A Missional Imagination for ELCA Polity (pdf version)
Framing a Missional Polity for the ELCA by Steve Thomason
A Term Paper Presented to Dr. Craig Van Gelder | Luther Seminary
As a Requirement in Course LD8525 Congregational Leadership |St. Paul, Minnesota | 2011
The purpose of this paper is to focus on the current polity of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and make suggestions for how the ELCA could modify its polity to embody a missional ecclesiology. Any discussion of this type is a hermeneutical endeavor and requires the proper framing of horizons before any fruitful interaction can take place. I will first briefly trace the historical roots of the ELCA from Martin Luther to the present and identify how this historical narrative has framed its ecclesiological horizon. I will then analyze the current structure of the ELCA as articulated in its constitution and identify significant incongruities between this formal structure and the reality of its informal structure and struggles. I will then briefly articulate the emerging missional ecclesiology in order to bring it into conversation with the ELCA. Finally, I will make some suggestions as to how the ELCA could address its incongruities and make polity changes that would align it within a missional ecclesiology.
Ammerman, Nancy Tatom, and Arthur Emery Farnsley. Congregation & Community. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997.
Dr. Nancy Ammerman has spent much of the last decade studying American congregations. Her most recent book, Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and their Partners (University of California Press, 2005), describes the common patterns that shape the work of American’s diverse communities of faith. Her 1997 book, Congregation and Community, tells the stories of twenty-three congregations that encountered various forms of neighborhood change in communities around the country. Along with a team of others, she edited and contributed to Studying Congregations: A New Handbook, published in 1998 by Abingdon. Prior to her work on congregations, she wrote extensively on conservative religious movements, including Bible Believers: Fundamentalists in the Modern World, a study of an independent Baptist church in New England, and Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention, which received the 1992 Distinguished Book award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.
Keifert, Patrick R. Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.
Patrick Keifert is Professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. He has also been an adjunct professor at the School of Law, Hamline University, St. Paul, since 1984.
Ordained in 1978, Keifert served congregations in Chicago, Washington state, Wyoming and Minnesota. He has been the general editor of the Journal of Law and Religion, and served on the editorial boards of Word & World and dialog.
Keifert, Patrick R. Testing the Spirits: How Theology Informs the Study of Congregations. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009.
Ronald W. Duty
Pat Taylor Ellison
Three Shifts (from Van Gelder’s Foreword)
- The return of the congregation to theological education.
- The role of the Bible in the life of congregations.
- The role of congregations living in their particular contexts as public moral companions
Congregational Studies Research Team (CRST) Mission Statement
“We are a theological learning organization in direct partnership with congregations, church leaders, and teachers. In concert with the Spirit of God, this partnership seeks to build up and empower congregations for mission by engaging with them in a process of conversation and action involving spiritual discernment and theological reflection about the necessary behaviors, skills, beliefs, and knowledge base for faithfully and effectively bringing people to a public identity in Christ.”1
Toward a Missional Spirituality in the Suburbs