A friend is over in Germany right now “following in the footsteps of Martin Luther.” He’s on a ten-day tour of the places that made the Lutheran Reformation the single greatest movement that changed the world forever. The Lutheran Reformation wasn’t just an act that changed the Christian Church by releasing the Gospel from its captivity, but it ended up being the impetus that reestablished the importance of nations instead of a vast Empire.
The Reformation celebrates its 500th anniversary this coming October, and plenty of Lutherans from around the globe are pilgrimaging to Germany to stand in the stead of Luther and the early Lutheran Church leaders. People who have taken one of these trips come back with a sense of awe in seeing the earthly foundations of the Lutheran Church. The inspiration they gather from walking the streets of Wittenburg is seen on their faces.
But I have a question:
What good is a trip to Germany to see the place where Luther walked and nailed the 95 Theses to the church door if when you come back and don’t want to do what Luther did five centuries ago? Luther’s actions freed the Gospel and made it relevant in the lives of Christians. He showed the importance of the active faith that trusts in God and the work of Jesus Christ for the salvation of our souls.
Today, many of our churches are struggling under the burdens of small numbers in the pews and lack of resources to expand ministries. Our Synod always seems to spend more time debating how to punish people than how to help local congregations develop their ideas and ministries so that the Gospel of Jesus can reach individuals who are without faith.
I have this belief that if Martin Luther were alive today, he would cry at the state of our churches and implore us to be better.
Look around – there are too many souls without a Good Shepherd. We, the Church, must do better.
Good news: Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on religious liberty was even better than we thought. The Justices ruled 7-2 that a church could not be banned from a public benefit program merely because it is a church. On Tuesday the Justices extended that principle by overturning a ruling that struck down Col-orado’s school voucher program on religious grounds.
In 2012, Trinity Lutheran Preschool ranked fifth out of 44 applicants to a Missouri program that recycles old tires for new playground surfaces. Yet Missouri refused to let the school compete for the grant, pointing to the state’s Blaine Amendment—a provision that bans tax money from funding a church in any way—as the reason.
The U.S. Supreme Court resolved the issue today in a decision that could hold important implications for future religious liberty decisions. The court held that Missouri engaged in religious discrimination and that its Blaine Amendment was not a valid reason to deny a religious school a neutral benefit.
The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod has seen enough of the worship wars. One side believes there is only one way to “do church,” and that is orderly and formal. The other side believes that there is a freedom to do worship. There will never be a uniting of these two camps.
In my pastorate, I’ve become one that sits somewhere in the middle of both sides, where orderliness is necessary while allowing freedom to sing and “do church” a little less formally. In fact, most pastors and churches fall into this camp.
Below is an excellent video from Gottesdient Online explaining a more orderly and formal Divine Service. My favorite line is how they describe the celebrant as he turns to face the congregation before the corporate confession and absolution:
“His words are measured and clear. He does not rush.”
I’m just saying that we here on the coast don’t rush. It just seems like we’re rushing because we usually just talk very fast.
I believe if you ask a pastor what is the most important part of their ministry, the word “meetings” will not make the list.
Meetings are those things pastors and laity put up with because church constitutions mandate them to be held. Whether they are strictly or loosely formal, meetings can get bogged down in minutia. It is the minutia that gives meetings a bad name.
Today, my congregation held their monthly Voters’ Meeting – think church council meeting. It went well as no major divisions came up. But as I’ve written before, sometimes we worry and focus on issues that have very little to do with the ministry of the church. And it is not just St. Matthew’s, but every church has these moments.
But I am coming to believe that is what these Voters’ meetings are supposed to be about. They are purposefully the arena in which everything slows down. They focus on the money and the budget. They ponder the actions of the committees. They plan future capital spending.
In effect, they are like the US Senate, a body that slows every point of legislation down to make sure things are done properly.
While Voters’ Meetings slow things down, our Vision Team is spending time working on the ministry of the church. Their attitude is simple: “It’s Jesus first.”
- We wanted to upgrade our worship experience, adding visual and audio – they did it.
- We want to raise money for our Veteran’s ministry – they’re in the middle of planning our first beefsteak dinner.
- We want to make a splash at our borough’s National Night Out to tell the story of the Gospel – they’ve outlined a good plan for that night.
- We want to make our Prayer Team more effective – they’re doing it.
- We wanted to make the back of the church more inviting by installing better lighting – they made sure it got done.
- We wanted to make our doors nicer by painting them – they got it done.
- We wanted to upgrade our website and mobile experience – they got it done.
In the fall, our Voters’ meetings are going to go through a little bit of a reformation. We’re going to focus on specific church issues each month. This will minimize the time we spend talking about some issues but will maximize the effectiveness of our time together and focus our work on building St. Matthew’s for the future. Combining with the work of the Vision Team, St. Matthew’s is set on a good foundation for the future.
What do you say to someone who hasn’t come to church in a while?
“Nice to see you,” is one of the more traditional responses that is usually followed up with remarks about the person’s lack of church attendance, unless the phrase is spoken snarkily, which is almost all of the time.
I think the story of the Prodigal Son is important when assessing one’s in-church ‘hellos’ to those who haven’t been in church for a while. Ask yourself: Who would you rather be? The father who is excited that his son has returned home or the brother who isn’t thrilled that his brother is home?
If you choose the brother, then you’re the snarky one. You are the one who speaks with acid and anger on your tongue. “Oh, it’s great to see you! Your kids have grown since the last time you were here!”
If you choose the father, then you are what Your Lord wants – one who is happy that someone has come home. You’re the one who makes things comfortable for the returning friend. Smiles abound rather than snark. You will be the one who sends a card to the family saying how it was wonderful to be with them in worship. And you’ll tell them that you are praying for them.
The happy church follows the path laid out by the father. The broken church follows the path of the brother.