Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The decline of the parish church. . .

One of the major fruits of liturgical experimentation and the plethora of worship choices congregations make available is that the idea of a parish church has declined to the point where I am not it even exists within Lutheranism any longer.  It was once the case that most Lutherans attended the congregation geographically closest to them (within their jurisdiction).  If you were LCMS, you went to the LCMS congregation nearest you and the same for the other Lutheran acronyms.  While that might still be the case for some WELS and ELS parishes (and due perhaps more to their scarcity than anything else), it is not the case for most of the rest of Lutheranism.

In my own parish we have had and continue to have folks who drive by other Lutheran Church Missouri Synod congregations on their way to Clarksville.  They do so for several reasons but one of the chief of them is the fact that they cannot count on finding the historic liturgy in Lutheran congregations.  Contemporary worship, blended worship, and all the other derivations of worship invented for each particular Sunday have made it a crap shoot of what you will find when you show up to a Lutheran congregation on a given Sunday morning.  Liturgical services (like those from LSB), if offered at all, tend to be offered early in the morning as the lowest priority of the various forms of worship many congregations offer.  Blended services (typically with a fairly recognizable liturgy but mostly contemporary praise music and/or Gospel songs) tends to occupy the middle time slot.  The full contemporary service (usually without liturgy, vestments, or the Sacrament of the Altar) tends to get the late slot and tends to soak up most of the financial resources designated for worship.  No matter on what side of the worship wars you fight, you recognize how true this is.

Preference drives people to chose a parish which fits their style of worship (yes, I know that much more than style is at stake here).  Of course it has always been true that people shopped for a Lutheran school or departed one parish after a dispute, or deliberately skipped a local congregation in their search for a home church.  In the past these were the rarer exceptions.  In the last 40 years or more it has become the norm. We shop for a church the way we shop for clothes or furniture or a car.

My point in this is simply to say that the loss of a parish church is not insignificant.  In the end it would be easier if we all attended the Lutheran congregation geographically nearest our address but it would also be healthier.  It is nearly impossible to have the same kind of relationship with a community of faith when you have to drive an hour one way to get there as you can have with a parish literally in your backyard. 

Where this really shows up is in the area of pastoral care.  It is highly unlikely that a pastor can know a family some distance away as well as he can know one that lives locally.  It is much more difficult to provide regular and faithful pastoral care to folks who live significant distances from the congregation.  It is also more difficult to deal with things like catechism class.  Finally, it is also more difficult for that individual or family to be involved outside of Sunday morning when distance is significant.

Maybe there still are some parish churches in the LCMS but, lets face it, they are few and far between.  The older I get, the more sad I am about the loss of this as the normal face of our church body.  Yes, I understand why and I recognize how deeply personal preference rules the day but I cannot help lament the loss of a parish congregation in which the vast majority of our people came from the same area, saw each other regularly at the grocery story or school sports event and could connect outside the Sunday morning fellowship as easily as folks once did. 

9 comments:

Kirk Skeptic said...

Pr P: it is not "shopping" to want a church which calls itself Lutheran to behave like one any more than it is a "perceived" vs real & legitimate need to want a congregation in which one finds fellowship with those of like faith and practice. It is difficult across the entire spectrum of Christianity to have a discussion about alleged "church-hopping" when the church side keeps denigrating those who would rather be ministered than pandered to.

Carl Vehse said...

1 John 4:1 - Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

lutheranskeptic said...

Sometimes this can happen for other reasons too, not just faithful worship practices: preaching may also be an issue for "shopping".

I'm thankful at our congregation has a faithful worship practice. And yet, I know people who are leaving our congregation because of the dreadful preaching we now have from our new pastor. The challenges are: not rightly dividing Law/Gospel, not understanding Luther's two kingdoms theology, or simply lacking in actual content.

It's striking what huge changes one sees on Sunday when you can no longer take solid preaching for granted. I know I used to take it for granted, and I deeply regret it now.

May we be faithful in preaching and in practice!

Carl Vehse said...

"The decline of the parish church. . ."

More accurately, "The decline of the Missouri Synod's ecclesiastical supervision"

Anonymous said...

Amen, Pastor. I drive past a LCMS church as the contemporary nightclub sounding music seems more for the performers and what emotions can be elicited. God help us.

knauffs said...

Has the pastor been given feedback that isn't "good sermon, Pastor"? Are those who leave being honest when asked why they are leaving? Please be the one who speaks the truth in love to him. He can't improve if he doesn't know.

Jeffery Clark said...

As usual, the WELS isn't far behind and seems to be "racing" to catch up to Missouri. The WELS mission board is more likely to send $100,000+ to help start a new contemporary congregation than give struggling traditional congregations $10,000-15,000 in mission funds that could end up saving the congregation. In the more populated areas in WI and MN, the WELS is planting contemporary congregations mere blocks away from existing traditional ones.

jwskud said...

For those seeking, this website may prove helpful:

http://lutheranliturgy.org/

The listing is by no means complete, but it's a starting point. And I agree with the statement by Kirk - if I have to drive further to find a truly confessional Lutheran church, rather than an imitation, I will do so, and try to coordinate around the longer commute.

Janis Williams said...

I may have said this here before, but WHY do Lutherans want to trash what fundagelicals have got their craws full of??? (I know, bad grammar.) Liturgy, preaching of Law and Gospel, the Real Presence, and a Divine Service in which God in Christ serves His Church, are the things we were literally dying (spiritually) to find! Wake up, LCMS!