by Tania Nelson

The Lutheran Church of Australia is 50 years young and she has plenty to celebrate.

We can look back on our church’s history and see the hand of God in myriad places. From the growth of Lutheran schooling in Australia, to the establishment of lay ministries in aged care and community services; from the birth of congregations among new housing estates, to the many and varied ways we have served our nearby and distant neighbours, the LCA has many reasons to thank God for his bounty and goodness.

The Lutheran Church of Australia is 50 years old and she has much to reflect on.

We are a mature church with a fine theological institution that has trained and formed dedicated and faithful pastors, teachers and lay workers.

We are both a rural church and an urban church.

We’re a church that prides itself on its theology, and have been a church largely reticent to engage in social and political issues, such as injustice, poverty, violence, immigration and our impact on climate.

In human terms, the Lutheran Church of Australia is middle-aged, proud of its past and looking forward to what God has in store as we continue to mature.

So, as we look forward and seek to do the Father’s will, are we longing to age graciously with grace-filled lives, or will we retreat to safe ways of living, set in our ways? Is the LCA on the brink of missional renewal or on a path to slow decay from a lack of imagination?

There are many signs that the LCA is on the brink of missional renewal.

Many congregations are seeking to be places where families and young people are nourished. Their spiritual practices are intergenerational, and they recognise the importance of faith formation in the home, and the development of loving mentoring relationships. Other congregations have embraced cultural diversity, while still others use media to reach a networked generation, which may not connect in a geographic location.

The LCA also plans to plant 30 congregations in 10 years. These signs of renewal tell us that the Spirit is active as we strive to ‘develop a missional culture where individuals, families and communities are inspired, passionate and active in sharing the gospel in word and action’, as in the LCA Strategic Direction 2013-2018.

As we grow and mature, what are the next steps on the journey to be renewed in mission? I would argue they require courage – also known as trust in God – and a missional imagination – or an openness to where the Spirit leads.

Have we the courage and imagination to grasp that congregations can look and feel vastly different from each other and still be following the risen Christ? Can we imagine congregations shepherded by leaders who may not have received full pastoral ministry training, but who faithfully enter into a co-learning journey of discipleship? And are we ready to foster a life-enabling, grace-filled, permission-giving culture that discerns what the Spirit is doing in our midst and joins in?

LCA congregations already have exciting diversity in outward practices while firmly based on the Three Solas (Scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone).

Embracing diversity, as opposed to ensuring uniformity, is a sign of missional renewal.

Dr Tania Nelson is the LCA’s Executive Officer – Local Mission.

The LCA’s church planting plan is at in the booklet Church Planting: Plant Water Grow.

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