Saturday, May 18, 2019

Not enough to stay two steps ahead. . .

Got another email. . .  You know how that goes.  This time there was a rather salutary truth.  A pastor complained that if all the churches were doing was trying to be one step ahead of another, it might last for a while and there might be some growth but in the end, the church may still die.  That is simple but profound.  Yet that is exactly what churches have been doing for ages and what many are doing with even more vigor now -- copying others and trying to stay one step ahead of the pack!  It is as if we have grown so accustomed to and adept at re-inventing ourselves, that we no longer notice any contradiction there.  We out program, out spend, out technology, out shock, and out vulgar until in the end the world does not know who Christians are anymore and Christians are not sure, either.  So I have a radical thought.  Maybe programs are like the pacifiers that do nothing but make us feel like we are doing okay, keeping busy, relevant, etc...  Maybe the real emphasis ought to be on the family.

No church can do much to make sure the faith exists beyond the generation in the pews UNLESS they teach the parents how to teach their children the faith at home.  In other words, the only program that counts is catechesis and teaching those who catechize -- especially parents for the sake of their children.  We have dumbed things down so that the Small Catechism is about as big as we tackle and it has become the domain of professional teachers in the churches instead of parents in the home.  We have turned pastors into professional pray-ers and forgotten that the work of intercession belongs to all the baptized.  We have turned the sturdy church music of old into eminently forgettable words and tunes that have a good beat but no meat and so our children are being entertained to death by people who think entertainment is the end that justifies the means.

Part of the reason we have NONES is that we did not catechize their parents well and they did not catechize their children.  It is not simply a new wave of agnosticism but a failure to teach the faith and teach it well and equip the teachers to teach the faith.  So it all became somehow less important and less real and less urgent than the pressing matters of this moment.  We forgot that the world was doing a very effective job of catechizing them into a life where pleasure, feelings, self, entertainment, experience, and technology can meet all their needs.  We forgot that the world was doing a very effective job of teaching morality without morals, the naturalness of death with dignity if you cannot have life on your terms, and to live for me only.  Kids are under great pressure to discount and reject the truths of the Christian faith and the Word of God and they cannot survive without a strong foundation, a living faith in the home, and the Divine Service calling them like a magnet to the places where God is, God gives, and God keeps them.  We put them in children's church or nursery or playtime with the youth group and used the church as a babysitter instead of giving them Christ.  So when they summon up their voice to say that they are a NONE, we are surprised???

Part of the reason we have DONES is that they left the faith and the church without being fully catechized in the first place.  I have seldom met people who left the church over serious doctrinal difference but I have met people all the time who were there once but gradually were pulled away because the forces pulling them away were stronger than the forces pulling them in.  Now, is some of that their fault?  Of course it is.  But we must also admit our own complicity in the matter.  We did not address issues of life and morality clearly and with the Word of God.  We did not speak to God's creation while science was inventing theories to explain it all away.  We did not give them the tools of the Scriptures and catechism to know the faith.  We let them sing nice songs instead of the sturdy chorales and hymns of faith that actually taught the faith.  We taught them nothing really all that big or important was happening on Sunday morning.  We gave them the idea that there is no difference between pastor and lay, one church or another, and that sincerity was more important than doctrinal clarity and truth.  So when they left, we were surprised???

Catechesis.  In the Church.  To the parents.  To the children.  The discipline of weekly attendance at the Divine Service.  The real Divine Service with real hymns that take most seriously Christ in our midst giving His gifts and speaking the language of the faith from the worship place to the home and carrying it all with them in the heart.  Isn't this the only program that really counts???


Pr. Schroeder said...

Sadly, churches/congregations keeping ahead of each other in being relevant has now a generational history. When I was in confirmation at a large LCMS suburban congregation outside of Chicago, the vicar was excited one class session to show us the new youth room with the theme "Snoopy's Dog House". The year was 1968. At the time, I thought the youth room was, as it is said now, "cringe worthy". Eventually, I would espouse being relevant as a pastor. I have since repented of keeping up with the times. Yet, it is a half century of churches keeping up with the culture but every time, as we do, we are behind the times again. This is hard to shake. We should listen to this saying accredited to Albert Einstein: "“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Anonymous said...

How many individual congregations and/or denominations have worked themselves to exhaustion trying to imitate Hillsong:

Aaaaaand.....look! Scroll down on the main page and note that Brian Houston has yet another new book that we should read. Church fathers prior to 2000? Never heard of those crusty, old grandpa writings. Sure, Chuck Swindoll had his moments of inspiration, but that was soooo 20th century! Who pays attention to 20+ year old books anymore? Only 21st century Christian authors can be relevant and relational! Just like a social media post, the more shocking it is, the more attention it grabs. What is your pastor's latest Evangelical "revelation" from God?