Thursday, 3 June 2010

A Lutheran Pastor's Confession

"Forgive me, please, for reminiscing today. X years ago today...I graduated from Luther Seminary in Adelaide, South Australia. As I headed off to my first assignment in ministry I was proud of who I was and glad to be part of the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA).

The LCA has never been a large church. We're not tiny, but then again we aren't bursting at the seams from all the new converts we're gaining. For some in our church that's a reason to hang our heads. We must not be doing our jobs since we're not growing, we're told.

In our hometowns we listen to enthusiastic neighbours tell all about the local community church that's really doing ministry. Their church is packed because so many love the modern music and the charismatic preacher. The accomplishments of the church are impressive indeed: teens taking mission trips all over the world, seniors running a food pantry for the local needy, young parents recruiting others through soccer games.

As LCA Lutherans, especially if we're part of a smaller congregation, we smile politely as we hear the glowing report. But deep inside we are thinking, "There's got to be some way our congregation can do this."

The first thing we do is study how the community church is doing what it's doing. We rush off to the local Christian book store and buy up all the "how to" books on the shelves, all written by people outside our fellowship. We glean an awful lot of good ideas and then we sit down and try to "Lutheranise" them all.

Quite often we find some resistance in our congregations. "We've never done it that way before," is the age-old cry. If we've been in the LCA long enough, all we can do is go home and complain to our spouse that the LCA is such a fuddy duddy church.

After a little thought, though, we get up the nerve to speak to our pastor. We say to him:

"Liven things up a bit in worship."

"Let's not be so formal."

"Develop your own orders of service that really speak to the people."

"Don't repeat things in the service every week. Do we really need to confess the Apostles Creed or Nicene Creed so often? Surely we can confess our faith in words that mean more to 21st century people. People today like more variety!"

"People get tired of hearing that they're sinners. Do you really need to make a point about that every Sunday? Be more positive!"

"In the service talk more about things that really matter today. As Lutherans we know that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, so you don't have to repeat that so often. What people really want to know is how Jesus helps them with their families, their jobs, their lives today."

"Use videos in worship. That's how you're going to grab people's attention. After all, this is the TV age!"

"Let's make sure our people know that we need them to work around the church. Remind them of that every week, please."

About a year ago, after speaking with other LCA people in town, I thought that the "niche" my aging congregation could grab was that of contemporary worship. After all, that's what people want these days. If we're ever going to get younger members, we've got to give them what they want. And I see it in more LCA congregations now than ever before."

Sound familiar, LCA people? Sure does!

OK. Now I have a confession of my own to make, that is not an LCA pastor's confession but a WELS pastor's confession (WELS = Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, in the US); I've simply changed the nomenclature and spelling to reflect the Australian context. The original confession (unaltered!) can be found here (or just click on the post title), and I encourage my Australian readers to follow these intrepid WELS Lutherans as they attempt to chart a confessional course for their church body. We may learn something!

HT Lito at Extra Nos (link in right hand column).


Matthias said...

"Let's make sure our people know that we need them to work around the church. Remind them of that every week, please."
that is an interesting comment,because that's how i perceive what my church wants.People being busy working,either in the Opp Shop,or in the bi monthly working bees,or in the Sunday school,or with the homelessness task force or the soup kitchen. a works based faith seems to be whatmy pastors want and what this WELS minister is talking about.

M.A. Henderson said...

Yes, Matthias, there can be a fine line between a Gospel-centred faith and works-righteousness. It's a question of motivation. Good works, of course, are good(!), and Luther encouraged them - "faith is active in love". But where are our works means to be done? In our particular calling in our daily life in the world serving our neighbour, not necessarily in and for the church. Sometimes I think Evangelicals mistakenly believe that if a work is not done for the church (church work) it is not good and holy. People get so caught up serving in the church that they have little time for their family or home life. That is very close to medieval Catholicism, where only the monks were holy.

Pr. Alex Klages said...

Yes, there is always a tension between being faithful to the ordination vows and trying to get warm bodies in the pews, isn't there? Especially when evangelism is seen (wrongly!) as being a Sunday morning activity and primarily the pastor's job, rather than the natural product of vocational living by the congregation...

M.A. Henderson said...

Amen, brother!
We are slowly changing that mindset - mission is the pastor's job - in the LCA and educating about the 'apostolate of the laity' to borrow a RC term. How about in LC-C?

Pr. Alex Klages said...

I don't know that there's any centralised concerted effort toward changing the mindset here in LCC, but certainly the faithful and diligent shepherds instruct their sheep in such wise!