Saturday, February 13, 2016
We don't have a money problem. . . but a people problem.
Monsignor Charles Pope has written much about the saturation level of the Latin Mass without effort to expand, evangelize, and recruit new people to that form of the Mass. He has written passionately and bluntly -- especially for people who think that holding a Latin Mass is all you need to do to fix most of the problems within the Roman Catholic Church. That clearly is not the case. Yet much of what he wrote translates also to Lutherans who face similar problems.
Frankly, the problem in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is not one of money either. It is a people problem. We have some parishes where the percentage of attenders is higher than 40% but most of our parishes would be thrilled to death if 30% of the names on our registers actually showed up on Sunday morning. The reality is that our people who do attend, generally attend less often than a generation or two ago, and there are more and more who attend only occasionally (once a month or less). They are regular but not frequent in their attendance at worship or the reception of the Body and Blood of the Lord. Our church body and every one of our individual congregations would enjoy a remarkable resurgence of vitality and life if we had 50% or 60% or dare I hope for 75% of our people in worship on Sunday morning!
Along with the problem of infrequent attendance lies the problem of the family and Sunday morning. On one hand we have more families in which either husband or wife does not attend and is not Lutheran. This is an undeniable drain upon the family as a whole and their participation and place within the parish's sacramental life and worship. Second we have fewer children being born and different attitudes about how important it is to raise children in the faith by regular and frequent church attendance, Sunday school participation, and catechism training. With fewer children being born, we have fewer to whom we pass on the sacred deposit and faithful tradition as St. Paul spoke of repeatedly. With the participation of these children in competition with sports and other activities also on Sunday morning, the children who do attend regularly may not attend frequently. This has a profound impact upon their own life as adults and their own expectations and that of their families down the road. With the large number of divorced families, Sundays get lost in the mix of visitation weekends and it is not unusually for children to have a potential to attend only every other weekend due to this tragic reality. We also have less importance attached to catechetical training and confirmation so that it is not unusual for children to by-pass catechism class and confirmation with the full understanding and approval of parents who do not wish to force or compel their children about things religious.
Yes, we have a people problem and some of it hearkens back to the door of the pastor's office and to the church in general which has sought quiet accommodation with these social trends instead of calling our people to account and encouraging in stronger terms how important it is to raise our children in the faith and to model the faith at home and at church. I am NOT blaming the people only but acknowledging that there is blame to go around yet this should not stop us from reclaiming the noble purpose and shape of faith lived out in marriage, family, and church.
At the end of the day, for any particular movement, prayer form, organization, or even liturgy, the job of promoting it must belong to those who love it most. Shepherds don’t have sheep; sheep have sheep.
Pope has hit it on the head. Too much of a pastor's time and too much of the energy of congregation is spent trying to promote the things that should be obvious. Our place in God's House on Sunday for worship and learning His Word should not have to be sold as if it were a product you were being convinced to buy. Neither should we have to market the church as if it were a business providing a service to consumers who must be convinced to try it and purchase it. We should not have to sell the value of our common life together centered in the Divine Service. When it all boils down to what am I going to get out of it... well, the argument is already pretty much lost.
I do not believe that there ever was a pristine moment in our history which we need to recapture but I do believe that we can learn well the consequences of our inactive and our failures to herald what is the most central and basic mark of the faith -- our life together around the Word and Table of the Lord. When we look back in history we can see repeatedly what has happened when these values have been assumed and not taught, when we in the Church have accommodated instead of called out God's people to stand up and stand forth, and when we have left the teaching of values and the shaping of the family to secular institutions and movements.
Pastors need to repent of our unwillingness to speak forthrightly and faithfully the importance of participating in the Divine Service weekly and investing family time and the time of children in teaching and shaping them for the faith at home and at church. People need to repent of the way we have drifted away from the values and practices that mark and strengthen faith in the individual and family. Everyone needs to be encouraged that it is not too late to renew and redouble our efforts to reclaim the people for the church and the home for the faith. This is less a matter of dollars that need to be spent than honesty from the pulpit and honest hearing in the pews as we work together to do a better job than we have done.