A wise bishop once said that you can tell the central mission of a parish, or any organization for that matter, by looking at its budget. In other words: where the money is, so too is the heart. I think even Jesus might agree with that, don't you think? I would go one step further and suggest that a look at a parish calendar is also illuminating about how the purpose and function of the Church is understood.
Take a look at many parish budgets and they would tell you that worship is not a very high priority on their life together. I would venture that not even missions is a high priority. We tend to spend most upon ourselves -- our own creature comforts. Now I am not at all suggesting that we need to strip out the air conditioning or reduce the number of toilets -- that would be radical indeed. Maybe we do not need to spend much less on these but I am suggesting that we spend MORE on worship. It is the source from which all our parish life flows and it is the summit to which all our live together points. I believe that part of the reason we have so few organists is that we do not esteem their craft highly, we pay them poorly, and we treat them abysmally. Why is it that so few Pastors run through the liturgy before opening the book on Sunday morning (which explains why no one know what they amened in the collect since it was so butchered when it was spoken!)? Why is it that we expect screw ups or embarrassments and have grown to expect a comedy of errors on Sunday morning? Why is it that we put cheap imitation instruments into service to lead the people in the highest calling of music -- the praise of God and the service of the Word? Why is it that we think casual and reverent can co-exist and an usher wearing a beer t-shirt or a young woman in suggestive top and short shorts are appropriate for the House of the Lord? When we give worship the attention, the resources, and the priority it deserves, the results will show forth in the life of the Church. One thing Americans cannot abide is something done poorly. Surely the Church deserves better than the YouTube antics of class clowns!
Second, take a look at the calendar. If the worship services are minimal or even missing from the calendar but every kind "fellowship" or "outreach" activity gets its due, something might be wrong. When we advertise the ballroom dancing small group but do not post the times for prayer, other worship services besides the main one on Sunday morning, or sufficient Bible study opportunities, something is wrong. When the "fellowship hall" or "gymnasium" dominates the skyline of the church facility and the space for worship is not prominent, something is wrong. I am amazed at what the physical structures and calendars of some parishes have to say about what is important there or what they believe God has gathered them to accomplish. The point is not to impress me but for us all to reflect upon the real reason for the Church. When worship is but one of many tasks or offerings of the church, then it says that worship is neither the distinctive purpose of the church nor the domain where God delivers His gifts to His people (through the means of grace). And that is just plain wrong.
I believe that part of the crisis in the congregations of our church body is because worship is neither the prominent priority nor the defining reason why we exist. Where did we ever get the idea that what God wanted from the church was a group that parodied and mimicked the offerings of the secular world all in the name of the Lord? If God had wanted this, He would have come up with a far better idea than a third rate praise band that tries to sound like Gospel rock from the radio or preachers who do monologues more than speak the Gospel or buildings that seem more designed to keep us comfortable than to focus our attention upon the means of grace where God comes to us. It is time for us to do better. Period!
Pr. Peters: This is an exceptional piece -- thanks for sharing this.
Money is being poured into worship now - projectors, screens, sound booths, power point, amps, bands, printing service folders, etc. So, it's not just a matter of money, but the doctrine and practice that is being funded. Thanks for your opinions on this vital matter and you are right on the money, no pun intended. Our liturgical life in the LCMS needs renewal, to be sure.
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