New Bulletin

New Bulletin

I’m only posting this to show it elsewhere, but…enjoy. This bulletin format is intended to be placed in the inside back cover of the Lutheran Service Book; the 3″ strip on the right serves as an outline for the service, while the inside (and potentially back) contain the propers for the day.

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These Advent Wednesdays…

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This Advent season, my congregation is learning the setting of Evening Prayer, found in the Lutheran Service Book. It’s a service that I have been familiar with for the past eight years or so, and have really come to love the music, the flow of service, and of course, the words. As part of teaching this service, I have decided that the sermons for each of our four Advent midweek services will be guided by the service itself. What does this mean? Well, Evening Prayer is divided into (that’s right, you guessed it!) four parts. The Service of Light, the Psalmody, the Canticle, and Prayers.

This first week of Advent our text was John 8:12-20, “Jesus Christ is the Light of the World.” The sermon afforded the opportunity to teach the history of the Phos Hilaron, and to remind parishioners of the importance of this Adventide, this time of growing darkness that leads to the Light of the World appearing.

Without spoiling the upcoming sermons for any parishioners who may happen upon this post, I’ll just say that the next sermons will be focusing on: Psalm 141, the Magnificat, and the prayer, “Lord, have mercy.”

I know, it’s a bit atypical for an Advent sermon “series,” but I hope that it helps to teach and convey the good stuff that’s found in our rich heritage of Lutheran worship. That good stuff, of course, being Christ–His words and His works.

A blessed, penitential, expectant Adventide to you all.

The Opposite of Church Growth?

I recently read an article that’s been circulating around some of the circles that I follow, and I thought I’d take a few brief minutes to throw in my two cents (though reading this might not me worth that much…)

With no further ado, the article.

Now, for my thoughts on the thing…

This conversation is one that I’ve had several times in the past few years…the question of whether the Church has been called to be faithful or to be successful…to which the answer must be a resounding YES! We are called to be faithful to Christ first and foremost, but we also oughtn’t hide the Gospel under a bushel (No!)(Matthew 5:15).  Some questions that might be helpful to ask are: “What constitutes a successful Church?” “Does the ‘faithful’ church always find itself numerically in decline?” “What is Church growth?” and “Who is responsible for that growth?”

Let me tip my hand a little: I agree with the general idea of Rev. Suttle’s point.  Now that we’ve got that out of the way, on to

The unit for measuring success or faithfulness.  

Success is, in Suttle’s words, measured in numerical growth.  I think we can safely assume he means in terms of attendance, giving, maybe even something along the lines of satisfaction…This “success” metric is straight out of the business world.  Each church is trying to be the McDonalds, “Over 1 Million Served!” or now, “Billions and Billions served.” In this place, Suttle is, more or less, right on. If our model for success is a Messiah who found Himself all but alone, crucified, betrayed, and abandoned by His own, then what should we really be aiming for in the Church? If, however, we look to the exponential numerical growth of the Church in the book of Acts, this argument isn’t quite as impressive.  What Suttle is writing against here is the Church Growth Movement, a movement in Evangelicalism that started up in the 1960s, and is responsible for some of the larger evangelical churches in the country.  One of the major tenets of Church Growth is quantifiable growth.  We have to see that the Kingdom of God is growing in order to claim success.  More on this later…

Sentimentality and Pragmatism: A One-Two Punch

Suttle describes Sentimentality as not only appealing to emotions primarily, but as putting a damper on the whole counsel of God.  “Only give us the good news!” might be a good way to paraphrase.  This is part of a larger worldview shift in the past few centuries from a Theocentric (even Christocentric!) worldview to a anthropocentric one.  What this means is as follows: in the good old days, God was at the center of everything. Our responsibility was to find out how we fit into God’s world, God’s plans, God’s salvation…nowadays, the center of the universe is “i.”  That’s right, the iPhone and all the rest of Apple’s products are indicative of a Worldview gone amuck. If “I’m” at the center of my universe, then it’s up to me to figure out how God fits into my world, my story, my plans…so, tell me what I want to hear (see 2 Timothy 4:3)…

Pragmatism is simply that which works.  If it works, do it.  Simple, right? I’ll take the easy way out on this one and not offer too much commentary–just a quote.  “Church consultant and leadership guru Don Cousins say[s] that you can grow a church without God if you have good preaching, great music, killer children’s ministry, and an engaging youth minister.”  Really? Well, you might get more butts in the pews, but are there really more people in the Church? It’s not my place to judge the heart, but the confession of some of these folks is that they have come to…let’s say, win a car. Sounds like John 6:25-59 to me.

Picking up the Pieces…

So what’s left to say? Well, a lot actually.  God grants growth when and where He pleases.  We cannot get in the way of OR enhance God’s Church-growing powers.  He’s God. We’re not. I agree and am saddened by the culture that has crept into the Church of “consumerism” that deals with the things of God as if they were a product to be marketed to a world that must be wooed away from our competitors.  We are at odds with the world. To acquiesce to the world’s desire to feel good, to be a part of something successful (to be a Walmart, not a K-Mart) is to miss the point of Christianity.  It’s like we’re tying to build some sort of Tower of Babel that will impress God.

I think the imperative thread that runs through this article is that of trust in God.  God is the One who has given the Church His Word.  God is the One who has sent Jesus Christ to die and rise again.  God is the One who has promised to visit His own in Sacrament.  These are the markers of the “successful” church.  Anything else is unimportant.

I think the missing component is a nuanced commentary on Suttle’s “doing vs. being” paradigm.  I preached a sermon series on vicarage called, “Be the Church.”  The tagline was that “God created us to be human ‘beings,’ not human ‘doings.'” The idea was that we are called, not to “do church” or “do Christianity” but to “be the Church” to “be Christians.”  It’s an identity issue, not merely an activity one (there, that sounded best.) So, of course, I was happy to see that Suttle obviously heard my sermon series…but even as we are called to be about being (it’s an identity issue), beings DO things! So, take worship, for instance.  The pragmatic sentimental evangelical is going to do everything possible to draw people in with hopes that they can “win the consumer’s business” on Sunday mornings.  The opposite side of the coin should NOT be to conduct service in such a half-hearted way that the words are mindlessly regurgitated, the hymns are mumbled through, and everyone sleeps during the sermon…(note I didn’t say that a person couldn’t attain faith through either of these horrible examples)…Instead, I’d like to suggest that, in light of who we are–in light of the fact that we trust that God is the One doing all of the calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying in the One True Faith, we joyfully and gladly respond by returning thanks.  This is never free from our sinful desires to be bigger and better, but it’s faith that informs and directs us to fall on our knees in confession, and to gladly hear the Word of God.

There, I said more than I planned to. Feel free to comment.

2 years later…

It was my day off, about three weeks into vicarage in Boca Raton, FL…The wife was at work, and I was wasting the first half of my day (until she got home), and how was I wasting my time on this particular day? Why, watching the ELCA National Convention, of course.  Facebook just reminded me of a post I made two years ago, referring to the decision to support homosexual pastors who are in monogamous relationships within the ELCA.  This is one of several decisions that have come from the largest Lutheran church-body in the United States.  It should come as very little surprise, since the ELCA has been moving in this direction since it’s inception several decades ago.

I bring this up because I am now a parish pastor at an LC-MS congregation, and there is an ELCA congregation several miles from us that has split at the seams.  My initial reaction to the situation 24 short months ago was shock, frustration, and confusion.  I couldn’t understand how this sort of thing could happen within a church that has a Bible in its pews…now, those emotions have subsided, but have been replaced with deep compassion for these hurting members; I’ve been moved to tears when I sit across from people who have been lifelong members of a church that they no longer recognize.  “Pastor, I don’t know what happened to my church,” is a phrase I’ve heard numerous times as I’ve watched a box of kleenex dwindle sheet by sheet.  These people are hurt and confused, and it’s been etched onto my prayer list since I’ve been here.

I bring all of this up because I’m praying about it right now.  It’s weighing on my heart. I never really understood that expression until I became a pastor.  I see these people who are looking for a church to call their own, but they’ve always been told that churches like mine are intolerant and stuffy, and yet they’re here. It’s been an interesting two years…

What do the next two hold?

Oh Yeah…Parenting…

Just under a week until baby Dylan is “full-term,” but apparently still three weeks after that until the due-date, and things are starting to seem eerily–real. What will he look like? Will he be some sort of soccer player or martial arts expert (as demonstrated by how hard he’s kicking Chels!?) Will he be a “good kid?” Will he be a life-long Lutheran? I’ve been thinking of all of the parents that I’ve known in my adult life, and trying to glean little insight here and there from the good ones, trying to hide that “cringe” face when I see the…well, you get the idea.  I’ve recently come across http://parentaloffice.com/, which is a blogsite devoted to discussing what it means to be a parent, what it looks like to properly raise a child, and is a useful forum for conversation and the sharing of ideas.  Where I’m at so far…At the beginning and end of the day, I’m a sinner. I’m going to make mistakes, but I’m going to try to put God’s word in the ears and heart of Dylan, to love him as Christ has loved him, to set boundaries and actively guide him along the way, and of course, do whatever Chelsea tells me to.  I would love any resources that are out there, links to them, just advice, whatever works for whomever reads this.  Also, a short prayer for Dylan, Chelsea, and me would be appreciated. That’s all for now.

Weekly Church Email…thoughts?

Okay, I’m hoping for some feedback on this one…my new church has the habit of sending out a once a week email that contains information about upcoming events, the preschool, possibly a short message from the pastor, so on and so forth…and I was just given the reins to do with it what I wish…so I’m asking you…if you received an email once a week from your church, what would you want in it? I’m trying to make it something folks are interested in reading each week, and look forward to receiving…maybe questions to ponder for the upcoming week’s sermon? maybe a series of questions and answers? links to helpful webpages that I recommend members read? Media? The sky’s the limit, and I’d love your thoughts!

In a new office, in a new chair.

Well…almost two weeks ago I was ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry.  By the Rite of Ordination and the laying on of hands, I was set aside by the Christian Church for the service of Word and Sacrament.  It was a truly humbling event, and I will not soon forget the significance of that day for my life and ministry.  But now the rubber is hitting the road.  As I type, I’m sitting in my new office at Trinity Lutheran Church in Corpus Christi.  I spent most of the day today at the church, looking through histories of the congregation, old bulletins, the church library, the youth room, and the large, heavy Church Records Book in the office.  If you know me, you know that I’m rarely at a loss of words–but flipping through the sixty-plus years of ministry that Trinity has carried out in Corpus was truly awe-inspiring.  The numbers alone are incredible…a small X marks each Sunday that each individual member communed at Trinity’s altar…as I flipped through the book, I went past 1956, 1963, 1974…you get the idea…I feel so small in the midst of a place where Christ has been serving so many people for such a long time with His Words of forgiveness, life, and blessing. Trinity has been blessed by Christ to share the Gospel with the community for sixty-five years, almost three times longer than I’ve been alive, and even as they existed before I came to town, they’ll exist long after I leave.  My prayer is that I would decrease that Christ might increase.  Members at Trinity, I pray for you constantly. I pray that I might be faithful and that God’s Word might be powerful among you.  Stop by the office anytime.