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Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense

December 17th, 2006
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Hardfacts_1
"A wise observer has said that young people will give their lives for an exclamation point, but they will not give their lives for a question mark."
(First Things, January 2007).

As I watch some of my fellow clergy and some of our congregations doing their level best to look like "First Evangelical Non-Denomination Around the Corner" and trying hard to sound like Pastor Bob strolling about the stage in business casual, offering worship services that look not much different than the big mega-warehouse "worship center" down the street, this thought continues to come to mind:

If we give people no meaningful and compelling reason to be, and remain, uniquely and faithfully and genuinely and specifically Lutheran, they won’t!

Offering an imitation of non-denominational, Willow Creek, Rick Warren style Protestantism is not Lutheranism. Aside from the many substantial and essential theological reasons for not doing this, which apparently don’t register with those pushing this stuff, here is a hard fact of life in the real world. The head of Costco once said, "Imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery, but it is no strategy." This isn’t rocket science, but it is common sense, and perhaps that is the problem, since common sense is quite uncommon sometimes.

If we are not powerfully and consistently making it clear why people
should be Lutherans and not any other denomination let’s not be
surprised when they leave for any other denomination. When we do our
best to look like "the other guys" then don’t be surprised when people
leave for the "other guys" whenever the mood strikes them.

All the hand-wringing, breathless blustering, brow-beating, cajoling
and holding gathering after gathering, summit after summit, and meeting
after meeting about "missions" with incessant talk about visions and
mission statements and references to setting the world on fire is no
substitute for the hard facts of what makes for a genuinely
confessionally Lutheran Church and what doesn’t. All the consultants in
the world with their suggestions about tag lines, logos and other such
banal, insipid Madison avenue-esque hype and hoopla won’t change these
hard facts.

One need only carefully analyze the average Sunday morning worship
attendance compared to total baptized membership in congregations to
understand finally what all the effort to look like the non-denom mega
churches produces. Let’s look closely at new members coming into our
congregations and learn precisely how many come from a truly
non-Christian background or how many are rather simply coming in as
basically evangelicals and non-denoms. Do they know that Lutheranism is
not non-denominationalism, and why it is not? 

There are a lot of hard facts, dangerous half-truths and total nonsense
that we need to face up to as Lutherans when we talk about the growth
of the Church. One of the dangerous half-truths out there is this: if we make people feel all warm and cozy about Church, they will join us. They may join, but will they stay? Here’s another dangerous half-truth: the important thing is getting people into the door, we’ll grow them up in the faith once they join. But do they ever mature in the faith? Study after study reveal the fact that churches that are growing the most are those who hold their membership to the highest standards and expectation. A casual approach to things churchly results in a casual attitude toward the Church, a "take it or leave it" attitude.

John Adams once said, "Facts are stubborn things; and
whatever may be our wishes, our
inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the
state of facts and evidence." And those are the hard facts indeed.

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Categories: Lutheranism
  1. Brigitte Washeim
    December 17th, 2006 at 14:53 | #1

    All too true, it would be good for Lutherans (and others) to realize that it takes the Holy Spirit to convict and convince. The best we can do is pray for each other within the church and outside the church. [That and never stop teaching, teaching, teaching! Ora et labora! -McCain]

  2. Jack Kilcrease
    December 18th, 2006 at 12:11 | #2

    More important is the work of the Spirit. The Spirit kills through the law and raise up through the gospel. People who are dead make a poor demographic. Contemporary Protestantism wants the old being to continue to live by making him or her happy and righteous. We sing praise songs because they extention of the old being’s attempt at changing him or herself by works, that is, by making him have good feelings about God and to make God have good feelings about them. If God is happy, he will not judge me and destroy my old being through the law. I will be in accordance with the law and God will love me. True Biblical and Confessional worship can only be a about killing and giving life. It must therefore center on proclamation and not around ‘praise.’ Our resurrection as new beings in Christ is the only condition whereby genuine praise can come about.

  3. Holger Sonntag
    December 18th, 2006 at 15:20 | #3

    In a Time-Magazine article a few weeks ago, it was pointed out that youth work that was heavy on entertainment and light on actually teaching anything remotely Christian has now produced a generation of “drop-outs.” No reason was given them to be and remain Christian. So they didn’t.

  4. HaNavi
    December 20th, 2006 at 20:18 | #4

    But the seekers! The seekers! If you don’t entertain the masses, how will you ever get your congregation to grow!? You need to give people worship in their vernacular (meaning emotionally-driven, theologically vacant music, pastors without vestments, women/kids in all aspects of the service, printed worship services) At least that’s what my pastor believes.
    Which is the biggest reason I haven’t been to my church in 8 months. Not too good for a prospective seminarian with few worship options.

  5. Kelly
    December 21st, 2006 at 00:36 | #5

    Ditto on the youth work comment. Why send your kids away to youth events, even ones that fly under the banner of our own Lutheran church, if that event is going to simply make kids desire the kind of non-denom stuff that happens down the street every single Sunday back home? Why give them cause to despise their own church, liturgy, and heritage, and just cop out and join their friends’ church? Why would this ever be done within Lutheranism?

  6. organshoes
    December 21st, 2006 at 07:00 | #6

    That whole idea of church being less like church for the sake of the unchurched–the basis for that concept is a lie. It’s not based on desire for growth, as much as it’s based on fear: of either being seen as irrelevant (due to small numbers), or of being seen as dead (due to too small numbers). It’s promoters are purveyors like snake oil salesmen and those guys who constantly ‘warn’ me that if I don’t pay them $25 dollars to enhance my street number on the curb, the ambulance and police won’t find my house some dark night. Their concern for my well-being is as touching as their lack of faith in the abilities of emergency services to do their jobs is sad.
    Those who play with church offer no comfort but that of a goodly supply of people in the pews (and money in the bank), and lots of positive things to do and feel. A good vibe.
    We baby boomers ought to recall how long a vibe lasts: till the urge for another dose strikes, or the urge for another, new vibe altogether.

  7. phlegon
    December 25th, 2006 at 20:37 | #7

    Excellent post. Thank you for the reminder. To believe the proclamation of the Gospel will not accomplish what God desires unless we add or subtract something is unbelief and idolatry. BTW, on a call to an unchurched couple recently, I explained that we had classes for them to attend before they could join. The 30ish something male replied, “Good. I wouldn’t want to join a church where they let any Joe Shmoe join.” This unchurched pagan couple understood the importance of education when it comes to the Christian faith, better than some longtime church goers.

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