ELCA NEWS SERVICE
June 10, 2009
ELCA Survey Reveals Influences on Congregation Leaders
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- A survey conducted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) revealed how the personal theological views of its lay leaders are influenced by contemporary religious thought in the United States. It evaluated the church's work in the Middle East and an initiative on reading the Bible.
The tabulated responses showed how "a major popular focus of American religion" shapes the views of Lutheran leaders, said Dr. Kenneth W. Inskeep, executive for ELCA Research and Evaluation. The 16-book "Left Behind" series of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins has made talk of "the end times," rapture, the Antichrist and the battle of Armageddon part of U.S. culture.
"Lutherans don't talk about those issues very much," Inskeep said. "That leaves many of the members open to drawing their own conclusions."
U.S. society has come to a "generic, conservative, evangelical, popular understanding of the Christian faith" that's different from Lutheran tradition, Inskeep said. "It's hard for our members to articulate (that difference) because we don't see ourselves as a distinctive kind of Christian, which isn't true at all."
"Pastors have to take more of a proactive role from the pulpit and in other places where they get a chance to teach and deal with the distinctive aspects of what it means to be a Lutheran and contrast those to this generic American Christianity," he said.
Answers to survey questions about "accepting Jesus as one's personal Savior" showed that many Lutheran leaders embraced salvation as the result of a personal decision. "It's important for Lutherans to challenge that perspective as a part of historical Lutheran theological thinking," Inskeep said. "Luther was fairly specific about God giving faith to people."
Inskeep said he was not surprised that Lutheran leaders struggled with faith issues. Lutherans become leaders in their congregations for their organizational skills and their willingness to serve on committees, he said. That contrasts with many evangelical churches, in which leaders must demonstrate their piety or "a certain level of competence in the faith."
The ELCA's Book of Faith initiative could help raise that competence among Lutheran leaders, Inskeep said. Reading the Bible, discussing it and pondering its meaning can only help, he said. "We should not be afraid to embrace Luther's perspective, which is seeing Scripture through the gift of Christ and using that as a framework to understand a gracious God."
ELCA Research and Evaluation sent a survey on "The Religious Beliefs and Practices of Lutheran Lay Leaders in the ELCA" in June 2008 to 1,563 leaders of ELCA congregations. By the end of October, 841 usable surveys were returned for a 54 percent response rate.
The survey included a series of questions on "the current faith practices of leaders," said the summary of results Inskeep prepared. To evaluate the church's "Peace, Not Walls" initiative, another series questioned ELCA leaders' views toward the Middle East.
Other questions dealt with the congregation leaders' theological beliefs and views toward the Bible to evaluate the ELCA's Book of Faith initiative. A final series of questions probed views toward public figures and "a host of issues facing the ELCA and the country as a whole."
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A file of "The Religious Beliefs and Practices of Lutheran Lay Leaders in the ELCA" report is linked to http://www.ELCA.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Research-and-Evaluation.aspx on the ELCA Web site.
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or email@example.com
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