Tuesday, January 14, 2014
It ain't rocket science. . .
Those with fresh eyes often see what old eyes miss. So it is when you bring up the subject of a welcoming church and a caring community of faith. Sometimes those new to the congregation see us differently than we see ourselves. With that in mind Concordia has put together a helpful series of "how to" books on various practical subjects (Five Things You Can Do...). They are targeted largely to a lay audience but very helpful for pastors as well. I received a review copy of the volume on making yours a caring church (by Paul Cain) but I already had ordered five or six titles from the series for our little parish bookstore.
Most things related to "church growth" call upon the congregation to unlearn its identity and become something new. Cain's little book does just the opposite. It sees the means of grace as the source of welcome and caring. Sure, there is an abundance of common sense stuff urging us to see with fresh eyes everything from where you park to how you enter the building and how you make your way to the sanctuary but this is a much fuller approach and it all flows from the Word and the Sacraments.
Cain gives us the helpful reminder that our caring neither supplements nor replaces the Lord's caring for us but is an extension of how Jesus continues to provide His care to His people. It flows from the Divine Service itself. Even the common sense issues of parking, facility, greeters, ushers, etc...all are servants of the Divine Service and not ends in and of themselves. None of this matters unless we have the Lord's service to offer those whom He has called and gathered. Cain also points out how the primary tool of our worship, the Lutheran Service Book hymnal is user friendly.
The Divine Service is the font and source for all that a Lutheran parish does, according to Cain. Even the love we express to our neighbors and the witness we share with those around us is formed from and directed toward the Divine Service where Christ serves us with His gifts. Human care (a fancy term for works of mercy) is putting into action what we have received in the Divine Service. Liturgy and witness, love and service, all have the same beginning, if not the same venue.
Cain even includes a section on how we care for those who care for us with the means of grace. Often congregations forget that how they esteem and care for the Lord's servants and his family is not unrelated to the larger issue of caring within the community of faith and caring outside toward their neighbors. The end touches upon one of the hidden gems of Lutheranism -- talk of vocation. We live out our baptismal life in various ways, in different settings, and in different roles, but they are all born of this new life which is God's gift in the water.
Most of the time I find reading this kind of literature a chore. Most of the time the author insists that we must forget who we are and what we do to become something different. Only then will we be able to reach our goals. CPH is trying to give Lutherans some resources that begin with the premise that who we are and what we do the means to genuine church growth. These are not large or imposing volumes but if they can help us learn to use God's gifts in the means of grace as our starting point and ending point, this is encouraging. Maybe if we read more of this kind of literature instead of the usual stuff from evangelical sources, we would be less tempted to discard our identity to improve our practice. It is often those who are newest to Lutheranism who see this clearly. Something about fresh eyes on old problems...