A New Day at Lutheran Renewal
By Paul Anderson
I came to Lutheran Renewal the summer of ’95. I was fortunate to have worked under and connected with some giants-men like Larry Christenson and Morris Vaagenes. We sensed God’s presence from the beginning at our events, a tribute to a good passing of the baton. We looked back to applaud the forerunners, and we looked ahead to embrace our destiny. This included younger leaders ready to enter the race. They impacted us, as did the Toronto movement. I began meeting with a group of ten to twelve men, mainly Lutheran pastors, and we met for a year. Most of them eventually became involved in our Renewal Advisory Team (RATs). Their value to the LR ministry has been profound.
“Flow River Flow” rallies were held in area churches for two years. Rallies tapered off as congregations increasingly accepted the challenge to flow in the Spirit. Weekend congregational missions were a big part of my early ministry with LR, as were contacts with pastors. A pastors’ newsletter was started as one means of connecting with them. We soon dropped the acronyms, ILRC and ILCOHS, preferring a simpler LR and Holy Spirit Conference.
Thousands of individuals experienced new life in the Spirit through the Holy Spirit Conference, through regional conferences, and through local missions during the three decades of LR’s existence. However, fewer churches entered into renewal than leaders had expected. The result was that many of these renewed people found their community in other churches that embraced their new walk in the Spirit. Lutheran synods for the most part tolerated charismatic renewal at best and resisted it at worst. The most popular advice to those newly-charged Christians was to “bloom where you are planted.” We could as well have said to some of them, “Die where you are planted,” because they were attempting to grow in a desert.
We were under two misconceptions in those days:
- Congregational renewal is a piece of cake. “Have a weekend mission and new life will spring up.” It just didn’t happen. It takes a strong leader to transform a church, and even then it might be resisted.
- The institution is renewable. We’ve seen no evidence of this, nor have any denominational renewal groups, here or abroad.
Many attempts had been made, especially in the 80s, to do just that, through meetings between renewal and church leaders, through invitations to church leaders to participate in conferences, through an attempt to do seminary training under the church umbrella, through resolutions on the convention floor, but none of these methods worked.
A New Strategy
The time came at Lutheran Renewal, about 1999, when the strategic mission changed radically. LR became a pro-active organization that sought to raise up alternative structures. We felt that we had to become more aggressive or slowly dissipate. It began with the publishing of the article, “If the Ship Is Sinking,” an expose of the leadership of the S.S. ELCA. It led eventually to the establishing of The Master’s Institute in 2001 and the Alliance of Renewal Churches (ARC) in 2002. Lutheran Renewal had been meeting with students at one of the seminaries for several years. We finally decided that a more effective way than a one-hour meeting once a week was to raise up a school for the equipping of pastors in an environment that encouraged the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit and that fully embraced the authority of Scripture.
We had received a grant from AAL to do leadership seminars for pastors and congregational leaders. We discovered the same reality as with congregational missions, that while they can encourage individuals in their pursuit of leadership, a two-day event is not sufficient for leadership development. However, having our own seminary is.
One of the places that future graduates will go is to the ARC network. Many denominations do not appear to be serving the same positive purpose they served five decades ago. “Mainline” is now “sideline” in the eyes of some analysts. At the same time, networks are being raised up all over the world, many with the clear mark of the Spirit upon them. Unlike denominations, they are usually relationally established, have a compelling harvest vision and not simply a concern for doctrine, are de-centralized in structure, and tend to be Kingdom-minded. When something is not working, it needs to be adjusted or replaced. It is discouraging to try to fix something that does not want to be fixed. Some pastors are choosing to stay and exist independent of synod influence. Others are discouraged, and they are leaving for other options. This was uncommon thirty years ago when denominations were stronger, but their influence has waned as their grip on truth has weakened.
LR contains a spiritual deposit that will allow it to truly come into its own in the days ahead, a powerful fresh anointing for a season of revival that is upon us. Lutheran culture tends to be cautious, following the status quo, unlike its founder. We made a decision to start a revolution rather than to tweak a system, and we are on our way. At one time we dialoged with institutional leaders. That is far from our thinking at the present. In the past we honored the structures that existed. We have now chosen to raise up new structures. We were not traveling as much during this “building” season. Now that they are securely in place, we are poised for what God wants to do next.
A New Season
The last five years involved some wilderness wandering, some trial and error, and some pioneering into uncharted area. We were encouraged by the teaching of Graham Cooke, who gave us confidence to keep believing when we “walked off our maps.” What began as a ministry to seminarians transitioned to our own seminary. What began as attempting to renew a denomination resulted into the painful awareness that the ship might be sinking and that we needed to develop a new wineskin for a new day. With the wineskins operating, Lutheran Renewal returns to its destiny as the keepers of the sacred fire, those called to bring breakthroughs in the Spirit, to bring healing, and to take God-inspired risks. We have sensed a strong call through prophetic words and the inner stirring of the Spirit to “blow the trumpet,” to call pastors and congregations to a new boldness in the Spirit for the end-time harvest. We believe that we are in a season of an unprecedented move of the Spirit, and we urge our LR family to be radically obedient to the Lord.
LR and the ARC will serve one another with complementary strategies. MI will serve the ARC by training leaders for effective ministry. These are exciting days indeed for LR. We sense God’s hand of blessing upon us, and we appreciate the prayerful support of our constituency. Words that describe Lutheran Renewal today: Word-centered, increasingly Kingdom-minded, not bureaucratic but relational, Holy Spirit-empowered, grace-oriented, positive rather than reactionary, bold and straightforward.
In the future we expect to see:
- the gifts of the Spirit in greater operation
- more release of lay people into leadership
- more travel by LR teams, both nationally and internationally
- growing contacts overseas for the ARC and MI
- a new thrust in church planting
- more pastors embracing the call to bold transformation of their congregations.
To those lulled to sleep by worries or material distractions, we have only two words: “Wake up!” And to those who are awake, keep your flame burning brightly. Step into this new day confident in the presence of an almighty and faithful God!