Pastor Appreciation Month – “I’d Rather Forgive Your Sins than get a Gift Certificate” by Pr. Rossow

Is this pastor appreciation month? (Don’t you just love Hallmark invented holidays?) I used to know these things years ago before the parish I serve became more confessional because each year about this time I would get a few gift certificates with a nice card thanking me for my service. The gift certificates still trickle in but to a much less extent now that our members are tuned in to more confessional media.

Gift certificates are a good thing for sure but I would much rather forgive your sins than get a gift certificate and that is my most wonderful gift this year thanks in part to Issues Etc. Let me explain.

When I first came to Bethany, Naperville the parish was thoroughly ensconced in the church growth movement. As a matter of fact, it was a bit of a test parish for the Northern Illinois District for every latest and greatest fad coming out of evangelicalism. Many of the leaders listened to all sorts of American evangelical media which moved some of them, out of guilt no doubt, to give their pastor a gift certificate in thanks for his service. (I must say, I enjoyed countless cafe mochas from the neighborhood Starbucks thanks to those certificates.)

How delighted I was to get an email from a member before sunrise this morning asking to have Holy Absolution in private confession for the very first time. He mentioned that he had heard a program on Issues, Etc. this week that moved him to seek this gift. That’s a gift for Pastor Appreciation Month that I will never forget.

I’d rather forgive your sins than get your gift certificates but I do promise that if you are so moved, I will also enjoy the fruit of your gift certificates, and do so guilt free. Keep up the great work Todd and Jeff and keep sending us those repentant sinners.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Pastor Appreciation Month – “I’d Rather Forgive Your Sins than get a Gift Certificate” by Pr. Rossow — 36 Comments

  1. I bet there may be quite a few out here like me who would love to read a paper about Bethany’s transformation and what it took to get where it is now. Curious to know what was the culture like when you arrived? Did they know what they were getting when they called you? Slow and methodical escape from CoWo drivel or was the bandaid ripped right off quickly?

    Perhaps a compendium of such stories could be condensed into a book or series of interviews on Issues Etc.

  2. It is a good idea. It is something that one likes to have some distance from before writing it because there are persons whom I respect involved on both sides. I think I have it outlined somewhere but just have not gotten around to it.

  3. “I’d Rather Forgive Your Sins than get a Gift Certificate”–this qualifies as quote of the year. Thank you, Pr. Rossow.

  4. False dichotomy. You can have both private confession AND a gift certificate. As long as it’s not a quid pro quo, we’re good!

  5. I apologize ahead of time for being overly critical but I simply do not think that Bethany can be held up as a shining example of positive Confessional transformation when her numbers have been decreasing almost every year. Numbers aren’t everything but they have to mean something. People are being chased out of this church and all of those commenting want to know how Pastor Rossow did it? Please help me understand.

    (( Modified by Norm to refer to Pastor Rossow with respect ))

  6. @Reaper #12
    Might it be that that it is by being confronted with the realities of God through authentic Christian preaching and worship that “people are being chased out of this church”? Might it be that at least some of those who left were not of the faith and would not be won over by the love of God shining through His Word, and thus did not belong in a Christian Church to begin with? Or might it be that their personal preferences were too precious to them, so that they would not embrace the full counsel of God, and that was the reason why they could not feel at home in a Lutheran congregation?
    I do not know the answers. Ultimately there is only One who does, I guess. But I think these would be some of the questions. And looking at numbers would not answer them.

  7. Thanks for the reply Jais, and I understand what you are saying. My point is that we should be holding up congregations that are faithful and growing as the ones we should learn from. Many people on this site seem to desire to learn from a guy who is at a congregation in decline. Why? That we might all learn how to decline? The points you make are valid and may be true but the truth is we don’t know. Only God does. We are forced to look at the exterior and on the exterior what Bethany and Pastor Rossow have done hasn’t worked. Am I wrong?

    (( Modified by Norm to refer to Pastor Rossow with respect ))

  8. @Reaper #15
    My point, I guess, is that perhaps it has.
    It would seem to me, as I understand Holy Scripture, that it is better to have a small congregation gather for the authentic Word and worship of God than to have a lot of people gather for something else.
    I do not know much about Bethany, nor about Pr. Rossow, and thus I am hardly qualified to make a judgement as to exactly what it is that has happened in this particular case; and, at any rate, any judgement on my part probably would not be all that interesting to anybody else, and, more importantly, no judgement on my part would really matter, now, would it?
    But speaking in principle, and citing Holy Scripture, what is required of a steward is that he be found faithful (I Corinthians 4:2). And obviously, faithfulness might very well get in the way of being popular with those who have, for one reason or another, come to prefer something else.

  9. Reaper,

    Jesus and his apostles are very clear that the test of a local parish and the Church at large is faithfulness and not numbers.

    But, if it is numbers you want then it is numbers you shall have.

    1. This “shrinking congregation” that you speak of two years ago increased her staff by calling a third pastor.

    2. Two years ago she also paid off a 4 million dollar mortgage 10 years early.

    3. She also recently broke ground on a new million dollar youth center and music rehearsal room with a new conference room and three new offices which will be paid for in cash.

    4. This “shrinking congregation” has a Lutheran school. While all the other schools around us are losing students and some are even closing, our school has steadily grown for the last several years.

    5. She also finished the last fiscal year with a $150,000 surplus and is on track this fiscal year for a similar surplus.

    6. She is also a leader in supporting African missions through Lutherans in Africa and is on track to give over $50,000 for the new Lutheran center in Nairobi.

    If Jesus is correct that where your money there your heart is, then the good ship of faith named Bethany is doing OK.

    Is it possible that there may be another explanation for the loss of numbers? You certainly are not putting the best construction on the matter and my guess is that you have no clue of the history of Bethany.

    You have made some serious accusations about “people being chased out.” Please share the details of such chasing because we are unaware of anyone being chased off.

    Also, the manly thing to do if you are going to drop such accusations, besides offering some sort of proof, is to identify yourself. Otherwise you are simply a scared, fearful, internet fire-bomber of sorts. Now that you have besmirched my name and the name of our members please identify yourself and share the story that supports your claim of members being chased off so that we can have a meaningful conversation about the matter.

  10. @Reaper #15
    I am not so sure the externals speak of a church in decline. Bethany has in the past few years brought on a third pastor (Pr. Jonathan Fisk) and has just recently broke ground on a school and church expansion. A contribution that Bethany makes which the Synod should appreciate is that Pr. Rossow and Pr. Fisk are allowed to take time to go and speak and help other Lutherans across the country. They are a congregation with a very good level of support for the greater Church. That is a really fantastic thing and commendable for a congregation to be so sacrificing for the greater good of the confession across the globe.

    Would we say that the Apostle John was a failure because the seven churches he wrote to and tried to lead are all gone now? I think it is Paul who assures us that God gives the increase. Ultimately numbers are just numbers, Jesus at one point had lost a huge proportion of his “congregation” too.

    I say this in a congregation that is growing in both the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and also right now numerically. Why the numerical growth? Chiefly because God is giving us more right now.

  11. Pastor Rossow, you are right, I should not have said “chased out”. I should have simply said “leaving”. I do know some of the history of Bethany but admittedly not as much as you. Sorry man, big buildings and big budgets do not suggest (yes suggest) the same thing as growth in numbers (which suggests more believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ). I would much rather listen to what Pastor Scheer and his church are doing because the numbers suggest that the Lord is adding to their number day by day those who are being saved. You seem to be building buildings very well though so if I need advice on that I will come to you. With regard to your comment on my manliness, I will not present myself as a target for your attacks. I have seen the way you have attacked others for thinking differently than you and have even called for your public repentance. I am not seeking to drop bombs, I am seeking to challenge the way people think.

    (( Modified by Norm to refer to Pr. Rossow with respect ))

  12. Reaper,

    Please tell us what you know about Bethany’s history and what has led you to assert that I and my fellow pastors and elders are unfaithful and are bent on shrinking the church. I really want to know. You must have some insight that I do not have. I am not afraid of the truth as you are afraid to publish your real name. I want to hear it. Let ‘er go with both barrells blasting. You have made some nasty accusations and I would like you to defend your allegations or retract them.

    You do not get the right to destroy my name and the name of the other pastors and elders of Bethany and the entire congregation for that matter and not provide the support for you nasty allegations.

    I am not attacking you for thinking differently than me. I am not attacking you at all. I am calling you out to be a man and identify yourself.

    The point is not that you think differently than I do. The point is that you think unscripturally. Please give me one single Scripture that calls the church to count numbers and to grow.

    Here are few that speak otherwise:

    Luke 12:32 – “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

    Luke 17:10 – So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

    Psalm 12:1 – Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.

    Revelation 2:10 – Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

    Hebrews 3:6 – but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

    2 Timothy 2:2 – and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

    Colossians 1:2 – To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
    Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

    I could go on and on but you will not be able to produce a single scripture that calls the church to count numbers and grow. That is not the way our Lord and his apostles speak. Instead they speak of being faithful and dutiful.

    I do count numbers. Not as much as I used to because the longer I grow in the tooth of proclaiming the Gospel the more I see that it is God who gives and God who takes away. His call to us is to be faithful.

    We ought not to make that a battle cry that somehow rejoices in losses. That is a false understanding of the theology of the cross. Growth is a good thing but what we are called to is to be faithful.

  13. You’ve done a fine job of setting up a straw man that is not me. I did not say that the church needs to “count numbers and grow”. I did say that churches in numerical decline may not be the ones that we want to hold up as examples of how everyone should do things. It seems that most of your comment is lashing out at someone for poking a sore spot. Sorry man. Your guilt is yours and can’t be given to me. I have my own to deal with.

    Scripture for both of us perhaps…John 15:1-6

  14. Marc from Cincy,

    You got it man! You have asked the right question – not “How do I grow my church?” but “How do I make a faithful church?”

    Paul, I mean Reaper, does not want to identify himself because he is banned from the site and coming on as an imposter.

    I wish he would engage the topic of what the Scriptures do or do not say about growth. That is the real issue here.

  15. Pastor Tim Rossow :

    You got it man! You have asked the right question – not “How do I grow my church?” but “How do I make a faithful church?”

    And THIS is the crux of the matter. You’ve got a whole article topic for another article (or even a book) in this one, Pastor. Either you or Pr. Fisk should put this one to print.

  16. @Pastor Tim Rossow #23
    I wish he would engage the topic of what the Scriptures do or do not say about growth. That is the real issue here.

    If correctly identified, I wish that individual would stop biting the hands that feed him. He surely doesn’t get his six figure salary from those who spend their money on willowcreek publications!
    (And why don’t we ever hear from him about those willowcreek devotees whose congregations shrink?)

  17. Reaper,

    There’s a growing “Lutheran” church right around the corner from my wonderful confessional Lutheran church. That church around the corner has hundreds of members. They also believe in modern day apostles, refer to John Bevere, Bill Hybels, C. Peter Wagner, and Rick Warren as mighty Christian warriors worth studying and following. They also maintain youth fellowship with a non-denom that promotes speaking in tongues and professes the glory of the “Second Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” But hey, they’re growing and believe they’re “Confessional.” Should that church be a “shining example of positive Confessional transformation?” What is your definition of “Confessional?” My church is small in numbers, but teaches the true Word of God. Unfortunately, church membership ebbs and flows for many reasons. However, focusing on growth as a measurement of success and spiritual health is EXACTLY what the CGM-ers do. Are you a Church Growth Movement proponent?

    The true Word and the Sacraments will prevail in the end!

  18. If you check some statistics of various churches around the country — even of the largest ones — over the last ten years they have all lost quite a few members. And not all from death or transfer. Nobody has exhibited large groups of “new” on a yearly basis. For whatever reason, something seemed to be going on over the last 10 years because there was a consistent decline across the board.

    I blame parents who want to do other things besides raise their children in a church. A seeming laziness and apathy towards God in general. In fact, it seems that Jesus Himself isn’t able to reach these people. Like when God made everything perfect and Adam and Eve still sinned. And I like Pastor Crandall’s verse above.

  19. Abby,

    Check out today’s Worldview Everlasting episode on YouTube. It explains a lot about declining church membership, especially why men 16-40 in age rarely go to church in the Western Hemisphere anymore.

  20. @Marc from Cincy #29
    Great point. Today’s video message from Pastor Fisk is titled, “When Relevancy Fails.”

    Very insightful – Pr Fisk once again knocks it out of the park! He discusses C. Peter Wagner’s International Coalition of Apostles (ICA) and points viewers to the following “Issues ETC” episode! All of this is must see / must hear!

  21. I note that the same page on YouTube offers “Drunken Sailor” as another video one could watch …

  22. And don’t you just love how, after the music stops, and the jumping around is over, all the clerics stand around obviously wondering: “So what are we supposed to do now?”

  23. “There’s a growing “Lutheran” church right around the corner from my wonderful confessional Lutheran church. That church around the corner has hundreds of members. They also believe in modern day apostles, refer to John Bevere, Bill Hybels, C. Peter Wagner, and Rick Warren as mighty Christian warriors worth studying and following. They also maintain youth fellowship with a non-denom that promotes speaking in tongues and professes the glory of the “Second Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” But hey, they’re growing and believe they’re “Confessional.””

    “Growing” does not equal “growth.” If persecution should come, could we die for what we believe? Or will there be a mass exodus? Only God knows. It is not the pastor who converts. Only Jesus, if He can get through. And according to St. Paul, doctrine matters. Jesus was not a “coach, manager, therapist.” (Moralist, therapeutic, deism) He was Prophet, Priest, and King. When you come to follow Jesus, you come to take up a cross.

    My sister-in-law is a member of such a church and she does not even know if she is a Christian. She does not know if she is good enough under the Law to get to heaven. I talk to her about Jesus accomplishing that already. It is His gift to us. She still reverts back to the Law.

    “Second Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” The focus here becomes all about the Holy Spirit. That was not His job to become the focus. He only leads people to focus on Jesus.

  24. Some really good food here:

    “The greatest threat is a crossless pietism that has been given luxury-box seating within the walls of the church militant. It is a crossless pietism with confidence in the old Adam and in the life-giving power of the law. It is, though, the old, dank, putrid theology of glory now in the guise of dominion politics, or the seven promises of a promise keeper, or yielded or victorious living, or traditional family values, or any other appeal to life and salvation not centered in the daily inglorious and lowly forgiveness of sins found only in Christ’s atoning death. The new white-wine pietists are lethal because they don’t look, smell, dress, or socialize like the pietists of old. They are, however, enemies of the theologia crucis.”

    And on “Repentance” by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt:

    According to Dr. Rosenbladt, those once tasting of Christianity badly taught — will give up on Christianity and will head to atheism, never to return. It almost happened to him.

  25. @Abby #35


    This is really good info! Thanks for sharing it.

    As I reviewed the material the dichotomy that exists within our synod again became stark. The LCMS has many chameleon churches. In other words, not all “White-Wine Pietist” churches have fully converted. In fact, some exist in this state of liturgical limbo indefinitely. The churches I’m referring to are the ones in transition that still maintain some version of a traditional service, albeit a watered down facade. Those who attend just that “Traditional” service are misled and/or simply choose to bury their head in the sand regarding what is really going on in their midst. Those that attend the CoWo service are exposed to something entirely different. While the two groups occasionally intermingle during various activities, for the most part the two bodies are entirely separate churches. Seldom do the Traditionalists attend the CoWo service and vice versa. To add to the craziness, in some cases those that attend the Traditional Service believe they are confessional and attend a confessional church. I have personally observed this nonsense. What’s even more disturbing is that pastors and elders in chameleon churches seem to flip a switch that alters their beliefs/doctrine between services.

    If chameleon churches were people they’d be diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. Sounds like a good dose of shock therapy would be the Rx 😉

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