Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Playing the blame game. . .

It is fashionable to self-identify as victims and to lay the responsibility for all that is wrong at the feet of others.  Sometimes it even works.  But the sad truth is that playing the blame game generally does little to solve the problem.  I have heard it said over and over again that fewer than 5% of those surveyed give credit to the pastor as the reason for joining a church but 35% blame pastors as the reason for heading for the exit.  So we give little credit to the pastor for church growth but whenever folks fall away it is usually safe to blame the pastor for the loss.  I have heard it said over and over again that if the Church would only get on the bandwagon and get with the times, the Church would not see so many head for the door.  It is a good idea but not true.  The churches that have gotten with the times are in worse shape than those the world loves to hate for being judgmental or hateful.

In the Archdiocese of Hartford (CT) the report is that 127 newly formed parishes will replace the 212 current parishes.  Undoubtedly there will be complaints about evil bishops and a priest shortage that deprive people of their home church.  I have no stake in this so it is easy for me to talk about it.  Guess what, the reason churches are closing or being consolidated in Connecticut has little to do with bad bishops or few priests and it has everything to do with fewer people in Mass on Sunday morning.  I am told that attendance is down to 15% or less of those who identify as Roman Catholic in that diocese.  I am pretty certain that if attendance were up in those parishes, none would close or merged.  The problem lies less with the administrator than it does with the catechetical failure of priests and teachers of the faith and the failure of those catechized to take it to heart.

Before we Lutherans smugly nod our heads, the same problem lies on our own doorstep.  We have congregations where attendance is dropping, where they are unable to afford a full-time pastor, and where they are in danger of closing.  The mythology can lay blame at bad leadership at the national or district level or bad pastors.  But the real problem is that the majority of Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod people are not in their pews on Sunday morning.  It is not a new problem but the poisoned fruits of such a decline of catechesis and a lack of attendance ARE a major problem even for us.  I am pretty certain that if we had double the attendance we have now (still far less than the number of members on paper) we would NOT be seeing congregations closing or finding it impossible to afford a full-time pastor.  We need to be honest.  There are many problems that we face but one of the biggest is the small percentage of our people who are in worship on Sunday morning (and Sunday school and Bible study).

All I am saying is this.  We can all look in the mirror and see part of the problem.  Pastors have not done the kind of catechesis that both informs and shapes people into Lutheranism.  We are not aware of the Confessions of our Church as we should and we are not confident of our doctrine.  This is a real problem.  But we do not need to waste our time wringing our hands over this.  Confess our failure to our people and do better.  The people in the pew have allowed anything and everything to distract them from worship -- including blaming the pastors for being dull or stupid or uncaring.  But let me say that if your pastor is preaching the Law and Gospel and administering the Sacraments faithfully, you have no complaint.  He may be a dullard or slow or disheveled or lack excitement or a polished style or personality but, last time I looked, the Lord did not list these as justification for your absence on Sunday morning.  We all share the blame for the statistics heading in the wrong direction.  We do not need a revolution nor do we need to reinvent the Church or her liturgy.  What we do need is to teach and preach without apology the full counsel of God's Word and the Catechism.  We we do need are people who will put the Lord and His Word and Table as their first priority on Sunday morning.

How many of our current problems could be solved simply by the people of God doubling the average church attendance from 25-30% to 50-60%?  More than you could imagine.


Anonymous said...

Is it too late to awaken people from their spiritual narcolepsy? Is it too late to arouse them from the ecclesiastical fantasy world of their own creative imaginations? Is it impossible to counter the fixed state of mind that says church is either what we fashion or something mostly for the fewest and least among us, for women and children and sappy old men? Can the unchurched, dechurched, the nones, and lapsing members be persuaded to permit themselves to be catechized at this late stage? Will they permit a clergyman to begin the process of correcting years of accumulated twisted attitude and preconceived notions that church is all but irrelevant and a waste of a Sunday morning? Can the herd mentality of the Western mind be corralled long enough to give thoughtful consideration to the oracles of God and regard them not as some obscure, esoteric collection of fine mythology written by eccentric ancient wordsmiths?

God only knows and we need to find out sooner rather than later.

Carl Vehse said...

Poor church attendance has been a long standing problem. At least, in most cases, it's better than ten percent.