On my recent trip out east for the Brothers of John the Steadfast National Conference my family and I had the fine opportunity to eat at one of our favorite “eastern” restaurants, Steak n Shake. At the second location my children noticed that everything in the store seemed identical to the previous one we had stopped at (sure there were local differences, mainly in the staff). In fact, they were the same as the restaurant as we remembered back when would get out in Fort Wayne during seminary days. It got me thinking, since Church Growth folks like to borrow from the business and marketing world, how come they never embraced “franchise” mentality with regards to worship? How come in regards to worship they chose constant changes instead of the comfort of national familiarity.
I remember on vicarage entering the local Wal-mart which had been given a new floor layout. The entire experience of shopping in that store was frustrating. I was familiar with their products but noticing that everything was out of order was disturbing. This is a common experience as LCMS folks move around this country and find new orders and strange practices developed and introduced under the banner of “freedom”. Worse than that, in some congregations the services change so often it would be like a monthly trip to Wal-Mart to find the aisles juggled and the products on the shelves mixed around as well. This does not seem to be in “good order”.
I understand that local congregations have traditions, but still why can’t we have some of the same familiarity to bring instant comfort to members of our churches and those who eventually become members. But there is the key, in restaurants and retail, the repeat customer has great value. It seems like many would reason that the church member is not nearly as important in our worship practices as the visitor. That would be like Wal-Mart catering to new customers only and making sure that repeat customers were uncomfortable with their shopping experience.
It seems as though we have lost some of the catholicity of our church body. We are much more interested in the local congregation than in any congregation around us (or across the country from us). No wonder, as the ACELC has shown, there are a variety of practices and beliefs that these come from tolerated in our Synod. It’s time for us to start living out of love for one another – because the current lack of love for the congregation down the road or across the state or country is removing any semblance of “Synod” that we have. Those who want to have their independent worship free of any bond of love should ask the question of why they exist in a Synod anyways. All Lutheran congregations who believe as Missourians are a part of Synod, but that means more than a logo, it means more than just a set of beliefs, but it also means some similar practices.
If I can have the same Chili 5-way in the same looking restaurant at no matter what location I find a Steak n Shake, how come I can’t even find that in something which has a much longer standing, supposedly a firmer anchor against the ravages of time and supposedly even more unity?
P.S. If anyone wants to start a Steak n Shake in Cheyenne, Wyoming please let me know (you would have for sure one repeat customer).