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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dry Bones in Western North Dakota

My Bishop (Mark Narum of the Western North Dakota Synod of the ELCA gathered seven congregations together to work on mission here in the West. He called this gathering "Dry Bones."

Those of you who know your Bible, know that "dry bones" is a reference to the story of Ezekiel whom the Lord takes to a valley of dry, dead, dessicated human bones, and commands them to breathe. The story is a story of new life, of a God who brings life, and a God who keeps promises to people even after they are dead. For many of our congregations out here who are feeling parched and dry, this story is an apt metaphor for their relationship with God.

Of course, for this to be a promise of new life, the first life has to end, and that is tough for our congregations to do...who wants to be part of a congregation that is dying? Who wants to be part of a congregation that is dead? So there are only 7 of our of 195 congregations working this territory...most of the rest of us cannot admit our demise...

But this past week, as I gathered with leaders of these 7 congregations I asked if they had done any talking about their congregations in their communities or towns. Of those that had, the results of the conversations were, in the words of one lady, "jaw-dropping." What those congregations discovered is that most people in their community already KNEW the congregation was dead...that's why they are not part of it...In other words, the only people in a town or a community who do not know their congregation is dead are the people who are in that congregation. To those on the outside, those congregations are palpably dead. But at least these 7 congregations know this...what about the other 188?

My guess is that all the other communities and towns think those congregations are dead already. My work as a missionary here in Bismarck would indicate that...and not just Lutheran ones...I hear from a lot of people that congregations are dead...and why are they bothering to think they are alive? Now I know a lot of people in congregations can point to programs, worship services, busy calendars, and full slates of visitation...but those are ministries that are dead, just by virtue of being in dead places...(sort of like all the bodies in a cemetery are dead because the cemetery is for the dead)...

Congregations can be houses of self-delusion...that somehow we are alive because the bones in them are moving...but the story of Ezekiel's valley of dry bones is not about movement, it is about the breath and promise of God...and all the calendars and charity, all the meetings and budgets, all the sermons and songs mean nothing if there is no breath...which in Hebrew is the same word for Spirit. To me the surest sign of life in a congregation is not what it does, but how it it lives in the life of the Spirit of Christ who frees us to breathe.


Anonymous said...

Hey Scott:

Another well thought-out and written article. There is much (and I'm just being a "problem identifyier" pejoratively speaking) truth in what you say about dead/dying congregations - even large ones! I mention "problem identifyer" becaue I'm not yet part of a solution. Just IDing the problem. Yet I share your thoughts and have for some time. Thanks for putting them "out there!"


Scott Frederickson said...

Dear JC,
We are all much of the problem...may the Spirit use us for a solution. Thanks for reading!