Friday, December 8, 2006

Myth #4 and the Misguided Notions of Missions in the Church

Myth #4 from Eckhardt's article is printed below, so I won't repeat it again here. Anyway, I want to expand on his idea with a related myth of my own, namely, "the notion that the work of missions means increasing the number of people in church." I have heard this notion over the course of my ministry, and it oftentimes comes out during times of financial strain. "If only we had more people coming to church, then we would have more money." The related collorary involves getting inactives back in church, which perpetuates the idea that some people in the church will attend and give and be active if only we remind them to come from time to time. (I guess their inactivity couldn't possibly be linked to a lack of faith since they avoid God's very Word and Supper?)

Now aside from the poor theology of these notions, let's take note first of all of the horrible manipulation and self-serving aspect of these ideas. Think about it - We want you to come to our church today (or come back) because it looks good to have a larger attendance average (thus making us look successful! - and allowing our synod to single us out as a model church), and furthermore, we are assuming that when you come you will bring money which will help us pay our bills and keep us in the red. So, these people, then, are only potential "attendance numbers" and "giving units"? How depersonalized can we be? Even the business world realizes that the customer is wize enough to know when they are only an object to be exploited (Note when McDonalds went from the little intercom to face-to-face windows for ordering. Think they were not aware of this??)

It's hard for churches to see missions purely as the call of our Lord Jesus to proclaim the Gospel to all nations, catechizing them in all that he has taught us. Period. No strings attached. No ulterior motives included. Are we broke? Tough! It was probably poor stewardship of what God gave you in the first place. Don't look to the unbeliever or unrepentant delinquent to bail you out. They need to be taught again. They may not even understand the biblical concept of stewardship. Look at your financial issues as issues of proper management of resources given. And keep it there. Remember the parable of the talents and how the Master held his servants accountable for their use of what he gave them!

And as far as the size of the church - Oh, how pride is the downfall of the church! I pastor what I would describe as a medium-sized rural church (about 420 members 'on the books.') When I came we averaged about 200 a Sunday. However, over the last 6 years that number has come down to around 179. Now one of the reasons I may look to as an explanation is that we are 'out in the country,' and you know how those farm communties are going. We're lucky just to be here! People have to drive 7 to 10 miles to come from the nearby city, passing up another LCMS congregation in the process. And consider that families are smaller today. And.....well, you get the point. As a pastor I often feel a need to 'justify' where we are at numerically, and I feel held accountable when the numbers drop. Afterall, could it be that my sermons are not attracking some people, or keeping others away? What should I be doing to make sure more people come and less stay away?

But am I the Holy Spirit? Who gave me the personal power to make people come to faith and live in it? I am only the one who uses the means of grace as the instruments of my office, praying that the kingdom would come among them. That's it. Sure, there are personal reasons to consider that can get in the way at times. But I struggle with people who are quick to use the pastor as an excuse for staying away from church, especially when there are many other churches to which they can just as easy attend. In the same issue of Gottesdienst I referenced yesterday, the Rev. David H. Peterson of Ft. Wayne, IN writes an article called "How to Listen to a Sermon." At the end of the article he summarizes the "how" with "reading the text beforehand, prayer, actively listening, and even taking notes...." What? I have to really learn? Too many of our people have been conditioned to accept the lite fare of storytelling for real catechesis. Look at Bible class. Are all the people there after service? In many parishes probably not. The pulpit must be a place of teaching. It's our only chance.

Finally, missions must be understood as the love of God in Christ reaching out to the lost, caring enough to crush their sinful hearts with the law and to heal them again with the Gospel. Yes, we should to to where people are and bring them in to the wedding feast. But only because we care deeply for their eternal welfare, and because we love our Lord and honor his Word, not because we are looking at the dollar sign invisibly tatooed on their forehead.

No comments: