Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Best Practices. . .

Our Synod is trending another new idea -- all over the place.  The theme is best practices and throughout Synod and its Districts best practices conferences are being held, newsletters written, and blogs posted.  All in all it is a good thing.  So much of what we do in the parish is designed to get us by and is not therefore the best we can or should do.  It is a good thing to be encouraged by best practices instead of what will pass for the moment.

Though you might think that best practices is largely a creation of the missional element in Synod, confessionals are also getting on board.  The appeal is to learn what others are doing well so that we do not have to reinvent the wheel and the benefit is that some of the pitfalls and kinks have been worked out before you start.  I always google an idea we have to see if somebody is already doing it and to see if we might learn from them rather then trudge on through our own comedy of errors in order to make it work.

What intrigues me is the very name best practices.  It implies that other practices are not the best, perhaps not even good, and possibly harmful.  That not always something we are quick to acknowledge.  We Lutherans have clung to the idea that adiaphora means anything goes, everything is equal, and nothing is too bad.  That, of course, is just plain wrong.  Even when Scripture does not command or forbid something, that does not mean that every choice we make is equal.  Adiaphora may mean that a command from the Lord cannot be applied but it does not follow that whatever we decide is equally good, right, and salutary.

In fact, some of our worst worship practices in Lutheran parishes are justified with just this idea -- adiaphora means freedom to do what we please, whatever is right in our own eyes, and whatever we decide to do is just fine.  Adiaphora mean mean that no absolute rule can be applied but it surely does not mean that every practice is equal.  There are many things which are adiaphora in the Divine Service but best practices require us to aim for a higher goal -- that which is most faithful to the spirit and word of our confession (here it means the exegetical key to the Lutheran Confessions which claims that we have not departed from catholic doctrine and practice).

BEST practices then means that we keep the ceremonies that do not conflict with the Gospel, our practices are consistent with the Church that went before us, and that we give vote but not veto to those who came before us.  I wish that we Lutherans could agree on this -- heck, I wish all Christians could agree on this!  Innovation, creativity, and spontaneity are not marks of the Spirit's life within the Church but faithfulness is.  I cannot for the life of me figure out why we agitate so against this.

Best practices also trumps likes, dislikes, and personal preference.  We have gotten into the awful habit of rating things -- from hymns to chanting, from vestments to preaching.  Not everything that is best is appealing to us.  In fact, it is usually the opposite -- that which is best is often that which conflicts with our wants, desires, and preferences.  We need to aim higher than what we could do and work for that which is best -- the most faithful expression of our Confession.  When we begin here I think some of our identity confusion, some of the band-aided worst practices, and some hopeful unity will be the happy result.

In any case, we must challenge the foolish idea that because nothing is commanded, everything we might do is equal in weight, value, and faithfulness.  That is the hidden lie behind those who seem intent upon ignoring everything in our Confessions except those references to adiaphora -- the refusal to require this for the unity of the church.  We ought to be concerned for more than just the esse of the Church's doctrine and life but also for the bene esse (essential or minimums vs best practices).


Carl Vehse said...

"Best practice" is another established buzzword in corporate management and business consulting that has spread into government and educational areas. It now seems to be making the theological rounds.

Typically, a "best practice" is a program, activity or strategy that has the highest degree of proven effectiveness supported by objective and comprehensive research and evaluation.

In order to be "comprehensive" the research and evaluation must be continuous to evaluate any new program, activity or strategy that might be more effective, or to reevaluate the best practice under changing or evolving conditions.

In determining a "best practice" the research and evaluation must itself be evaluated against some "gold standard" of being objective and comprehensive for determining a "best practice."

One should start to see a "rabbit trail" here.

Kirk Skeptic said...

Here are somne best practices for you: 1) preach the Word in & out of season - including Law; 2) proper administration of the sacraments; 3) reform or remove the sharks and piranhas, and clean up the tank; 4) can the seeker-friendly crap and consider actually being friendly to seekers - a little hospitality won't kill the average parishioner, who is in no danger of entertaining angels unawares; 5) stop being ashamed of being Lutheran: worship like a Lutheran, catechize children, teach FC to the adults; 6) stop confusing Sunday School with Romper Room and actually teach something worth learning. This is not an exhaustive list.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I would like to add just two things: - Shorten some of the time used for the liturgy during Sunday worship, and add that time to the sermon instead. More scriptural references from the OT and NT, and less anecdotal stories. Spend less time on announcements unless they are very important. Simply print them in the bulletin. Secondly, Pastors should speak more frankly and frequently in sermons about moral issues affecting the Christian Faith., as well as teaching and explaining even the difficult verses of scrpture. Very easy to put these things off for fear of offending somebody's views or politics....but if the Pastor is so meek he cannot take a stand, then these issues remain as festering wounds for years, and a congregation may wonder what the LCMS really believes in contemporary moral and social areas.

Ted Badje said...

I agree with John Flanagan's statements. There has to be a balance in the pastor's message, otherwise it falls either into platitudes or moralism. Walter is correct that pastors should not concentrate on one sin, but show our sinful nature through the Law, and that we need the Gospel of Christ. Pastors should show they are aware of what goes on in the community. I have seen in my lifetime only a couple pastors do that effectively.

Todd Wilken said...

Very, very good post. Although I am fairly certain that this is NOT what many of those who promote "Best Practices" mean.

M Whitener said...

Strickert, correct. As soon as the establishment latches on to a "best practice" it begins to ossify, even rot.

M Whitener said...

> NOT what many of those who promote "Best Practices" mean.

Right; it's corporate-speak and if I heard it at church it would be discouraging.