Great Stuff Found on the Web — What the Church Needs Now

I found this making it’s round on facebook this morning; another great find to a new-to-me blog, This We Confess, by Rev. Lucas V. Woodford.

 

What the Church Needs Now

I am simply amazed by the recognitions that many in the missional movement continue to make. I have applauded them for their honesty and willingness to make such diagnoses. First, there was the recognition that attractional worship models no longer work. Next, was their observations that mega-churches are a bust; then small groups are a flop; then programmatic churches are failing to make disciples; then, more recently, being “missional” itself has become a burden that potentially blinds the mission.

I have chronicled each critique and have been impressed by their candor. But I remain equally flabbergasted by the unawareness of these admissions by some “missional” minded folks in my own church body (LCMS). (Please remember, I am absolutely for missions, for reaching the lost, and for growing the Kingdom of God! But I am also for being honest about the way my Lutheran theology shapes how Lutherans do that.)

Nonetheless, I’m now in an even greater state of amazement over one of the most recent critiques of the North American church by missional guru Skye Jethani. In short, he notes the church is in desperate need of recognizing, get this, the value of vocation!

I have long urged the need for the church to recover and celebrate the depth of our Lutheran understanding of vocation. It’s a doctrine that became integral to my own congregation’s mission and strategic plan (see the diagram for a snapshot of our congregation’s mission strategy). My forthcoming book emphasizes its importance. And I have written about vocation numerous times on this blog.

What Jethani says is utterly affirming and deeply insightful about what has been missing in “missional” theology (particularly for young adults), but is aptly present in our historic Lutheran theology:

[T]he missional approach relies on a young adult’s spare time, extra resources, and expendable energy. It doesn’t capture a core identity issue the way family-based ministries do. When a church helps a 40-year-old mother with her struggling marriage and anxiety-driven parenting, it is applying Christian faith to the center of her life and identity. Missional ministries that try to engage a single 30-year-old don’t accomplish this because they ignore what’s at the center of his life to nibble at the margins. And what is at the center for most young adults? Vocation.

Despite being a significant focus of Reformation theology for centuries within the Protestant tradition, contemporary churches are largely silent on the issue…

What does it mean to be in business to glorify God and bless others? How does Christ want me to engage the health care sector? Does being an artist matter to God? How do I serve in the public school system as a follower of Christ? Apart from not being dishonest, does it matter how I run my business? I’ve been offered two jobs, how do I discern which one to take? Does it matter? Can I be a soldier and be a Christian? Does my work have any meaning apart from the money I earn and give to the church?

My guess is most church leaders would have to think a lot longer to answer any of these questions. We have not been trained or conditioned to consider a person’s vocation as a central part of their lives or spiritual formation. It is not a venue most churches value or equip their members for. But work is where most adults (young and old) spend most of their time and what occupies most of their identity. Without the ability to connect faith to either family or work, there is little remaining to engage young adults other than entertaining gatherings or a celebrity in the pulpit. http://www.outofur.com/archives/2012/01/back_to_a_theol.html

Please. I am pleading. I am urging. I am begging all my Lutheran brothers and sisters—rejoice in our theology! Let’s study it. Let’s talk about it. Let’s share it. Let’s allow it to guide our understanding of what it means to be The Holy Christian Church.

As always, I invite your collegial and constructive comments as we seek to dialogue about what it means to be a 21st century Lutheran who “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).


About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.

Comments

Great Stuff Found on the Web — What the Church Needs Now — 24 Comments

  1. I am speaking largely to pastors on this one. One of the highest priorities for us, if we really believe that we have the fullness of Christian doctrine, is to begin engaging the public square. Let the Lord guide each of us into at least one new way of engaging, as those holding the Office of Public Ministry, with the public. We ought to dedicate as much time engaging the world with the truth as we do complaining to each other 🙂 The world needs the Gospel – lost Christians in America need the Gospel. Woe to us if we do not deliver it to them – we will have been poor stewards indeed. Does your local paper have a religion column? A blog? Can you get on local radio? Do you podcast your sermons? Meet with local church leaders (you never know who is struggling with their ‘confession’ and needs to hear the whole truth!)? Etc.

  2. Thanks for sharing this post. And I will secont that Charles — the world needs the Gospel!

  3. Good point on how our Lutheran theology continues to be the time-tested truth for all circumstances. But I will say that when this title came up I thought of Burt Bacharach singing “What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love”… more recently made famous by the Austin Powers movies. Also true in regards to the Church, but honest love will only come from the pure Gospel…

  4. “Please. I am pleading. I am urging. I am begging all my Lutheran brothers and sisters—rejoice in our theology! Let’s study it. Let’s talk about it. Let’s share it. Let’s allow it to guide our understanding of what it means to be The Holy Christian Church.”

    Even more so, let’s rejoice in our Lord and hand Him over…free of charge.

    He will do the rest, will He not?

  5. Norm,

    Small groups are a flop? Do you really want to throw out the baby with the bathwater? Lutherans cannot “DO” fellowship, and they badly need to learn how to do so. Why else are the non-denominational churches attractive to younger people. They are not drawn to the non-denominational theology; They hunger for the fellowship and sense of community. Why not just replace the Willow Creek materials with self-study publications from CPH and allow the groups to continue?

    I have a potentially serious injury that has me confined to a chair at home. I have been home the past 30 days, and I may be home yet one more month before I recover. Since my injury, the members of my small group have done these things for me: Babysat my kids while I was in the hospital for several days; Shoveled the snow in my driveway; Delivered home-cooked meals to my house twice a week; Visited, Cleaned the house for me; Prayed for me; and etc.

    Do you seriously want to take the LCMS back to a time where none of these acts of kindness happen? That is what will happen if you dissolve the small groups. I can guarantee that, besides the obligatory pastoral visit, no one from my previous two purely “confessional” LCMS congregations would have helped me.

    I detest Rick Warren as much as you, but please do not take away small group fellowship. Remember Koinonia! Thanks.

  6. I belong to a small group of men that meets on a weeknight the first and third week of the month. Our wives form another small group and meet on a weeknight the second and forth weeks. Often, our groups will study the same materials. That way, my wife and I can collaborate in answering the the same end of chapter study questions. We recently completed a study on Genesis. Sorry, I don’t remember the title. It was a CPH publication. Sometimes, our groups and all of our small kids will combine for a barbeque. It is a lot of fun. We are new to my town and LCMS congregation, and the small groups are a great way for fellowship.

    Jim: Thanks for the suggestions. I like CPH materials, because they question me about Jesus and the Bible and not about my personal life. Endless deeply personal questions by the Rick Warren or Bill Hybels study books make us small group members squirm. I wish someone could publish a comparison between the two approaches to bible study.

  7. Attractional worship models…no longer work.
    Mega-churches…bust.
    Small groups…flop
    Programmatic churches….fail
    Being missional….burdensome
    Confessional Lutheran Liturgical worship…tremendous success!!!

  8. @James #5
    James,
    Does your Pastor lead your “small group?” If so, I think you’re on fairly solid ground. Our Confessional Reading group here in Anchorage AK is pretty small, and the folks who come out on Thursdays to read and study our core beliefs know each other pretty well. Ditto for the Wednesday Women’s Bible Study, and Saturday Men’s Breakfast, and truth be told, our Sunday morning Bible study isn’t exactly huge either. Still, I don’t think that makes any of these studies “small groups.” They are not run against one another, they are as big as there are folks who want to participate, and they are all led by our (MDiv) pastor, which keeps them from getting theologically weird, or socially cliquish. I think what these folks are reacting against is not a small size, or a socially supportive atmosphere, but the concept of an intentional multiplicity of lay-led mini-communions (conventicles) w/in the church, used as outreach or “discipleing tools.”

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  9. @#4 Kitty #9
    Absolutely, Kitty! If you measure success in terms of delivering the Gifts of God to dead people who desperately need them. That word “success” is such a dangerous one, you know.

  10. @James #5
    Do you seriously want to take the LCMS back to a time where none of these acts of kindness happen? That is what will happen if you dissolve the small groups.

    This is not necessarily true. I needed help briefly several times in the last two years.
    The people who did the most for me were not in the “small groups” (Bible classes, LWML) that I belong to, but I did have people from my church who helped me as needed.

  11. @#4 Kitty #12
    @Rev. David Mueller #11
    But if we define success in ways that cannot be measured how then are mega-churches a bust or small groups a flop and so on?

    Read the papers!

    Crystal Cathedral: biggest of the “founded upon a charismatic personality” is bankrupt. Schuler can’t even “rule well his own household”; the kids are quarreling over the remains.

    Willowcreek: Hybels admits a lot of surface activity but not nearly so many Christians as they thought they were producing. [This is the LCMS “model for success” !?]

    Joel Osteen is still riding high with a “prosperity gospel” that mostly benefits Joel Osteen.
    Without a cross in sight or much discussion of sin and redemption, is he running a Christian church?

    “Small groups” aren’t so big on the horizon as the above, but to the extent that they form cliques which shut other members out, they contribute to the shrinkage of the congregation, as the excluded give up and go elsewhere. Or just give up and write rude things about organized religion on YouTube! (If you are not on the “inside” of ‘the group’, you’re as neglected as James describes, maybe more.)

  12. The “small groups” that are the most troublesome are those that in some way replace the traditional Sunday Service and Bible Class. They become the “church” for the small group member and the SG leader becomes the new shepherd/pastor.They are usually not focused on Bible study, but rather on shared interests – e.g. cooking, motorcycle riding, golfing, etc.
    The “best construction” intent seems to be a portal into regular church participation, but in churches without Word and Sacrament and a reason to be in the divine service they can remain small groups that are an end into themselves.

  13. So, how does all this fit with Pres. Harrison’s comment in a Facebook post: “Last week was busy. N.D. district convention was a joy. Enjoyed meeting the half dozen LCMS congressmen/women in D.C. Loved spending time with my old friend Bill Hecht, the one and only. US Senator Johnson (Wis) is a great (LCMS) guy. The meeting with Speaker Boehner was marvelous. Always a delight to see Tim Goeglein. Being present at the State of the Union was amazing (Thanks Rep. John Schimkus!). Had a good time at the Mega Church conference in Florida. Back to the grind. Trying to finish a paper for the Emmaus Conference in a week. Board for International Mission meets tomorrow. The Lord blesses.”

    What happens at an LCMS Mega Church conference anyway? Do they talk about how mega churches are failing?

  14. helen :
    @James #5
    Do you seriously want to take the LCMS back to a time where none of these acts of kindness happen? That is what will happen if you dissolve the small groups.
    This is not necessarily true. I needed help briefly several times in the last two years.
    The people who did the most for me were not in the “small groups” (Bible classes, LWML) that I belong to, but I did have people from my church who helped me as needed.

    I was in the hospital for six days and have remain confined to my chair at home for the past 30. Only one person from outside of my small group in my current 1000+ member LCMS congregation has offered to help me during my illness. And yes, everyone in my congregation knows I have been ill. My experience has been the opposite of yours, but that does not make my position any less valid.

    Please explain how small groups contribute to the shrinkage of a congregation. The “excluded” give up and go elsewhere? Did you just make this up? I think you did. People are free to join the small group of their choice — provided that there are openings available. There is no screening process in order to join a group. The size of the group is limited to X number of people. Sometimes people quit one small group to join another, which is perfectly acceptable.

    Small groups are not going to disappear from thousands of LCMS congregations just because the Steadfast Lutherans organization says it should be so. Feel free to scream for the elimination of small groups all you want. It would be easier for the ELCA to repent of its support of homosexuality than for all churches within the LCMS to abandon small groups. No one in the LCMS is arguing for small groups to replace the pastor and his sermons or Sunday morning bible studies.

    Is Steadfast Lutherans against self-study materials and devotions. Yes or no. I detest Bill Hybels as much as the rest of you. I had hoped that confessional Lutherans would lobby for changing the quality of the materials that the small groups use. Sorry, Steadfast Lutherans, but this is the best that you can ever hope to achieve within the framework of the Koinonia Project.

    As a layman, I am providing my personal testimony. How else can Lutherans “do” fellowship. Only powerful leaders within the Synod have the power to resolve these issues. Good luck.

  15. As a pastor I am 100% for small groups that study scripture and that coonnect us to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ within the local congregation. I have seen a few small groups last for a good length of time, 4 years or so, but not all do.
    Small groups are no cure all for the struggles of the church in post-Christendom America but they can be a vital connecting ministry for people in a congregation today.
    Pax, John

  16. jim claybourn :
    The “small groups” that are the most troublesome are those that in some way replace the traditional Sunday Service and Bible Class. They become the “church” for the small group member and the SG leader becomes the new shepherd/pastor.They are usually not focused on Bible study, but rather on shared interests – e.g. cooking, motorcycle riding, golfing, etc.
    The “best construction” intent seems to be a portal into regular church participation, but in churches without Word and Sacrament and a reason to be in the divine service they can remain small groups that are an end into themselves.

    Try Tangible Kingdom Fusion groups… the next emerging best thing… coming soon to a city near you. Small pietistic, monastic communities.

  17. @James #19
    Please explain how small groups contribute to the shrinkage of a congregation. The “excluded” give up and go elsewhere? Did you just make this up? I think you did. People are free to join the small group of their choice — provided that there are openings available.
    [Said a mouthful there, didn’t you? And if the clique doesn’t want anyone else?]

    [Why would I bother to make it up?]

    In the congregation in which I was associated with, where “small groups” were organized, this happened:
    1.) Despite saying anyone could join, only a select few were told when a group was organized.
    2.) There was only one, with the vague suggestion that more would be formed “when we had leadership for them.”
    3.) Two years later, I asked one of the “in” group when that was going to happen. She said, “Well, we don’t have leadership…..” NO JOKE!

    The pastor and anyone ‘who was anyone’ in the congregation were in the initial group. None of them wished to form a new one with the “proles”; they might miss out on something in the governing group.

    Some other things happened, including “praise” services and upfront admission that there was open communion, (and an invitation to anyone who disagreed to leave).

    A look at current membership on the lcms roster shows about 1/3 less members than they claimed to have before all these CG programs were instituted.

    You may think what you like, (you will anyway).

  18. @James #19
    Only one person from outside of my small group in my current 1000+ member LCMS congregation has offered to help me during my illness. And yes, everyone in my congregation knows I have been ill.

    Is your church so focused on “small groups” that they think nobody else has to help, the “small group” will take care of you? (Sort of like they would have expected family to do it 60 years ago, if you had extended family? I can tell you that family sometimes doesn’t help, but that’s another whole story. I wonder if “small groups” always do….)

    You can tell me if you think this is good for the congregation as a whole.
    I don’t think our “blinkers” ought to be quite that narrow.

  19. I’m not sure if the issue is a congregation in trouble, a Pastor on the wrong road or mis-application of the small group philosophy. We spent lots of time setting ours up. There’s ALWAYS an “empty chair” in every small group in our congregation. Some tend to attract certain groups. A housewife’s group at 1 pm will not attract college kids or men – just a timing factor. My men’s group meets at 6 am and does not attract housewifes. The senior citizen’s group attracts – well the seniors. Yet every group will be open to ANYBODY who wants to join. We made a decision to study Jonah, ran it by th Pastor, and ran with it. We’re doing Micah now. There’s a flexability which is still supervised by the called staff. When a group gets too big (unweidly) around 20+, they’re encouraged to split and take a leader with them. Sometimes it works – sometimes not. my wife’s group has been together some 11 years. Is all this just anecdotal? Sure. But so are the doom and gloom stories.

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