‘If the local church is going to succeed, then it needs to find God’s preferred and promised future within its community’, Professor Pastor Patrick Keifert challenged participants at the LCA Board for Local Mission’s ‘Thriving in Change’ conference series.
He started with the premise that ‘each local church [of the apostolic era] understood themselves to be mission outposts within the mission of God: communities called, gathered and sent in God’s mission, the very movement of God towards the world’. He described how this initial outward focus became turned further and further inwards over the next 1600 years. Our present-day cultural obsession with self was echoed and even supported by church teachings that focused on personal salvation as an end in itself – rather than as an entry point into mission outreach and partnership with God.
But rather than attempting to turn clocks back two millennia, it is important for modern churches to rediscover basic, practical ways to reshape themselves into missional churches for our own time and place. Listening deeply to God, to each other and to neighbours was an essential place to begin, he said. This is not simply a matter of thinking about ideas or emotions however. Real change occurs only when people are helped into new practices or behaviours.
‘You have the resources in each local church to accomplish this, but you are going to have to pay attention’, he warned.
Prof Keifert, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a professor at Luther Seminary St Paul, Minnesota, visited Australia in late August. He led the ‘Thriving in Change’ conferences in Brisbane and Adelaide (attended by 175 people from across Australia), delivered a lecture at Australian Lutheran College and met with LCA leaders and groups of local pastors, including at the SA/NT District Pastors Conference.