Friday, September 4, 2009
Cold or Bold
I love those little truisms that say the obvious but in pithy sayings... like... you only get one chance to make a first impression. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to get that one... But as in most things, there is enough truth in them to warrant a little thought...
A congregation on Sunday morning only gets one chance to impress the average visitor today. Even in religion there is a high degree of competition. So what kind of first impression are you giving?
It would seem to me that competence is one thing people are looking for. You do not have to be genius (pastor or people) but you ought to demonstrate a certain level of competence. Whether in the pulpit or at the altar or in the liturgy, people expect that those leading and those following will exhibit a competence and confidence with these things that show that they are not play acting and that they truly believe in what they are doing.
It also seems that people are looking for genuineness. Both in message and in people, the world is looking for honest folks with honest beliefs == this genuineness cannot be contrived but flows from familiarity and confidence in the liturgy and the things of the Church.
It also seems that people are looking for warmth -- they do not generally want to be fawned all over nor do they want you to intrude in their lives while you are still a stranger to them. Yet they do expect that the people assembled are passionate about the Gospel and passionate about its practice, and passionate about their role as parish leaders
It also seems that people are looking for faithfulness -- the folks are not looking for something new every moment but for the b est of yesterday and today, confidence in the faith once delivered to the saints and now to them, and a sense of reality that says what we are doing is important enough for us to act deliberately.
In this respect, those most committed to the liturgy must be careful not to act as it ONLY the insiders who already know what is going on are present but to do the liturgy well (however elaborate or simple the ceremonial), to be genuine and genuinely friendly, and to be able to explain why the liturgy to those new. And it would seem to me that those Lutherans less committed to the liturgy must take care lest their boldness and friendliness lead them to abandon that which identifies them as belonging to the faith, why they have departed from that which has been the mark of faithfulness in the Church since the earliest of days, and why what happens on Sunday morning is so distant from what the identifying documents of their Church Confessions proclaim. We cannot afford to be so cold that Christ is the only warmth among us nor can we afford to be so bold that everything is dared in the name of Christ (including unfaithfulness).
Many talk about the special things the Church must learn to serve the early twenty first century. I am not so sure that these things are much different from the situation every parish Pastor and every parish have not faced for the whole space of the Church's life... We can and should be real without giving up the faith, honest but not casual about sin and its death, courageous but not cavalier about what God expects from us...