Thursday, August 27, 2009

Outreach vs Maintenance... or... Evangelism vs Liturgy

It is often posited that outreach beyond the parish and a focus on members are at odds with each other. In fact, it has become common to identify congregations that have an outreach focus and to distinguish them from those merely concerned with members (maintenance mode).

I have been at church meetings in which the maintenance mode congregations have been derided and their Pastors described more as family chaplains... with the ultimate cut being that these dying congregations need to remind the last member to turn off the lights and lock the door when the rest of them are all dead and gone.

At those same meetings I have been told that the only reason the Church exists is to make Christians out of unchristians and those that consider everything negotiable in order to win converts are the congregations we need to emulate "if we are to grow."

Fifty years ago a Swedish Bishop wrote and longer pamphlet on the tension between Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening (Outreach). It would be worth your reading. Without repeating this document here, suffice it to say that real liturgy always begets outreach and faithfully serving those in the pews will always encourage them to reach out beyond the pews. This is because the nature of the liturgy is to bid us come. Wherever the Word and Sacrament are the center and focus of our common life, the assembly will have the character of a magnet beckoning the world to see, hear, and become part of the gathered people of God. This is what it means when we say every week, "as often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes..."

In addition, if Pastors are maintaining congregations by insulating the people in their pews from the baptismal vocation to live out and proclaim the Gospel as lights to the world, then they are not being faithful Pastors at all. You are not a faithful parent if you pander to your children so that they never grow up. You are not a faithful Pastor if you serve the people but allow them to be spiritual babies. Indeed, our calling in baptism is to be the people of God -- together as a congregation and individually as members of the Body of Christ. We extend Sunday morning into the homes, workplaces, shopping areas, neighborhoods, and recreation centers that we frequent because we are in those places the very same people we are in the Church building on Sunday morning -- we are the people of God, cleansed in baptism, clothed in Christ's righteousness, forgiven of our sins, restored before God to His family, and busy about the family business (the Kingdom of God).

It is my great fear that those congregations that are so focused on outreach may be leaving the people they evangelize crippled because they have no liturgy, no gathering around the Word and Table of the Lord, to support their newly minted faith and direct them to maturity of faith and life in Christ.

It is also my great fear that Pastors and congregations who are only aware of the flock are secure in their pure doctrine and pure worship but falsely so... and that they have hidden their light in a bucket so that only the lights are enlightened and the world still sits in darkness.

It is not a matter of either/or but both/and... real liturgy leads to spiritual awakening... and spiritual awakening draws its life from real liturgy... outreach is the fruit of faithfully caring for God's people and faithfully caring for God's people leads to outreach.

Now it is true that sometimes we carry our selfish natures into the Church so that the only ones we care about are ourselves... We want to be welcomed but do not welcome... we want to be fed but do not feed... we want to be taught, but do not teach... we want to be cared for but do not care for others... This is not liturgy's fault but our own. In the end our hearts are not warmed by the Spirit but still fairly cold and we have transferred the selfish, sinful nature from the domain of the world into the domain of the Church... And that is another problem entirely...

No comments: