Sunday, March 25, 2018

Buzz words. . .

We often presume that expanding the meaning of words clarifies them, gives their meaning depth, and makes them more profound.  In reality, expanding their meaning generally only confuses their meaning the makes them cheap, easy, and, ultimately, meaningless.

Two of the main culprits are the words ministry and mission.  Ministry once had a rather specific context and meaning -- it referred to an office, to the office holder, and to the responsibilities conferred upon the office holder.  Ministry was only marginally attached to the man and mostly to the Lord Jesus, to His ministry of Word and Sacraments.  Ministry pointed to the altar, the pulpit, and the font.  Now?  Not so much. . .

Ministry has become a meaningless word because anything is a ministry and everyone a minister.  In the end, the expanded version of the word points less to Christ and to the means of grace and more to the person and what he or she thinks or wants to do.  MY ministry is what defines me and what gives me meaning and purpose.  It is MINE and I get to define it but, even more so, I am the one who gets the credit for it all.

We routinely talk about the congregation's ministry -- as if it had a purpose and meaning outside of and apart from the Lord who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies His Church.  We speak of this ministry as if it were something owned, conferred, or directed by people.  We talk about the ministry of groups within the parish.  Perhaps we are self-conscious about those groups and unsure of their purpose and so we think that giving them a ministry makes them more noble and more churchly.  We talk about every individual having a ministry -- from baking bread for the Sacrament (as one person put it to me) to giving candy to the kids on Sunday morning (yes, that was how it was put to me) and everything in between.

Mission has become about something other than the Word, other than the Kingdom, other than the work of the Spirit in bringing people to faith, washing them clean in baptism, restoring them to the Father who created them, guiding them through the voice of the Word through the valley of the shadow, and feeding the the heavenly bread and life-giving cup of His flesh and blood.  Mission has become a code word for what makes me happy and, as we all know, if I am happy, God must be happy, too!

I recall some time ago when we were all on the small group craze and were doing anything and everything to create a place for people to fit.  We were inventing groups and at one of the venues in which this stuff was being promoted as ministry groups with a mission purpose.  Some of them were a ballroom dancing group, a home brewing group, a home schooling group, etc...  I am not faulting the intent of the people but the way we have let down the Church by trivializing the things that are important and making important the things that are trivial.  We did it.  We thought we were doing it to make lay people feel better but we were really doing to make us feel better.

What we should be talking about is vocation -- life as the baptized child of God, life within the home as husband to wife and wife to husband and parent to child and child to parent, among other things.  What we should be talking about are the noble callings we have from God that are not trivial or trite or inconsequential but real, honest, and good.  Maybe we should simply refrain from the words ministry and mission unless we are talking about what God is doing in His Son through the means of grace. . . it may be a little late but better late than never. . .


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I agree, some churches overdo things and everybody invents a new "ministry" or so. One LCMS I attended in the 1980's had a "Puppet Ministry" with two members who wore ridiculous costumes to act out various routines, in my view, it was very childish.

Carl Vehse said...

"In reality, expanding their meaning generally only confuses their meaning"

Some examples:

A Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog is a "Christian Dog" and a "Bridge to show MERCY, COMPASSION, PRESENCE, and PROCLAMATION OF JESUS CHRIST to those suffering and in need."
"In the broad sense... in the narrow sense..."
"Early Luther... late Luther..."
"Early Walther... late Walther..."
"Contained in the Holy Bible... contained in the Bible..." (distinguishing the canon from the Apocrypha)
"closed communion... early communion"
"Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God and confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from them, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?”

Anonymous said...

One of the seven LCMS mission priorities is:

Perform human care in close proximity to Word and Sacrament ministries

I suppose handing out candy to kids in the Narthex is pretty close in proximity to the Pulpit and Altar. That is closer than, say, a pro-life crisis pregnancy center.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters wrote: "I recall some time ago when we were all on the small group craze and were doing anything and everything to create a place for people to fit."

LCMS congregations never abandoned the fascination with small groups. Is there any evidence that they have. I can understand the purpose is supposed to get new members to meet people. What happens when a couple of people in your assigned small clique er, I mean "small group" decided you were "weird" because you dared to ask uncomfortable but necessary questions regarding the latest Saddleback study? The Evangelical study guides asked the same tired questions: "How do YOU (and not Jesus) feel about this bible passage (that we have just taken out of context)?"

Those same people also determined our very small kids were not acting like "perfect angels" compared to theirs during the church services or during Sunday school. Compared to the other small group couples, my wife and I both worked. Our small kids badly wanted to be with us as a family even during church time and will act up if separated for an hour. What if the other small group members, as a result, decided to spread gossip about you to others throughout the congregation? Get with the program and meet our strict small group expectations, or prepare to be shunned.

I am very happy to say that I am no longer part of a small group, nor will I ever join one again. I do not need "friends" that badly. Some of those same former small group "friends" also taught Sunday school. They used to lecture us about being "good parents" and letting our youngest boy attend Sunday school without either mom or dad being present. As a result, we made sure our kids no longer attended. No need to provide the slanderers with any more material. At this point, we are happy to attend the Sunday service and then leave quietly.

Why am I still LCMS? I don't know. I guess it is because the other denominational choices are much, much worse. And what would be the point in joining another church body if I am later pressured by some of the more "prominent" church members to join yet another small group?

Joanne said...

Conventicles and Pietism, what goes around comes around. Creeping Calvinism, covenants and covenanters. Charismatic Pentecostalism, no Means of Grace needed. Move along folks, nothing new to see here. Just a bunch of Lutherans morphing into sectarians, again.

Ted Badje said...

I hope that Anonymous is able to get counseling, or get a good pastor who is a sounding board, and find a good group for Bible study without judgmental people.

Pastor Peters said...

When I mentioned the small group phase, I was not suggesting that all small groups are bad but that using small groups to define the church or to measure success is simply goofy. I recall being asked to fill out on a form how many small groups we had in the parish I serve and this being used them as a measure indicative of the success/failure or health of the congregation. Small groups are not bad but when everything is about small groups, we have stood the church on end.