Sunday, October 23, 2011

You can prevent congregation fires...

Once I heard a District President (LCMS) describe what he does as a firefighter.  He went around the District trying to prevent fires where they might be started, put out the small ones before they erupt into massive fires that destroy everything in their path, and marshal the resources for the big fires (the hired guns who specialize in these things).  It is a sad but accurate description of the nature of the office and its responsibilities in an age of ever present conflict and turmoil.  It is for this reason the office is entirely unappealing to me.

Apparently the future looks like more job security for these kind of firefighters. Word has it that attendance across America has gone down, funds are in shorter supply, and conflict is on the upswing (as if there could be more). Nearly two of every three congregations was the site of a conflict in 2010. Sometimes it ended with people leaving or withholding donations.  Hartford religion professor David Roozen, who oversaw the study, said it shows that churches are "under stresses of historic proportions."  "They continue to be key players in society, but they need to be more intentional in their worship and response to conflict," he said in a statement. He added that churches must be open to technological innovation and the growing racial and ethnic diversity in America.

You can read it all here.

It is really no surprise that conflict erupts in churches.  We are sinners.  Conflict is our nature since the fall of Adam.  We deny, run and hide, and blame others.  We draw lines in the sand and dare our brothers and sisters in Christ to step over them.  We see conflict in the world around us.  We experience it in the workplace.  We bring it home at night.  We bring it with us into the pews.  We avail ourselves of the loopholes but cut the others no slack.  We justify every cause as righteous and make the muddy situations black and white, are you with me or agin' me.  So I understand the conflict.  But I do not understand why we do not use the resources of confession and absolution, the liturgy, and our baptismal vocation to answer these natural tendencies toward conflict.

How is it that we Lutherans can practice confession and absolution every Sunday and then retreat to our camps after the forgiveness is declared?  How can we speak with one voice in the liturgy or sing with one voice the hymns and then speak with many voices in conflict over coffee or in the parking lot at the end of the service?  Can it be that we call ourselves a congregation while acting like individuals who nominally cooperate out of need without joining with heart, voice, and hand with our brothers and sisters in Christ?

It seems to me that the more we cater to this conflict, the more conflict there will be.  The more we see our leaders as the professional firefighters, the more fires will be set.  The more time we spend on reconciliation the more reconciliation will be needed.  Maybe we need to take seriously what we do in confession and absolution, the unity we share through our baptismal identity, the oneness of our many voices speaking as one in word and song in the liturgy, and the unity of the meal in which individual faith and life is merged together in the table and the gift given to us in the one bread and the one cup... 

Just a few thoughts on what is going on and whether or not we are doing what we think we must or that which we ought to do in response to this conflict and upset.  Trust is not automatic; trust is earned.  But trust is earned by those who hear and heed Luther on the 8th commandment -- thinking the best instead of presuming the worst.  If this does not happen in the congregation, it will not happen in the family either.


Anonymous said...

A LCMS District President who sees
his job as firefighter is simply
playing defense. A DP who sees his
job as a Pastor to the Pastors in
his district is playing offense.
We need DP's who are proactive
spiritual leaders who visit. mentor
and counsel their pastors on a
regular basis. This would prevent
a lot of fires and help nurture the
pastors who are often the source of
the fire.

Janis Williams said...

Lutherans have no corner on this sin. Growing up Baptist, I have seen church splits over what color carpet to buy for the sanctuary.

We had no public or private confession of sin. Oh, we were encouraged to make our confessions in private (not to a pastor). This usually resulted in the Pharisee's confession in the temple, as contrasted to the Tax Collector's.

Maybe if there were more private confession (the Lutheran/catholic type)? People might be less likely to say what they don't really mean in the Divine Service.

Growing up knowing the Our Father but rarely saying it (considered 'vain repetition') perhaps makes one appreciate it?

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Janis, I have wondered along the same lines, what the church might look like if we regularly practiced private confession. I think it was Kleinig in ihs book "Grace upon Grace" that referred to the practice of private confession as 'self medication.' Meaning we can easily use private confession directly to God as a way of hiding our sins and persisting in them.

I don't envy District President's their jobs, pray for them I'm sure they're praying for you.

Anonymous said...

we can easily use private confession directly to God as a way of hiding our sins and persisting in them.

Hey! That's what I do!!