Tuesday, March 15, 2011

When Faith Becomes An Event

I normally do not read the Huffington Post but a friend pointed me to an article by Tim Suttle on Why Evangelicals Need Lent.  In it an evangelical laments the "fix" focus of many evangelicals in which faith becomes more and more directed to and by "events" -- conferences, concerts, newest books, latest trends, etc.  He also laments the way many evangelicals become satiated in these events -- indulging in them to the point of excess.  Now I cannot objectively judge his conclusions but he makes a persuasive case for his points.  My concern is not to review his perspective here but to consider how we as Lutherans tend to follow the same path, only a few years behind the times.

Parish calendars have become the blank canvas on which we feel it is our job to fill every moment with some kind of church event.  We seem intent upon rallying our people to death for this cause or that and we lament it when these events do not draw the big crowd.  We do this with women's ministry, youth ministry, children's ministry, etc.  The Lutheran thing seems to be take an idea from the evangelical playbook, ruminate on it a while, and then offer a "Lutheranized" version of the same stuff -- albeit a year or two after the craze has come and gone.  So we turned Lent into Forty Days of Purpose Driven Life and we tried a version of Promise Keepers to ramp up our men's ministry and we promote Beth Moore workshops for women and we cannot get enough to Rob Bell... We are programming our parishes the way evangelicals do but evangelicals program because they have no church year, no liturgical identity, and no confessional perspective.  At the very moment they are thinking about rediscovering Lent, for example, we have all but ditched the special themes, Bible studies, devotional resources, and mid-week services that once was our forte.

We turn worship into an event and so the focus is not on the weekly rhythm of Word and Supper that draws us in and sends us forth.  We turn prayer into an event instead of the daily discipline of an ongoing conversation in which God is not only the listener but the speaker.  We turn Sunday school and catechism into event shaped venues for fun and things relational -- to all except to God.  We make it seem like the Christian life is a matter of scheduling events, of reading current authors, or of exploring the latest spiritual gimmicks instead of daily repentance, being in the Word of God, and fulfilling our baptismal vocation of witness and service in the world.

I guess if I were writing an article about Lutherans today it might ask Why Lutherans Are in Love with Things Evangelical (the movement and not the Gospel sense of that word).  We are a few years behind them but well on our way to satiating our people with events and themes and the latest this and that.  One day we might be writing articles about Why Lutherans Need Lent.  Or, we would stop the constant borrowing of spirituality resources, Bible studies, programs, music, and trends from the evangelicals and look at our own heritage of confession, creed, Scripture study, and liturgy.  In the end it might help us find out who we are in the midst of a world filled with plastic people and plastic churches who act different than they believe and are not content with who they are.  The world is not in crying, desperate need of more evangelical wannabes but it is in crying, desperate need of Word and Sacrament Christians, with a history, a heritage, and a confessional/liturgical identity --  as well as a future.  Think about it...


Sue said...


Anonymous said...

The traditional LCMS ministries to
men, women, and youth have been
replaced in younger parishes. For
some LLL was replaced by Promise
Keepers (Bible Studies), LWML was
replaced by Beth Moore (Bible Study)
and Walther League was replaced by
Mission Trips and National Gatherings

The old LLL and LWML got bogged down
in local parishes by tedious business
meetings that turned off the young
men and women.

Paul said...

Walther League has been reborn as Higher Things, Deo gratias!
LWML has a great program to intentionally include young women; and we're working on LLL and mens' ministry. Stay tuned:)

Anonymous said...

According to latest stats LCMS has
1,295 Preschools. This is a great
outreach to the community and we
invite the parents and children to
worship service on the first Sunday
in March.

As a result of this evangelism event
our parish has gained many unchurched
families from our Preschool. Baptism
for the preschoolers and the parents become adult confirmands.
The Lord has really blessed us with
this ministry.

Rev. Weinkauf said...

Speaking of Rob Bell, on the USA Today website, under "religion" there is an article on his new book "Love Wins", along with a 3 minute video of him. It is creating some controversy. This man is a heretic!

Phillip Magness said...

Amen, Larry. And Amen, Paul!

Thanks, Paul, for pointing to the current confessional revival that is getting our youth away from programs (Higher Things) and getting younger women to return to LWML (and leave Beth Moore behind).

You mentioned LLL. I haven't seen much from them here in Illinois, but I am pumped about our men's organization: the Brothers of John the Steadfast. We have many younger men in our Johnny Steadfast group. I think they are to men's ministry what Higher Things is to youth ministry. BJS is more than just a website. The dozens of local chapters combine confessions Bible studies, mission projects, and social events for men. The national gatherings have been well-received, and regional gathersings are being planned for next year, as we keep adding new chapters.

Hopefully we'll see some BJS chapters in Tennessee soon! ;)

Anonymous said...

Thank you Pastor Peters for all of your writings. This one really hit a nerve for me. When visiting churches or viewing bulletins from others, I am appalled at the number of "ads" that draw us away from the worship experience. My question is: "What is the church doing that is different from what the community is doing, or could be done by the Lions Club, Fire Company, Scouts, etc.?" You are so much on target. Thanks for posting this.