Letters to the Editor
January / February 2005 — Volume 21, Number 1
Growth through the Word
The Sept./Oct. 2004 issue is one of the best — lots of challenge, creative ideas, and insights. When looking back, ministry fifty years ago was so much different; we didn’t have all these great resources. But then maybe we had more time for ministry without all the time demanded of us to keep up with programs, Web sites, e-mails, and promotion of special causes. Robin McCullough-Bade’s caution (“A Call to Prayer”) is well given that we are ill-advised to plunge into new programs without serious consideration. Her observation that the primary barrier is about sin shows deep insight, and I would hope we would take it seriously.
Even as I commend the authors of the articles for good thinking, I dare to suggest that there is a real problem in how it is presented. As a victim of faulty medical diagnosis for over 60 years, I see a tendency to oversimplify the solutions to problems or mistake symptoms for the disease. The switch was turned off on the lawn mower that wouldn’t start. The car that wouldn’t run didn’t need a new fuel pump, but just some gas in the tank! The owners couldn’t see the real problem.
I am not so sure that the problems facing the church today are those which are tossed about so glibly: i.e., 21st century, faulty organization, false expectations for pastors and overwork, etc. These may well make problems worse but they are not the root cause....
Luther gives full credit to the Holy Spirit for our personal faith and the faith of others in the church in his explanation of the Third Article. So, why isn’t the Holy Spirit working with his power in many of our congregations? Let’s even rephrase this a bit and ask, why aren’t we being used by the Holy Spirit to call, gather, and enlighten those in our community who still remain unsaved? After we have discovered the answer and respond in true repentance, then maybe we can again use programs to facilitate the calling, gathering, and enlightening.
We’d best admit that the Holy Spirit works in power mainly through the Word. My faith came through the Scriptures and is still nourished by the Word. Preachers, Sunday school teachers, and parents may have conveyed that Word, but they were only instruments that the Holy Spirit used to give me faith through the Word. And today’s biblical illiteracy amongst most members bears witness to how we have failed to use the Word in ministry. We may faithfully follow the pericopes, but the emphasis on Sunday is not really the Word but the parish program....
...The Word will not return void but will achieve that which God intends when it is faithfully proclaimed and shared. Today, we too often share with others what someone has said about the Word, yet fail to help our members really understand and absorb God’s message for them[selves]. Programs, causes, and the organization are emphasized, and Scripture comes out second best.
The Spirit is working mightily in our day in what some term the “maverick” churches. The fields are white unto harvest and many are being brought into the kingdom. They may not recite the Creed or do the liturgy but they have a deep respect and love for God’s Word and know his salvation....
A pastor shared this experience. On vacation, he went to church at a small rural parish and wondered who the pastor might be. Just when the service was to begin, a man drove up in a beat-up pickup. He was dressed in work clothes and rather plain looking. It turned out that this was the preacher. It seemed that one wouldn’t get much of a message in a small church with a very plain preacher. But when the sermon was preached with simple words using a wealth of Scripture, the visiting pastor said that to his amazement that sermon was probably the most meaningful and powerful sermon he had ever heard.
Mission does not depend upon programs, eloquence, or education, it is only successful when the Word of God is rightly preached, taught, and shared. Let’s get with it!
Lester F. Polenz, Mansfield, Ohio
I’m afraid it will take more than congregations committing to the ongoing creation of new groups and ministries for new people for the growth of a congregation (“Growth or Decline in a Congregation: The Single Greatest Key,” Sept./Oct. 2004). It will take pastors getting out of the ivory towers of our offices and being with our people on a one-to-one basis, and letting our young people know that we are concerned about them.
I fear that our decline started when the Lutheran Book of Worship forsook the Gloria Patri, Agnus Dei, Gloria in Excelsis, Nunc Dimittis, and other worship languages of the church throughout the ages. Now young people have no idea what they are and mean, because we didn’t teach them the beauty of the liturgy. Our Lutheran church had a Common Service familiar to all other Lutheran churches, but the variables of Lutheran Book of Worship, and now other worship materials, have us doing different things and fumbling to find the right book and page, and we just can’t keep up with it all. Renewing worship? Why did we let it become old so it would need renewing?
George B. Shealy, Walhalla, South Carolina
For almost 19 years I was pastor of a Lutheran church in Houston, Texas. Members were constantly moving, averaging about 125 losses a year. In order to replace these [members] and grow — which we did — [our growth] was caused by dedicated members who lived their faith, biblical preaching, heavy emphasis on good Sunday school teaching, catechetical training for the youth, and evangelistic visitation.
After reading “Transforming for Mission” and “Growth or Decline in a Congregation” I wonder if those who trained me in seminary misled me. For I did not “birth”my members in a “new methodology.” In truth, I led them in the method that would make a church “stable in a changing world. ”The method was based on Word and Sacraments, and not the “ongoing creation of new groups and ministries for new people.”
As I read the New Testament about the beginnings of our Christian church, I don’t find references to such seasonal techniques, special forms, or group meetings changing what caused people to repent of their sins and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. I am convinced these approaches confuse listeners and cause them to search elsewhere for Christianity as it was taught and preached in the days of our Lord and his apostles.
Suggesting “new” methods reminds me of a lady who told me one day, “My church keeps me so busy attending meetings telling me how to be a Christian [that] I have no time to be one.”
David F. Conrad, Oneonta, Alabama
Stacking the Deck
I was dismayed to see the personal attacks you allowed in your Letters column against Michael Greenauer, evidently without giving him the opportunity to respond before they were published (Letters, Sept./Oct. 2004).
I know that I am unqualified to address the scientific issues he and the other correspondents raise, and therefore I follow the discussion with interest. Certainly his arguments are fair game for question and attack; his person should not be. I believe Aristotle’s term for this fallacy is ad hominem.
We are constantly told that our discussion of homosexuality in the ELCA is to be open and respectful of all points of view. Evidently our official publications limit that respect to those advocating one side of the issue. Or have those who are saying that the deck is stacked been correct all along?
W. Steven Shipman, Watsontown, Pennsylvania
I agree with Steve McKinley’s analysis on non-member weddings (Sept./Oct. 2004). What is at stake here is whether the wedding ceremony is a consumer good which is paid for — and we clergy are the delivery people — or it is a sacred worship service.
Most church members have told me that they opt for the sacred worship service. However, when it is their distant relative who is pulling “strings” to use the church, I have seen the most conservative Christian sound like a Unitarian Universalist when it comes to wiggle room for their relatives. They can be bossy and cheap at the same time.
The “evangelism” reason does not fly in my experience. It is more intellectually honest to declare to be a “community” chapel and schedule weddings as one does for building use for the Scouts, 4-H, or 12-Step groups.
David Coffin, Ada, Ohio
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