Tuesday, September 15, 2015

That is not how we do things around here. . .

Everyone has heard words like these.  The new person in the family, at the job, in the church, etc...  Pastor's hear those words when they come to a new congregation or if they fill in for another or, if they stay long enough in one place, they end up saying those words to others.  That is not how we do things around here. . .

This is not all bad.  We do not live in a cookie cutter world.  Some things are different regionally and locally.  Most of the time we work to preserve the way we do things as a means of preserving our past, of tying ourselves to the place where we are.  I would not want to live in a world where everything was so uniform that there was no room for local adaptation.  But it is too often overdone.

Even when things are not working out as we please, we cling to the familiar and find it easier than changing things up.  We tend to choose the comfortable misery of our predictable lives over the less comfortable misery of what is unpredictable and unknown.  I understand.  There is some security and serenity in things remaining the same.

Most of our changes tend to come when crisis prevents us from avoiding or ignoring the problem.  When it is no longer possible to keeping doing what we have always done, we finally submit to the need to make changes.  It is uncomfortable and we often resent such changes -- or more accurately, being forced to make them.  If the crisis ends, we go back to our old comfortable ways.

When we do make these changes forced by circumstance or emergency, they are technical changes that react to the crisis but do not substantially alter the way we do things.  They do not change our values; they only change our behavior -- and then only temporarily.  This is exactly the problem of the Pharisees and we all know how hard Jesus was on them and the idea that God is satisfied with grudging change to the exterior of our lives while our hearts are aloof to the Spirit's influence and faith.

A clear example of this is the way we deal with crises of falling attendance or money.  When we make changes in outreach or stewardship they are usually occasioned by a crisis (we have nobody left in the pews or no money to pay our bills).  We enter into these changes reluctantly (we would not talk about them at all if we did not have to).  And the resulting changes are generally short term (until the crisis is past and we get a new family or can pay our bills).

I know that this is often how we act in my parish.  Especially about money.  We don't want to talk about money or giving (so we don't unless we have to).  When it happens the Elders or Council encourage the Pastor to visit a few families or to make an announcement or preach a sermon on money in the hopes that the crisis will be resolved and we can go back to the way we usually do things around here.

The trouble is that we do not need to hone our crisis management skills.  What we need is to face up to the real issues behind the crises.  The church grows through the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments.  We don not need gimmicks or to run to the evangelicals to borrow and put together an outreach program that is long on style but pitifully short on Lutheran substance.  We need to rest our confidence in the means of grace and to make sure we are supporting God's work with our prayers, a warm welcome to the stranger, an unapologetic witness to family and friends, and generous offerings. 

Among the first words a child learns are mine and stranger.  The word mine is the enemy of God's work.  Sin taught us this and fear entrenches this concept in our minds.  God taught us all things belong to Him and we were given the privilege and joy of exercising dominion over His creation for His purpose and His glory.  When our first parents decided this was wrong, Eden was lost to us and we were forced to fight with the very creation over which we were created to exercise dominion.  Sin ended up stealing everything from us (our lives, our days, our abilities, and our things).  We gained nothing and lost it all.  God could have written us off but He did not.  He loved us when we loved Him not.  He sent forth His own Son in our flesh to pay the price of our rebellion, forgive our sin, and bestow upon us new and everlasting life. 

The same is true of the word stranger.  We are territorial people who view strangers with suspicion.  Our parents taught us too well as children and now we trust no one, hardly even God. So some of us wonder why anyone would ever want to visit our church or be a Lutheran.  And it shows.  We are not even convinced so how can we convince others.  Lutheranism is great in theory but uneven in practice (isn't everything).  Imagine how things might be different if we had confidence in the Word and Sacraments, if we believed the Spirit WAS at work in the means of grace, if we believed that our Confessions were good and salutary and the way we should all believe, and if the name Lutheran were a positive statement instead of a negative one.

We need to talk more about money but perhaps less about giving to this or that.  We need to talk more about confidence in the promises, Word, and work of God and less about evangelism.  We need to talk more about the vocational character of our new life and how we have been restored to the work that was always God's design for us to do.  But, too often, that is not how we do things around here. . . we respond better to crises than we do positively to the graces and gifts of God already among us where His Word is proclaimed faithfully and His sacraments administered according to His design.  But you already knew that.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Precisely.

The church is very good at being reactive. Whenever there is a problem, we think writing a newsletter article or preaching on it will solve the problem. The church, however, is not in the problem solving business.

Just be the church. Preach. Teach. Crisis management was not the way of Christ, nor should it be the way of his disciples.

Great post.

John Flanagan said...

I think that Pastors and churches do fall into patterns, as we all do individually, and talking about and examining our actions is a good thing. However, I do not believe it is productive to look for problems where they do not exist, or waste time trying to change things that do not need to be changed. Wisdom sometimes means not changing something just out of boredom or to try something new. In the matter of a congregations expenses, I believe the Pastor and designated financial trustees should be upfront about shortages in funds and giving. The congregation sometimes needs a direct appeal, like this; " Brothers and sisters, we really need a new boiler for the sanctuary, and our general fund for building repairs is nearly drained. We are asking if you each can increase your giving, and don't forget we are trying to keep our mission work going." Communicate!

Unknown said...

Dear Anonymous, I have to disagree a bit. Jesus did gain following by healing sick, feeding the hungry which is crisis management. As Christians we can't walk on water. However, I believe the world's biggest problem/sin is greed. Therefore, I attempt to help people selflessly and spread good will to encourage faith. I'm not always highly successful, but that is my constant struggle. These articles are reminders for those who care of what the bigger picture of Christians may need to focus on for ourselves or others.

Unknown said...

Dear Anonymous, I have to disagree a bit. Jesus did gain following by healing sick, feeding the hungry which is crisis management. As Christians we can't walk on water. However, I believe the world's biggest problem/sin is greed. Therefore, I attempt to help people selflessly and spread good will to encourage faith. I'm not always highly successful, but that is my constant struggle. These articles are reminders for those who care of what the bigger picture of Christians may need to focus on for ourselves or others.

Jim Davis said...

" The church grows through the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. We don not need gimmicks or to run to the evangelicals to borrow and put together an outreach program that is long on style but pitifully short on Lutheran substance."
This should read: " The church grows through the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. We can together an outreach program that is long on style and solid on Biblical teaching. We can interact and actively work with the community that we are part of."

Kirk Skeptic said...

Again, the false dichotomy between Word & Sacrament and outreach, well descried by Jim Davis. I know of nothing in Scripture or the FC prohibiting kindness & hsopitality, but you'd thing there was one given the deadness of all too many of our congregations.

Jim Davis said...

I did not mean to imply any dichotomy. Word & Sacrament, outreach, kindness and hospitality belong together. None of these excludes any other in the list.

Kirk Skeptic said...

Jim, I said that you called the false dichotomy out rather than proclaimed it. I've taken a lot of flack from thise who, on the one hand, oppose church-growth nonsense as much as I do, but fail to see that being friendly to seekers is not the same as being seeker-friendly - as if "Word and Sacrament" were some spell to bring thousands of Teutons into our pews. Methinks we're on the same side.