ELCA Conference of Bishops targets developing leaders, congregational growth

     ITASCA  – The Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) emphasized leadership development and congregational growth when it met here March 2-7.

     The conference is an advisory body of the ELCA that includes 65 synod bishops, the presiding bishop and secretary. The Rev. William O. Gafkjen, bishop of the ELCA Indiana-Kentucky Synod, is conference chair.

     In her report to the conference, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton highlighted major initiatives happening across the church, including “Called Forward Together in Christ: Strategic Directions 2025.” Finalized by the ELCA Church Council in November 2016, the document provides a framework for shared leadership across the ELCA to attain common goals and meet challenges the church may face in the future.

      “Leadership and congregations need to be our primary emphasis as we begin the ‘Called Forward Together’ in Christ process,” said Eaton.

     The bishop also spoke of another focus around leadership development that was introduced last fall. “Bishop Eaton’s Leadership Initiative” seeks to inspire members to encourage gifted people in their congregations and communities to consider a call to the ministry of the gospel.

     “We committed to lifting up leadership and cultivating vital congregations as the two highest priorities for our attention and action as a conference for the foreseeable future,” said Gafkjen.

     Recalling the conference’s meeting theme, “The Harvest is Plentiful,” Gafkjen said the bishops discussed the priorities of “Called Forward Together in Christ” and the “Resolution on Call Process,” a motion from the 2016 Churchwide Assembly that encourages the Conference of Bishops to continue facilitating and reforming the call process for congregations and institutions in changing contexts.

     “We unanimously agreed to issue a call to prayer that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers into the harvest that beckons for more ministers and leaders of various sorts,” said Gafkjen. “We also committed to establishing a working group that will collaborate with seminary leaders and others over the next two years to effectively address this profound need, not only for more rostered ministers and lay leaders, but faithful, wise and courageous leaders who will provide the forms of ministry and leadership needed for this new day in which we find ourselves.”

     This engagement with seminary leaders includes:

·       inviting seminary presidents and leaders to attend the Conference of Bishops meetings for both formal and informal conversations to more effectively serve together to support the proclamation of Jesus Christ in the coming years;

·       focusing on ways to work together to invite people into the vocation of church leadership and better equip people called to serve in mission fields;

·       developing ways to recruit and create a culture of call in our church that includes making available to the Conference of Bishops data on how we are doing at each of our seminaries;

·       exploring global models of catechists and evangelists as possible ways to supplement the work of rostered ministers to better serve this church’s mission;

·       sharing encouraging stories that highlight bright spots and best practices in this shared work by synods and seminaries;

·       providing the Conference of Bishops with the financial challenges of the ELCA seminary system by sharing synod investments, such as scholarships and other funds in addition to budgeted seminary support, and information found in the comparative audit of the seminaries; and

·       affirming the bishops’ seminary visits as an integral part of relationship building, which would include more interactions with faculty and administration.

     “God is doing new things among, through and around us,” said Gafkjen. “It’s great to be in partnership with so many folks across this church who are willing to walk and work together in trust and hope toward God’s emerging future.”

     In other business, the ELCA Conference of Bishops:

·       received a report from the director of Mission Support and updates on the ELCA Mission Support experiments among five synods. Mission Support is the financial offering from congregations shared with synods and the churchwide organization. The synod experiments are seeking efficient and effective ways to increase local accountability and Mission Support;

·       received an update on Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA . To date the campaign has received $113.4 million in gifts and commitments. This amount represents 57.3 percent of the $198 million goal by Jan. 31, 2019;

·       received an update on Portico Benefits Services from the Rev. Jeffrey Thiemann, Portico president and CEO;

·       discussed the challenges in understanding and addressing multicultural diversity as an important aspect of the gospel witness; and

·       received reports from the ELCA vice president, treasurer and secretary and updates from the Conference of Bishops’ various committees.

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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America :

The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.7 million members in more than 9,300 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God’s work. Our hands,” the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA’s roots are in the writings of the German church reformer Martin Luther.

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Candice Hill Buchbinder

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