Friday, December 21, 2018
The Easy Choice Isn't the Best Choice. . .
In a conversation about this very thing my wife's response was wise and blunt, "Why is the church surrendering?" Why, indeed!!! Rome has a choice -- do the work of renewal to bring more parishioners back and welcome new converts OR close nearly empty buildings. Rome has a choice -- either reduce the need for priests by closing churches and consolidating them OR work harder to recruit candidates to the priesthood. The easy choice is always to close down the buildings. The hard choice is to renew the faith around the building targeted for closing and recruit more priests to serve on the front lines of the this evangelization.
For Lutherans the choices are remarkably similar. as I write this I lament that my own home parish has been forced to beg around neighboring parishes to serve as a dual parish -- after having their own pastor for more than 100 years. They were never large -- seldom had a regular attendance of more than 80-100 -- but they were dedicated and sacrificial and from this faithfulness they produced a significant number of pastors and teachers for Lutheran churches and schools -- more than most large parishes!!! I am in their debt for the faithful witness that inspired and encouraged my own journey to ordination and financially supported that pathway so generously. Why does it have to end up this way?
At a recent district pastoral conference, a list of statistics was sent around showing the numbers and percentage of unchurched by county throughout the geographical region where I serve. This is the Bible belt, the heart of Baptist country, the home of the Church of Christ and a host of other rather uniquely Southern denominations, and Trump country. There is no county in which the majority of its population either claims a church home or worships there once a month or more. In other words, whether rural or urban or suburban, the field is ripe, the Lord is calling, and the work of the Kingdom awaits those who will serve the Lord's purpose with the Lord's Word.
The easy choice is to close and lament the closure for a few days and then to look to innovative and creative ways to plant a-traditional missions. The harder choice and the better one is to use what remains as resource for a renewed effort to reach the people with the Gospel and rejoice with the angels in heaven over every sinner who repents. It is hard, there is no easy way, but it is the hard choice of those who went before us and it cannot be anything less than our choice today. The church will not be saved by doctrine lite or worship lite or by forms and buildings that look more like retail centers than churches. The church will not be saved by changing the beat of the church music or by replacing one instrument with many. The church will not be saved by realized efficiencies and cost savings. The church will not be saved by parachurch entrepreneurs who repackage failed retail strategies and offer them back to our parishes as the current recipe for success. The church will not be saved by quietly ignoring Biblical witness and catholic tradition in order to embrace the new wave of cultural, sexual, gender, or technological choices emerging around us. The church will only be saved by faithful preaching of the Word of the Lord within and outside the buildings where the faithful gather. The church will only be saved by the faithful witness of those who hear and believe and believe and follow the voice of their Good Shepherd. The church will only be saved by holding to the truth that is forever in the Word of the Lord that does not change -- without embarrassment or shame. The church will only be saved by the hard work that accompanies the Lord's Word faithfully preached and lived out in neighborhoods and cities and across the prairies of our land.
Can we learn from those who look at what is happening around us? Sure. We can learn much from them but we cannot learn how to do what God has called us to do or what to speak to those not yet of the kingdom. These come from Scripture and the catholic witness across the ages. Renewal has always come from renewal in the Word -- the preaching of that Word and the teaching of that Word. Yes, we need to be welcoming and we need parking and we need signage and we need to be deliberate in our work of making known who we are and where we are. Yes, we need to warm up to the natural witness of the faithful to those with whom they work, live, and play. Yes, we need all of these things but we dare not mistake these for what makes the church grow. That is the Word of the Lord faithfully preached and taught, the water that welcomes with new life, and the table where the Lord welcomes with His flesh and blood. We are not to argue people into the kingdom or even make the path easy. We preach repentance and forgiveness and we call the faithful to worship which is the highest priority on their time, minds and hearts open to the teaching of Scripture and the catechism, knees bent in prayer for the church, the world, and those with special need, and wallets upon to support this mission here and everywhere.
The easy choice is not the faithful one. . . now is not the time to surrender but to rekindle our efforts to do what God has called us to do and to be whom God has called us to be. . .