Would a congregation ever immortalize Church Growth gurus such as Lyle Schaller, Wynn Arn, or Donald McGavern in stained glass? Probably not. Would they honor the memory of the likes of Robert Preus? Possibly, and in the case of our parish here in Naperville, Illinois, most definitely.
A few weeks ago we had some stained glass installed in our sanctuary and one of the panes is of Robert Preus lecturing. Before sharing the story behind that let me make my point.
I’ve got nothing against church growth consultants personally. As a matter of fact Lyle Schaller is a really nice guy. He is from right here in Naperville. He is a kind old man and as far as church growth consultants go, he is one of the most benign. (I have not talked to him in over ten years so I am not sure if he is still living.) He used to graciously offer his services gratis to all the churches in Naperville. I never took him up on the offer for obvious reasons but I will say that his “church growth wisdom” tends to be more theologically neutral and common-sensical than the average stuff although still far too steeped in sociology for the overall good of the church. I’ve got nothing personal against a guy like Schaller but let’s face it, his work for the church is probably not going to get him immortalized in stained glass.
Many parishes today are sadly more influenced by church growth gurus than they are by steadfast, confessional theologians. Yet, if push came to shove and heat was put to metal, church growth consultants would not likely be framed in lead. Their message is transitory. For sure, they may make the church history books some day since they do represent the overly romantic age the church is undergoing now – I still joke today with a pastor friend in North Carolina about the inclusion of two Jesus freaks by the names of Lonnie Frisbee and Ted Wise in one of our church history texts studied at the St. Louis seminary – but the church growth gurus are not supporting the church in any fashion even remotely close to what Robert Preus has done.
A theologian and churchman like Robert Preus represents the unchanging Gospel and a willingness to sacrifice riches and reputation for the sake of standing firm on the truth of Christ and for that reason we decided to do him up in lead and glass. There were broader reasons as well.
The overall theme of the windows is the reign of the ascended Christ over all time and space. Because our church is named “Bethany” we like to highlight things that happened in or near the little village which is our namesake. One of those events was the ascension of Christ to his rule over the universe for all time. The eleven windows begin with creation and cover all of time right up to the present day which is why we included Robert Preus. We included a contemporary because we wanted in part to demonstrate that Christian theology is not some ancient thing but is alive, vibrant and meaningful today.
Other characters illustrated in our glass include Noah, Abraham, Deborah, Ireneaus, Augustine, Luther, Chemnitz, Bach and Walther.
My favorite story of the windows involves a little boy. A few Sundays ago I noticed a father with his four year old and six year old. The father had to leave for the bathroom with the four year old. I wondered how well behave the six year old boy would be alone in the pew. He immediately craned his neck to see the stained glass and for the next three or four minutes was totally enthralled by the pictures and remained a perfect little gentleman in church. I am sure he understood the picture of the creation, flood and ten commandments but we will probably have to wait a few years for him to appreciate who Robert Preus was.
May steadfast theology remain, even while the church goes through its various and miscellaneous eras of wisdom and folly.