I Hope It is Not an Epidemic – Mission Church Replaces Divine Service with Small Groups, by Pr. Rossow

An LCMS mission church in Norfolk, Virginia is replacing its church service with small groups. I will give the details below but first I want to share that I have had a helpful and fraternal e-mail exchange with the pastor. He has shed some helpful light on the issue but it still is a problematic matter.

Here are the details from their website:



Crossway is growing smaller!  Not getting smaller, but growing smaller!

As many of you know, this past October we were dealt with the fact that our church space at 401 Granby was no longer a safe environment for us to have a church.  After our third flood, the leadership team of the church came together and decided to make an exciting and fundamental change on how Crossway will do ministry in Norfolk.

The vision is twofold:  The first is that we need to maintain a presence downtown.  The second is that we will spend our time/energy/gifts on creating and multiplying small groups – so much so that we will not be having weekly Sunday evening worship anymore.  We will now have a celebratory worship service 4 times a year: Christmas, Easter, Spring, and Fall.

To continue our presence in downtown Norfolk, we have created a new space which is small, warm, and inviting, and it is literally around the corner from our old location.  We are not planning on having worship services in the space, but using it truly as a ministry hub where people can grab a coffee and a book and have some quiet time, host a small group Bible study or activity, or have a session with our recording studio equipment.  As of Nov 1st, we will continue to have free coffee and wifi and be open Monday through Thursday, 9am to Noon.  Our new address is 102 Freemason Street in Norfolk, VA.

To focus on small groups, we will be dedicating our time and staff to accomplish this goal.  We are currently looking to start up the following small groups in the near future:

  • General Young Adult Small Group
  • TCC Student Small Group
  • Young Adult AA Group
  • Young Homeless/Struggling Group
  • Creative Arts Small Group – Creative Writing
  • Creative Arts Small Group – Music Composition
  • Prayer Group 

This is from Crossway, Norfolk, Virginia a subsidized church/ministry of the Southeastern District of the LCMS. (I guess they are a church since they did have services but they do not identify themselves as a church on their website: http://www.cwnorfolk.com/.) They have a fine statement of belief on their website although it ends up being a bit fundamentalistic since it does not mention the sacraments. That may explain in part why the staff thinks that the Divine Service could be foregone for small group meetings.

The pastor, Rev. Timothy Utton, did assure me that this was a temporary solution. That is encouraging. He also said this was not an ideal situation and that he encourages all those reached at Crossway to attend weekly worship at another area church that he serves.

I encouraged him to reconsider this approach and return to a once a week liturgy for Crossway. He took my advice fraternally in the spirit that it was offered. One of the concerns I shared with Pastor Utton is that it is logically problematic to do this. There is to me a built in bait and switch. I have discerned this from of old, back when Willow Creek liked to claim that the showy, pop-culture oriented Sunday service was for seekers and that after a while they would be encouraged to attend the deeper Wednesday night service. I attended the “deeper” Wednesday night service and it was still very much oriented to entertainment and pop culture. (For that reason I like to call it “the ‘ol’ bait and bait.”) Willow Creek has admitted through the years that they have always struggled to move people from the Sunday service to the Wednesday service. Even if they did, it is still a bait and switch. I am convinced the church will be better served for the ages if we never bait but simply offer the richness of the 2,000 year old liturgy to people from the get go. Of course there will be one on one conversations and the like but the church needs to be anchored around the Divine Service. The church has survived all these generations without a bait and switch. What makes us think it is necessary now.

If I had one word of critique for the press release above it would be the sloppy use of the word ministry. Ministry is done primarily through the means of grace in the Divine Service. When a church says it is going to do “ministry” in another way I think it has lost its moorings. Is “ministry” bigger than the Divine Service? Yes it is. Is the Divine Service the anchor of our ministry? Yes it is.

I have other issues with small groups theory and practice, primary of which is that they are built around a relational model instead of a proclamation model. The Gospel forgives my sin whether I relate to it or not. As a matter of fact, that is the Gospel. I really don’t relate to it. I relate to the seductive words Satan spoke to Eve. But thanks be to God, there is no condemnation for Eve and me because the Holy Spirit has worked faith in me and he did so before I was even capable of a relationship – on the eighth day of my life. God proclaimed me his child.

Speaking of “relationships,” I think it is high time we take Dr. Norman Nagel’s advice and ban the word from our vocabulary. This would help us do away with small groups because they are based on the “relationship model.” Dr. Nagel said the “relationship” is a fiction. There is no third thing called a relationship between you and me. There is you and there is me. There are your actions and there are mine. Don’t work on your fictitious “relationship.” If there is a problem between you and me, identify the bad behaviour and change it. But I digress. We have only just begun to scratch the surface of the small group issue. There is much more to come and much more “splaining” to do.

Thanks to Dr. Meyer from the St. Louis Seminary for encouragement to be more fraternal. My e-mail exchange with Pastor Utton was very helpful. I fear we may end up disagreeing. I shall not give up the quest to maintain the historic practices of the church that are faithful to Scripture and have preserved the church all these years. May God have mercy on His church.

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.


I Hope It is Not an Epidemic – Mission Church Replaces Divine Service with Small Groups, by Pr. Rossow — 112 Comments

  1. @Johannes

    What else does “Love is the fulfilling of the Law” signify, imply, or mean, but relationships of one kind or another?

    As Pastor Russow states above “We all have been duped into following the feminized culture of sensitivity and emotion. Therefore compare your effeminate 2Oth century concept of “Love” to how it is most properly used in the Small Catechism, i.e. never far from the word “FEAR”.

  2. Kitty #4,
    In your post #98, you said you haven’t read the Scriptures since becoming Lutheran.
    Were you counseled to do this, or was it by your own choice to stop reading Scripture?

    It’s been a long time, since my Far East Studies class, the little pix/icon, is that by chance,
    an image of Confucius? Just curious, want to see if my memory is still working & the $$$$ was well spent for the University credits.

  3. Bunnycatch3,
    You & Kitty4 are very creative people! Bunnycatch3 & Kitty 4, both cats, too cute & creative!
    In your post, you make reference to “FEAR” not being far away from “Love”. Do you mean, as you mention the Small Cathechism, the Meanings for the Commandments, by Luther?

    Fear in English, has it’s context implied as to the usage in a sentence. In German, unkind to their verbs as they may be, nouns, not so much. Are you using the term “Angst-fear” or
    “Eherfurcht-reverence” or “verehren- ehrebietig lieben”-worship?

    In Luke 12:1-7, Christ Himself, tells us who to fear, as in “angst”. So Angst, is well, echt.

    To which meaning of fear do you refer?

  4. @Dutch
    And about my reluctance to pick up scripture~ I”m not qualified to interpret scripture. There is very little preventing me from opening that book and in some way asking “What does this mean for me?” . Or what if I confuse Law with Gospel or commit heresy or …well you get the idea. No, the scripture to the unlearned is as the Tree of Knowledge.
    Oh, and the picture -it’s supposed to signify playful maturity. But that’s about it. I don’t have any eastern notions or values.
    And I appreciate you helping me out with the word “Fear”. Yes, Luther (in his Small Catechism) says that we are to “Fear and Love God”. I was using “FEAR” as in context of how Luther felt (under that tree) or even later when he could no longer bring himself to preside over the mass.

  5. @#4 Kitty #105
    please don’t flea from scripture out of fear; run to it and cling to it, your life depends on it.

    Within the words and pages we discover God and His will for us. Heresy and misinterpretations happen in every generation (there’s nothing new going on in our time that didn’t happen when the enthusiasts and Rome and Luther all offered differing interpretations of God’s word). Instead of fear being a reason not to read the Word let it be the reason that you read the Word of God in the midst of the Body of Christ.

  6. Nifty lexicon change there Kitty, Bunnycatcher. Norm, since the lexicon changed, you can delete my post in 103.

  7. @#4 Kitty #105

    I’m going to let you in on a little secret: You are qualified to interpret Scripture because you are a member of the Christian community and as such believe it to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God. Yes, it is easy for those who haven’t studied it extensively to misinterpret Scripture; it is also easy for those who have studied Scripture extensively to misinterpret Scripture. If you want to be a “true Lutheran,” you should not be afraid to read Scripture; that runs directly contrary to Luther’s beliefs!

    If you are afraid of falling into heresy, there are 2 things you can do when you have a question: Ask your pastor for help, and read a doctrinally-sound (and accurate) commentary (rule of thumb: CPH commentaries “have” to be doctrinally sound because they must go through doctrinal review, so the Concordia Commentary Series and People’s Bible Commentary Series should both be good bets. If you have access, Luther wrote some commentaries and sermons, also).

  8. Oh no, Pastor Rossow–I just opened the cover of my new “Lutheranism 101”–“Part One: It’s All About RELATIONSHIPS”!

  9. The bottom line is that all the relationship/small group talk is a direct offspring of the failed Willow Creek Association/Bill Hybels debacle and because it is so loose and attractive to the so-called seekers who have no clue as to historic Christianity but are willing to have cup of coffee to give us their learned imput, the churches of all flavors are clamoring to use this model. As I said, this is a direct result of evangelicalism gone wild and it is getting harder and harder to stem this tide. Ironically the best way to try to stop this is to get in a Bible Study where, if you have experience with this Willow mess, you can be bold and explain throughout the study how the church has gotten away from its first love and has followed after another Gospel which Paul warned the Galatians about. Most people do not see the apostasy because they are so relationship starved in our multi-cultural society where we have lost our sense of family and tradition. In other words, the church of the 50s was threatened by the make love not war of the 60s, the we are the world of the 70s and 80s and highjacked totally by Willow in the 90s. It is not the same as it was but that does not mean we abandon what worked long ago. Paul warned Timothy about false doctrine and false practices so many centuries ago and we need to hear and heed that warning again today.

  10. @Pastor Tim Rossow #82

    There’s actually a word pertinent to what Pastor Rossow is describing: reification. Literally means thingification. It is the tendency to speak of forces or fields or relationships as though they were things. Scientists and poets alike do it. People talk about business process like it was a thing; it’s behavior or a technique or a method. The Fosbury Flop is not a thing but in some sense it is easier to analyze if we treat it that way. In relationships we can see them as extensions of our self, of our sphere of influence. See the danger in thingifying our relationship to Jesus? It’s inherently narcissistic. Even semi-Pelagian.

  11. @lusade #111
    I should add that reifying either our relationship with Jesus or the Fosbury Flop robs them of beauty and significance. It trivializes them both while they can’t be compared.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.