Found over on Pastor Voltattorni’s blog We are All Beggars:
The architecture, the history, the events, the activities, the service opportunities and service work, the Sunday School, the attendance, the experience of the Pastor, even the potlucks. These often become the rulers by which we tend to measure the church. Moreover, the way we measure the health and success of a congregation, is also the very thing into which we tend to invest more time, money, energy, attention, etc. It becomes the very thing around which we gather, and it’s allurement of our old Adam spreads like a plague.
The problem is that those aspects in the life of the church are not the proper function of the Church. They are external and expendable. They are the result of being the Church not the cause. Therefore, when, in the mind of our laity, these activities and events, or the participation in them, becomes the measuring stick as to whether that congregation is successfully fulfilling it’s purpose, we misunderstand what it means to be the Church. When we judge whether a church is worth its bricks and mortar by how many warm bodies are there, or how full the plate is, we unwittingly turn the Church into a business. We apply business principles to build the church and we apply business principles to measure its growth.
But Christ is not the founder of the greatest business on earth. He has not instituted His Church to be impressive or popular, but to be completely ordinary.
Though it is our nature as sinners to lust for power, honor, and recognition, though we desire to have the synod applaud our hard work and dedication, and have the community think we’re exceptional, Christ has given us to be ordinary by worldly standards. He gives His Word to be preached and His Sacraments to be administered, and where those things are going on there you have the Church in all its glory. There you have successful ministry, for where the forgiveness of sins is being received you have the presence of God’s Grace in Jesus Christ. It looks completely ordinary, but this is what it means to be the Church.
“The church is not constituted by any human qualities (not our faith or the holiness of our lives) nor by any sociological state of affairs (a particular form of structuring the relationship of congregation and office of the ministry). The church is constituted only by the real presence of Jesus Christ the Lord, who in his Gospel and in the Sacraments is really and personally present. And through these he builds his congregation on earth. Everything else – our faith, our love, the external appearance of the congregation, its worship, its caring associations, its configuration as a legal organization – is a consequence of this church-constituting presence of Christ.”
Hermann Sasse, “The Lutheran Confessions and the Volk,” The Lonely Way I, 129
For this reason, Word and Sacrament must never be considered “just one of the things we do at church” alongside potlucks and service work and fellowship and evangelism. Word and Sacrament is evangelism. It is what makes us Church to such an extent that where you have the Gospel of Christ preached in its fullness and the body and blood of Jesus delivered to the Saints there you have successful ministry!
Thanks for reading!