If you are a computer programmer who cut his teeth on Fortran, Cobol, or C++ or the like and have not moved on, you are in trouble. If you are an auto mechanic who has never used the computer in the vehicle to find out what is wrong and right with the car, you are probably in trouble. If you are an oncologist who is still using the drugs and treatment regimens for cancer routinely used in the 1970s, 1980s, or even 1990s, your patients are in trouble. But if you are a musician who plays an instrument, the techniques are pretty much the same and much of the music is from long before you were born. And if you are a pastor, the world may have changed but the problems of sin and death remain the same problems since Eden and the solution of the cross has remained the same for 2,000 years.
Every time I read a pastor who laments that he was not trained for the world in which he finds himself, I wonder who trained him or what kind of ministry he has in mind. We are not and should not be trained for the moment but steeped in Christian theology, history, liturgy, and preaching. While there have certainly been changes, they have been incremental -- unless you start our by ignoring or rejecting everything of the past! The ministry has not changed. People sin, the Word calls them to repentance, the Spirit engenders faith, and the heart made new rejoices in the forgiveness, life, and salvation that comes through the Gospel. That has not changed -- except for those churches who no longer call sins sin or who have made their peace with death or who have adopted the therapeutic gospel of self-affirmation. For those, the Gospel has not changed but they have surely rejected the one eternal Gospel of Revelation.
I am not a complete idiot. I know the world has changed. I know culture has changed. But our job is not to keep up. Our job is to proclaim the unchanging Christ to a changing world. That was once our slogan. Now, some believe it is our failing. We are told all the time that the church is dying and unless we change, the church will be buried on our watch. I agree some churches are in trouble but those in most trouble are the ones who have changed to keep up with the pace of the world and the shifts of culture. These churches have not stayed the course but have zigzagged across the page in pursuit of relevance judged by those who do not believe. Their buildings are as empty as their theology!
So I challenge you as pastors and the people in your care. Do not lament that you are not keeping up. Pursue faithfulness and God will never judge you irrelevant. Proclaim the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen and that preaching will call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify a new generation of people for the Kingdom. Call the sinners to the cleansing waters of baptism where they are united with Christ into His death and raised with Him to new life and the future will not be dim. Speak forth the absolution to the baptized who come shamed with failure and overwhelmed with guilt and they will not be lost. Feed the hungry and give the thirsty to drink of the body and blood of Christ and their strength will not waver nor will they grow weary.
The best way to empty the pews is to empty the Gospel, distracting people with inspiration aims that promise happiness or success or fulfillment. The best way to render the Church non-essential is to believe that the Gospel of Christ crucified is out of date and must be freshened up for a new generation. The best way to kill what God is doing is to individualize the truth and glorify the whim of passion, desire, or feeling. For every good program that might offer a little help to you, there are a million who will only confuse and confound you and the people of God. It is not about you. It is about Jesus. It is about the means of grace. It is about the efficacious Word. It is about the promise forged in blood on the cross.
I was sitting in a catechism class and behind the kids was a stack of old phones being replaced by our new phone system. A couple of the kids were laughing at the phones in comparison to their smart phone. I asked them how often they actually called someone on their phone. They seldom spoke to anyone on that phone. They used it as a screen and as an internet device. I reminded them that the phones behind them still worked. They made calls and accepted calls. You picked up and you heard a voice. No, you did not go to social media or play games or watch videos on them. They did something even better. They connected you to a real person. Our technology and our fascination with the changing world around us has made us forget that what is most real is the voice -- the voice of God speaking and preaching, absolving and baptizing, feeding and equipping His people with grace sufficient to wipe away their sin and answer the threat of death. The Gospel may seem as old fashioned as those phones but it works. The problem is not with the Gospel but with the changing world which wants to play a game more than it wants to hear the voice of life.