My district (Northern Illinois) convention featured occasional videos of “New Believers” that came from “New Starts” in the district. What I noticed in the videos was that most of the congregations featured were in affluent, predominantly white suburbs. Many offer “contemporary” (sic) worship. One individual even noted in her video “testimony” that the person wouldn’t have trouble now that the person is a Christian. Because the person is a neophyte, I am willing to have mercy on the incorrect statement.
The videos, while well meaning and intending to rejoice in the Lord’s bountiful harvest of the elect, were quite off-putting to me. As you’ve read before in my previous posts, I serve a small congregation (average worship attendance 50-55) in a small town of approximately 3,000 people. The majority of my members are over the age of 60, if not 70. The community where I live is, for the most part, a churched community. People still go to church. When you serve a small, aging congregation, it is difficult to begin or maintain a “new start” in order to gather “new believers.” This is not to say it cannot be done, but it is difficult because the resources are not there.
We are not alone. I can think of other congregations in my district that struggle to hold on to the blessings of Word and Sacrament ministry. I recall my last post at Steadfast Lutherans, where an anonymous letter from a pastor serving a “dying” (literally) congregation wrote of his frustrations. I think of another brother in the Office whose congregation will de-charter on September 2. His parish is swimming in debt. He also is taking care of his ill mother while trying to serve the remnant of his congregation in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago. Then there is another brother who serves a struggling mission congregation in my district. Another LCMS congregation would like to plant a congregation in the community next to his. They plan a sort of “emerging” congregation with an SMP pastor. What might this do to my brother pastor’s barely established congregation?
These are what one might call “successful” “failures”. They succeed at failing to live up to the expectations that the world and church bureaucracies set. They go forward even in the midst of what seems to be an unpardonable sin: failing to get big. They rejoice in the occasional baptism and confirmation. They struggle with small Sunday Schools and even smaller Bible Studies. The pastor may spend as much time visiting the sick and home-bound as he spends preparing his sermons. Nevertheless, the people of God he is charged to serve are fed. Once, perhaps, they were large and mighty. Now they put one foot in front of another and do what they can as they are able.
I would like to see occasional videos at a future district convention of “successful” “failures”. It would be nice to let pastors and congregations with seemingly unlimited resources take a look at their neighbors in the inner-city, in the small towns, and in the rural areas. Not all of us are blessed to have “new believers” or are even able to have “new starts.” As for me, I am blessed to stand before my flock each weekend and deliver the Gifts. That’s what God has asked me to do through my congregation. That is what I do.