LIFT Update

LIFT chairperson, Rev. Dee Pederson, offers some reflections on the work of the task force in the past few months.

During the spring and summer, 2010, the LIFT task force initiated a conversation across the ELCA to focus on internal and external factors impacting congregations, Lutheran identity, relationships across the church, and expectations of the various partners in our ELCA ecology. This grassroots conversation included studies conducted with individuals, congregations, synods, the churchwide organization, and partners.

  • Over half of the 2010 synod assemblies devoted time in their agendas to LIFT conversations and forums; responses from those conversations were received and analyzed.
  • This summer a questionnaire was fielded to a random sample of pastors and congregational lay leaders. Research data were analyzed and then summarized by ELCA Research and Evaluation and by LIFT. Full summaries were posted on the LIFT Web site.
  • Numerous groups and partners participated in surveys, focus groups, and interviews.
  • In August, LIFT brought together bishops, leaders from institutions of higher education, pastors, ecumenical partners, and leaders from various partner agencies to consider mission capacity and funding.

These extensive research components from people across this church provided the churchwide organization design team with current insights about priorities for ministries. In addition, the LIFT planning team consulted with the design team on a conference call in August and during a face to face meeting in September. The perspectives and ideas generated through LIFT were foundational to the deliberations and shaping of the proposal developed by the design team.




Thanks to all who submitted scenarios to the LIFT Task Force.  Feel free to read them under the scenarios tab and continue the conversation in your part of the eco-system!

Request for Scenarios for Our Future

The members of the LIFT Task Force are seeking insight and help from the members and friends of the ELCA. The LIFT Task Force is the group called together to help renew the ecology of the ELCA by offering ideas about ministry in the next 5 to 10 years. The task force has written a document that asks for scenarios of what could be or should be, based on experience and history, hopes and dreams. Get back to us with your vision of a plausible future for this church. Responses will be most helpful to the task force if they are received by September 10.

LIFT Scenario Request – PDF

LIFT Scenario Feedback Form – Word Document

LIFT Scenario Feedback Form – Online

The ELCA’s task force on renewing the church, the LIFT Task Force, is asking this church’s members and friends to visualize the future of the ELCA. Specifically, the LIFT Task Force is asking for help in creating a set of scenarios that describe what might be, what could be, what should be. We want to know your dreams for our whole church, for all the ways the members of the ELCA can express the life of Christ within them.

Imagine how the ELCA’s mission will be accomplished in the next 5-10 years. Three scenarios are proposed as possible starting points. You can respond to one or all of them, or you can make up something of your own. You may find yourself imagining the ELCA changing only a little bit, or changing a great deal. Background material that may be helpful includes recent research, available on the LIFT Website, about what members of the ELCA believe and how they behave. The ELCA Website is also a good source for information about current patterns of life, mission, and organization.

This is much like the work the LIFT Task Force itself is doing. The task force is looking for your ideas to help shape its own.

1.     What should be the mission objectives of our church?

2.     What are necessary structural components?

3.     How should the parts of our church relate to each other and what kind of mutual accountability should there be?

4.     How should decisions be made and how could money be shared?

With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, tell us what you imagine. Think outside the box, but base it on real world experience. Describe changing our church so that we remain faithful servants of God as the world changes around us. Please be as specific as possible. There is no prescribed length or format for responses. The LIFT Task Force will profit from some common information in any response that you choose to make, no matter where you start. Try to help us know what you think. Responses would be most helpful if received by September 10. Identification and contact information for the author is helpful but not required.

The members of the LIFT Task Force believe that the Holy Spirit will work through the imaginations of many people to show us ways that the ELCA’s mission will be accomplished in the next 5-10 years.

Three Scenarios

One possibility:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America does its work in three expressions – congregations, synods, and churchwide organization. The ELCA presently has 4.5 million members and 10,000 congregations. There are 65 ELCA synods. The ELCA has a churchwide organization that accomplishes its ministry through a system of programmatic units with advisory committees. There are 8 seminaries, 26 colleges and universities, and other agencies and institutions. This structure was originally designed to create organizations of interdependent responsibility and accountability.

Write a scenario based on what you know about the ELCA and what you see in the world around you. Which ministries and activities of the ELCA need to be strengthened and renewed? What could we let go? How could our life be energized and integrated for present tasks and for what you think lies ahead? How could the ELCA be reshaped to be more effective in its work in the future?

Another possibility:

The ELCA accomplishes God’s mission primarily by being centered in partnerships at all levels. Members, congregations, synods, and the churchwide organization do their work through partnerships with each other, and with social ministry organizations, educational institutions like colleges and seminaries, and with ecumenical partners and companion churches in this country and all over the world.

Write a scenario that gives major importance to all the partnerships that the ELCA enjoys. What faithful and efficient ways could the work of the gospel be divided and shared? What kind of framework should hold ministries and missions together? What would be the ELCA’s unique role among the layers of partnership and sharing that you see in the world around you today? What form and structure would sustain a church body that thought of itself primarily as partnerships?

A third possibility:

Share a scenario that starts with Christian people and their relationships. What sort of networks and structures should hold the members of the ELCA together? How could these networks be strengthened and made more resilient? What institutions and forms of community life does the ELCA need in its networks? What covenants or forms of accountability and support do the ELCA networks require?


These possibilities are proposed to inspire your thinking, not limit it. We seek scenarios that grow from your experience and your faith journey. We want to know what you think the ELCA should look like, should do, and should stand for. We want to know what you think the Holy Spirit is calling us to now, and in the future as you imagine it.

May God’s will for us be revealed as we pray and imagine together. May the Son of God be glorified as we share our hopes and dreams with one another for the sake of the world.

In Jesus Christ,

The Members of the LIFT Task Force.

LIFT at Synod Assemblies

The work of the LIFT Task Force was discussed at many of the 2010 synod assemblies.  Additionally, twenty-seven assemblies entered into a time of conversation about the future of the church.  These conversations were framed by several small-group discussion questions.  Feedback from those discussions are available for download.

Analysis of Research – Synod Assemblies 2010

What kinds of things grab your attention as you read through this document?

Communal Discernment

Rev. Marcus Kunz has done some work with communal discernment in the past few years.  He recently shared his observations about this process with the LIFT Task Force.

Document #1 – Communal Discernment and Renewing the Ecology of the ELCA

Document #2 – What I Think I Have Learned So Far About Communal Discernment

Analysis of Research


Members of the Living into the Future Together (LIFT) Task Force thank you for adding your voice to those of your fellow ELCA members for this important conversation. Here is a summary of ELCA member responses thus far to the questionnaires posted at We are taking seriously the information you shared with us. Your responses are providing an important foundation for future documents which will be prepared by the Task Force.

Click to download:  Analysis of Research – 7-28-10.

Thank you for participating.

More Thoughts on Ecology

The LIFT Task Force recently met via conference call with Dr. William Teska, professor of biology and chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Pacific Lutheran University.  His reflections on our “ecology” metaphor were helpful to our work.

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Resource Presentation – Dr. William Teska

Basic definition of ecology – “eco” comes from the Greek root meaning “house,” same root as the word economics – in the latter-state of the house of finances, in the former-state of the house of nature. Ecologists study the interrelationship among plants and animals and the environment in which they live.

  • Ecology and environment are not synonymous terms, though common usage conflates them. Ecology looks at structure and function of nature, asking how these change through time and space. Ecologists seek to study the patterns of nature and how these patterns vary. Environment/environmentalist refers to the influence people have on nature. Presence of humans can set in motion disequilibrium and if people disturb the harmony of nature, it is harder to maintain the inherent balance.
  • Biological diversity is essentially the structure of nature. When ecologists study diversity, they attempt to explain or discuss the array of organisms living in a particular place. Ecologists try to understand the role that each species plays, but it is often not immediately clear which species are most critical to a system.  Just because an organism is numerically dominant doesn’t necessarily mean that it has a dominate role in the function of the ecosystem. In some systems, there are seemingly insignificant species that, if removed, have multiplying negative impacts on system.  These species are called “keystone” species because if they are removed, the ecosystem stops functioning and collapses.  Often times it is impossible to know the exact role or function that particular species perform, simply by looking.  Sometimes the interactions among the species are critical and if one removes too many, the system collapses.  It’s just very difficult to predict how many can be removed before the system collapses.  This is the argument for preserving biological diversity.  All life matters.
  • Niche in ecology refers to an organism’s profession—everything it “does for a living,” not just its habitat.  A group of species that have the same niche are considered to be in the same guild.  Ecologists use these two terms to help categorize the role or function that organisms play so that they can better make comparisons and to understand competition between species.  An ecological guild is much like a guild of craftsmen, such as carpenters – they are all carpenters, but can be specialists within a guild.  And the degree of specialization affects the competition.
  • Sustainable – is used to describe an entity or system that can continue, can sustain itself.  If it is self-maintaining, it is likely to be in balance.  When people upset an ecological balance, it often times requires that people have to continue to maintain the altered state – hence, it is no longer sustainable.  Succession talks about change, a transformation from one system or entity to another; ecologically it’s the term for the change of a biotic community over time. Regarding sustainability, one first must ask about the time frame—i.e., for how long do we seek to have the system sustain itself, and when do we realize it will be okay to move on? An entity or system matures through time and this maturation may not be at a uniform rate as it passes through various stages. There’s an ecological climax stage, the last stage of succession—this one often takes longer to fully develop. An illustration is the succession from a grass land to a hardwood forest. The succession can be interrupted, set back. If it is disturbed, it sets succession back; it may even start it over completely…  Also, one stage affects the development of the next.
  • As an organization matures, it passes through stages or phases, much like ecological succession.  Different stages may take longer to develop than others.
  • Most people hear the word ecology in different terms than does an ecologist who uses the term to apply to the study of environment. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to use the term in giving attention to organizational structure and how various components, even apparently minor ones, are important to sustaining the system. It is important to give voice to all components of the system, including the small components. In using this metaphor for institutions, we might also want to acknowledge that some elements may disappear and be replaced by others. It is not necessarily possible to identify the critical keystone elements in a system; thus wisdom requires attention to all components.
  • There is no formula for determining what a keystone element is. Scientists would devise an experiment, removing one element to see what happens. They may predict wrongly, as the government did when it determined that wolves should be removed from the West. The systematic and complete removal of wolves resulted in too many deer and their browsing changed the nature of the forest itself; trees were not able to regenerate because the saplings were eaten by the deer that had become too abundant.  So, we now realize that wolves are a keystone in the ecosystem
  • There is a difference between resilient and resistant. Resistant means an environment is not likely to change. Resilient means it’s more able to bounce back when change has happened. Rain forests are resistant but not resilient. Other forests are the reverse.
  • How does willfulness and human reflection change the thinking about how nature functions?  The word is respect, respect of the harmony of nature. It doesn’t matter what the will of the people is if one doesn’t respect the harmony of the system. Illustration – New Orleans and the Mississippi a few years ago – government tried to control the river by constructing levees to protect New Orleans; but didn’t respect its systems.  Eventually (and tragically in the case of New Orleans), nature wins – the alterations by people (in this case the levees) are not sustainable on the long term.  As we increasingly alter the system, we have to take ever-increasing action to recoup the system. The more relevant question here is whether we want to defer the costs or incur them now. Costs will be greater later, but we ask how sure we are of the risk. Is a future risk worth the cost now?
  • Our use of the metaphor of ecology can be appropriate. We are looking at the church in its greatest sense and smallest and at how various roles fit together, asking how these roles can by synergistic for the good of the whole.
  • Using the idea of the keystone species and all the information we’re collecting. How will we look for what’s helpful in all the data we gather? If we removed a function, entity, individual, would the organization continue to function or will it collapse? For example, one might argue that pastor is the congregation’s keystone, or maybe it’s the director of music, or an individual or group of individuals. A more complex system is less likely to have one keystone species because there’s so much diversity and that makes it more resistant to change – losing just one species or component is not likely to alter the dynamics:  something else will take its place or the links are so interconnected that the system continues to function. Likely the church is on the complex side of this. The analogy speaks to looking at the roles various things play and at their multiple connecting points – greater numbers of connections bring more stability.
  • A monoculture can change more easily with less diversity, less connectedness. But then, for example, a field of all one variety of corn is non-resistant to a disease that kills that type of corn. The whole system is destroyed.
  • In the natural world succession is more normal than sustainability.  Very few systems are at the climax or end phase of their succession, and when they are at that stage they are less resilient. We tend to look at things with too short a time span. Things have their own cycles.
  • Biologists look at competition within species and between species. Viability of a system is often determined by which resource is the most limiting. Living systems are limited by water, space or food. The most limiting one will determine the abundance or viability of that particular population.
  • What happens to an ecosystem when there’s a limit, such as a drought?  By definition of drought, water is the limiting factor and one alleviates drought by bringing in more water. But if we do that, at some point, we may hit another limit such as phosphorus levels. In a natural system without interventions, it falls back in the succession—the more tolerant individuals will survive and change the community.

What do Dr. Teska’s comments on ecology suggest about what God is calling the ELCA to be and to do in the future?