Sunday, April 3, 2022

More services. . .

When I began as a young pastor, I was convinced the programs were the key to growing the Church, to making a difference in the lives of people, and of doing great things for God.  A quick survey of my first parish indicated that programs were missing and this was my opportunity to shine.  Except for one thing.  The congregation was not sure what a Lutheran was or if being Lutheran was a good thing.  And so there were other things that had to come first -- before my important programs that were going to save the world.

In the pews at that first parish had been a non-Lutheran evangelical Baptist-style hymnal.  The Lutheran Hymnal had become somewhat a stranger to this Lutheran congregation.  I am ashamed to admit that I had viewed worship itself as a program -- albeit the most valuable program in the parish.  So I began another program -- I viewed it as a program anyway -- called catechesis.  I preached the catechism, taught the catechism, and began to start over with what it means to be Lutheran.  It turned out that it was not a program at all -- really, it never was but I was learning something.  An unintended lesson, to be sure, but an important lesson to be learned.  Worship is not a program and catechesis is not a program and both of them are key to Lutheran identity, health, and growth.

More services are often seen as a bother.  Catechesis might seem like something for children and youth.  Both of those statements are wrong.  I have come to the conclusion that programs are killing us along with our lack of ordered lives of worship and catechesis.  We don't need more screens or screened opportunities for worship and catechesis.  Sure, they are fine for those who cannot (notice I did not way will not) attend or for those where distance prevents more participation.  But it cannot suffice for being together in the Lord's House or learning together the Catechism.  

Although we tend to judge success by numbers of attenders, I fear that the numbers are only telling part of the story and not the right part.  It takes time to build the numbers but so often we do not take the time needed to bring the numbers.  The most wonderful thing in my life as a pastor has been the re-awakening of our hunger for and more frequent celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  It is and has always been the chief service of God's people.  But I fear that we have presumed a weekly Eucharist is enough and a fit replacement for the divine offices that were once also an important part of our life as Lutherans.  I am not at all suggesting that we stop the weekly Eucharist but I am suggesting that more services are what we need -- more opportunities to hear the Word in its liturgical context and for catechesis to be placed where it belongs within the liturgy instead of the lecture hall.  

People may not show up in the beginning but they will eventually.  Because they actually do want these things.  They want catechesis and not just knowledge of the Bible.  They want to hear the Word preached into their ears and not simply as a textbook or resource book.  They want to be in the presence of God through the sacramental Word.  Many of them simply do not yet know this.  We as pastors need to help awaken within them the hunger and thirst for more worship and more catechesis.  They don't need programs -- we have been programed to death and have more available to us on the internet and around town than ever in history.  But still our marriages are failing, our families are struggling, and our children despair.  The catechesis I am talking about teaches us who we are in God's eyes and by His design and through His redeeming.  Where better to discover what it means to be a man and a woman, a husband and a wife, a parent, and a child?  

The reality is the we have left people subject to their preferences and desires to define themselves and their lives in large measure in part because catechesis has given way to interest driven Bible studies.  We have imparted knowledge rather than understanding.  It was not in context of how God made us and for what purpose or the order He established.  What we teach is important.  Where we teach it is also important.  It needs to flow from the liturgy.  And if it does, it will flow back into worship.  But somehow it has become a purpose and an end in an of itself -- not simply distinct from worship but unconnected.  We need more services and not less and we need to place catechesis in its best context.  We need to do this for the sake of the Church, yes, but mostly for the sake of our people.  They know who they are best from baptism and their lives have been rooted and planted within the living flow of God's Word and His Supper and within a life of prayer and piety in which we they live out this new life.

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