Tuesday, May 1, 2018

A pastor's frustration. . .

There is a reason why I get to church so early on Sunday morning.  I purposefully avoid driving past other churches at a time when I might see how full (or empty) their parking lots are.  I can only guess.  From what I have been told, there are usually empty spaces all throughout the churches in my town.  Of course, there are also churches whose parking lots are packed to the gills (as we used to say).  And that is the problem; that is the source of my frustration.

https://rickwhitter.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/design.png?w=359&h=301I can thoroughly understand why the Roman Catholic parish is packed.  There is one Roman Catholic parish in the county and it covers all 150-175,000 people in this area.  One priest, a couple of temporary assistants, a couple of deacons, and a somewhat small facility is all there is for 3500 families.  It is easily the largest congregation in town (though, being Roman Catholic and this being the South, it lies under most folk's radar).

And I suppose I can understand the two big Baptist congregations.  They are not parishes but mega complexes of buildings and staff.  They have exercise rooms and cafeterias and coffee bars and sprawling facilities (even satellite campuses) and ATMs.  The old families of this community call these home.  The political families in town call these home.  They have a full service mentality complete with music academies, sports programs, and so on.  It is the South, I keep reminding myself, and Baptists are strong here.  This is their heartland (just as the Midwest is to Lutherans).

I find myself less understanding to the non-denominational enterprises.  They have no history and some of them popped up overnight.  They have no identity except that they have traded creeds for deeds and most of them cater to the technology and success oriented theology so prevalent among Evangelicals today.  Their core beliefs tend to favor the Baptists (believer's baptism among them).  They have full parking lots in front of their warehouse style complexes.  They seem to like the word Community because it shows up somewhere in their names.  Their pastors wear the new uniform of polos and khakis or tees and faded jeans.  Come as you are, believe what you want (within rather broad limits), and enjoy the trip along the way.  The music has a beat you can dance to and the message will not kill the mood with doctrine. 

And then I look at the parking lots where I serve.  We have a decent size congregation with about 300 in church every week, about 150-175 in Bible study and Sunday school, and an active (maybe too active) program.  But we have more seats than people and more parking spaces than cars.  Which is my frustration.  I have looked for better alternatives than Lutheranism and a better denomination than the Missouri Synod but have not found anything to beat them (even with all their warts).  Every Sunday good preaching comes from this pulpit (even when I am not the preacher :-)).  Every Sunday there is great musical leadership from the organ bench and from the choir.  Every Sunday the liturgy is done well and the people sing well.  Every Sunday we have hot coffee and Bible studies.  Every Sunday new people tell us that we are welcoming and friendly.  So where is everybody?  Why are our parking lots not full and those of the evangelical mega-wannabe churches so full?  I wish I knew.  Well, I do know but I don't like it.

Itching ears seem more predominant than the ears attentive to the Word of God.  People looking over the fence into the yard next door while devaluing the things they find here every week is a problem.  Consumeristic religion based less on truth than perceived relevance or particular preference is certainly a problem (even among Lutherans!).  Lutherans who seem to find everything to do on a Sunday morning but go to church is not unusual to this parish or rare among the breed.  So, I am left frustrated.  As I am sure was St. Paul (though I am not at all trying to equate myself with him -- I am sure I am better looking and can chant better than him LOL). 

All of this is to say that pastors get frustrated, too.  Pastors are tempted by the immediate signs of success that tempt everyone else.  Pastor's look for the self-gratification of being bigger and better than the competition.  Yes, we are sinners and we have faults and foibles like everyone else in the pews.  But there is another weakness prone to pastors.  We want people to hear the Gospel and feed upon Christ's flesh and blood in the Sacrament and show forth the piety of the faithful which reflects their baptismal new life.  Even if we have no ego for ourselves, we pastors believe the Word and truly desire to rejoice with those who come to faith and to their place among the assembly around the Word and Table of the Lord.  We are not looking for statistics but for people who hear and heed the voice of God calling them to repentance, covering them with forgiveness in Christ, clothing them with His righteousness, and directing them to live holy, upright, and godly lives.  We believe that God is here, at work to accomplish His purpose, and doing what He has promised through the means of grace. 

All of us would just like to see the good guys win, every now and then.  That's okay.  Who would want a pastor who did not want to see this?  So, we do what you do.  We take our frustrations to the Lord and He bids us to judge not with our eyes but with His Word, to see not what is before us (only) but what only faith can see (God doing what He has promised), and to trust in Him whose grace is sufficient for all our needs and whose mercy is our hope.  Maybe a pastor's frustrations are not all that different from those of the folks in the pews. . . or maybe they are.  But in the midst of this frustration, we meet on the common ground of faith.  God's Word will not return empty.  God will accomplish His purpose.  The gates of hell shall not prevail.  Though devils all the world should fill, they are done, judged, and on their way out.  The Kingdom of God is eternal.  And the Kingdom of God is ours. 


Anonymous said...

How many people at the megaplexes are Christ’s Elect? Remember, sheep aren’t known for their intelligence and they tend to wander and get into trouble left to their own devices. Every shepherd will deal with loss and discouragement as did the Good Shepherd so put that in perspective and remain faithful despite everything you see. You are blessed and you shouldn’t get discouraged. Fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith.

Anonymous said...

As Lutheran pastors we are called to FEED the sheep in our flock.
This is done through a steady diet of Word and Sacrament. For
some pastors the temptation is to COUNT the sheep instead of feed them.
We must continually be faithful shepherds and resist the urge to be
successful shepherds.

John Joseph Flanagan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carl Vehse said...

Mr. Anony Mous @ May 1, 2018 at 8:01 AM: "For some pastors the temptation is to COUNT the sheep instead of feed them."

Scripture (Matthew 18:12–14; Luke 15:3–7) indicates that a shepherd can do both.

Anonymous said...

Ambrose felt the same thing looking at the mega-Arian churches.

Anonymous said...

Well, yeah. Rome has been closing congregations and merging them into giant parishes for years. It is no surprise that the RC congregations are large and are not located too close to one another. The Catholics know exactly where to place the buildings to position the congregations for future growth.

It is only a matter of time before the Baptist churches are indistinguishable from the non-denominational congregations. Welcome to the semi-private Christian-themed social club! Enjoy the questionable theology and the toxic gossip in your very own small group! What is the mega-church but a generic Christian-themed community center?

Regarding what is taught in the pulpit: "Teach me something I can apply to my personal life" is the need most people have. I would still like to think that disaffected Evangelicals will burn out from the shallow theology and the fraud pastors. I wish confessional Lutheranism had better PR so that said Evangelicals would consider Lutheranism as an option.....

Cliff said...

Anonymous, you wish Lutherans had better PR to attract others. Yet you spout a caustic post like the one above and expect us to be liked?
Lutherans need to learn to be less judgmental and remove the log from our eyes. Do you think they can see a loving forgiving Jesus when all they hear and see is law and a self-righteousness coming from our mouths?

The answer should be simple.

Anonymous said...

The above post was intended for LCMS Lutherans who are either too stupid or too naive to understand the damage they are causing the LCMS. Most of what is wrong with the LCMS has been pastors shamelessly adopting the theology of Evangelicals through various church growth gimmicks. What is the result: A tacky imitation of a non-denominational church. At my LCMS congregation, I have personally experienced questionable Evangelical theology and toxic gossip in my very own small group.

It is easy for some Lutherans to accuse others of caustic comments when they have never ventured outside of their own congregation and visited other denominations. I get that kind of response from cradle Lutherans in my congregation all the time. They do not see the danger in the garbage being pushed in the small groups and view me as a leper. Yes, my congregation is a proud member of Willow Creek.

How many of those same pastors detest Rev. Fisk, Wolfmueller, Wilken, et. al. When will the LCMS leaders stop ignoring Lutheran ex-Evangelicals? Purge the garbage from the LCMS, and we can talk about removing logs. I am deliberately being led astray by my own LCMS congregation. Harrison was supposed to fix this.

The Evangelicals will come around soon enough, but will the Lutherans?


Anonymous said...

I have to admit this post bothers me a little bit. Pastor, you are complaining when some of us are (honestly)jealous of you. We barely break 100 in our service, our Bible study attracts 12 and Sunday School hovers about 10 (15 if the children of divorced people come). Forgive me if this is harsh or sounds like sour grapes, it isn't meant to, I just wanted to sound off. So forgive my petty jealousy.

Cliff said...

"It is easy for some Lutherans to accuse others of caustic comments when they have never ventured outside of their congregation and visited other denominations." You sure missed the mark on that one and puts all of your credibility in the toilet. If only you did your research outside of your tiny little part of the world and realized what goes on outside of Missouri. There are many other fine Christians who are sincere believers. Why is that only 46 percent of LCMS support pro-life?? Believe me I know from experience and working in the muck of the world, we leave a lot to be desired in that area.

Forgive me for sounding harsh, but I have trouble with legalistic Pharisees who bear the full brunt of the law. And fortunately for you, the Roman Catholic Church has the very same problem. And how do I know by EXPERIENCE.

Sorry for the abruptness, but I love Lutheran theology and hate to see us not grow due to shooting ourselves in the foot.

"You catch more flys with honey than with vinegar".

Pastor Peters said...

Anonymous: I think you miss my point. It is not simply jealousy that is at work here but the frustration of preaching and teaching faithfully and seeing the parking lots of churches that do not preach and teach faithfully fuller than those of my own parish. This is not about envy of size but the consternation that Joel Osteen can fill a stadium and the faithful preaching, teaching, liturgical and sacramental life of a typical LCMS parish (of any size) still has lots of real estate in the pews and parking lot waiting to be filled. In this we are exactly the same even though our relative size may be different.

Anonymous said...

You are correct, Pastor. I do see what you're saying, and I did jump in too hastily. I sincerely apologize. I agree with you wholeheartedly that it is frustrating to preach, teach, and administer the sacraments faithfully and not have people banging down our doors for the gifts of Christ. My own members fail to receive the gifts as they should, which pains me too. Keep up the good blogging, I read every article (well, almost, I don't get into the Roman Catholic stuff too much). He is Risen!