Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Renewing our Church. . .

Over the years nearly everyone in our church has heard the horror stories of our decline and been warned by a future that does not look good.  We have suffered through program after program to reverse the decline.  We have seen our church fractured by different voices leading us in different directions.  We have watched as the number of seminarians has dropped, alternatives to residential seminary education been proposed and adopted, and lay deacons offered to replace pastors.  We have been caught in the firing line between those who say we are not growing because we are too Lutheran and those who say we are not Lutheran enough.  Our once vaunted system of parochial schools from preschool to university has suffered until a Lutheran elementary school is a unusual and a Lutheran High School rare.  In the midst of all of this, we find ourselves in the midst of another election cycle in which the powers at play on several fronts have attempted to demonize some and canonize others as if a Synod President or a convention will make or break who we are.

My perspective has changed over the years.  I do not expect a national leader to be our savior or a convention or several of them to affect dramatically the future of our church body for the better.  We have, for example, had resolutions adnauseum about the boilerplate things of more frequent communions, the riches of hymnal and liturgy, the worth of Lutheran schools, etc... but these have not succeeded in changing the landscape.  We have had program after program, from the official ones with a St. Louis imprimatur to parachurch offerings and still we find ourselves under the same gun, facing the same problems, and looking for new or better programs that will succeed where the old ones failed.

If we are to change our church, I firmly believe it will come through the men we raise up, train up, and hold up to the church as pastors.  When we send the brightest and best to be formed as pastors and equipped with the knowledge and trained in the skills of the pastoral office, we are making for a lifetime of change as these faithful individuals work on the ground preaching, teaching, presiding, praying, and leading God's people.  When we send forth those who are convinced of our doctrine, who are well versed in Scripture, who have confidence that God acts through the means He has promised, we put into place those who have the best opportunity to shape us now and in the future for the kind of success God wills and we yearn for in our congregations and the ministries that extend from them and are supported through them.

We may not yet be at a place where we face a shortage of pastors and are in crisis mode because of it, but we are certainly already at that place where it is easy to see the difference when good and faithful pastors enter the church ready, willing, and able to be unashamedly Christian and unapologetically Lutheran in their words and works.  I have seen it at work in congregations around me and I have seen it at work across the landscape of our church body.  If you want to renew our church and revitalize our work for God's kingdom, it cannot begin without attention to the best and brightest in the seminary who are set apart by Word and prayer for the holy office of the ministry.  Programs have a limited lifespan and influence and pastors have a longer period of service and a greater influence.  I vote to put our revitalization monies and energies more fully into more and better candidates for the ministry and use the funds that would go toward other things to support the cost of their education at the seminary and make sure they earn a living wage in the parish so that they are fully free to focus on God's work. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters makes some good points. There is no simple solution, as church membership has slid across the board since 1970. Part of the problem, which the church does not control, is a national promotion of a non-Christian worldview. Lutheranism began to nosedive membership-wise in Germany when Bismarck ceased state support for Lutheran schools. In 1905, France did the same thing, causing Catholicism to plummet. If students are not taught Christianity, they have little reason to seek it as adults. American Lutheran schools are no longer affordable private school alternatives to public schools. The exacerbation of wealth disparity allows wealthy families to live in posh suburbs with elite public schools. The rest if us live where we can afford, and LCMS schools are not only unable to afford the luxuries of suburban schools, but are out of the price range of most Americans who pay exorbitant amounts for food, gas, housing, taxes, and medical, all with no retirement.

Even our largest churches resemble senior centers, with fewer and fewer young families. If you are not going to pay more than a handful of elite young American men a living wage to save for a house, they are not going to get married, have children, and bring them to church. I would guess that the lack of young pastors is due to the fact that they don't want to work a dual parish of mostly seniors in some random tiny rural Midwestern town. The preponderance of second career, older pastors is probably due to men who get married, have a family, and realize they don't like their job and have no retirement.

So, what to do? Send the best and brightest from St. Louis to recruit, recruit, recruit. Plant churches like crazy in growing areas. Send seminary grads to be assistant pastors in large congregations in stimulating places like Clarksville. Use Synod money to grant churches money for up to date facilities, organs, paid musicians. Use the synodical positions as advisory bully pulpits to create a sense of mission and identity rather than distance and secrecy. Read old issues of the Lutheran Witness to discover how keeping the message the message can rally and encourage the faithful. Avoid cartoons, Fox News blurbs from Gene Veith, random images of Catholic baroque paintings, and articles about random Christological debates no one has anymore. That's a start.