Tuesday, August 6, 2019
A typical story. . .
When the congregation studied the state of affairs in preparation for issuing a call to a new pastor, they realized that the numbers were not good. Though many had found their good former pastor very agreeable, attendance and income had been declining over the years and the parish was not able to afford a man with much experience. In the end, they came to the conclusion that the best option for the parish was to request a candidate from the seminary.
Soon after the candidate from the seminary arrived, people began to notice the difference. The new pastor was clearly more, well, Lutheran, than the good pastor who had retired. People who had once been routinely welcomed to the altar rail were questioned before they communed again and some were offended that people of different confessions were no longer welcome to commune. The family members who belonged to the parish understood the reasons but found it hard to accept the change. The new pastor encouraged the congregation to consider the positions of the Synod, not simply as curiosities or suggestions but as reflections of our doctrine and life walking together. He taught with enthusiasm the truth of Scripture and affirmed without reservation what the Bible said. People noticed this difference and though they liked his enthusiasm, they did not know what to make of his open support for the unchanging faith of the fathers or the confidence he had in the historicity of the Scripture. The new pastor made the catechism the basic textbook of confirmation instruction and was, well, rather rigid about his attendance policy. He added another year to the catechism classes and though the people liked the idea of their children learning more, they found it a strain on the family's schedules to accommodate the change (often it meant having to give up some the sports or music or other programs their children had been involved in). Some were not so understanding when the new pastor eliminated lay readers (male and female) and took on most of the parts of the liturgy for himself -- after all, some of them had been serving in the worship service for years longer than this new pastor, fresh from seminary.
Though new families arrived and joined the congregation and they were true believers, some older members began to wonder if this was the same congregation it had been. Income was increasing with attendance and their were definitely more children around. Still in all, they felt like something was not quite right. Some of them longed for the days of their former pastor. It was easier then. Some of the more vocal folks began to be critical of the new pastor -- not openly of course but whispered concerns raised among like minded folks. The new pastor had different ideas about Lutheranism. He talked about having Holy Communion every Sunday and had begun chanting on special occasions and taught the Lutheran Confessions. When he prayed he sounded like a prayer book. Some of the whispers became more public and pointed. The elders were approached and warned that many people were not happy with the way things were going. It did not help that new pastor was not as friendly as the former pastor -- that he seemed to have less time or interest in small talk. Before you know it, somebody had called the District President to say that things were not going well in the parish and maybe he ought to come and have a visit.
You know the story well. It has happened many times in many places. How the story ends depends. It depends upon the persistence of the new pastor and his determination to remain there through the long haul and see it through. It depends upon the willingness of those who were brought into the congregation to support the new pastor. It depends upon the District President and how he handles it. It depends upon how persistent the critics are and whether they will remain or leave. It might have been my story or it could have been yours. There is nothing more risky than a true believer, nothing more threatening to cultural Christianity than confessional Christianity, and nothing more challenging than a young and idealistic pastor. But the ways of things are changing. The go along and get along kind of Christianity is waning. People are no longer attracted by Christianity Lite or Lutheranism Lite (fill in the blank with your own denomination). We are approaching a pivotal moment when churches will have to decide if truth is worth believing, if creeds are worth confessing, if liturgy is worth praying, and it Scripture is worth trusting. I hope and pray that we will have the nerve to stand up and stand out for the sake of Christ. But the battles are one congregation and one pastor at a time.