Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Some thoughts on birthing a mission...

Here in the MidSouth, the majority of congregations tend to be small but people of the book.  They are not exactly liturgical but they are Lutheran and Lutherans use the book, so they use the book.  Their Pastors vest, they have altars and pulpits, pews and an organ (or maybe piano), etc...  They are certainly not bastions of the full ceremonial of the liturgy but they are comfortable enough with a familiar page number in a familiar book to use it pretty much straight off the page.

In contrast to that, most of the missions planted in the past decade or more tend to look nothing like this majority.  They are definitely not liturgical and some would not even consider using the liturgy -- or the hymnal.  Their Pastors do not vest (except in the traditional polo or tee, khakis or jeans, maybe a wrinkled sports jacket, and a pair of worn loafers or athletic shoes -- in addition to the obligatory scratchy almost beard but more like several days growth on purpose.  They do not have an altar or pulpit or organ but they are more likely to have a keyboard and a band.  They tend to meet in the broad, undefined space of a former warehouse or utilitarian metal building.  About the only real excess is a really great sound system and AV crew.

In other words, mother congregations are giving birth (through the District) to rebellious teen age daughter congregations who disdain all that is the mother and insist upon doing it their way.  In another age, mother congregations tended to give birth to congregations that looked a lot like the parent.  Parishes planted parishes from their strengths, sort of like someone who starts something because what they had in the mother church was so good.  The District might have been involved but probably did not direct the whole thing.  People in one congregation began thinking, "hey, we have good thing here, why not plant another congregation just like us in another location."

When that does happen today, it seems to be more often a satellite congregation which is not a separate entity at all but the same thing as the mother church only with a different street address and generally going on at the same time as the worship services of the mother congregation.  These were never meant to be stand alone congregations but functions as franchise units with fairly strict oversight and control by the mothering parish -- one congregation with several sites.

Often the daughter congregations are established because the higher ups believe that the mother model is dead or dying and the only hope and future is to do something radically different designed to appeal to those who do not like church in the first place.

Maybe I am just screwy (others would remove any doubt about this) but it seems to me that missions got complicated and expensive precisely when the church (District or whatever) took over mission planting away from the local parish.  It seems to me that missions today are often direct repudiations of the worship and Lutheran theological identity of the "mother" and more likely to mirror the latest and greatest trends in evangelical method and practice.  I propose restoring the old method in which we planted new congregations because we were so happy with what was already going on and because we wanted to export our strength (namely our confessional and liturgical identity as Lutheran Christians).

I'll be honest here and admit that too many of the book congregations in our District are intimidated by the trendy mission starts that look and sound so different from their moms and who act different, too.  So, we end up paying the bills for those who suggest that either we need to change or die.  We have such doubts about the efficacy of the Word and Sacraments, that we tend instinctively to agree with these prophets of doom and gloom and accept their radical prescriptions for our future without fully examining them.

I am not always sure a new mission needs to be planted (probably because I am not enamored of the CoWo music and "liturgy") and maybe we need to bolster the existing parish to better respond to and extend the welcome of the Gospel.  Least of all the mission choices is the idea that since the means of grace are not working here, we need to plant an antithesis to the means of grace parish near the existing culprits of decline.  If the means of grace are our strength, if our confessional identity is most fully expressed in a vibrant and rich musical setting of the liturgy, then lets work these in as the primary resources for expanding the mission and planting congregations.

I do not mean to demean the earnest desire and focus of the many mission execs of the LCMS.  I just mean that we have wrongly invested our future in these people instead of building from our Lutheran identity and strengths right in the communities from the existing parishes.  Personally I know and like Greg Williamson but I know that he would be the first to admit that as "chief mission officer" of Synod he cannot direct, control, evaluate, and, more importantly, fund every mission opportunity.  His best work may very well be to direct us to build on our strengths right here on the local level and to help us partner to do in other places what none of us can do alone.  It is time we took back the mission from the mission execs, mission councils, and mission boards, despite their best intentions, and remembered how to expand the mission on the parish level.

To quote Pr. Peter Speckhard from an ALPB Forum:

What should happen is that people who love their church say, "My church is so great there ought to be two of them," and then make it happen, all the while working with the mother church and using the mother church as a template for what the new church is trying to become. That is the key. When we talk about healthy "birthing" of congregations, the new church needs to desire to be just like the old church in the way that a child desires to be just like mom or dad. Of course there will be differences and attempts at improving on some of the limitations of the old church, but basically it is all amicable and there is a pattern to follow.

What happened in my case, and what I think happens very often, is that new churches get started using the "mother" church as a template of what not to be. It isn't people who love their church enough to want there to be two of them, it is people who are sufficiently fed up with their church to want there to be an alternative available. That means you not only lose a lot of the cooperation and good will, you also lose the template. Which open the door for non-denoms and their vast para-church structures to be or provide the template.


Matt Carver (Matthaeus Glyptes) said...


Anonymous said...

A mission parish/newly planted one
should call a pastor who has at least
10 years experience in the ministry.
Pastoral leadership can make or
break a start up congregation. Many
LCMS Districts try to save money and
call either a candidate from the sem
or someone with only 3 to 4 years in
the parish ministry.

The second requirement for this new
mission parish is that the called
pastor should undergo mission
training in how to develop a worship service that is Lutheran
in content and substance. Otherwise
the mission project will eventually
fail on a theological basis.

Dr.D said...

Many years ago, my family and I moved to a town that had no LCMS parish. We resolved to begin a parish there, and we worked diligently to gather a group of interested people. We got help from a pastor located about 45 miles away already handling 2 parishes, and we got a mission started.

When we approached the District to ask for a pastor, they balked because it was not where they wanted to have a mission parish. Finally, they did send us a man who had been a complete failure in his previous parish.

There were two things I remember about this pastor. He thought we really ought to organize a parish soft ball team, because he enjoyed soft ball. The second was that to him, every thing was special. He talked endlessly about how we were special people doing special things in this special place at this special time for this special purpose to fill this special need, da, da, special, da, da, special, da, da, special, da, dah. It got to the point that on Sunday mornings, when we would leave church, after we were all in the car, almost immediately, some one of the kids would say, "How many did you count today?" And the replies would come, "I got 41," "Oh, I got at least 52," and so on.

We left that mission parish and became Anglicans.

Fr. D+

Janis Williams said...

Another thought: How many of these new pastors of new congregations are bein urged by parishoners to go 'CoWo?'

We also need members of established parishes who know what Lutheranism really is. They need to be willing to attend the new mission (at least for a couple of years), and watch the new pastor's back. If we can send people who ARE satisfied with their parish (not the rebellious 'teens') the daughter might look more like the mother...

Anonymous said...

Okay, this is a disease. We have a new DCE fresh from college. Good guy, but misguided by those who trained him. It is not his fault that they feed him this stuff in college. Anyway he is organizing a youth led service. He doesn't ask but rather tells the youth that it will be contemporary style. They balk. Yes, that is right. The youth balk. They outright refuse to do a skit and hold the line insisting that there be at least one or two hymns. One of the youth offers to play a hymn from the hymnal, steps up and gets a piece of paper writes the name and number of the hymn and puts it in the suggestion box.

The attitude of the youth is, "How come we have to do contemporary?"

They feel that they are being starved and rejected by their own church when they are pushed to attend contemporary service. They don't think contemporary Christian music is cool. They think it is stupid and trite (paraphrase).

Anonymous said...

District officials are sometimes
swayed by local realtors who want to
sell "hot" property. When, in fact
the "hot" property is not a good
location for a church.

One LCMS District purchased 5 sites
for mission parishes. Today, 20 yrs
later, only one of them still has
a church. The other 4 sites were
sold to other denominations and the
District took a big financial loss.