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Pastor Russell Lackey: They Know the Words But Not The Tune

  • June 21, 2017 - 4:25 pm
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The most pressing question for the church in America is how will it engage the next generation in matters of faith? High praise must be given to the researchers who have sought and continue to seek insights into the faith beliefs and practices of this emerging generation. Their research is thick. However, that does not mean it cannot be improved. There is a gap in the research, as each of the significant studies in this field have underutilized visual sociology tools. This is a mistake because we live in a visual world dominated by images.

The church might consider how it engages young people. As Andrew Root noted, the church has tried to influence youth instead of accompany them on their journey in incarnational ways. The church is bearing the fruit of such neglect. For too long we have stood in the position of power instead of partnership. It appears the church needs to take young people seriously by creating communities of faith where pastors partner with young people. Such communities should offer substantial faith formation and mentoring opportunities where young people are put in situations to grow. Churches should consider reforming their youth groups to become places that “send young people out rather than roping young people in” (Dean 2010:106). Youth groups cannot do this alone. Parents matter most in this formation and we must place the Small Catechism in their hands and teach them how to use it in their homes and lives. Our catechesis must “set out to
evoke trust in a person, and specifically the person of Jesus Christ, more than to inculcate religious ideas” (Dean 2010:115).

[Our students] really have deep wells of knowledge, insight, and faith around them. Our job is to help them drink.

Pastor Lackey’s podcast will be posted here soon.

Dr. Maurice Lee’s Pastoral Formation Presentation

  • June 21, 2017 - 3:28 pm
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‘The autonomous twenty-first-century self, elevated to be the criterion of authenticity and value, may look quite different from the “terrified conscience” addressed by the sixteenth-century Lutheran Confessions. But the claim that good news — good because true, good because of God — for human beings comes from the outside, that neither justification nor sanctification is in any way the product of or even the response to our manufactured desire or felt needs, that the idol factories and incurved imaginations of our hearts encounter not affirmation and comfort but judgment — and the destruction that precedes re-creation — as they are dragged into the light of God’s grace made flesh in Jesus Christ, poured out by the Holy Spirit, and presented through Word and sacrament: all this is directly and dramatically relevant to our understanding of the gift and task of confession, the mission to which the church has been called, in a postmodern world.

‘The gospel’s externality, as insisted on by Lutheran theology, is not merely another item in a long list of things to be believed, but is more like a perspective, a vantage point from which to learn appreciation of the contrast between God’s work through the Spirit in Christ crucified and risen, on the one hand, and our culture’s reduction of truth, goodness, and beauty to the arbitrary preference and decision of the sovereign individual self, on the other. It is a place for disciples, where we may be shown how to ‘call the thing what it actually is.’”

The paper is here: Lee.

Eugene Bunkowske: What Is the Center of Your Worldview, Christ and His Redemption or SPECLS: Success, Progress, Education, Collecting Things, Leisure, and Sports?

  • June 21, 2017 - 12:41 pm
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In 1983 at the end of a mission lecture when a man from Nigeria by the name of Chinadu Imeka stayed behind to talk. He said very quietly, “You are a missionary. I need to ask you an important question. I need the absolute truth from you.” Without hesitation, I promised to tell him nothing but the truth.

Chinadu began by saying that his background was ‘pagan idolatry.’ His father was the chief priest in his home town until 1980 when Chinadu and his family became Christians. Chinadu’s question for me was, “What really and truly is Christianity?” For Chinadu and his family Christianity meant destroying their idols and sacrificing altars, despising Satan, sin and ungodliness and putting idolatry out of the center of their thinking and acting. They made a full commitment to the Triune God and to Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They got fully involved in introducing their Good Friend Jesus to others.

Chinadu continued by saying, “I am confused. I think that my family and I do not really understand what Christianity is all about.” I strongly assured Chinadu that putting God front and center and purposefully introducing Jesus as his Good Friend to others is exactly what Christianity is all about. He forcefully responded, “I have lived with my Christian university roommates for six months now and they definitely see it very differently.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Chinadu said, “What I mean is that my roommates have something very different from Jesus in the center of their thinking and especially in their acting. They have SPECLS in the center of their lives.” “SPECLS,” I asked, “What is SPECLS?” Chinadu said, “What I mean is that in the center of my roommates’ living (and by the way half of them are studying to be pastors) is SPECLS. That is SUCCESS which depends on PROGRESS, built on EDUCATION and demonstrated by COLLECTING stuff for status, by LEISURE time activities and by SPORTS.

Chinadu was telling the truth. SPECLS does reign supreme. SPECLS is the self-indulgent god of most Americans.

But I was not ready to be honest. I said, “Chinadu,NO, I believe they do put Jesus front and center.”

Chinadu convincingly said, “I have watched closely. I have asked many questions and it is always the same. They have SPECLS and Satan’s habits in the center of their lives, not Jesus. I have gone to their town-homes and lake-homes and seen the boats and things that fill their houses. I have watched them view violent and pornographic entertainment on TV. I have gone to their sporting events. They and their parents do not hate sin and Satan. They enjoy perversion. They rarely, if ever, study the Bible, pray or introduce others to Jesus. No, Jesus is not the center of what they do. They don’t go to church very often. Dr. Bunkowske, please be honest, tell me the truth. My family and I got it, wrong, didn’t we? Truly Christianity is about putting SPECLS in the center, not about putting Jesus front and center.”

I confessed to Chinadu that he and his family had it right. I confessed that we in America have corrupted and marginalized Biblical values.

Excerpt from Dr. Eugene Bunkowske’s Pastoral Formation Summit

  • June 21, 2017 - 12:28 pm
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After studying the Yala animistic worldview carefully I committed myself to worldview reformation. A third culture relationship was formed with the early Yala believers based on prayer, Bible study and God’s Spirit. We analyzed the unwritten Yala language and partnered in Bible translation/literacy. The powerful Word of God
reformed the inaccurate Yala worldview, first for some and then little by little of many Yala speaking people.

The key components of the Yala corrected worldview are the
1. God’s Word is totally accurate, valid and useful.
2. God, the source of all power created the whole world out of nothing.
3. God created humans in His image and likeness, including those of all tribes
4. God created all the non-image bearing animals and matter needed for humans to
function as His Godly image reflecting means for the managing of creation.
5. The quality control mechanism for evaluating ultimate allegiance to God was, ‘not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.
6. Satan lied. Eve and Adam fell for Satan’s lie, ate the forbidden fruit and experienced a catastrophic transformation. This depraved condition is defined as sin (original, inherited and manifested) that brings with it God’s wrath, judgement and death.
7. The Bible unfolds God as personal, as the God of law, promise and fulfillment.
8. God, the supreme good, rehabilitated humans by restoring the broken relationship through His unconditional love, baptism, the gift of forgiveness for all sins, abundant life on this earth and never-ending life with God in heaven, all received by trusting faith.

It was beautiful to see the kingdom of God graciously break in for the Yala people. Today 80% of the 200,000 Yala people have a Bible-based worldview and a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus the Christ.


Excerpt of Dr. Gene Veith’s Pastoral Formation Summit Presentation

  • June 21, 2017 - 12:06 pm
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“In the Middle Ages, pastoral formation took place largely in the religious orders. But when the medieval university was invented, originally for the education of the clergy, theological education took an academic turn. Again, the curriculum was built around the elements of classical education: the seven liberal arts (grammar, dialectic, rhetoric; arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy–the skills a free human being could master in language and mathematics) and the three liberal sciences (natural science, moral science, and theological science—the realms of objective knowledge). The medieval universities also had professional schools in medicine, law, and divinity. One could earn a “master’s degree” or a “doctor’s degree,” qualifying the holder to teach at other schools or universities. But a bachelor’s degree was sufficient for most clergy. And even then, the vast majority of priests in the middle ages lacked even that qualification, with most parish priests coming through the religious orders and lacking all but the most rudimentary academic training.

“This would change with the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. Uneducated priests were seen on both sides as contributing to the dysfunctions of the medieval church. One priority of the Council of Trent was to institute a system for the education of priests so as to combat the Reformation. In the first use of that term, the council decreed that every diocese should provide a “seminary”—literally, a seed bed from which plants can grow—to cultivate and raise up new priests.

“The Reformation, begun by a university professor, made a point of giving its pastors a university education. Universities such as the University of Wittenberg, as well as Oxford and Cambridge, were liberal arts institutions, though of the Renaissance rather than the Medieval vein, emphasizing rhetoric along with the classical languages of Greek and Hebrew, as opposed to the logic and dialectical philosophy of scholasticism. The pastoral students of the Reformation universities learned to read the Bible in its original languages and studied classical rhetoric as a way to make them more effective preachers.

“A major change in higher education came in 1810 with the founding of the University of Berlin. This was a university designed to embody the ideals of the Enlightenment. Instead of the wide-ranging scope of classical education, science would be the only measure and sole criterion for all disciplines. Instead of the breadth of classical learning, this so-called “German university model” would be highly specialized. Faculties were divided into rigid “departments.” Students would concentrate on a “major” along with a “minor” within a department. The primary concern of the university would not be teaching, as in the classical liberal arts universities, but research. In short, the University of Berlin was the first modern research university.

“The impact of the new university model on the church was dramatic. It did give theology a place at the table, with a department of theology and majors that could turn out pastors for the new Prussian church. But theology had to be “scientific.” That is, it had to set aside supernatural assumptions in studying the Bible and instead employ the methodology of scientific naturalism.”

Podcast can be found here later.


Dr. Mark Granquist’s Presentation for the Lutheran CORE Pastoral Summit

  • June 21, 2017 - 10:23 am
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“One of the key issues facing the ELCA seminaries these days is the financial situation of their students, something of which the seminaries are keenly aware, and which drives much of their thinking about change. The question of raising the tuition substantially is not possible – this was done from the 1970s to the recent past, and simply cannot be continued.  With generally substantial undergraduate student debt load, and the need for meeting seminary costs, many of our students carry educational debt that is verging on the unsustainable, especially for those who will go out into parishes where their salaries will be modest.  This debt load also burdens congregations, who struggle to be able to afford and employ our graduates.  What this means is that the seminaries have had to focus on ways to allow students to either work more while they are in seminary, or to find ways to reduce the time it takes them to finish their degrees and move toward ordination. Some strategies have been to bunch classes, or offer them as intensives, so that a student might have to be on campus less often, allowing them to work, or to take over childcare for a working spouse. But this is not enough.  There are a number of potential seminary students for whom it is not feasible to move to a seminary campus; they have situations with jobs or family or other local commitments that hold them where they are. Often many of them are in rural areas or scattered around the country, and they are already doing substantial ministries in their local congregations, many as pastors in everything but name.  Not only can they not move to the seminary campus, but if they were to do so, their local congregations would suffer or even collapse.  Programs for commuting students or distance (online) seminary education are often the only way to make it possible for these students to become pastors.”

(The podcast will be up soon)

Dr. Mark Mattes: Decline and Antidote

  • June 21, 2017 - 9:43 am
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Today (June 23, 2017) Lutheran CORE is hosting a Pastoral Formation Summit. Our goal is the raising up of a whole new generation of Lutheran pastors who believe in the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions and are evangelistic in their orientation. Here is a paragraph from the opening presentation, which was chosen for sketch out one thinker’s approach of understanding the need:

“Lutherans of old had a percentage of pastors on their clergy rosters who were builders, not of course of buildings, but of congregations.  Now, obviously not all pastors are builders.  The word “pastor” means shepherd.  Shepherds care for the flock.  For Lutherans, this care means truthfully preaching the Word of God, administering the sacraments and the office of the keys, admonishing the erring, comforting the bereaved and distressed, teaching the scriptures, and urging godly living.  This is all certainly building up the body of Christ.  But throughout much of Lutheranism’s history there have been a percentage of shepherds who also had the skills and obedient wills to increase membership and involvement in congregations.  Ask any lay person about a pastor in their congregation’s history who was a standout, and a name will quickly surface.  It is that pastor who was the builder.  Some congregations are fortunate to have had two or three such pastors.  These pastors exhibit some important character traits:  (1) they are unafraid of the unchurched and eager to engage them; (2) they limit their time in their offices; like a neighborhood police officer, they find various ways to know “their beat”; (3) they see stressful situations as opportunities for both personal and congregational growth; and (4) most importantly (and to use seemingly anarchic language), they want to win men and women for Christ and ground them in a faith commitment.  In other words, they have the gospel at the ready on their lips and find ways to speak God’s Word to the unchurched, teach them the faith, and walk with them to baptism and life in Christian fellowship.  For builders, sharing the faith is not cultural insensitivity but a mandate from Christ.  They refuse to let fear of rejection govern their witness, quickly shake the dust from their sandals, and find the next person to speak to.  In the Lutheran tradition, builders are thus not only biblical and confessional, but also resilient and evangelistic.  Those congregations growing in the ELCA today tend to have pastoral leadership which exhibit these traits.”

Dr. Mattes was one of the organizers of this summit on pastoral formation and the paper he is presenting at the event lays out the basics of our situation today. Mark’s full presentation can be accessed at Lutheran CORE’s new podcast “CORE Issues” here. His paper is going to be published this fall.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017 Devotion

“The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.  Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.  Who is the man who desires life and loves length of days that he may see good?”  (Psalm 34:10-11)

The Lord provides for those who are in need.  He provides good things — His definition of good things.  Listen to the Lord, you who have been given the power to become a child of the Heavenly Father.  Listen to the Holy Spirit and come through His grace and mercy that you may see the life He has created and the good He desires for your life.  Taste and see that God is good.

Lord, I hear these things, but the bold in this world devour all around and they seem to prosper.  Turn my eyes away from the false prosperity of this world to see the good You offer.  Help me learn, for You have said You are gentle.  Guide me in the way I should go that I may never veer from the path You have set before me.  Lead me, O Lord, according to Your goodness.

Lord Jesus, You have come into the world to show the way for those who would come through Your grace to the place where we hear Your voice and bring glory to the Father.  Help me always to open my ears and eyes, and hear and see all that You would have me see and hear that I may understand You as You lead the way.  Guide me always in the truth of Your Word.  Amen.


  • June 20, 2017 - 8:40 am
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I was reading about a woman living in Connecticut who was literally crushed to death when the floor of her house, which was piled with clutter – as high as the ceiling in some places – literally collapsed into her basement.  Holes in the roof, which leaked water on the floor, probably further weakened the floor.  Her body was finally found when crews used a backhoe to remove debris from her home.  Authorities figured she may have been dead for more than a week.  

The day the police first entered the house, they did not even notice that the floor had collapsed, because all they saw was ceiling-high clutter along the walls and waist-high clutter in other areas.  It was not until the next day that officials discovered that the floor had caved in.  After making sure that the building was safe to enter, officials cut a hole in one of the walls and then began removing debris with a backhoe.  It was not until the next day that they found the woman’s body.  She had been killed by and was buried underneath all of her stuff.  

What a horrible way to die.  To be killed by and then buried underneath all of your stuff.  And yet isn’t that exactly what happens to so many people spiritually?  They are first killed by and then they are buried underneath all of their stuff.

In John 12: 24 Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it is just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  

What is the purpose of an apple?  Not just to produce another apple, or even just an apple tree.  Rather the purpose of an apple is to produce a whole orchard of apple trees.  Every apple has within itself the ability – the resources – to begin a process that eventually can produce a whole new orchard of apple trees.  

If Jesus had not gone the way of the cross and died, there would be only one seed.  Because He died, there is a whole new orchard.  We – the Church – are the result of His surrendered life.

And in Matthew 10: 39 Jesus applies the same principle to us, when He says, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  

What does it mean to lose your life?  It means going through the daily grind.  Getting up in the morning and doing whatever you do during the day.  It means basically living your life for yourself, keeping all your discretionary time for yourself, and spending all or most of your discretionary money on yourself.  It means surrounding yourself with a lot of stuff.

What does it mean to find your life?  It means being like Jesus, who gave His life.  But it is going to cost you something to do that.  It will cost you the death of your own self-centered life.  In one sense it will cost you everything.  But in another sense it will cost you nothing.  For loves does not think or talk about cost.  

Dennis D. Nelson

President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE

Tuesday, June 20, 2017 Devotion

“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them.  O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!  O fear the Lord, you His saints; for to those who fear Him there is no want.”  (Psalm 34:7-9)

What is the message of the Lord?  That those who dwell in Him dwell in eternal security.  Though the world tear itself apart, and even in death, the assurance that this world is just a temporary mess and that the promise of the Lord is forever.  He does not promise heaven on this sinful earth, but holds out heaven for those who will enter into the eternal rest.  Come in the fear of the Lord and see that He is good.

Lord, I am torn by the tossing and turning of this sinful world and worry day to day about what will happen.  Help me to live faithfully in this world knowing that it is passing and that what You have in store for me is forever.  Guide me according to Your purposes that I may forever hold fast to Your goodness and mercy knowing that I am in Your hands now and forever.

Lord Jesus, You have come that all who come through the grace You have purchased may have life and have it abundantly.  Guide me by Your grace to dwell securely in You.  Lead me into wisdom that I may see more clearly all that this means, knowing that though I have nothing on this earth, I have everything in You.  Reconcile this in my mind to live in Your promises.  Amen.