Saturday, February 4, 2017

Programming our people to death. . .

When I first came to this parish I felt very lonely.  Coming from a parish abuzz with activity -- from a preschool to Bible studies -- there seemed to be nothing going on here except on Sunday.  I was determined to change that.  That certainly did change.  Now 24 years later, this parish is filled to overflowing with activity (even to the point when calendars collide and people vie for the same space in a building of 40,000 square feet! 

The old expression is to be careful what you pray for -- God just might give it to you.  Now I wonder.  Is a busy building the best barometer of our parish's health, life, and success?  I wonder if the many programs (other than catechetical, Bible study, and worship) don't end up inadvertently working against the mission of the church?

Could it be that we are teaching the people to treat worship as if it were merely another program?  Could it be that by creating a busy building, all the busy-ness ends up looking the same to the people?  Could it be that this creates the very kind of consumer environment that works against the radical call to discipleship that is inherent in the Gospel?  Could it be that we have taught the people to treat the church as if it were a supplier of services instead of a beacon of light?  Could it be that our people be getting mixed messages from us -- the programs which compete with the centrality of our life together around the Word and Table of the Lord?  Could it be that worship has become merely one of many programs from which our client consumers pick and choose (as if they were all equally good or important or urgent)?

24 years ago I made a pot of coffee and drank all of it every day of the week -- not very many came to the building between Sundays.  Now the coffee machine is at work every day as people come and go and grab a cup of Joe on their way.  But has the church become a coffee stop?  Have the people come for services we provide but not to meet the crucified and risen Savior where He has promised to be (in the means of grace)?  In my dark moments I fear the worst.  We are busier but not better -- a hub of activity but without a central focus of font, pulpit, and altar in our life together.  Everything we do is worthwhile and none of it directly conflicts with the Gospel but does it compete with it?

Perhaps I am not the best one to judge it all but it will be judged.  God will surely judge whether or not we have created busy hives of activity that have not translated well into a selfless life of devotion to the Lord, commitment to His Gospel, and service to the neighbor.  But it is still worth considering as we define what makes a congregation healthy and successful.  And maybe it would be good for us to review everything we do with a view toward seeing if the busyness has become the business and the means of grace merely a sideline. . .

Just some random meandering thoughts of a pastor who perhaps thinks too much. . . or not enough.


ErnestO said...

I assure you your "Pastoral Meanderings" blog is truly a spiritual blessing to me. I will pray daily that all the other Pastoral Office tasks you undertake further help people to see the treasures of the Church in the Word and Sacraments.

Janis Williams said...

This reminds me of Rod Rosenbladt's story of taking a church to serve as pastor (I don't know the location). When he arrived, the congregation was more like a hive of bees than anything. (I might say that bees get lots done, but don't get in their way or interrupt them, or you're gonna 'get it!'). Dr. Rosenbladt told the people there they could choose one, and only one area of "service" - one thing to do. Other than that one thing, they were expected to come to Divine Service and commune. They didn't like the idea at first, because they wouldn't be accomplishing all they should. However, as time passed, they saw the wisdom of it.

We live in a world of multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is a myth, whether it is on the job or in the Church. We are called to receive from out Lord. We are called to serve our neighbor, which we do in our vocations. Trying to do many things means we do those many things not well, or even poorly.