Why Evangelicals Need Lent. In it an evangelical laments the "fix" focus of many evangelicals in which faith becomes more and more directed to and by "events" -- conferences, concerts, newest books, latest trends, etc. He also laments the way many evangelicals become satiated in these events -- indulging in them to the point of excess. Now I cannot objectively judge his conclusions but he makes a persuasive case for his points. My concern is not to review his perspective here but to consider how we as Lutherans tend to follow the same path, only a few years behind the times.
Parish calendars have become the blank canvas on which we feel it is our job to fill every moment with some kind of church event. We seem intent upon rallying our people to death for this cause or that and we lament it when these events do not draw the big crowd. We do this with women's ministry, youth ministry, children's ministry, etc. The Lutheran thing seems to be take an idea from the evangelical playbook, ruminate on it a while, and then offer a "Lutheranized" version of the same stuff -- albeit a year or two after the craze has come and gone. So we turned Lent into Forty Days of Purpose Driven Life and we tried a version of Promise Keepers to ramp up our men's ministry and we promote Beth Moore workshops for women and we cannot get enough to Rob Bell... We are programming our parishes the way evangelicals do but evangelicals program because they have no church year, no liturgical identity, and no confessional perspective. At the very moment they are thinking about rediscovering Lent, for example, we have all but ditched the special themes, Bible studies, devotional resources, and mid-week services that once was our forte.
We turn worship into an event and so the focus is not on the weekly rhythm of Word and Supper that draws us in and sends us forth. We turn prayer into an event instead of the daily discipline of an ongoing conversation in which God is not only the listener but the speaker. We turn Sunday school and catechism into event shaped venues for fun and things relational -- to all except to God. We make it seem like the Christian life is a matter of scheduling events, of reading current authors, or of exploring the latest spiritual gimmicks instead of daily repentance, being in the Word of God, and fulfilling our baptismal vocation of witness and service in the world.
I guess if I were writing an article about Lutherans today it might ask Why Lutherans Are in Love with Things Evangelical (the movement and not the Gospel sense of that word). We are a few years behind them but well on our way to satiating our people with events and themes and the latest this and that. One day we might be writing articles about Why Lutherans Need Lent. Or, we would stop the constant borrowing of spirituality resources, Bible studies, programs, music, and trends from the evangelicals and look at our own heritage of confession, creed, Scripture study, and liturgy. In the end it might help us find out who we are in the midst of a world filled with plastic people and plastic churches who act different than they believe and are not content with who they are. The world is not in crying, desperate need of more evangelical wannabes but it is in crying, desperate need of Word and Sacrament Christians, with a history, a heritage, and a confessional/liturgical identity -- as well as a future. Think about it...