Church, Inc. and Why Imitation is No Strategy for Lutheranism, by Paul McCain

We found this posted on Cyberbrethren and thank Pastor Paul McCain for permission to reprint it here.

I received a postcard in the mail yesterday from “Church.Inc” [note: The material in quotes in this blog post are exact quotes from the postcard]. The front of the postcard showed a silhouette image of a stereotypical family: Mom, Dad, daughter, son [so much for people who are not in a stereotypical family].

The card said “Church. His presence purpose.” Then it told me that this group is having an “opening celebration March 29!” And at the bottom of the card it said: “There’s a new church and it’s made just for u.” The back of the card told me that “Ur: unique. creative. passionate. family. needed. church. determined. loving.” And then the card told me, “we want to be who you are, because when that happens, the world becomes a different, better place. Church. —come just the way ur.” Then it said: “casual dress. contemporary music, kids ministry for all ages”

This is modern evangelicalism today. Summed up in one post card. Everything right and wrong about it. Right? Passion for outreach, getting people involved in a church who are not involved. Can’t criticize them for their intentions and wanting to get people in touch with God. OK, fair enough there. No point in arguing that point. Can we Lutherans do better? Of course we can. Yes, we must. Yes, got it. Check. Wrong? Pandering to the lowest common denominator. The statement “we want you to be who you are, because when that happens, the world becomes a better place” is wrong, dead and deadly wrong, on so many levels. What this postcard illustrates dramatically is pretty much exactly what Michael Spencer had to say recently about the coming collapse of Evangelicalism.

And the good thing is that Spencer is an Evangelical, not some old, fuddy-duddy, stick-in-the-mud, dogmatic, confessional Lutheran like me who is obviously totally out of touch with real ministry, real needs, and the real world. [At least that’s what people like to say about guys like us].

Now, here’s my question. Why would The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod want to imitate these trends, techniques and gimmicks? I see this happening in my church and it always leave me baffled and puzzled and scratching my head in confusion. Why, when we have groups and churches popping up all around, sending out postcards like the one that appeared in my mailbox yesterday, would we want to give the impression we are basically “into” this kind of thing ourselves? It never makes any sense to me.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, no business in the world would think of rebranding themselves simply to try to be a carbon copy of their competition. It’s institutional suicide. They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but it is no strategy. So, here’s a wild and crazy idea. How about we Lutherans focus on finding creative ways to put the message out to the world that Lutheranism offers something distinctly unique from what one will find at any “big box non-denominational” church down the corner and around the block. Let’s help folks learn and understand what the original “Evangelicalism” is all about.

Your thoughts?

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.

Comments

Church, Inc. and Why Imitation is No Strategy for Lutheranism, by Paul McCain — 8 Comments

  1. Isn’t the point of Christianity that we DON’T “want u to be who u r”–that we want you to be like CHRIST?

    I like the term “big box non-denominational”. It describes well the trend of churches that seem to be extremely successful and even profitable–but only because they end up appealing to the lowest common denominator, sacrificing dignity and doctrine for populism and charisma (charisma, meaning charm and personality, not capital letter Charismatic)
    I’ve also heard the word “McChurch” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McChurch) to describe the large non-denominational megachurches, and I think that also describes it pretty well.

  2. Thank you, McCain, for an insightful post — I had happened upon it late last night on your blog as I was unwinding from a long day of preaching and teaching (well, and some napping, too). As to your question: “Why would The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod want to imitate these trends, techniques and gimmicks?” the answer is simple. We are afraid. And when we act from our fear we usually do things which are sinful and/or foolish. We are watching the growth counters go the wrong way. We are watching the $$ going the wrong way. We desperately cast about for some measure of “success.” We have believed the lie that Christ’s measure of “success” is that the church should have more people and more money — it is only natural that we should think that way since it is the way of the world. While we would all agree that we would like to see the Lord’s church grow and flourish, it might be that we are in a time of trial and/or testing from the Lord — perhaps He wants us to learn anew what His definition of “success” is (“faithful” is truly considered “successful” to God).

    I, too, want to see people flock back to the church. I, too, want to be secure from the fear of a lower paycheck or decreased funding of many different projects. But it is what it is as we live in a sinful world where people sometimes run away from the truth — to their souls’ harm and to our discouragement. It is what it is when God’s Word of Law and Gospel clashes with fallen man’s sinfulness. It is easy to trust in God when, measured by a worldly standard, things are well. But the Lord also causes us to trust Him when things are much more difficult for us. Indeed, that was His lesson to Paul in 2 Cor. 12. By God’s grace, we will stand on His holy means and trust Him for our day and age, too. The cure for our fear is to stand upon God’s wonderful promises. The cure for the world’s infidelity is for us, in Christ, to remain faithful. Etc.

    And, yes, I am with you on finding a way to tell the world what we have . . . “light in the dark” when your world is falling apart – “peace” when there is war around you – “refuge” when there is trouble everywhere – “quiet” despite the cacophany which surrounds your daily living – “foundation” for you and your children’s future . . . . that kind of stuff. We surely have the talented people to help us create such messages and to share them in our communities.

  3. Is the LCMS becoming the “Lowest Common Denomination”?

    I’ve recently noticed that the Jefferson Hills (Lutheran) Church in Imperial, MO has copied at least eight message series ideas (see: http://www.jhchurch.org/articles.asp?columnid=2866)from a church-growth organization called LifeChurch.tv (see: http://www.lifechurch.tv/message-archive/search). Check out “TXT,” “One Prayer,” “Hostage,” “Fanatic,” “How to be Rich,” “Supernatural,” “My Secret,” “Disciple,” (JH = “The Way of Jesus”) and there is probably more. A sad commentary on an Ablaze! model outreach congregation but a perfect example of the LCMS trying to be like the growth-successful but way behind the game.

  4. Speaking of “rebranding themselves,” I wish we could shelve the hoopla about dumping “Missouri” from our name. It’s far from glamorous, to be sure, but we really do have some valuable name recognition even while the larger synods are always getting mentioned, to our detriment, in news and surveys. Even “Lutheran” has its difficulties, as Luther objected, but the recognition of a whole hard-won, centuries-old package that does mean something isn’t a frill to be tossed out in a splurge of redecorating. If I hear “Korean Methodist” I know that’s a far cry from UMC, and probably will be long after they’re no longer singing in Korean. I think we can afford to keep the brand name for now.

  5. The re-branding analogy above puts me in mind of the cola wars of the 80’s. Pepsi’s marketing (Take the Pepsi Challenge) put Coke in a panic to the point that they gave up what made them unique and tried to out-Pepsi Pepsi. What a disaster (although at the time I had a some-what conspiratorial notion that it might have been a deliberate move to create the strong market backlash that Coke got, and re-strengthen their core market).

    One would think that with the corporate mindset and business model aproach that LCMS Inc. seems to have, they would recognize the folly of giviung up their “brand identity”. Seems (to me) they’re using the wrong lessons from their business-like approach.

  6. “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Matt. 24:9-13
    I thank God and Jesus Christ for this warning or I might be really worried about the condition of this sinnfull world. I for one will continue to talk of the Gospel to those around me, and the law where needed and leave the numbers to God. The end times are upon us and I say: Come quickly Jesus.

  7. Pastor McCain’s thoughts on Dunkin’ Donuts are excellent also. See http://cyberbrethren.typepad.com/cyberbrethren/2009/03/what-the-church-can-learn-from-dunkin-donuts-by-michael-k.html

    I posted this comment about our Lutheran identity on Pastor McCain’s site:

    I have long believed that Hollywood gives church an identity. Many movies and TV shows portray church in a confessional manner using Catholic or Orthodox type buildings and a liturgically based worship environment. How often do you see a praise band there? (Friday Night Lights and Sister Act 1/2 excluded.) Many southern based movies do have praise chorus type worship, but nearly all of them are in a small country church that is predominantly black.

    Hollywood is brilliant at stereotyping, why can’t Lutherans embrace this stereotype and enjoy the 500-year heritage of worship and hymns? Why don’t we proclaim Christ Crucified in the same manner as Paul and the Apostles? Proclaim our worship as a place to receive 100% pure Gifts from God with no strings attached. Worship is receiving God’s Gifts in His Word and Sacrament and our return thanks and praise. It may be “old-fashioned,” but I’m certain that God will not allow his pure Word and Sacraments to come back to him unused.

    In Christ crucified,
    Luther Gulseth

  8. “I see this happening in my church and it always leave me baffled and puzzled and scratching my head in confusion.”

    It doesn’t confuse me a whole lot, as I am a former evangelical. This is explained by the fact that the LCMS has become preoccupied with numbers.
    Rather, it leaves me frustrated and even a bit angry. I left evangelicalism to get away from such nonsense, and I do not appreciate the fact that the nonsense is following me.

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