Monday, May 10, 2010

A Remarkble Dissonance

It occurs to me after reading Bro. Weedon's blogpost from the sainted O. P. Kretzmann that there is such a difference between the viewpoints of some on what constitutes parish success and failure (not always clear cut between clergy and lay).  This divergence is more than that -- a dissonance that seems to scream at us like the convergence of notes not intended to be played together, at the same time.

I speak here of success being defined as the faithfulness of the Lord in coming to us as He has promised in Word and Sacrament and the faithfulness of those who assembled at His bidding to receive these promised gifts.  Attendance is not everything but it is surely the minimal starting place for the people of God and for the Pastor who tends the flock.  Yet for too many of us attendance is secondary to other issues either equal to or perhaps great than attendance in importance. 

I was once told by a Lutheran Pastor that one should never presume that those who came to worship on Sunday were Christian and that a Pastor should preach to them as if they were the unconverted.  He discounted attendance every bit as much as the folks who deliberately and regularly absent themselves from the House of the Lord and His gifts imparted there.  It would seem to me that we must take those who attend at their word (or example) and preach to them exactly as if they are the people of God by baptism and faith, assembled in His name to receive the gifts of His promise in His Word and Table. 

I have been told over and over again by people believed that they worshiped better or easier or more meaningfully alone with the TV, with their Bible, with their quiet thoughts, with nature's beauty, with golf club or shot gun or soccer ball...etc.  Attendance is not everything, they say, nor should they be judged by their absences.  But surely attendance is the base level of our commitment to the Lord.  It may not be everything but it is at least the minimum.

I am told by those who chart these things and those who are experts in church growth that the welcome given to people and the friendliness of the congregation is one of -- if not the most important -- factors in the success of a congregation (translate that growth).  Now I know something of cold congregations and I am not unsympathetic to this unwelcoming atmosphere but surely what is believed, proclaimed, and taught out to count for something, something at least as important as if not, dare I say, more important than friendliness?! 

I was told by a longtime Lutheran family that joined the Mormons that their decision was based not on what was believed or taught but on the perception that the Mormons lived what they believed more so than the Lutherans they had known from childhood to early middle age.  They recounted to me the many youth, family, and social activities the Mormons had going.  They spoke to me of how they had something for everyone, for every situation in life, and for every interest.  They adored the way the Mormons demonstrated their friendliness in ways that the cold and distant Lutherans had never done.  "What about the Nicene Creed? Baptism? The Lord's Supper?" but before I even got going on my questions, "If I had to choose between friendliness and acceptance and the right doctrine, I chose someplace that makes me feel at home..."  Okay.

I could go on... but somewhere along the way the standards of judgment for what constitutes a faithful Pastor and a faithful congregation changed... I am not advocating cold Pastors or cold congregations.  I am not saying that as long as people are in Church on Sunday morning everything else is okay.  But gee whiz... doesn't attendance count for something... and doesn't doctrine and truth rank higher than a warm welcome?

There are always reasons, extraneous circumstances, and justifications.... but it seems we have reshaped the Church of Acts 2:42-46 and I am afraid this Church is not the same one to which Pentecost gave birth... Or maybe I am just wrong...


Rev. R Salemink said...

I was just day dreaming, sort of, as I read your comments and a thought occurred to me. "The Sacrament of the altar is not successful until it has been taken, eaten, and taken, drank." To put it another way, God is not successful until He has delivered his body and blood to sinners in, with and under the bread and wine (now, we could go way off topic and consider those churches that do not teach real presence, but we won't, just yet). Just something to think about anyway.

Ted Badje said...

I believe in Christ, and uphold the Lutheran Confessions, and believe Christ crucified should be preached in the services. I don't want a missional church over theology, but how are we supposed to overcome the notion from the outside that all Lutherans care about is the service? That is what I hear often from outsiders. Maybe sometimes a pastor needs to point out in some sermons that friendliness and outreach are part of the Christian life of obedience after justification.

Pastor Peters said...

I believe that Matt Harrison is just the kind of fellow who unites a passion for theology, truth, doctrine and liturgy with a passion for service, witness, and care that extends beyond congregational borders... read some of his recent works to help frame this out...