Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Gloom, despair, and agony on me. . .

I hear the moans and sighs of those who look at the state of things and lament gloom, despair, and agony on me...  Sometimes I am one of those voices.  Okay, more than sometimes.  But under the gloom, despair, and agony there is a basic truth we cannot avoid.

We have the ability to ensure that our churches will be there for our children and grandchildren.  We have the ability to make sure that pastors will be there to faithfully preach and teach the Word of God and administer the sacraments of life and worship to those yet to come.  We have the ability to increase the presence of people, churches, and the witness of the cross in our own neighborhoods and communities as well as to assist others throughout the world.  It is not rocket science!  It is basic, common sense -- the basic common sense of faith!

So, you have looked at the pews and notice that there are fewer folks in the pews this week than last.  Okay, that is a real phenomenon is many places.  But there is another side to this.  What have you done to call the absent back to the Lord's House?  You might be surprised at how much more effective a phone call from a friend is than a phone call from the pastor encouraging an absent brother or sister to renewed faithfulness in attendance.  But why start with them?  Have you noticed that the new normal is not weekly worship attendance but monthly?  Don't let it happen to you.  If it is the Lord's Day and you are not deathly ill or required to work, YOU make it your business to be in the Lord's House around the Word and Table of the Lord.  It starts with the man or woman in the mirror.  Don't let any excuse keep you from the Lord's House.  Not even what you consider to be a bad pastor.  If the Word and Sacraments are there, then Christ is there -- good pastor or bad.  And as easy as it is to complain, try building up the church and your pastor and see if it produces better results than commiserating.

So, you have noticed that there are not as many babies around you in church as there once were.  Okay, that is a real challenge and sad truth for many.  But there is something you can do.  Call on those in the parish who have small children and let them know you are praying for them and for their children.  Encourage them to come to church even though their children are not cooperative and it is a struggle.  Sit with them and help them with their children to ease the burden (especially for the single parents who sit in the pews either because they are alone or their spouse does not attend).  Don't wag your head and look angry every time a baby cries or a child drops a hymnal.  Honestly, sometimes it is a wonder any children attend when the adults around them have so little patience with them and so little encouragement for them to hang in there and keep up the struggle.  You can help.  You raised your own children and perhaps you have helped grandchildren grow up in the faith.  Now you have another to help and make sure that they too grow up in the church.

So you fear that if things remain the way they are, the parish you are in will not be able to support a full-time pastor.  Okay, that is a real fear in many places.  But lets counter that fear with other reality.  Most Christians return something less than 2% of their incomes to the Lord.  What might that parish's resources look like if this were doubled or tripled or raised to the Old Testament minimum of 10%?  Would it still be impossible for your congregation to support a full-time pastor?  God will provide.  Indeed, He already has.  He has put the resources into your pocket so that you may in good stewardship and from the view of a grateful faith supply those resources for the work of His kingdom.  Folks, churches aren’t free!  Churches and pastors have bills to pay just like you do.  If you want your church to stay open, support it.  The Democrats raised $90+ Million and the Republicans $82+ Million in July.  Most of it in small donations ($100 or less).  What would happen if we in the LCMS tried a month of sacrificial giving across the board?  We just might provide funds to keep the church open, provide for a full-time pastor, and help pay the cost of training new pastors.

So you fear that your pastor is heading toward retirement and the seminary classes small and wonder where your next pastor will come from.  Okay, that is a real worry.  Churches will more likely stay open if there are pastors to serve them.  If you want your church to stay open, pray for an increase of vocations to the pastoral ministry, build up the office before young men in your congregation, encourage them to consider the ministry, support your pastor, and support the seminary that trains him.  We already know that something like 40% of our active pastors in the LCMS will retire before the end of this generation, mostly sooner than later.  Now a word to the retirees.  Don't jump on the retirement band wagon and run from the church like your pastoral work was some terrible burden you are glad to ditch.  There are tons of places for retirees to serve -- short term missionaries, small congregations, assisting full-time pastors with visitation, etc... or making sure that the pastor has someone to cover for him when he is gone.  If your ministry was important before retirement, make just as important in retirement.  Different venue but the same man and the same calling!


John Joseph Flanagan said...

The worries listed are very real, and there is a decidedly pessimistic state of affairs in the religious, political, economic, and social spheres of our land. I have seen too many churches with primarily elderly attendees, fewer families, fewer children. The low birth rate among mostly white European ethnic descendents as a result of little interest in childbirth by millions of women has created a void filled by Hispanic and Muslim groups. Demographics dictates the future, and Europe and America are losing white domination rapidly. Political turmoil, misguided progressive policies, corruption, immorality, and fiscal indebtedness have increased uncertainty among nations. the world follows the same tired path of self destruction, we, as Christians, are called to follow the narrow way. In my view, the worst is yet to come...persecution of Christians in America, a war with China and Russia, conflicts in the Mideast, Islamic terrorism, and an economic depression here and abroad. Yet, I am confident in Christ and our faith, and intent on striving to do His will. All of us who follow Him cannot be true pessimists, but we must be realistic about life and the state of our times. Like Isaiah and Jeremiah, we see the world as a pilgrim and a stranger.

Anonymous said...

"In my view, the worst is yet to come...persecution of Christians in America, a war with China and Russia, conflicts in the Mideast, Islamic terrorism, and an economic depression ..."
I agree with these sentiments.
Edward Gibbon noted these 5 characteristics of a dying civilization:

Concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth;

Obsession with sex and perversions of sex;

Art becomes freakish and sensationalistic instead of creative and original;

Widening disparity between very rich and very poor;

Increased demand to live off the state.

Kirk Skeptic said...

@EF: brilliant example.