Great Stuff — How to make your church irresistible

by Earle D. Treptow

Found over on WELS.net:

 

Did it work? Did the title grab your attention and compel you to read?

wels-logoIf you’re feeling like you’ve been hooked by a title, allow this confession. I got hooked by that title once myself. It was the subject line in an e-mail. With a double click, the e-mail came up advertising a workshop that would “forever change the way you think about church.” In “just three hours,” it promised, “your ministry will be more effective than ever at reaching people with God’s love.”

This is the way advertisers operate. They wave something so useful and desirable before our eyes that we can’t help but reach out and grab hold. Who wouldn’t want an irresistible church? What Christian doesn’t want to have more people come through the doors of the church who actually want to come back the next week?

wels-church-irresistibleThe devil is always eager to “help” us. The Liar points out what we need to do to make the church more attractive. He directs our attention to the latest, greatest program that almost guarantees growth. “If you practice these four principles,” he promises, “you will change the culture of your congregation, and you will have a steady stream of new people coming through your doors.” He highlights ways to soften some of the teachings that offend people, suggesting that the growth of the church rests at least in part on our ability to craft a message that appeals to the masses. Soon he has us thinking that the noble goal of reaching people validates almost any approach.

You can see through the lies, can’t you? First, the church’s future does not depend on us and what we do to engage the people around us. The One who never lies says that “the gates of Hades will not overcome” the church (Matthew 16:18). Though the devil may win some skirmishes along the way, the battle belongs to the Lord. The Lord will preserve his little flock even when it appears to us that the church has gone the way of the dinosaur.

A second lie is that the primary goal of the gathered people of God is the numerical growth of the visible church. The ascended Lord commissioned us, not as his salespeople charged with “getting people to say yes,” but as his witnesses. We simply speak the good news Jesus has given us to proclaim. The results of that preaching belong to the Lord. The Spirit creates faith when and where it pleases him. He may bring thousands to faith, as he did on Pentecost; he may also use the Word we proclaim to harden the hearts of those who reject it.

The apostle Paul teaches us, “Faith comes from hearing the message” (Romans 10:17). He doesn’t say, “Faith comes from innovative programs,” or “Faith comes from outside-of-the-box thinking,” or “Faith comes from an upbeat worship style.” When we focus more on methodology than the message, a lie has begun to take root in our hearts. The Spirit is in the Word, not the methodology.

At the same time, while it is true that the Lord will gather his people only through his gospel in Word and sacrament, we need to bear in mind that the devil often twists that truth too. He argues that if we look for better ways to reach people, we are responsible for their conversion. The truth is that our ascended Lord has chosen to work through us to gather his people. He does the work of converting sinners; we simply carry out our task as his witnesses. We do it with joy and gratitude for the privilege.

Contributing editor Earle Treptow, president of the Nebraska District, is pastor at Zion, Denver, Colorado.


Comments

Great Stuff — How to make your church irresistible — 11 Comments

  1. “How to make your church irresistible”

    If God has so humiliated Himself as to allow Himself to be resistible, why on earth should we be surprised when we as His Church are similarly resistible?

    We have been given the Means of Grace, which offer forgiveness, life, and salvation to all who will repent and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Freely we have received, and freely we give. We are stewards of the Mysteries of God, and it is not meet, right, nor salutary for a servant to think himself above His Master.

  2. Normally, when I hear such talk, I agree that the methodologies employed are wrong. I agree that this is not a numbers game. However, God uses us, the Body of Christ, His Church, as the army that preserves it. We are sure in victory, but still militant. we are the hands and feet that carry the Good News, not simply the hands folded in the sanctuary with feet on the floor or walking up to receive the sacrament. this is where such talk loses sight of the lost, those most in need of hearing.

    They are not coming in and we must bring the Word to them. This is why we are here, it is the mission of the Church to make disciples. We go to them just as the apostles, those sent out, did. Do we deliver the Word in only one way? No! Nor did Paul (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). The Word is brought to those who need it in the way they need to hear it. If Paul can, with God’s blessings, share the message in different ways, who are we to assume that God does not work in many ways and through many methods associated with His Word? Faith comes from hearing the Word in all kinds of music and in different styles of preaching – neither kinds nor styles need be driven by false teaching. the truth can be taught in any kind or style. Dismissing a method because it is used to convey wrong messages is like trying to find an orthodox way of reading scripture so that we don’t sound like some ordinary lector at a heterodox church. Can we really just read it like they do? Shouldn’t we distinguish it by adding our own rhythms or cadence to the Word. We wouldn’t want people to think that all Christians, even bad ones, read with similar voices!

    Music has not been static in the history of the Church and we have no cause to believe it ought to be so, now, and locked down to some period of time where it reached a pinnacle, in our estimation. This is not cause for performances as worship, but it is reason to believe that some non-traditional styles may be the way that some people hear the Word. to believe otherwise is to discredit the power of the Word.

    “The Spirit creates faith when and where it pleases him.” However, this treads close to Calvinist error and ignores Scripture “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:3-4) It pleases God to reach all people. Even though some will not be reached, it is not through a lack of desire on God’s part to work faith in each person.

    “This Christ calls to Himself all sinners and promises them rest, and He is in earnest [seriously wills] that all men should come to Him and suffer themselves to be helped, to whom He offers Himself in His Word, and wishes them to hear it and not to stop their ears or [neglect and] despise the Word.” (EP.XI,8, The Pure and True Doctrine concerning This Article)

    “Also, that when God calls us to Himself, He is not in earnest that all men should come to Him.

    Also, that God is unwilling that every one should be saved, but that some, without regard to their sins, from the mere counsel, purpose, and will of God, are ordained to condemnation so that they cannot be saved.” (Ep.XI,18,19 False Doctrine concerning This Article)

    So, while God will work faith in the fullness of time, we are not to assume that someone’s lack of faith is not the mission set before us.

    A life of discipleship is not attractive, in any worldly sense. The Word, if heard properly, will dispense with that. But the proclamation of the Word is not restricted to our tastes or the times and places of our choosing, or only to the sanctuary and before the altar. “But, above all, the Order is for the simple and for the young folk who must daily be exercised in the Scripture and God’s Word, to the end that they may become conversant with Scripture and expert in its use, ready and skillful in giving an answer for their faith, and able in time to teach others and aid in the advancement of the kingdom of Christ. For the sake of such, we must read, sing, preach, write, and compose; and if it could in any wise help or promote their interests, I would have all the bells pealing, and all the organs playing, and everything making a noise that could.” (Martin Luther, The German Mass and Order of Divine Service) He set some of his early music to folk tunes and we went in, over time, and supplanted those tunes with sacred ones!

    Teach right and use all talents to teach. Get out and go to those who need to hear the Word, don’t assume that you are not part of the Holy Spirit reaching out.

  3. @HL #2

    That was a lot to respond to, but I’ll offer this:

    — The Divine Service or the Mass is not an evangelistic event, and we should not attempt to turn it into one. The Communion of Christ with His people through His Body and Blood is more like a wedding bed than a brothel (a place of intimate communion between those knit together by faith, rather than a marketing attempt to get everyone possible into bed by any means.)

    — The reason we have fewer people in Church, from a purely worldly explanation, is that we have fewer children… and the ones we do have, we largely surrender to pagan schools who teach them to disbelieve and disregard the Word of God. In reality, the reason our Churches are shrinking is known to God alone, but probably reflects our civilization’s large scale abandonment of Christ and His Word.

    — The regular evangelistic task is carried out by every believer, as they depart from where Christ gives them His gifts through Word and Sacrament, and go into the world where they work out their vocational tasks. It is found in the mother and father tending their children, and every Christian tending to their neighbors, always prepared to bear witness to the hope they have within them.

    None of this requires us to abandon what has endured for millennia, so that we might exchange it for what marketing professionals design to last for a few years. The panic which departs from the Word and pursues the culture is not a mark of faith, but of fear that reflects unbelief. The Protestant world is full of this kind of fear and unbelief even as their multitudinous denominations constantly rise and fall, because they have forgotten their long catholic history, rooted in Word and Sacrament which never fades.

    Faith is content whether we are entering an age of resurgence or persecution, and struggles to remain faithful in, rather than relevant to, the ever shifting sands of pagan culture.

  4. “— The Divine Service or the Mass is not an evangelistic event, and we should not attempt to turn it into one.”

    This is false. wherever there is Word and Sacrament, there is proclamation. The way we worship is important because it declares before the world what we believe and it brings to the world the Means of Grace. Therefore, all who hear, even the stranger, are being evangelized. Worship is not solely a private and intimate experience, it is public proclamation. Which is why what we do and say matters. If it were only a private family function, then this would be far less important. Were that the case, we could ditch the formality altogether as Luther envisioned:

    “But the third sort [of Divine Service], which the true type of Evangelical Order should embrace, must not be celebrated so publicly in the square amongst all and sundry. Those, however, who are desirous of being Christians in earnest, and are ready to profess the Gospel with hand and mouth, should register their names and assemble by themselves in some house to pray, to read, to baptize and to receive the sacrament and practise other Christian works. In this Order, those whose conduct was not such as befits Christians could be recognized, reproved, reformed, rejected, or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ in Matt. xviii. Here, too, a general giving of alms could be imposed on Christians, to be willingly given and divided among the poor, after the example of St. Paul in ii Cor. ix. Here there would not be need of much fine singing. Here we could have baptism and the sacrament in short and simple fashion: and direct everything towards the Word and prayer and love. Here we should have a good short Catechism about the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. In one word, if we only had people who longed to be Christians in earnest, Form and Order would soon shape itself.” (ML, The German Mass and Order of Divine Service)

    But it is not the case:

    “Through faith alone” also implies that it is only through the proclamation of the Gospel–in Word and Sacrament–that the Holy Spirit gives the gift of faith. The proclamation of the Gospel Word in public preaching therefore occupies a central position in our Lutheran theology. Missouri Lutheran churches are preaching churches. But we are also sacramental churches, for the sacraments–Baptism and the Lord’s Supper–are the Gospel made visible.” (Dr. Samuel Nafzger, WhatDo Lutherans Believe?, CTCR 1994)

    “— The reason we have fewer people in Church, from a purely worldly explanation, is that we have fewer children…”

    This is false. Christianity has never been an ethno-religion relying on internal marriage and procreation for growth. How can you make such a claim in the face of scripture and the apostles? This was an error of the Judaizers in the early Church.

    “— The regular evangelistic task is carried out by every believer, as they depart from where Christ gives them His gifts through Word and Sacrament, and go into the world where they work out their vocational tasks.”

    This is true but it is, by no means exclusive and it ignores the public proclamation in worship which is not a preaching to choir or merely a reinforcement for believers.

    Believing that a change in form must necessitate a change in content is nonsense. Do some people? Sure. But over the millenia, the form and wording of worship has changed a great deal. Luther couldn’t stand the groaning of Gregorian chant (I happen to love it). Corporate confession and absolution is an addition in Lutheran worship to the catholic tradition as is the Song of Simeon and This is the Feast substitutes Revelation for Isaiah as the song in heaven. This, too, is new in liturgy, but faithful to scripture. should we dispense with confession and the new songs to return to the form of orthodoxy which is older than our forms? What of hymns in the vernacular? That was, once, an innovation. Maybe, we should have stuck to the timbrel and lyre and not built great church organs? or looked to Calvin who didn’t like hymns, believing them corruptions of the Word, and was content to sing Psalms, the Word of God, alone?

    Don’t make taste and personal preference the reason for anything and understand that traditions and rites are man-made. Anything placed around the Words of Institution was placed there by the same hierarchy which eventually motivated the Reformation, in the first place.

    Pagan culture helped establish Christmas at Saturnalia. Roman law had a greater bearing on the ritual of marriage in the early Church than did the Church Fathers. Many early Christians disdained marriage and the oldest records show no solemnizing of marriage in the Church. Let the Lord work with the world and the talents He bestows. Guard doctrine, guard the Word, but be open to presenting the Word in a faithful, but non-traditional manner.

    Our heritage is rich and varied, yet always faithful.

  5. @HL #4

    Wow– your points are kind of all over the place, and we’re quickly devolving into just declaring each other wrong or false. So, I’ll just leave it at addressing your very last point: “Our heritage is rich and varied, yet always faithful.”

    The problem is that in our history– our tradition– there’s been a lot that’s been wrong and less than faithful. Without going into the full swath of liturgical history in the western catholic line, even as Lutherans we’ve battled Rationalism, Pietism, Liberalism, Enthusiasm, and a host of other heresies. These heresies have had their respective influences on public worship, usually with negative effect on the catechesis of the people involved. The Church continues to reform the Mass, attempting to purge unhealthy additions, and retain what the wisdom of many generations have proven well tested and true to Holy Scripture.

    Peace to you.

  6. @HL #2

    Normally, when I hear such talk, I agree that the methodologies employed are wrong.

    Yes, can we all agree that the new measures of the Second Great Awakening or anything resembling enthusiasm are to be avoided at all costs?

    However, God uses us, the Body of Christ, His Church, as the army that preserves it.

    Maybe, but He doesn’t need anything we have to offer, so it’s not as though everything is riding on us to get it right. So, if we don’t do our part, still, the gates of Hell will not prevail.

    we are the hands and feet that carry the Good News, not simply the hands folded in the sanctuary with feet on the floor or walking up to receive the sacrament.

    It’s “both/and” not “either/or.” Think, “Vocation.”

    This is why we are here, it is the mission of the Church to make disciples.

    Making disciples won’t amount to much if the Church waters down it’s confession and practice in order to endear itself to the popular culture.

    We go to them just as the apostles, those sent out, did.

    Apostolic cessation precludes these types of analogies. It doesn’t necessarily follow that what they did, we should or even can do.

    Faith comes from hearing the Word in all kinds of music and in different styles of preaching – neither kinds nor styles need be driven by false teaching. the truth can be taught in any kind or style.

    It’s best to keep doctrine and practice aligned because one invariably influences the other.

    Dismissing a method because it is used to convey wrong messages…

    Luther and the Confessors dealt with dismissing Roman Catholic adiaphora when there was a chance that it could give the wrong impression or cause a weak brother to stumble.

    But the proclamation of the Word is not restricted to our tastes or the times and places of our choosing, or only to the sanctuary and before the altar. ‘The Spirit creates faith when and where it pleases him.’

    “…the Spirit himself…puts his activity “in a box,” if you will, a box of his own sovereign making. The Bible knows nothing of a pure whimsy of the Spirit. The Spirit is indeed the Spirit of ardor but also, and no less, the Spirit of order (1 Cor. 14: 33, 40-note, particularly in the matter of spiritual gifts). A perennial challenge to the Church is to seek and see maintained this ordered ardor or, if you prefer, ardor-infused order of the Spirit. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Where Have All the Spiritual Gifts Gone? modernreformation.org/

    Music has not been static in the history of the Church and we have no cause to believe it ought to be so, now, and locked down to some period of time where it reached a pinnacle, in our estimation.
    He (Luther) set some of his early music to folk tunes and we went in, over time, and supplanted those tunes with sacred ones!

    Lutherans have a rich tradition of liturgy and hymnody. Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, anthems, etc. should teach Jesus. Not just that we lift up prayer, praise and thanksgiving, but why He is the object of our devotion. CCM typically doesn’t do that but rather focuses on feelings of yearning, ecstasy, and the self.

  7. “Maybe, but He doesn’t need anything we have to offer, so it’s not as though everything is riding on us to get it right. So, if we don’t do our part, still, the gates of Hell will not prevail.” He has given us the talents He wishes us to use and, though, nothing is riding on us, we ought to do His will with great joy not push it off. “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” (Rom 12:11).

    “Making disciples won’t amount to much if the Church waters down it’s confession…” true

    “and practice.” Lack of mission, people not engaged in the fullness of calling as Christians, hearing and sharing the Word, is watered down practice. There are some who would say that toned down vestments, lack of incense, lack of images, use of ESV language in saying the Lord’s Prayer are watered down practice. Making ourselves “things to all people, that by all means” we may save some does not require that teaching be watered down.

    Apostolic cessation is not an issue. the Great Commission was issued to all disciples, for all time, that includes us. While I have read reformed theology on the subject of the cessation, in terms of charismatic gifts, I have also met and worked with Lutheran evangelists and have seen effectiveness in their preaching the Word to absolute strangers. You have no basis for assuming that people are called to some vocations from the apostolic period and not others. We have those who witness, who speak the Word, who reach out.

    “It’s best to keep doctrine and practice aligned…” This does not explain your accepting some innovations and rejecting others. However you look at it, your traditions are not from time immemorial. The lines you are drawing are personal and arbitrary. I dislike contemporary worship and music because I think it hits one note, but I have seen it better practiced. I also have aesthetic issues with contemporary worship, but my faith is not dependent on aesthetics.

    If one’s aesthetics, the appearance of worship, the vestments, the instruments, the design of the building, the presence or absence of a crucifix, anything, causes brother to stumble in that brother seeing value in these things as if they shared substance with the Word and Sacraments, then they should all be thrown out, even the music and hymnals of our youth.

    Decency and order is not a function of aesthetics. If it were, then those of non-European culture and sensibility could not worship without first agreeing to European form and standards. We must remember that even our liturgy was what trumped the Judaizers and that our heritage is not even the most ancient. The Eastern rites are older. We need to remember: “Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike.”

    I disagree that the Spirit creates a box for Himself or that God ever boxes Himself in. We do that. This is a God who created a planet with shifting tektonic plates, malaria, and people capable of rejecting Him.

    “CCM typically doesn’t do that but rather focuses on feelings of yearning, ecstasy, and the self.”

    As I said, I have issues with one-note worship but I challenge those, here, who arbitrarily cling to the familiar forms of recent traditions to say, sincerely, that they feel no emotions of longing, delight, or find themselves in the words and music, their tastes satisfied. A different sensuality is still sensuality.

    Object to the content, I am fine and I agree. Object to the style and you’re on shaky ground. Insist that God, somehow prefers one reverent human order to another reverent human order because you cannot see the reverence, and you’re nowhere. I am old-fashioned but no Puritan or Pietist. I am not foolish enough to think that even my traditions were once innovative and controversial on some levels. Imagine how we would view pilgrims singing Psalms of ascent as they banged on drums and danced with tambourines all the way up the Temple Mount?

  8. @HL #8

    “It’s best to keep doctrine and practice aligned…” This does not explain your accepting some innovations and rejecting others. However you look at it, your traditions are not from time immemorial. The lines you are drawing are personal and arbitrary.

    You have an excellent point HL…..there are quite a few innovations that are accepted (openly and/or silently); I guess it all comes down to integrity of one’s confession. I believe you are being honest and sincere in your confession that how we practice our faith has no impact on our doctrine–I disagree, but at least I can see where you’re coming from.

    More troubling innovations that confront the Lutheran church today, that should rank much higher on our collective list of things to purge than CCM include:
    * Unionism
    * Syncretism
    * AC XIV – http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php#article14 [various contexts]
    * Closed Communion
    * The already well-paved road to Women’s Ordination in the LCMS

  9. @Mac McCabe #7

    [Luther] set some of his early music to folk tunes and we went in, over time, and supplanted those tunes with sacred ones!

    Last time we had this discussion, it boiled down to ONE hymn and Luther changed the tune himself. [Probably in that link above… I haven’t looked.]

  10. @HL #8

    …we ought to do His will with great joy not push it off.

    “Pushing off” is not passive and I’m not aware of any brothers in the faith who are actively and knowingly pushing off the will of God. But then again, I’m not trying to read their hearts, either. The assumption here is that something neglectful is going on if everyone in the congregation is not doing like the “Lutheran evangelists (you) have seen preaching the Word to absolute strangers.” This sounds like law to me.

    Apostolic cessation is not an issue. the Great Commission was issued to all disciples, for all time, that includes us.

    I’ll concede your point, however, the Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:16-20, was spoken to those who are specifically called to baptize, teach, preach, and absolve. That sounds like the Office of the Public Ministry to me.

    I also have aesthetic issues with contemporary worship, but my faith is not dependent on aesthetics…. A different sensuality is still sensuality.

    Aesthetics is not the issue, nor is the age of the music. What does it teach? I submit all of the Devine Service and every hymn should teach and inculcate Bible literacy and doctrine among the laity. Why use any media or forum to teach the Gospel and then cancel it with a vague or confusing message?

    We have those who witness, who speak the Word, who reach out.

    We speak the Gospel to our family members, neighbors, and coworkers in our daily vocations and it requires no specialized training in evangelism.

    We need to remember: “Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike.”

    6] But it can readily be judged that nothing would serve better to maintain the dignity of ceremonies, and to nourish reverence and pious devotion among the people than if the ceremonies were observed rightly in the churches. http://www.lcms.org/lutheranconfessions

    6] It can easily be judged that if the churches observed ceremonies correctly, their dignity would be maintained and reverence and piety would increase among the people.
    Article XXI Worship of the Saints: A Review of the Various Abuses That Have Been Corrected excerpted from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions-A Readers Edition of the Book of Concord – 2nd edition by McCain, Paul T, General Editor

    I disagree that the Spirit creates a box for Himself or that God ever boxes Himself in. We do that.

    Then you disagree with Augsburg Confession, Article V, to wit: “To obtain such faith God instituted the Office of the Ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel…. Condemned are the Anabaptists and others who teach that the Holy Spirit comes to us through our own preparations, thoughts, and works without the external word of the Gospel.” It would seem that the “when and where he pleases” clause is subject to the means of grace imposed by God, not man. The human tendency is not to put the Spirit of God in a box but to look to our own preparations, thoughts, and works, and not to the means of grace wherein God has promised to meet us.

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