Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pre Church, Churched, Post Church

The Rev. Robert Newton, sometime District President of the California, Nevada, and Hawaii District of the LCMS, has been making the rounds talking about a new paradigm for transforming churches.  He speaks from the vantage point of the mission field and the changes in American culture that present a different landscape to Lutheran congregations.  He has credentials (missionary, sem prof, parish pastor, and now DP). And, some of it is helpful explanation.

Pre Church is like the mission field.  The community (world) is a closed community to the missionary.  Separated from them by language and culture, the missionary (church) is the outsider looking for ways to permeate the closed community with the Gospel.  The missionary is hardly a candidate for gaining entrance into this closed community so the best hope is to find a few influential folks who will listen, believe, and then take the Gospel with them into the closed community to provide a means of entrance whereby the missionary may bring the Gospel to them all...

Churched is when the church itself becomes part of the closed community.  Having been adopted into the community, the church becomes part of this closed system.  Some might think of America in the 1950s when being a Christian was "expected" of politicians, leaders, and citizens and when faith was seen as a "good" thing for the community.  Congregations were welcomed into communities to build buildings and their support was solicited for major social change or legislation.  Some folks, particularly in the Bible belt, may still live in such a churched community but Lutherans are still generally outsiders to this community.

Post Church is like post modern -- a world in which the community has expelled church and faith from main street of ideas and the side streets of modern life.  Religion and faith are intruders, unwelcome by the people, and their teaching and very identity viewed with suspicion and disdain.  The community is once again a closed system and the church is not a part of it all.

His point is that the congregation can no longer presume to be in a churched world and the way the church proclaims the Gospel changes when the church is no longer welcome in or trusted by the community.  This is not rocket science (his own admission) and it is not earth shattering (except to those congregations presuming to live in the 1950s while time has marched on).  Yes, the church must learn how to speak the Gospel in different ways -- ways that may often mimic the mission field and the pre church setting.  Yes, yes, we get all that...

But then his point becomes confused...  He suggests that things like schools no longer attract people to the church but only to the school and he suggests that the church must invent new ways of reaching people.  Well, I suppose that is true if that is all you are offering -- an education -- but if you are teaching the children the Gospel and giving those children the setting of Christian faith and love witnessed in action as well as words, then you are evangelizing exactly the way the missionary might in a pre church setting... so I did not get his point here...

Then he goes on about how the church must not close its borders but must remain permeable to the community (and its culture).  This is where I became very confused...  The church has only one door to its community -- that is baptism.  There are not many doors by which people may enter the church -- there is only one and that is baptism.  Jesus and the NT make this plain.  Further, the goal of the church is not to be open to the community and culture but to permeate that community and culture with the witness of the Gospel.  When that witness happens, people will be drawn to the church. 

This is where I am even more confused.  The church that is faithful to this Gospel must not erect more barriers to gain entrance than Jesus has called His church to have BUT neither can this church strip away barriers that are part of its faithfulness to the Gospel.  Example:  the liturgy.  Sunday morning is about the Divine Service (whether organ or guitar is a rather small issue in comparison here).  Sunday morning is not an educational endeavor or an evangelistic outreach but the gathering of God's people around His Word and Table.  The liturgy is not a barrier to new people entering -- it is WHAT they are entering for... it is WHAT they have come to be a part of and from which they receive the gifts promised by God.  The liturgy is Word and Sacrament -- fleshed out in the inheritance of the tradition to which each age adds the best it has to offer (see that wonderful Nagel introduction to Lutheran Worship).

Newton is suggesting that "traditional" (code for liturgy and hymnal) have to disappear if the church is to engage the people who are coming out of the community because it has been permeated with the Gospel.  He calls this "recalculating."  What do they have to come out for if what happens on Sunday morning is a mirror of the very culture, music, and media they left?  People who leave the community in search of that new community which is called, gathered, and nurtured by the Gospel can only be disappointed when they find out it was not much different than some of the stuff they left behind.  If Joel Osteen, some good singers, a fine band, and a stadium feel are the best we have to offer those who leave the gated community of the world to follow the voice of the Gospel, they will not stay long.  And this is exactly what studies have found of those congregations (see Willow Creek's own surprising admission about the failed mechanism of their attempt to grow these folks from church that is a religious reflection of their secular world into something different and deeper).

So I appreciate Newton's aid and assistance in diagnosing the problems we face... I simply disagree with his prescriptions in how to respond...

9 comments:

Deaconess Emily Carder said...

"Well, I suppose that is true if that is all you are offering -- an education -- but if you are teaching the children the Gospel and giving those children the setting of Christian faith and love witnessed in action as well as words, then you are evangelizing exactly the way the missionary might in a pre church setting..."

And this is so easy to do in a school setting! Just use the catechism daily--not merely as a means of recitation, but also for application. When the catechism is used this way, even with very young children, it has amazing results. Children as young as 4 can learn the Ten Commandments & Meanings, the Lord's Prayer, and the Apostles' Creed. I have seen 4-year-olds correctly apply the commandments to themselves,say "I'm sorry," and wait anxiously to receive with joy "You are forgiven."

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

This is a very astute analysis and spot on to the point.

Rev. Weinkauf said...

The great error is confidence in the God's means of grace as sufficent! and ignoring the doctrine of election. If I go door to door everyday, or sit on the couch everyday (not that we should do this), in what way are more people in heaven. Neither. The number in heaven is the same.

It's amazing how the last 40 years, the LCMS leaders and Mission mouths come out as outreach never has not really happened, or its been so inadequate, or mandate a new chapter in mission, we really mean it this time, another novel approach, another mission slogan, another theme, another new idea and program, oh we haven't done enough in the past but watch us now.

Anonymous said...

In the Great Commission of Matt. 28,
Christ tells us to make disciples by
baptizing and TEACHING. Willow Creek
admits they failed to teach in-depth
Bible classes for its members.
Christians need to be fed from the
Word of God on a continual basis.
The local parish needs to offer
challenging Bible study classes
during the week not just on Sunday.
This will help supplement the
member's personal daily Bible
reading at home. Pastors need to
take leadership and be good
teachers of the Word.

Brian Yamabe said...

Pastor Peters,
Did you get to the real fun stuff where Dr. Newton says that AC XIV was for 16th century Germans? Or his notion that in the post church world we need to a have a pastor overseeing multiple preaching stations manned by laity just like they did it in the mission field (I guess if they did it in the mission field it must be okay?) Sorry for being a little cranky in this area, I got my fill of this, Dr. Newton is my DP, before and during the convention.

Anonymous said...

Faith is the door to the church.

Faith joins us to the body of Christ. It may be given as a gift in Baptism - but most certainly comes by hearing the word of God.

Pastor Peters said...

No, Brian, we got only an introduction and did not get that far (thankfully).

Well, yes, Anonymous, faith comes by hearing but the Church is the assembly of the baptized (believers) and baptism is the prerequisite of membership in the Church...

Ted Badje said...

The Day Schools are an important ministry of the Church. Education of the young affects the Church's future. It is unfortunate that a number of congregations treat it as the only means of outreach. Sometimes, an elitist attitude is fostered. 'If you don't have children in the day school, why should we talk to you during fellowship' is the attitude many who to come to congregations receive. God's word, Law and Gospel, are taught at the schools, but I noticed alot of chapel services revolving around moralism when I student taught at one high school. These are my observations.

Jeremy Clifton said...

@Brian Yamabe,

Well, I actually wanted to ask him (but couldn't, since the presentation in our circuit was a video presentation) what he thought about AC XIV, but I guess I don't need to now. He had made some reference to "all the talk during the last convention about what lay people could and couldn't do" and how that was an example of the church setting up barriers to outsiders.