My Northern Illinois District brother Hans Fiene posted this on his blog today. It’s called “Burying A Church.” I sympathize with the anonymous writer of this blog post.
I serve a small congregation (average weekly Divine Service attendance is 50ish) in a small town (population 3,063). Like the brother in the blog post, I don’t do many baptisms. I’ve been blessed to have a run of adult confirmands and a few youth confirmands. I do my share of funerals, too. When I look at my flock from the pulpit each week, I see mostly people over the age of 60, dare I say perhaps closer to over 70. I’m blessed to have my share of “seasoned citizens” who are still physically active. Remind me to tell you about my 89-year-old member who was on his hands and knees laying laminate flooring in our parsonage back in June while I was laid up with a bad back and leg!
At any rate, many congregations in the Missouri Synod are perhaps where this brother’s congregation is right now. There are few young people present who are able to take up the mantle of leadership, either as an officer of the congregation or as someone willing to help. There are few children in Sunday School and Youth Confirmation instruction (two of my three children ARE the Sunday School at my congregation). Many of my sheep pine for the “good ol’ days” when chairs were set up in the nave to accommodate an overflow crowd for Divine Service. Those days of the 1970s through the mid-1990s are over.
Do I see myself as burying my congregation? I don’t know. I see myself as a preacher serving a congregation in a unique situation. I hope this brother pastor sees himself in the same way. He is privileged to proclaim the Gospel no matter how large or small his flock. As the hymn, “Built on the Rock” confesses: “Were we but two His name to tell, Yet He would deign with us to dwell/ With all His grace and His favor” (LSB 645:3).
My concern (and I hope the anonymous brother pastor shares this concern) is the need for support for small, aging, yes, dying congregations. I appreciate the need for a Rural and Small Town Task Force in the Missouri Synod and wish I could go to Storm Lake, IA to hear what they have to say. Yet I fear that some of our districts focus so much time and effort on the large, growing, affluent congregations that they forget (wittingly or unwittingly) about brothers like the one who wrote this blog post. There are hurting congregations and hurting pastors who would like to hear from their district and synod that they matter just as much as the thriving congregations matter.
Toward the end of the post, the anonymous pastor writes:
Perhaps I should pray, “Lord, grant the congregation repentance and spiritual renewal. And grant me to preach Your Word rightly, so that I don’t act as if our salvation is in our own hands. And if it pleases You, let the congregation continue to proclaim Your Word and Your mercy to the next generation.”
I’ll pray for your flock and for you. I hope you will do the same for me, dear brother.