When he accepted a call to Richfield Lutheran Church four years ago, Rolf Olson, '81, knew he was taking on a challenge. The congregation had experienced steep membership declines over the previous two decades and was unsure of how best to move forward.
"I knew the first order of business was rebuilding trust," Olson said of the troubled congregation, where, as senior pastor, he calls himself the "lead listener."
The congregation, nestled on the southern border of Minneapolis, is a changing community.
"The council is trying to sense a way forward. There is no script for reviving a formerly great Lutheran church in a changing neighborhood," Olson said.
So, the people of Richfield Lutheran learn by trial. Four ecumenical congregations now share the space, including Mundo de Paz, a Latino congregation, and a Russian Pentecostal congregation.
Earl Evenstad, president of the church council, feels confident in his pastor.
"I think Pastor Olson has shown solid leadership. He's energetic and has shown he cares for anybody
and everybody. He respects everyone's opinions. He has been a blessing to our congregation."
Evenstad is dedicated to partnering with Olson to revitalize the congregation. "People want to make (our
ecumenical partnerships) go. They feel excited about where we are going," Evenstad said.
Said Olson, "This all ties into my role as 'lead listener'—listening to God, the congregation, the neighborhood. We're trying, but also patient with the results."
Olson credits his close relationship to Luther Seminary with helping him along the way.
"Over the years, Luther has challenged me and helped me rethink how we do ministry. As any veteran pastor knows, the world we were trained to serve doesn't exist anymore. Luther Seminary has helped me keep current through classes, seminars, Web resources and peer relationships. It's been absolutely life-giving."
Gifts to Luther Seminary help prepare leaders like Olson to revitalize congregations to share the gospel message. To learn more about how you can help Luther Seminary support church leaders, contact the Office of Seminary Relations at 888-358-8437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.