Catechesis is not like the McRib!

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Pastor Marcus Manley. Pastor Marcus Manley is an LC-MS called minister to St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ute, Iowa.  He is a husband of one wife (Amy) and father to four children.  The Manleys are thankful to homeschool their children.

By now most Americans know that McDonald’s McRib is made available for a limited time each year.  But what makes this mystery meat different than all other McDonald’s sandwiches is its extreme popularity during that small span.  TV watchers are inundated with a blitzkrieg of commercials sounding the alarm that the savory sandwich is back.

Some theorize that McDonald’s is just picking and choosing when pork by-product prices fall in order to get the best bang for their buck.  But, I’m not convinced.  I think they were pulling a Facebook long before Zuckerberg ever did—The Exclusivity Card.  Instead of allowing the supplier or the consumer control demand; you control demand by limiting it.  When Facebook was first launched it was only available for Harvard and then other Ivy League Schools.  When I was a freshman you had to have a email in order to have Facebook.  Its exclusivity caught fire.  The

The McRib is more popular because it’s only available for a limited time.  McDonald’s made us think that if we don’t get one now maybe we’ll never get one again.  And, you know what?  It works every time for my wife and me.  We just got to have one.  Disney does the same thing with its classic movies putting them in a vault.  But, their content is worse than the McRib’s Spam-like substance so they get little lip service from me.

Congregations function with this mentality maybe without even noticing it.  Many Lutheran congregations catch the McRib Exclusivity Complex when it comes to Holy Communion.  They fear that if they make Holy Communion available more often then it will suddenly lose its marketing magic and thus you deprive all parties involved of that specialness that comes with the exclusive limited time offer.

“You can’t offer the Supper every week.”

“Why not?”

“Well, it’s too important to do it that much.”

“You’re right.  We should ignore Jesus’ command to ‘do this in remembrance of me’ (Matt. 26:29).  Or Paul’s inspired connotation that it would be better to proclaim Christ’s death more ‘often’ than not (1 Cor. 11:26).  Oh, the horror of having too much of a Godly thing!

“We should opt for the sage savviness of McDonald’s and other successful businesses.  How’s that go again…?  “Be conformed to the world, transforming your minds to the good, acceptable, and perfect business strategies that are discerned by testing the market.”

“You know, maybe what we need is just a little retooling and rebranding.”

“Oh no!  Don’t say it.”

“How about Sacramental Entrepreneurs?”

Suddenly fasting is popular amongst us Lutheran’s again.  Except, now we’re abstaining from preaching, His Word, and the Lord’s Sacrament.  I don’t think that’s the “fine outward training” Luther had in mind.  This is true in our Lutheran Congregations’ Educational Curricula.  And your congregation has one.  No matter how rarely your Board of Ed. meets or how few Sunday School teachers and VBS helpers you can muster.  Still, you’ve got a plan if only in practice.  It may just look something like this:

  • Sunday School
  • Summer VBS
  • Children’s Christmas Program

That simple list speaks volumes to how your congregation views catechesis.  Now those things aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves, but they’re also not daily catechesis.  They’re only available for a limited amount of time.  Even a year-round Sunday school program can fall into the McRib Exclusivity Complex.

Sunday school is great but it has led to the perpetuated practice that we only need a little bit of the Word of God (Gen. 3:1-5).  In my small church in Iowa, they introduced Sunday School in the 1920s only to revoke it in the 1930s because of the quick decline they saw in enrollment in the day school.  This deep guile of the old evil foe is plainly seen by the now vacant Sunday School classrooms.  It only took a couple of generations of telling people they don’t need the Word of God every day for them to figure out they don’t need the Word of God every week.

“If the Word of God is more special when I only hear it once a week, how much more so is its specialness if I were to only hear it once a month?  No.  Once a year!  I’ll be really sure to love it then!”

“Oh, how I love Christmas Eve Service.  Let’s be sure to come back here again… next year.”

Voilà!  And you thought comparing catechesis to the McRib wouldn’t make sense.  Companies have pushed their product under the gimmicky guise of “Less is more” for years.  There is nothing new under the sun.  Just ask the guy holding the body bag…

Why would you ever do an 8-minute workout when 7 will suffice?  Take this mentality into the church and you’ve got a crafty plan for how to retain the few families you do see on Sundays.

For example, limiting the abortion law is great.  If new abortion legislation halts abortions after 24 weeks of gestation…Great!  But, that’s not the end-goal!  Teaching 5th-8th graders Bible stories and the Word of God via the Small Catechism is great, but that’s not comprehensive catechesis.  It’s the McRib Exclusivity Complex.  It’s getting parents to buy in for just a little while until it will all be over.  And in so doing, it leaves others thinking they’re all set, while in reality, they’re in danger of being devoured and snatched without clinging to the Father’s Word to emphatically stop such a thing (Jn. 10:28).

Why Pew Racks are Bad

Before celebrating our 100-year-old church building many members of our congregation brought me their fathers and grandfathers old catechisms and hymnbooks—some still in German and some in English.  But nearly everyone was worn-out.  Not because they’re a hundred years old.  No.  They hadn’t been used in a hundred years.  Instead, they’re faded coloring, ripped pages, and frayed binding came from the back and forth to Sunday Service every week or to day school 5 days a week.  That changed was nailed in place with the installation of pew racks.

Pew racks have a purpose.  They hold our hymnals and bibles.  Is that good?  It may depend on who you are.  If you’re an 80-year-old great grandmother who gets in the door using a walker without a free hand to spare, then yes.  It’s great to have a hymnal right there.  If you’re a visitor and don’t have your own—there’s a hymnal.  If you’re too poor to buy food or a hymnal—there’s a hymnal.  If you’re a functioning single mother of 3 running out of arms—there’s a hymnal.  But, if you’re the average layman you probably do have a free hand to tote the hymnal home and back.  You probably do have a few bucks to spare to own your own.  But most of all, and this is true for all, you definitely have a need during your week to use it.

Are you tired at the beginning, mid-afternoon, or end of your day?  There’s a hymnal.  Are you depressed from your job, family, or finances?  There’s a hymnal.  Do you have a hard time singing that weird minor key tune that Pastor just seems to pick all the time?  There’s a hymnal.  Do you know someone that could just use a pick-me-up?  There’s a hymnal.  Sing a hymn.

Instead of asking if we’ve got an app on our phone to fix our problems, we should be barking a much better mantra: “There’s a hymn for that!”  The bulk of Lutherans have the need, the means, and the time to use it.  We just don’t have the desire.  It’s an assumption made by adopting the McRib Exclusivity Complex.  We need the time off to build anticipation for its return.  We need a break from God’s Word from singing and praying in order to appreciate it on Sunday.

What would be far better than using the pew racks to store our barely used hymnals would be that we take God’s Word seriously enough to use it (Deut. 6).  This isn’t a pietistic plea that the best Christians prove it by the wear and tear of their Bibles.  But it is a cry of warning not to overcompensate into lazy Lutherans who take on pragmatic business models.  It’s not a ploy to get all the racks removed from your church building.  But it is an eye opener to ask why we do certain things.  The liturgy has been questioned, toyed, modernized, and twisted into incoherence… but is anyone asking why we’re entering the so-called “Mission Field” without God’s Side Kick to the Bible?

How You Know You Have a Problem

If you’re still unclear if you ever slip into the McRib Exclusivity Complex just ponder for a moment if you have decided: Bible Class topics, Catechism ages, Confirmation requirements, Baptismal catechesis, Adult New Member Catechetical Classes, Sunday School dates, etc. by asking: What’s the path of least resistance to still get people to come to ______?  This practice kills two birds with one stone.

(1) It asks less from members of the church to teach and…

(2) It asks less from the students in order to be taught.

It gets the job done so we can move on to more important things knowing that we’ve completed “the one thing necessary” in record time (Lk. 10:42).  Having pragmatically capitalized on the exclusive teaching model, now no more teaching is necessary.  At least, this is how our church catechesis curriculums function, without ever having to admit it.  Which, if you ask me, is exactly what Mickey D’s is doing, as Ronald hides behind the Golden Arches counting how many fake burgers he sold today.

So as we repeatedly gaze out at our empty pews Sunday after Sunday pondering one congregation after the next, “Where have all the people gone?”  Or “Where are all the kids?”  We need not cast the blame at McDonald’s, Facebook, Disney, or cheap workout tapes.  They may have given us the model.  But we adopted it.  We taught it to youth decades ago, who turned into parents and are aging into grandparents.  We’ve catechized our people into thinking “less is more” when it comes to God’s Word all the while thinking they’re getting a deal in the process.

The Right Way Forward.

The solution is to repent as pastors, people, lay teachers, and Sunday School Superintendents.  It’s to realize this isn’t the first time it’s been said (Loeslie, Slow and Steady Wins the Catechetical Race).  It’s to notice that even if you dare to call it the “Great Commission” that Jesus doesn’t limit teaching (i.e. catechesis) to certain ages, places, groups, or epochs (The Not-So-Great Commission Part 2, Wilken, Issuesetc. Journal, Fall 2011).

Walther follows Paul by exhorting us not to appeal to the old man but to the new one (Law and Gospel, Thesis XVIII).  We are not overburdening Christians when we tell them to behave like Christians.  So, pray like a Christian.  Read the Bible like a Christian.  And be catechized and catechize others as a Christian.  A congregation is simply where the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity.  And that teaching must be for all ages, each and every day.  This doesn’t mean pastor has to come to your house every day.  For many families this simply starts with knowing who’s in charge and what they do for daily catechesis.  Father’s must know that “the small catechism is a book for the home” (See Mckinley, The Most Neglected Part…).

This isn’t easy.  It’s not a one-size-fits-all fix.  It’s not an overnight change.  It’s not an exclusive deal or only available for a limited time.  Instead, it lasts.  Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum (The Word of the LORD endures forever).  Good news!  Catechesis is not like the McRib.  The only threat of it going away from us is if we let it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.