The real lay leaders of the Church are not those elected to offices or councils or boards but husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. The vocation of marriage and family is the primary locus of such leadership and perhaps the problems of lay leadership are due to the decline of marriage and family in the culture around us. How odd it is that we keep struggling to look for ways to give nobility to and enhance the nobility of the laity and then shrug our shoulders at what happens within the home. The many problems of the congregation would surely be solved at least in part if not in whole by a strengthened marriage and family within the order of God's own creation. Perhaps because we find it hard to resist much less go against the fading glory of marriage and family in culture, we focus our energy on the relationship between clergy and lay.
What stresses the congregation is not simply finding and recruiting and training strong lay leaders for the congregation but the pressures and deterioration of marriage and family within the Church as well as in the world out there. Divorce has become as normal in the congregation as in society. Cohabitation has become as routine for those within the congregation as for those outside the faith. Children are seen as optional extras by many couples within the congregation just as they are by the culture as a whole.
Recently Anthony Esolen noted this among Roman Catholics. In 1970, there were more than 426,300 Catholic marriages in a the U.S., then a country of 205.1 million. In 2021, there were 97,200 Catholic marriages, in a country of 329.5 million people. Put those two statistics together and you have a collapse of 86 percent. It is surely no different for Missouri Synod Lutherans. Our decline in the numbers marrying, the baptism and confirmation of their children, and the graying of our church body all have to do with the decline of marriage and family overall. Many of the programs of the congregation are designed to reflect that decline and to attempt to make up in some way for it. Yet the real lay leadership the Church requires is not an office or a vote but the strength of the home where husband and wife live out their love and faithfulness within the boundaries of Christ's love and where that love is manifested in the appreciation and yearning for children as a blessing from the Lord. Yes, of course, there are those who cannot conceive but this is a far different thing than those who choose not to have a family. This is not about marginalizing those who do not live up to the perfect ideal but to strive for that ideal nonetheless. Instead, we seem more content to offer minimal effort when sacrifice is required and to demand great reward as a condition of marriage and family. It is no wonder that our pews are empty.
Clearly the more profound leadership of the lay lies within the domain of the home, where husbands die for their wives and children and their wives and children act in equal dedication to the submission and service that is the fruit of love -- of Christ's love in us. We do not have a lay leadership problem in the congregation or church at large but we clearly have a problem valuing and esteeming the vocation of marriage and family as noble, godly, and true. Our energy and effort needs to be better spent when the urgency is -- that is teaching and training our boys to be godly men and our girls to be godly women -- people of faith, love, forgiveness, and service. Nothing is more counter the culture of the day than to manifest in the love between husband and wife and parent and child the very love of Christ that St. Paul addresses in Ephesians 5. This is and has always been the true lay leadership that is both the need and requirement for the strengthening of the congregation and its success.
The sad reality is that it is easy to try and postulate some conflict between people and their pastor and say this is the problem in the church today when the reality is far deeper and far more difficult to repair. In short, we have let the world teach us that to be important in the church everyone must be free to do what the pastor does instead of honoring and valuing rightly the divine orders of marriage and family. This is where our attention ought to go. We are raising up children who are more influenced by the culture around them than by their home lives and the congregation and the result is that they are delaying or not choosing marriage and children just like the rest of society. Real lay leaders are most urgently needed not to balance the clergy influence in the congregation or church body but to raise up the home and manifest their a clear witness and example of Christ's own servant love toward spouse and children. When that happens, the congregation and church body will inevitably be stronger.
"For Missouri it might be traced to a bad experience with a bishop"
The details of how bad it was, and the lives lost from following the corrupt Stephan are in Walter Forster's book, Zion on the Mississippi.
For information about the lay leadership in the Missouri Synod in the 20th century, there is Alan Graebner's book, Uncertain Saints: The Laity in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, 1900-1970.
"learned from the American experience of democracy to find a way out of it"
"What stresses the congregation is [...] the pressures and deterioration of marriage and family within the Church as well as in the world out there. Divorce has become as normal in the congregation as in society. Cohabitation has become as routine for those within the congregation as for those outside the faith. Children are seen as optional extras by many couples within the congregation just as they are by the culture as a whole."
"The many problems of the congregation would surely be solved at least in part if not in whole by a strengthened marriage and family within the order of God's own creation."
I read these and wonder if there is a connection between aping America's democratic processes, including the changes in those processes, the pressures and deterioration of the order of God's creation in the Church matching the deterioration seen in the culture as a whole, and then the deterioration of marriage and family in the church seen in the culture as a whole. Perhaps that evolving American experience of democracy caused more problems than it solved...if it actually solved anything.
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