comprise The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ and cover the cultural landscape of health and wealth, individualism and community, religion and religiosity, science and culture, and media.  With the seminary’s mission professor emeritus of systematic theology, Robert Kolb, at the helm of editing this tour de force of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the American culture that most American-Christians have taken for granted as being rather neutral or positive in our alignment to the mind of Christ, the Church in American has been given sage advice on how to best witness to the culture through the culture in mission and ministry.

Recognizing Idols, Taking the Middle Path, and Being the Spiritual Gurus that we Truly Are

Three major ministry and mission themes emerge throughout The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ.  The first theme is recognizing that most aspects of American culture are idols or prone to be idols and these elements must be ditched in order to properly walk with God.  This first theme leads to the second theme, which is that there is often times a middle-path within the idolatry-prone aspects of our culture in which we can tread to the glory of God, and it is on this path that we can call others to walk through our ministries and missions.  The third theme follows the first two in that Christians should be the spiritual gurus in our culture!  We know the truth.  We know God.  We of all people in our culture should be the spiritual gurus – the teachers that enlighten the path to God.  It’s time to teach, teach, and teach some more the mind of Christ that we alone can know since we have the Word of God and the Spirit of Truth that knows the mind of Christ.  In doing so, we’ll show people their idols and help them ditch their false gods as they hop on the middle-path centered on Christ.

As I explained in the introduction, culture is deeply ingrained within us – it’s as natural to us as water is to a fish.  Because of this we are not always aware of how it forms our presuppositions on all matters of life and because our American culture is second nature to us we don’t easily recognize when we become dependent on our cultural norms for how we ought to live our lives.  This is where many of the authors recognized our American idols.  When we are dependent on anything but God, we have made an idol.  Also, multiple articles pointed to Luther’s definition that an idol is anything that we fear, love, or trust above God and our culture provides much to fear and love and trust that entices us into idolatry.

For instance, Dale Meyer suggested that our American consumerism can become an idol as we are prone to find our satisfaction and joy in our possessions, created things instead of our Creator. (Kolb, p. 19) R. Reed Lessing reminds us that many Americans have placed trust in medicine over and above God as they pursue to perfect their bodies for their own glory instead of God’s. (Kolb, p. 33) Joel Biermann teaches that the American concept of individual and personal rights is a cultural construct that is not shared by all cultures.  Our demand for personal rights drives us inward to our centers which Biermann says, “invariably ends with the individual self-enthroned and both God and the neighbor deposed” (Kolb, p. 46) There were numerous other examples of idolatry embedded within American culture, but I’ll close with one more.  Joel Okamoto demonstrates how science and technology are both sources of great hope (in that they better our lives to the point that we couldn’t fathom living without them) and fear (in that sometimes they give us devices like the A-bomb or the possibility of losing our humanity through transhumanism – which is something that some hope in instead of fear).  And as sources of great hope and fear, science and technology thus become idols by Luther’s definition of what a god is.

Once we recognize what the idols and potential areas of idolatry are for us within American culture, we must relinquish our hold on these idols and the solution the authors of the book gave again and again was to “beware the extremes and go down the middle [path]” (p. 19) An example of the middle path route to an aspect of our culture came in Lessing’s article on bodily health.  Too often we either reject the body (obesity is the second leading cause of death in America) or we strive to perfect it (as I mentioned above).  Both of these our extreme sides of American health that pull us away from God’s design for our bodies that the middle path approach of “respecting the body” can avoid.  This respect is grounded in realizing that we are persons comprised of both a body and a soul.  The one who rejects the body, typically does so by valuing the spiritual aspect of humanity over the physical (Lessing says this is an on-going influence from Gnosticism), and the one who strives to perfect the body essentially is pursuing a godhood grounded in his own physicality.  Respecting the body leads one to see that God has made our great bodies for us and that “our goal is to be available for Jesus Christ for the longest amount of time, with the greatest amount of energy, and the highest degree of emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being” (Kolb, p. 39).  This availability is to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God as we serve him and our neighbors through ministry and missions.

Another middle path approach to culture came through David Lewis’ approach to watching American movies, though Lewis didn’t directly speak this middle-path; he demonstrated it.  Far too often Americans dive into movies head first for entertainment, not considering that movies convey messages and can form us as we partake in the viewing of the American culture embedded within the films.  Some Christians however do see this influence of movie consumption and to avoid being moved to sin avoid much of popular American culture.  This approach pulls them away from having the opportunity to be able to speak “sometimes with, and sometimes against, the values of the surrounding culture in this American context in which we are called to confess and live out our Christian faith” (Kolb, p. 140).   Lewis demonstrated how this speaking can be done through an in-depth analysis of the architypes of American movies in relationship to the architype of the mind of Christ and showed how embedded in two of the great classics of American cinema is the message that the ideal pattern of living is that of Christ’s – to deny one’s personal desires and wellbeing and to consider others before yourself.  This also happened to be the suggested path in Biermann’s article on individual rights – it’s best for us to approach life as if we have no rights since we are to put others’ rights before our own.

The third major theme that emerged through the book was an answer for what Christians should do with the two previous themes, in particular what pastors and future pastors should do with these themes since this book was written by seminary professors with that audience primarily in mind, and that is to teach the counsel of God on all of these cultural matters.  Essentially, it is the pastor’s job to help the congregation recognize the idols in their lives that they likely are unaware are false gods for them.  It is the pastor’s job to correct cultural lies and norms that are in opposition to the will of God for the lives of his congregants.  Finally, the fruit of such teaching is for our relationship with the Lord to be strong and vibrant.  He alone is our all-sufficient savior and any cultural idols that pull us away from him could lead us to reject our faith in God as it is a real potential that our love and fear and trust in such idols could grow to the point that we decide to squeeze the true God out of our lives entirely – to our eternal damnation.  As Christians learn the middle path approach to culture in which we avoid the idolatrous ditches of the extremes of our culture, we will know how to not just emphasize the NOTW aspect of our identity in Christ, but we’ll also know how to better witness and serve our pagan neighbors as we are in the world and in the culture in missions and ministry to them.  I think in this way we’ll become the spiritual gurus of our culture – because if we can shirk our idols and walk the path God has intended for us in this world, we’ll shine like stars in this crooked and depraved world (and culture) and some people will be drawn to us for the knowledge of God that we readily teach and proclaim.

Ministry Teams vs. Multi-Staff Ministry

The topic of this blog post is ministry teams, which is different from multi-staff ministry.  I learned this key difference from Pastor Christiansen at Webster Gardens Lutheran Church.  He expressed that in team ministry everyone is working together!  In team ministry a well-defined mission and vision statement is key.  In a church with multiple staff and more than one pastor, the mission statement and vision statement is what brings every department, every ministry into alignment with one another.  Every ministry department has the same goal, the same objective.  If one ministry within the church hits a home-run, the youth ministry for example, then every ministry hits a home-run, because every ministry has shared alignment and buy-in to every ministry’s success, because everyone is on the same team with the same standard of what it means to hit a home-run.  Pastor Christiansen explained that in multi-staff ministry everyone is playing a different game; a home-run for youth ministries wouldn’t be a home-run for senior ministries.  Another fascinating element to Christiansen’s explanation is that he said some churches will have two pastors who take turns giving the sermons, take turns doing the funerals, take turns doing, well — everything.  He said this is also a sign of multi-staff ministry.  One has the label of senior pastor, but they both essentially have the same job.  In team ministry, the pastors have different roles on the team – their jobs are vastly different, which is how it is on sports teams.  The pitcher is not the catcher.

ministry teams

From Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson’s book, Leading from the Second Chair, two paradoxes of being an associate pastor stood out to me.  They are the seeming contradictions of being both a leader and a subordinate at the same time and being called to have a narrow, specifically focused ministry while also being involved in the breadth of all the ministries in the church.  Concerning the paradox of being a subordinate-leader, I found the section on testing my subordination to be the most helpful and eye-opening.  As a teacher, when administration made decisions that had a direct negative impact on my role and ability to meet my teaching goals, I would typically openly disagree and directly challenge their decision, or I’d simply continue with my job, frustrated and angry, which of course would impact my teaching ability.  I rarely could stay involved without confrontation or without being eaten up with bitterness.  I also did not do a good job of hiding my feelings and thoughts even when not speaking.

All of these struggles I have in subordination could stem from my ESTP personality (which has been defined as a “laws don’t apply to me” personality), my Eagle-Disc personality, and political leadership style, but after reading Leading from the Second Chair, and from hearing Pastor King speak on his relationship of being Pastor Christiansen’s second chair, I have walked away much more comfortable being a second chair pastor (if that is where God will place me) knowing how my strengths can be utilized in this position of leadership, while having a better understanding of what to do with my weaknesses.

For instance, I work well in an environment where my strengths are recognized and my opinion is respected and held in high value.  I also do well when I’m given freedom to rule, lead, and reign in my assigned job task with little to no interference from my administrators, as long as I keep meeting or exceeding my administrator’s set target marks for my job.  As an associate pastor, I’ll be given the opportunity to excel and be respected for my expertise in a particular focus of ministry, while at the same time have the opportunity to have influence across the entire breadth of the church’s ministry.  I’ve also noticed that my previous administrators would come to me for input and guidance on certain key decisions that they knew I’d be able to provide valuable input as well as being recruited a few times to be a source of influence for getting other teachers on board with big changes they had decided to make or to serve as a helper in the transition.  Looking back, I can see how poisonous I was when the executive decision didn’t go as I had wanted.  Now, I see the value of letting some decisions go and never speaking ill publicly of such decisions and just take the lumps, knowing that the lead chair takes the brunt of all the hits for the team when the team misses the mark or fails.