Home > Lutheranism > A Case Study in The Ongoing Conversation in the Lutheran Church About What it Means to be “Missional”

A Case Study in The Ongoing Conversation in the Lutheran Church About What it Means to be “Missional”

December 15th, 2007
Marketing Advertising Blog — VuManhThang.Com

How best to reach out
boldly with the Gospel while remaining faithful to Scripture and the
Lutheran Confessions continues to be a vital topic of ongoing study and conversation. It is often helpful to have specific examples on the table while examining the meaning and implication of being missional. Here are two.

First: A Christmas video prepared by a Lutheran congregation.

Second: This same congregation decided recently not to put the word "Lutheran" on their church buildings’ signs. Here is how they explain that decision.

What are your thoughts?

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!
Categories: Lutheranism
  1. Anon
    December 15th, 2007 at 08:45 | #1

    “People make judgments based on names.” – They also make judgments on lack of names, like the one I’m making right now.
    Btw, they should probably remove “St.” from the sign too, because, as we all know, that is a Roman thing! (Nah, that would just be ridiculous, right?)

  2. Bobby
    December 15th, 2007 at 09:43 | #2

    I once had a Baptist criticize me because our church is named after St. Luke. He said to name a church after a saint is something Catholics do- insuating we are crypto-Catholics. I pointed out to him that since his Church, “Great Oak Baptist Church”, is named after a tree, they must be crypto-New Agers!

  3. December 15th, 2007 at 10:17 | #3

    I’m merely speculating, but it seems to me that taking “Lutheran” off of church signage is the result of worrying that “doctrine divides.”
    Also, I’m somewhat of the persuasion that worship isn’t exactly designed for evangelism. Other events held by the congregation, Bible studies, etc are probably better avenues for evangelism because these are “church events” where you have the opportunity to explain things (or answer questions that visitors want to ask), whereas in Lutheran worship, a visitor will not fully understand or appreciate the Divine Service (especially if they didn’t see the word “Lutheran” as they walked in the building).
    Even better than the more “institutional evangelism” as described above, is personal evangelism where members of the congregation in Christian Freedom and led by the Holy Spirit, witness to family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, or other people the Lord has put in their life. If a Christian has been witnessing to someone, and the Christian invites this someone to observe a worship service, this visitor will NOT be scared away by the “L” word on the church building if he has a personal invitation. Especially for Christian leaders who emphasize numbers and effectiveness, you’d think they would focus more time and resources on personal evangelism than the newest program or the latest book, etc.
    And why do some people get bent out of shape about labels when these same people don’t object to labels in grocery stores?

  4. Alexander Ring
    December 15th, 2007 at 11:45 | #4

    I am just over 14 months in a new parish, in one of the most unchurched areas in the US. Most people wouldn’t know Lutheran from lutefisk, but in that time I have had two encounters with families *because* we bore the name “Lutheran”.
    1) A young, unchurched family moved into the neighborhood, their new baby making them think about church things. Neither had been confirmed, but the girl’s grandfather had been a Lutheran pastor, and so they simply drove down the street and stopped at the first church that had the word “Lutheran” on the sign.
    2) A woman whose husband was in the hospital from a heart attack. She had no church home, doing her worshipping over the tv with Billy Graham. Billy, however, doesn’t go see your husband in the hospital or visit you during times of distress, and so she called her son who told her to call a Lutheran church, because they would help.
    It is true that confessional Lutherans are often seen as “too conservative” by the world, however I think we are better off using that as a banner than trying to hide it; saying “Yes, here is what we stand for.” Not in an obnoxious way, but in a way that tells people (as we say here in the Northwest) “It’s not a but, it’s a feature.”

  5. December 15th, 2007 at 12:37 | #5

    I could only watch about 15 seconds of that video before having to click out of it, totally appalled. Is this a church that believes that Jesus is the Son of God, is the One Who saves us from complete destruction, gives us meaning in life, and demands and deserves our worship? Or not?
    That document that explains the dropping of “Lutheran” from the signs is almost equally appalling. “It is our goal to increase the number of Christians who hold to the true teaching of God’s Word.” Fine: In that case, stop pandering to your own self-perceived, data-free notions of why people do or do not come to church and start believing in the core theology behind your denomination which clearly states that names are NOT a barrier to people who are genuinely seeking.

  6. December 15th, 2007 at 12:50 | #6

    “So finally we ask ourselves, do we call ourselves Lutherans in order to show that we cling to a new doctrine which Luther first 300 years ago brought forward? And do we thereby show that we want to belong to a new church, which was instituted by itself? May that never be so! We name ourselves not at the Arians are named after Arius, or as the Dominicans after Dominicus. Luther did not preach any new doctrine but rather the ancient doctrine of the eternal gospel. He did not stray from the ancient true church, which is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone. He only left, yes, actually was thrown out, of that church which had fallen and misused the name of the ‘catholic’ church in order to bind the conscience with their laws of men. To show this thoroughly is the very goal we had in mind when we started this publication. In the first place we refer our readers to only one witness of Luther himself, from which it is clear to see that he did not intend to spread his own human ideas but rather was driven by the Word of God.”
    …and later…
    “But finally, many will say: “Why must it be the name ‘Lutheran’ that you use?” We answer: We know well that the real substance is not in the name for there are many who call themselves Lutheran who have given up the doctrine long ago, who have laid aside our church in her symbols, especially in the unaltered Augsburg Confession and the small Catechism of Luther. Such false Lutherans are however easy to distinguish from the true Lutherans because our church has published these public confessions for all the world.
    However, when we realize that: 1 – it was Luther and no other through whom God in these last times has brought the pure clear doctrine of the Word of God together with the right use of the Sacraments again into the day and onto the plain and, 2 – the communion of those who have confessed this pure doctrine of the Word of God with heart and mouth is therefore named and known by every Lutheran by this name; we can only confess the faith which is in our hearts purely and completely with the name Lutheran. If we would get rid of the name Lutheran the highest suspicion would be aroused that either we are ashamed of the old Lutheran doctrine, or that we no longer consider it to be the only true doctrine agreeing wit God’s clear Word and that a new false doctrine is in our hearts. As dear, therefore, as the truth is to us, as dear as God’s honor and the salvation of our souls is to us, so little can we, especially in this time of wide spread error, give up the name Lutheran. By this name we separate ourselves from all the unorthodox of all times and publicly confess the right faith of all time.
    Because of this, the most serious accusation is made against us that by doing this we tear apart the body of Christ, disassociate ourselves from brothers, wield the sword against heirs of the same inheritance, and declare them to be our enemies. But those who say this are wrong. We disassociate ourselves only from the errors in which so many of our brothers are captured. And we would act without love towards them if we would not loudly witness against that which keeps them in such danger of souls. It is and remains impossible that this action which is in accordance with God’s express command can lead to the ruin of God’s kingdom. This fact can and must cancel out all other thoughts for a Christian, when it is asked what he should do in any particular circumstance.”

    -C.F.W. Walther, “Concerning the Name ‘Lutheran’”

  7. The Rebellious Pastor’s Wife
    December 15th, 2007 at 13:14 | #7

    If I were looking for a congregation, and I went to every church where I saw Lutheran or LCMS on the sign, it still would be a struggle to find a church that taught historical Lutheran theology and worshiped liturgically. Many of us have long tales of how hard this process can be.
    The name “Lutheran” should mean something. It should mean that the Means of Grace are held in highest esteem and the Word is taught purely, and the sacraments are administered rightly. With an “LCMS” I would expect to find some continuity between services in other LCMS churches, even with three official hymnals. If the pastors are doing their job and the congregations are devoted to hearing God’s Word, it should be relatively easy to find a congregation that I can join and where I can expect to be fed.
    But it isn’t easy, because with “Lutheran” on the sign or not, many congregations see it as their right to establish their identity individually by changing worship style and shaping their congregations based on resources they get from outside of Lutheranism and looking at all the other churches around (kind of adolescent, in a way).
    They also see their main focus as reaching out, rather than feeding Lutherans with Word and Sacrament so that Lutherans can reach out. So they compromise their worship style, and thus water down a very good means of communicating our theology and historic teachings and practices throughout our history. They become a generic church. While I might buy some generic products in the grocery store, there are definitely times I turn that down in favor of knowing the reputation of the company that makes the product, because I associate that brand with quality.
    I’ve gone to non-denominational churches, and it is even more difficult than perusing Lutheran churches to find out what the congregation really believes (if there is any unity at all). Some are Pentecostal in flavor, some are Neo-Baptist. Some are kind of Methodist. Some are really liberal. Now there are some that are supposedly LCMS Lutherans trying to convince you that they are the place you want, but refusing to state what kind of place they are.
    How does this TRULY serve anybody? I wonder how many people, looking to be fed with the Word of God, go in and out of these no-name churches and eventually give up, thinking that “Christian churches, fellowships, and family ministry centers” are just too difficult to deal with. At least with denominational names, there is a place to start from.
    But a part of me says if they want to drop the name, let them. If a congregation thinks that their heritage and name is less important than trying to find that magic mix that will make the world like them, or who consider bringing in new members more important than growing deeper, or who don’t give a whit about what synod is supposed to mean – a group of churches allied by unity in doctrine and practice; let them drop their denominational affiliation from their name. Then it will be all the easier for people who are really looking for a historic, strongly Lutheran congregations, because the name “Lutheran” will still be on the sign.
    At least there will be one group of people who are being served well by this trend.

  8. December 15th, 2007 at 23:24 | #8

    OK, first of all, I really need to point out that pastors shouldn’t try to be comedians. I’m sorry to say this, as there are many of you I respect very much, but honestly, you guys aint that funny, and it usually turns out to be a complete disaster. Like as in painful, please stop, leave it to the professionals.
    *deep breath*….as far as the word “Lutheran”, I think it really should stay on. Let’s stop dumbing down people.

  9. Darrell Wacker
    December 16th, 2007 at 13:59 | #9

    I must echo the sentiments of the Rebellious Pastor’s Wife. Our family has had more than our share of trying to find a traditional, historic, confessional Lutheran church in both practice and theology. It should not be that hard-I expected we would find similar worship and teacing in LCMS churches, but instead found that confessional Lutherans have become the minority in our circuit, and indeed, our own Synod.
    If the word “Lutheran” no longer means anything, then I am not so sure there’s anything wrong with removing it. However, if the name means confessional, historic Lutheranism, then it should remain.
    Am I the only one in the Synod who prays that the ELCA will either come to see the error of their ways and repent, or failing that, remove the name word “Lutheran” from their name?

  10. The Rebellious Pastor’s Wife
    December 17th, 2007 at 12:03 | #10

    No, Darrell, you’re not the only one who prays that about the ELCA.
    The other thought about changing the church name to simply “St. John’s” seems to completely defeat the purpose of why emergent churches are taking away all words that identify them as a church.
    If I see St. John’s on a sign, that would only lead me to investigate if I were looking for a Catholic, Episcopal, or Lutheran church (maybe Orthodox). It automatically links them in a major way to a historical tradition.
    It is one of those typical Lutheran compromises that doesn’t really work…kind of like moderate theology or blended worship.

  11. Helen
    December 17th, 2007 at 13:34 | #11

    I have a hunch that a lot of this stuff that’s going on as mentioned here is the result of a very simple problem: *not* trusting the Word to do what God says it will do!!! Whenever a lack of trust in the Word is prevalent, all kinds of little “notions” and “let’s try this or that” raise their ugly heads. Why can’t we just stick with the Word and proudly say we are Missouri Synod Lutherans; really what is so difficult about that! Thanks for letting me “vent.”

  12. Rev. Allen Yount
    December 18th, 2007 at 15:30 | #12

    Our Lord’s parable of the sower applies here. “St. John’s” may well reach many people with this approach. But I fear the result will be like the seed being sown on rocky ground, “where immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away” (Mt.13:5, 6 ESV). Our Lord explains “this is the one who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy, yet because he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the Word, immediately he falls away” (13:21 ESV).
    Dropping the name “Lutheran” because having it on church signs may turn people away will lead to dropping biblical Lutheran doctrine because it also may turn people away. And that means “St. John’s” may bring in plenty of folks who seem joyful about whatever they may be hearing at first, but because it won’t be all that substantial, many of them will have no firm doctrinal roots developing, and they may lose heart or interest.
    We do great harm both to our confession to the world and to the people we are attempting to reach with the Gospel when we act as though we are ashamed of being Lutheran.

  13. Michael Paul
    December 18th, 2007 at 18:39 | #13

    What a disgusting, offensive, irreverent, (and even blasphemous?) video. Thankfully it wasn’t produced by a church that uses the name “Lutheran” on its church signs.

  14. December 19th, 2007 at 16:56 | #14

    Unfortunately, these are bad examples of being missional, and not at all what I or other pastors that throw the word “missional” around would think of. I think (putting the best construction on everything) that this video is intended to instruct other Christians, because what non-believer would be turned on to the faith by Jesus guilting people about how they celebrate His birthday? So, the video is not missional at all. Second, why would missional pastors care what the name of their church is? Being missional means having a passion and desire to reach the unchurched and nonbaptized. Period. That can happen in any church, and the name has nothing to do with it. Most of the “missional” churches that I know of in the LCMS, retain the name Lutheran in their title. And why not? We feel that Lutheranism offers something to the world, namely a clear and distinct Gospel message that has the power to kill us sinners and make us alive with Jesus Christ. Being missional means communicating that message both inside and outside the walls of the church – not giving people false guilt via video or taking the “Lutheran” out of your name (isn’t the church called “St. John’s”? And this is supposed to appeal to the unbaptized… how?).

  15. Peter Venkman
    December 19th, 2007 at 17:11 | #15

    Did he really say “take and eat” as he eats the frosting? This man mocks the His Word, and insults the very Sacrament, the very body and blood of our Lord that was given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. And yet, all this he claims to do for Christ (i.e. for the sake of being “missional”)!

  16. Joanne
    December 19th, 2007 at 18:26 | #16

    I go to an LC-MS congregation that named itself “The Village Church” when it started as a mission about 15 years ago. It’s grown quite a bit over the years. In the last few years the name is most often seen as “The Village Church – Lutheran” because there were just too many misunderstandings. For whatever reasons, time has taught us that we needed the label. Perhaps, we need the label because we are still Lutheran. If the Field of St. John remains Lutheran, they’ll need the name again, sooner or later. No fear, no shame, truth in worship, truth in belief.
    I watched the video with great empathy for Jesus. First, I thought he was cute, in a sad-sack sort of way. Nobody came to his birthday party. Then, the truly awful birthday cards he got, sigh, surely that touched your heart? I winced with embarrassment when the first card writer seemed to mistake Jesus for Santa Clause. “Is she asking Him for gifts on His birthday. Has she been raised by wolves?” By the third letter, I began to imagine what an unpleasant duty it must be to be our God. “Like, yeah, I know it’s your birthday Jesus, but it’s all about me. Put the snow where I want it. Share my requests with Santa and the Grinch…..”
    Still, at the end of the video, I thought that people should have arrived for the party, because many do come to Jesus’ house for His birthday party and remember all the same things His Father remembered in His card.
    I grew up on television drama and on storytelling. I drift into the make-believe paradigm very easily, so I can take the video at face value, if I want to. Pretend that Jesus is just like Mr. Rogers and nobody came to his birthday party, but sent him selfish birthday cards instead. Duh, OK.

  17. December 19th, 2007 at 22:23 | #17

    I found the video (which I saw about a week ago) disturbing. I don’t know if I would go to the lengths of some of these comments…but disturbing, yes. Sure, what St. John’s is doing isn’t necessarily kosher – but speaking of names – this isn’t “missional theology” either.

  18. Amy Surburg
    December 20th, 2007 at 08:21 | #18

    I’ll sum my thoughts up this way. When my husband was watching this video, my 4 year old son walked into the room. We had to turn it off because we didn’t want him to see this.
    At least they are not putting the name “Lutheran” on their church buildings anymore.

Comments are closed.