A Review “from the Field”

[1] I serve the church as President and CEO of Immanuel Health Systems (IHS), Omaha, Nebraska. IHS, which began its ministry in 1887 under the leadership of Rev. E.A. Fogelstrom, is affiliated with the Nebraska Synod, ELCA. Over the years, Immanuel became of a pillar of the Augustana Synod with its Deaconess Institute and “works of mercy” for the sick, the aged and the orphaned.

[2] Immanuel expresses its healthcare ministry in three ways. It acts as co-sponsor (co-owner with reserved governance rights) of Alegent Health, a joint operating agreement with Denver based Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), and is the largest faith-based healthcare provider in the Omaha regional area. IHS also owns and operates the six retirement communities of Immanuel Retirement Communities (IRC), and other senior living services. Lastly, IHS is developing a “Health Ministries” program by working with congregations as a “catalyst” to strengthen their health ministries.

General Theme of the Proposed Social Statement

[3] I would like to focus on the phrase “shared endeavor.” The increasing complexity of the healthcare system and organizational development challenges within the Church have caused the church and healthcare system to “drift” strategically and relationally. The statement calls them back together, and I am pleased to see this development.

[4] The power of the “shared endeavor” metaphor is in its “systemic” understanding of health, at the personal, family, congregational, institutional, community, national and international levels.

Shared Endeavor/System View

[5] It is conceptually easier to view each part of the ELCA as responsible for a restricted area. Congregations focus on worship, Social Ministry Organizations focus on direct service provision, seminaries and colleges focus on teaching. The perspective of a shared endeavor/system shifts away from this “silo” view, which divides responsibilities and behaviors, to see where key, common “patterns” exist within all parts of the system, though they may be expressed in different ways.

[6] Some of the common patterns include:
A. Passion for “Life”
Each part of our health system needs to have a unifying passion for engaging in life. I am concerned we still have not clearly articulated in this in the proposed statement. I believe our passion can come from reclaiming salvation in Jesus Christ, in all of its power, for our world. We need to expand this message when we talk about health. Salvation is more than being converted to a belief in Jesus as the Christ or attempting to live a sinless life or having unwavering faith. Rather, it means that our health and wholeness are partly a function of our willingness to be responsible for the way we live as children of God. (Bakken, 2000).

[7] B. Vision
Each component of the system must have a compelling, unifying, sense of direction. What is our compelling call? Our church is struggling with this at the churchwide, synodical, congregational and by definition, individual levels. This sense of commitment to love and justice needs to pulled into more clarity.

[8] C. Vibrant participation
Each “part” of the system needs to excel in having stakeholders engaged in the discussion. Margaret Wheatley writes of the move beyond traditional leadership within bureaucratic organizations:

In the past, we may have thought of ourselves as skilled crafters of organizations, assembling the pieces of an organization, exerting our energy on the painstaking creation of links between all those parts. Now, we need to imagine ourselves as broadcasters, tall radio beacons of information, pulsing out messages everywhere. We need all of us out there, stating, clarifying, discussing, modeling, filling all of space with the messages we are about. If we do that, fields (ideas) develop and with them, their wondrous capacity to bring energy into form.
(Wheatley, 1994)

[9] This proposed social statement is the beginning of a passionate discussion on key concepts regarding care and cure, health and healing, and wellness within a Christ-centered context.

[10] D. Integrity
The final ingredient for systemic “power” is pervasive integrity within all the expressions of our church. A challenging first step is in answering difficult questions. Am I living with passion and courageous vision for health in my personal actions? How is my congregation a place of health and healing? How are our church-related institutions acting with passion for justice and service?

[11] These questions and answers aren’t meant to be a drive towards perfection. As Greg Anderson notes, “with our faith in the grace of our Lord, we are “complete,” but we are not finished.” (Anderson, 1995).

[12] With these key patterns identifiable throughout our ELCA health system, we have a chance to make health a means for service to God and our neighbor in love. The power of a common passion, vision, vibrant participation and acts of integrity cannot be underestimated.

What Social Statements Mean for Colleagues in Social Ministry Organizations

[13] Social statements have a special flavor in my setting as our Roman Catholic partners in Alegent Health are very interested in what “we” believe. Perhaps you are familiar with the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Roman Catholic Church. Our social statements are a helpful addition to our discussions.

[14] I encourage each of us to use the social statement within in our organizations. One useful exercise would be to have the statement reviewed by the Board and Management team. In a retreat setting, we could focus on the question of whether we are prioritizing and allocating our resources within based upon our Social Statement. It could be very interesting to work with employees to review the statement for discussion and debate. How about inviting your patients, residents, and clients to participate in the discussion as equal partners in caring for health? How about taking the time to review our personal passion and integrity?

[15] I encourage each of us to strengthen our work with Lutheran Services in America for best practices, information, support and advocacy for justice and loving care.


[16] I choose to view this social statement as a call to change the very way we work together for health, justice and loving service. The challenges are many, but the proposed ELCA social statement is a move forward which I believe we can best use by thinking systemically to ensure that every level of this immense “Shared Endeavor” contains the elements of passion, vision, vibrant participation and pervasive integrity.

[17] May God grant us the strength with boundless grace in our shared endeavor!


Greg Anderson, The 22 Non-Negotiable Laws of Wellness (New York: Harper Collins, 1995).
Kenneth Bakken, M.D., The Journey into God: Healing and Christian Faith (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2000).
Kirsten Peachey, “Nurturing Life: the Ministry of Healing in the Congregation”, Lutheran Partners, July/August 2002.
Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1994).