What to Do When . . . (John 6:68)
The 2009 Churchwide Assembly for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America addressed
some very important issues of ELCA church doctrine and policies. Many are concerned as how
best to respond faithfully to possible changes in ELCA policies and practices. They are seeking
guidance for options available to faithful Lutheran Christians. In an effort to assist individuals,
pastors and congregations in their discernment, the WordAlone Network Board of Directors has
developed this document.1 WordAlone offers these considerations, to be taken only after much
deliberation and prayer.
This document addresses factors a person (or family), pastor or congregation might consider
after reviewing the actions taken at the 2009 churchwide assembly.
Response of a layperson
The complexity of this choice depends upon a person's involvement in a congregation and
his/her marital/family status.
A) Response as a single person without children
If the outcomes at the churchwide assembly conflict with one's conscience, seeking
fellowship in another Lutheran church in the area is the easiest option. The availability of
Biblically faithful congregations varies among geographic locations. One choice could be
joining a church in the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, www.lcmc.net.
WordAlone encourages you to visit nearby Lutheran churches, attend worship services there
and then speak with the pastor(s) so as to gain a deeper understanding of their theology and
B) Response as a family with children
As a couple, each person is vital to choosing a church for faithful worship. It is important
for each to be nourished in their walk with the Lord. Likely they will want to discuss all
aspects of the worship experience, including things such as liturgy, music, worship times
and opportunities for fellowship.
One's involvement in the present church (serving on committees, singing in choir, etc.)
should be considered. Friendships within these congregations will affect responses to
For parents, the needs of children are of special concern. Sunday school, confirmation and
fellowship in youth groups are all factors that require prayerful contemplation. A child's age
and degree of emotional and spiritual maturity as well as connectedness with friends their
own age must be considered. The presence of baptismal sponsors, other family and
supportive friends in the current parish can be significant.
Wherever one decides to worship, consider that church’s programs to see if they are a good
fit for your child's needs. Your baptismal responsibility here cannot be overemphasized.
Response of a pastor
A pastor's response can be far reaching. A pastor's responsibilities to the flock must be
considered. If a pastor believes churchwide assembly decisions preclude remaining in the ELCA,
this must be discussed – first, with the church council, then, with the congregation. Asking
church members to pray for the pastor during this time of deliberation is most appropriate.
Keeping the congregation informed of the theological basis and consequences of the pastor’s
decisions is also important. Because of the critical nature of these issues, if the congregation is
not actively engaged, WordAlone encourages the pastor to help the members become so.
A) Pastor leaves the ELCA and congregation remains
In this case, it is evident that the pastor views the situation differently than the majority of
the church council and congregation. In such a case, the pastor should resign after fully
educating the congregation about the churchwide assembly decisions made, the biblical and
theological ramifications of them and his or her personal thinking that led to his or her
decision to leave the ELCA.
Leaving the ELCA may affect matters such as pastoral pensions, health care plans and other
personal and professional issues, so they should be thoroughly reviewed with the ELCA
Board of Pensions, the synodical bishop/office and an attorney. Typically ELCA pensions
are fully funded and can be rolled into another retirement program. It is appropriate to
cooperate with the synod bishop to effect a proper resignation from the ELCA roster.
A pastor can and should explore joining the clergy of another Lutheran synod. Most of them
have pension and health care plans that can be accessed.
B) Pastor remains in the ELCA, but congregation leaves
A pastor who desires to remain in the ELCA, but is serving a congregation electing to end
its connection with the ELCA, should consult with the synodical bishop. In at least one such
case, the synodical bishop worked with the pastor so that he could transfer his membership
to a nearby ELCA congregation (a constitutional requirement for ELCA pastors) and
supported the pastor to keep serving the congregation leaving the ELCA until the pastor
received a call from an ELCA congregation. It is also possible for an ELCA rostered pastor
to serve a non-ELCA Lutheran congregation with synodical approval. These are a couple
possibilities besides the pastor resigning. See C under "Response of a Congregation."
C) Pastor retires
If a pastor disagrees with churchwide assembly decisions and elects to retire, there is no
need to go through an ELCA separating process since pension and health benefits remain no
matter where a retired pastor worships. Such a pastor could elect to be removed from the
ELCA roster listing.
D) Pastor and congregation leave the ELCA
See B under "Response of a Congregation."
Response of a congregation
A congregation's response will depend largely on how it understands Biblical truth, the details of
policy drafts the ELCA has published and the theological discussions surrounding the drafts. It
will also depend on how well informed the congregation is of churchwide assembly decisions
and their theological and practical implications. Clearly not all members of ELCA congregations
will be satisfied with churchwide assembly decisions. Cottage meetings, congregational meetings
and council meetings can be venues for informing, delineating and determining the future
involvement of a congregation within the ELCA. A church's constitution and bylaws need to be
reviewed to clarify any potential legal issues.
A) Congregation and pastor remain in ELCA
(1) This will likely be the choice of congregations in agreement with the churchwide
(2) This may be the choice if a congregation is in disagreement with churchwide assembly
decisions but continues to believe it possible to faithfully remain in the ELCA to
influence future decisions for good. Congregations may achieve helpful influence in
several ways, including:
Pray that ELCA clergy and laity will seriously study God's Word and be open to a
clear understanding of the Church's mission to reach people for Christ and teach
God's revealed truth as applicable for daily living.
Offer orthodox Bible studies on the subject to ensure the laity is fully educated on the
biblical view of sexuality and marriage in our lives.
Become more involved in WordAlone and Lutheran CORE, the coalition for reform,
and be part of a national reform effort.
Reduce financial support of the churchwide organization as a way to “voice”
discontent with churchwide priorities. There are many ways for benevolence dollars
to be redirected in mission for Christ.
Encourage other pastors and councils to be in close communication with synodical
bishops who are sympathetic to concerns about the current mission, ministry and
policies of the ELCA.
Encourage church council members to write letters to "unsympathetic" bishops and
leaders in the ELCA national office to keep them aware of discontent and on-going
Look beyond the ELCA for resources. WordAlone can be of great assistance with
Sola Publishing, and recommends the Institute of Lutheran Theology for theological
education and ReClaim Resources for worship materials.
Improve the availability of on-going orthodox education in your area by becoming a
teaching center within the Institute of Lutheran Theology.
Join LCMC (Lutheran Churches in Mission for Christ) while remaining in the ELCA.
LCMC is an association of Lutheran churches that can act as a separate church. For
example, they have their own pension plan, health insurance, call process, etc.
However, they have also structured themselves in a way that allows churches to
belong to LCMC without leaving their current denomination. Although many
congregations are taking advantage of this “dual membership” option, the
congregation will need to be prepared for potential resistance from the bishop’s
office. Additional information is available at the LCMC website (www.lcmc.net).
B) Congregation and pastor leave the ELCA
The big questions become: (1) Who owns the church land and building when the
congregation leaves? (2) What affiliation might the newly separated congregation have?
The answer to the first question, in most cases, can be answered simply: The local
congregation does if you transfer to another Lutheran church body. A caveat applies
to ELCA churches having their roots in the Lutheran Church of America prior to the
formation of the ELCA. To effect a break from the ELCA and retain building and
property, such churches must have two consecutive affirmative two-thirds majority votes
of their congregations held 90 days apart. For ELCA churches that once were LCA
churches or were an ELCA mission start-up, there is an additional requirement of
permission from the synod council. This additional requirement has already been
successfully met by some churches. The details of “who owns what” may also involve
the date when your church was founded. These matters need to be fully researched by
legal counsel before decisions are made.
The answer to the second question includes various Lutheran church bodies. In some
cases, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (www.lcmc.net) has been the
answer. For others, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (www.lcms.org), Association of
Free Lutheran Congregations (www.aflc.org), Church of Lutheran Brethren
(www.clba.org), The American Association of Lutheran Churches (www.taalc.org) or the
Evangelical Lutheran Synod (www.evangelicallutheransynod.org) have provided "safe
haven." Each congregation would need to research these possibilities.
C) Congregation leaves ELCA and pastor remains
Though the congregation may prefer to call either a pastor who is not on the ELCA roster or
is in the process of resigning from the ELCA, there are other possibilities for the transition
process. See B under "Response of a pastor."
D) Congregation remains and pastor leaves.
See A under "Response of a pastor."
1 The purpose of this document is not to narrow choices, but to help inform them. As such, WordAlone
provides this document as only one source. WordAlone neither warrants the completeness of these
discussions, nor assumes liability for choices made by individuals, pastors or congregations using the
information provided herein.