Short cuts are always enticing. I still use the F-keys for many functions on my computer because I find it easier to jump a finger up to the row of F-keys rather than take my hand off the keyboard and onto the mouse and then moving the mouse around to find the icon to click to get what I want done. But I am old. My point is not. We are always curious about short cuts. The problem is that many things have no short cuts.
We keep studying why we do not do a better job of retaining youth in the Church. We are fixated on the idea that there is a short cut. Some say the short cut is substituting a guitar or electric bass for the pipe organ. Others say it is singing songs in worship that sound like the play lists on the phones of our youth instead of the dirges we call hymns. Still others insist that it means dropping the challenging moral and ethical stances that conflict with the direction of society and the cultural milieu in which our youth find themselves. None of those are the F-keys to retaining youth. Instead it is the uncommon common wisdom that everyone knows but few invest with confidence.
How can we retain our youth? How can we keep them in high school, sustain them in college, and help them grow into a mature faith as young adults? It is really not so mysterious.
Youth who remain in the faith and in the Church come from homes in which they have:
Wow! Survey says. . . grow up in a home where mom and dad and siblings believe, pray, and worship together regularly and often. . . talk about the faith. . . stay connected to Sunday school and Bible study. . . know well a pastor (the same pastor) during their transition from youth to young adults. . .be close to their home church and through a ministry/congregation during college. Did we not know this? Really?
- parents who actively believe and live out the faith;
- a family in worship nearly every Sunday together in the pew;
- healthy relationships in which they matters of faith and morality are discussed openly and honestly;
- continued in Sunday school and/or Bible study;
- a pastor who has given them solid pastoral care;
- a pastor who has been there for the long haul during their youth and young adulthood (another shout out for longer pastorates);
- connected with other LCMS youth at larger gatherings, district events, and/or Lutheran camps;
- remained geographically closer to their home church and moved around less;
- been involved in LCMS campus ministry (either at a Concordia University, another LCMS congregation, or campus ministry) during college.
Short cuts are often great, sometimes not so short at all, and sometimes detours. Sometimes the best route is to follow the normal directions to get to your destination. Nowhere is this more true than with youth ministry. We do not need to invent a new program but to do what we know will help our youth grow up in the faith and in the life of Christ while at home and continue that growth during college.
I don't know about your parish, but in mine I see these families in the pews every Sunday and their youth are not only faithful but invested in the faith and in the life of the Church -- so much so that many of them bring their friends with them to Church regularly and often. Perhaps we need to admit that one of the primary keys to the continued faith and Christian life of our youth IS the strength of the family, its connection to the Church, and the faith of the parents. Family matters, folks. It really does. Perhaps the best thing we can do for our youth is to help strengthen our families in the faith and in the life of the Church.
Finally, one more thing. It is too obvious but not so much so that it should not be said. The Word works. Preach it faithfully. Where the Word of God is preached faithfully and where the Gospel is central and where the liturgy is reverent and the music reinforces the Word, God IS at work through His Spirit. Don't discount the obvious in search of the hidden.
Those bullet points you list, with the exception of the last, all applied to me growing up. By college, though, I wanted out. What was lacking was not pastoral care or a family who did one thing on Sunday and something else the other 6 days of the week. What was lacking was the authentic faith. Contemporary trends had infiltrated my church and instead of singing Lutheran hymns, we were singing praise hymns with the theological vocabulary of a 4th grader, replacing liturgy with whatever we felt like and so on. This was not the ancient faith and so I began looking elsewhere. Until Lutheranism really (and I mean really) starts to see that the contemporary trends are causing more and more people to leave (I know at least 10 other people in my parish who are Lutheran expatriates). Also, the hostility towards traditional Lutheran practices like making the sign of the cross and individual confession (that's too Catholic) is not doing you Lutherans any favors. That's where you Lutherans should be focusing your efforts.
Making the Sign of the Cross is not too Catholic( I am Catholic by the way but I digress) , it is Super Christian and a practice that has been going on since the inception of Christianity. I am not sure why anyone think that signing themselves with the Cross, the instrument that was used to win our redemption, could be so bad. Individual confession has been going on again, since apostolic times. So this begs the question, what denomination do you now belong to since it's not Lutheran or Catholic? What denomination is it that would win back youth with an authentic faith and liturgy?
Fr. Peters, I just want you to know that, even though I am Catholic and Lord knows our differences, I think your blog is exceptional and that I start my day by reading it because what you have to say applies, is logical and is very well put. I long for the day when we can be united as Christ willed but until then, I will keep praying. God bless you.
I would disagree that contemporary songs are driving young people away. I would dare say it is the old hymns that in most smaller congregations do sound like funeral dirges. They are terrible. Many Catholic parishes do incorporate excellent contemporary music that are very meaningful and do contain sound theology, not the "4th grade" mentioned above.
Plus, there are more cultures than German who have excellent music that does not resemble Bach. If Lutherans want to be a "Universal " church they need to embrace hymns, music from other cultures. We need to step out of our 16th century mentality.
Now this is not going to resonate with everyone, and I will probably be called a liberal or worse a progressive, but I do love our theology. We have so much to offer to the world, but music is not one of them.
The joke is that Lutherans sing German hymns or that their music resembles Bach. More than 2/3 of the hymns Lutherans sing are English or American (if they use a hymnal) and probably 100% if they don't! Plus Bach would find himself a stranger in most Lutheran churches. Their organs and organists do not and cannot play Bach and little of what they call music for the Church actually has anything in common with Bach. Lutherans are firmly in the 19th century at the earliest or a generation behind at best and it is not helping. Have you actually gone to many Lutheran churches?
To answer your question, anonymous, I became Greek Orthodox. And it has made all the difference.
Oh ok, that makes all the difference, right. You know, and I am not innocent of this, spiritual arrogance doesn't solve a thing. You owe a debt of gratitude to your Lutheran upbringing for your strong Christian faith. When you say, "You Lutherans" I guess you are forgetting where you come from. And the sign of the Cross you say is too Catholic????? The Orthodox are (and it's not a bad thing)notorious for signing themselves with said Cross during the Dvine Liturgy. Btw, Otthodox churches are also notorious for being ETHNIC churches especailly the Greek Orthodox. I had a rather interesting experience. One day I was rather down in the dumps and the local Greek Orthodox Cathedral happened to be opened. I stepped inside to pray and recollect in that beautiful church but was met with disdain from the parishoners there since I wasn't Greek or Orthodox. Nice way to bring members into the fold.
"We have so much to offer to the world, but music is not one of them."
I take it you didn't grow up singing 15 verses of "I Come O Savior to Thy Table" with your family during communion, or "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" on Good Friday, or "A Mighty Fortress" or "Jesu Meine Zuversicht" or any of the hundreds of other faith strengthening Lutheran hymns. They only sound dirge like if you are a typical Anglo-a American raised on Watts, Wesley, and gospel hymns. The greatest musicians were mostly Lutherans: Buxtehude, Bach, Pachelbel, Handel, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Brahms ring a bell?
I'm starting to think the Catholic cultural envy among our neo-confessional crowd is driven by a mass ignorance of the embarrassment of cultural and theological riches possessed by the Lutheran church already.
I never said singing the cross was bad. When I grew up Lutheran, making the sign of the cross would you get you any number of negative reactions from the people sitting around you to the pastor himself. When I was once confronted on that, I remarked that even Luther made the sign of the cross and that it was to be used when starting all prayer and that it was in the catechism. That would never go over well.
As far as your comment that Orthodox churches are too ethnic so what? Never was a problem for me. But there are Lutheran churches which are still "ethnic" even here in America. I think what you mean is that Orthodox churches aren't American enough, whatever the hell that means.
Anyhoo it works for me. Lutheranism didn't because all the people who were entrusted with my spiritual care didn't realize or were in denial of the historic Lutheran liturgical tradition that pietism and America helped to destroy. The LCMS became Baptist and the ELCA became Episcomethodist. It wasn't working so I left. Luther had his chance.
Chris, you said,"But there are Lutheran churches which are still "ethnic" even here in America. I think what you mean is that Orthodox churches aren't American enough, whatever the hell that means." NO, that's not what I meant. And it's not that I dislike the Orthodox Church, liturgy and it's theology. It's just not "universal" as they like to put it. One time I attended a Lutheran liturgy. The faithful there embraced me. They were not put off that I was Catholic and Italian. There were many ethnicities there as the neighborhood where that Church was and where I grew up was very diverse. You just can't say that for many Orthodox churches.
You think Lutheranism in Sweden is going to look the same as Lutheranism in Uganda? You're naive, if you do. The Byzantine Rite Liturgy is the same in Greece, in Albania, In Russia, in America, in South America, etc. It may be served in different liturgies but I can go into any one of those churches WITHOUT knowing the language and know what's going on because it is not different (depending on Typikon and whether teh church follows the Julian or the Revised Julian calendar). Orthodoxy is universal, just expressed in different langauges (which is NOT unreasonable). I have never been mistreated in any church, but then again I'm not one of those people who expects or demands (as you seem to do) that people go out of their way during their time of prayer and talk to me while I myself am trying to pray as well. There are times and places for that. Again, Lutheranism is so diverse within its own ranks of both doctrine and practice that it is anarchic. LIke I said, Luther had his chance. I'm gone and I'm not coming back. And I know plenty of people who have also left Lutheranism for the same reasons.
Chris, you said, " I have never been mistreated in any church, but then again I'm not one of those people who expects or demands (as you seem to do) that people go out of their way during their time of prayer and talk to me while I myself am trying to pray as well. " Again you don't get the point. I don't expect people to talk to me when they are praying, that's ridiculous. Obviously you didn't understand what I was talking about when I talked about visiting that Greek Church. I was met with suspicion as I was not a parishioner of that Church. What was lacking was a charitable welcome to sit down and pray. No, what I got was," Who are you and what do you want." Interesting. When I went to that Lutheran Church they warmly welcomed me, helped me through the liturgy since being a Catholic, it was somewhat familiar yet different. And speaking about universality, I suspect Lutherans can find the same thing in regards to it's liturgy. I know that as a Catholic, like you, I can go to Mass anywhere in the world and although the language is different, I know the rubics and can follow along.
And another thing Chris..in this very volatile world when someone wants to find a bit of peace from all the noise, one would think, denominational differences aside, that when he/she steps inside a building that displays a Cross,that truly UNIVERSAL sign that all professing Christians fall under, that they could just sit inside and find that bit of peace that he/she needs without disdain from others or be under suspicion. Just saying...
I apologize for the hijacking of your post's comments.
Anonymous, if you desire to keep up this "conversation," please leave me an email address and then delete the post after 20 minutes.
It is a pity that there are no liturgical congregations within driving distance for you. If an LCMS congregation ditches the hymnal, avoids use of the catechism for both junior high aged kids and for adult instruction, stocks the church library with Willow Creek and Saddleback endorsed materials instead of Lutheran ones, and uses solely those books for small group and adult Sunday school instruction, then why stay. It Lutheran theology is ignored by an LCMS parish, then is easy for any layman to conclude that Lutheran theology must be false. Time to flee.
I can therefore understand why you left.
How many LCMS pastors use canned Evangelical sermons during an all church small group study of the latest pop Christian author? Too many LCMS congregations are fascinated with the Evangelical megachurches and want to copy them. They end up becoming bad copies of those churches. They want to attract the unchurched. However, people who have a genuine interest in such congregations will skip the crappy Lutheran imitation and attend the real Evangelical thing across town. Who wouldn't want better coffee and superior praise bands?
Many people join the LCMS because they are burned out ex-Evangelicals looking for something authentic. They are burned out by the phony pageantry and the law pounding sermons. How do you like those celebrity "preachers" dressed in tattered jeans, who "make things up" for shock value while while claiming a "new revelation" from God.
Why do LCMS pastors everywhere refuse to acknowledge the existence of all of the ex-Evangelical, new LCMS Lutheran laymen in their midst. Ex-Evangelicals are fleeing Evangelicalism and hate church growth. Why then, do many LCMS pastors persist in church growth programs? Could someone please explain. Testimonies of ex-Evangelical LCMS Lutherans are all over the internet. The LCMS is hopelessly dysfunctional.
Pastor Peters: If, according to Gene Veith, 1/3 of the members of the LCMS are adult converts, from which faith tradition are they fleeing?
These anonymous comments lack any credibility in their arguments. It is similar to a drive by shooter who immediately flees the scene.
If there is an ounce of integrity to their being here, please at least have a handle so we know who you are.
Cliff, Dan here.
One more thing to consider is how the LCMS youth gatherings are just big rock concerts. There isn't much prayer and worship there. "the youth need big lights and big guitars and need to think this is cool or we'll lose them." No, you're going to lose them because you're pandering to them and these young kids can spot fake thirty miles away. The traditional Liturgy is authentic and has endured. These contemporary, feeling-centered, anthropocentric worship "experiences" as they are known, only will off-put. Now, things may have changed a little, but I remember that every time I went to a youth camp from the church, there was no Liturgy, there was no Office, just sing some pop songs where Jesus replaces the word "baby" and it's just as good, right? Those things were embarrassments.--Chris
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