Living and working together as churches in ongoing reformation

LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay
LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay

Balance between continuity and innovation in LWF Strategy 2019-2024

(LWI) - On the 501st anniversary of the Reformation, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is launching its new strategy: “With Passion for the Church and for the World.” Balancing continuity and innovation, the new strategy identifies key priorities for the communion of churches in the coming years. LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge spoke to Lutheran World Information (LWI) about the new strategy, answering questions about how the Lutheran churches are working together for a just, peaceful and reconciled world.

Why does the LWF need a new strategy?

I see three major reasons for a new strategy: the world is changing, the LWF communion of churches is evolving, and at the last Assembly the member churches publicly stated what is important to them and what they want to do together in the world.

The strategy responds to these three dimensions by outlining the member churches’ priority engagements until the next Assembly. For me, the strategy is like an orchestral score along which LWF member churches intend to play together a tune that powerfully echoes God’s liberating grace that sets human beings free to serve and love the neighbor and God’s good creation.

For me, the strategy is like an orchestral score along which LWF member churches intend to play together a tune that powerfully echoes God’s liberating grace that sets human beings free to serve and love the neighbor and God’s good creation.
LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge

I am very grateful for the good balance between continuity and innovation. The LWF continues to be strongly committed to diakonia and to ecumenical dialogue, the inclusion of youth, and gender justice. At the same time, it is responding to the member churches’ desire to become relevant actors for climate justice. The churches also expressed their desire to work more intentionally around questions of theological education and formation.  

Rooted in our ongoing witness as a communion of churches, this strategy helps us to project the LWF into the future. In doing so, it underlines a fourth and very fundamental reason for creating the strategy: the reformation is ongoing.

What about the title and vision of the strategy?

“With passion for the church and for the world” – the title of the strategy speaks to a fundamental tenet of Lutheran confessional identity, namely the theological focus on God’s incarnation in Christ.

As a communion of churches, we are passionate for the world, because God loved the world to the point of offering God’s son, Jesus Christ to redeem it and free it for life in abundance. As a communion of churches, we partake in this mission, which is about what God wants us human beings, and the whole world to become.

This passion informs our understanding of mission as holistic, including proclamation of the good news, serving the neighbor, and advocating for justice. We seek church unity that enables a vibrant public expression of God’s love to the world.

The strategy has two priorities: how will they inform and guide LWF’s work?

These priorities were developed after carefully discerning what LWF member churches jointly expressed as they met at the 2017 Assembly in Windhoek, Namibia.

The churches spoke about the challenge of being and remaining relevant in a changing world, of fast growth in some contexts, and steady decline, in others. “Revival of the church” became an important topic! They also identified the pivotal importance of theological education and formation for the churches’ future and the imperative to provide relevant space for youth participation. The full inclusion of women in the ordained ministry of the church was once again affirmed as a shared goal and commitment. All of this is captured under the priority, Supporting churches’ presence and vibrant witness in the world. Indeed, the task now is to develop programs which will enable churches to work together on this priority.

But they also spoke about the vocation of not living for themselves. Because being churches in communion is not an end in itself, but is inscribed in God’s liberating action which addresses the whole world. Thus, the commitment to justice, peace and reconciliation is intrinsically linked to God’s mission in the world. This is why the LWF continues holding its diaconal instrument in its hands – the LWF World Service – which expresses that vocation to serve. Gender justice – a matter of faith – also receives deeper attention. Human rights, the big achievement of the human family currently at risk of being dismissed and undermined – continues to be a pivotal commitment for Lutherans. Promoting human dignity, justice and peace, also underscores the immense responsibility of the LWF and its Communion Office to link the local realities to global discourse and policy making, and that is why advocacy will have an increased role in the LWF.

Where would you want to see the LWF six or seven years from now?

I suppose the strategy is not about what I want to see, but what LWF member churches want to see as they deepen their journey and witness as a communion. I sense that LWF member churches would rejoice if they were to come together at the next Assembly in 2023 to share stories about their joint work, and how it impacted them as churches, as well as the world.

I hope and pray that there will be stories of deepened interaction and work across regions. I particularly hope and pray that churches will rejoice as they realize that they didn’t turn inwards to themselves, but continued offering their witness in the world, working among the oppressed and marginalized, supporting refugees and migrants and their rights.

Would it be too much to dream about several churches coming to the Assembly with the news that they are not investing in fossil fuels, or have planted one tree for each child they baptized? Maybe there will be stories of ecumenical breakthroughs, so that in times of fragmentation and polarization, we Lutherans, together with others have made a powerful statement of God calling human beings together.

How do you hope LWF’s member churches will engage with the strategy?

The whole LWF Strategy 2019 – 2024 has its foundation in the vocation of LWF’s member churches to live and work together as a communion of churches.

While it cannot override the strategies and priorities of individual member churches, we believe an LWF strategy captures what they want to be and do together in this world.

In fact, when I wrote to the member churches recently sharing copies of the strategy, I asked them to include a discussion about it in their next meetings of governance or among pastors. The guiding questions for such discussions would be: where do we see ourselves as member churches in this document? And what are our gifts and contributions? In the latter, it is particularly important to reflect on how we are opening our hands to receive gifts, knowledge, experiences and wisdom that others may offer us. Or to put it in other words: how does the ethos of mutuality and solidarity, which has carried the LWF for decades, find new expression?

Moving forward, I believe we have been equipped with a great tool to jointly sing a powerful, resounding tune of God’s liberating grace in the years to come.

LWF Strategy 2019 – 2024