Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
How To Grow St. Matthew Lutheran Church - February 2013 Newsletter
There are two possible ways to grow St. Matthew Lutheran Church. One way is what I would call a secular way, and the other is the Lutheran Biblical way. The secular way has been tried, even by our own district and synod and in my own opinion has been seen to fail. Please understand that I will be describing this secular way rather simplistically (I like to put things in simple terms for myself) and that those who espouse this position would probably disagree with my assessment. This secular way was once called “Church Growth,” but because it did not work, the false presuppositions of this movement have been relabeled as a “Missional” movement. Do not be deceived, these are the same ideas that come out of a sociological understanding that if you do certain social things, people will come to your church. And yes, this premise is true, if you do certain things, such as offer a free car, have enough parking spaces, have enough seats, etc, people will come to your church however; the Church is not simply a social gathering, and it is not for simple social reasons that the Church grows and is the Church. Both the “Church Growth” and “Missional” movements, while sounding very good after all who would not want the church to grow and who would not want to be mission-minded both fail not only in Lutheran Doctrine but in Biblical teaching. Actually they fail because of a lack of confession, that is a lack of understanding the need for pure doctrine (see what God told the Children of Israel when they moved into the promised land). Both these movements have at the heart a false teaching that people are the means of grace. In other words, it is people, you and me who go out and convert others to make them Christians. Now certainly, it is true that social means will bring people to church; however, once in church, and once they hear Law and Gospel, those who have been drawn for social reasons will often find that these teachings are not what they want to hear. What they want to hear is what their itching ears want to hear how good they are and how they can continue to do and believe as they want and that they are saved anyway. Or they find other churches, denominations that can do social church better. Thus, I would suggest neither of these is the way to grow our church.
The Church is God’s people given faith by God, and that faith given by God is also nurtured, strengthened and grown by God through the very means He has given to give, nurture, strengthen and grow, His means of grace. Please understand that this growth of the Church has nothing to do with how many bodies show up on any given Sunday morning but has everything to do with one’s heart and faith. For the Church to truly grow it must be saturated, permeated, overflowing with the means of grace. In other words, in order for the Church to grow, the members of the Church must be filled with the gifts God gives to the point of overflowing so they then spill out those gifts onto others. So, how does that overflowing look?
In the real estate business it is said that there are three things that are needed to be successful at selling a property, and those three things are location, location, location. I would suggest that in order for a church to grow there are three things that are needed, and they are vocation, vocation, vocation.
The first step in growing a church is understanding the importance of Divine Service. The Divine Service is for Christians; it is not an evangelistic event. Certainly a non-Christian might attend a Divine Service, and we would do well to invite our unchurched family and friends, but the main purpose of Divine Service is that it is God’s Service to us. Our Divine Service is the place we come to be given the gifts God gives, to be filled so that we might be able to go out and give an answer for the hope that we have in our Savior, Christ the Lord. When we neglect to be in Divine Service, our actions speak that this Service is unimportant and not necessary. And to God our actions say, “No, thank You,” to the gifts God has to give. Why would anyone want to attend or be a part of a church that its own members do not want to attend? So, in order to grow our church we must first want to grow in our own faith life by being in Divine Service, and I would add in Bible Class and Bible Study as well, as these are also opportunities to be fed, grow in our faith, and strengthen in our ability to be ready to give an answer, a defense for our faith.
The second step in growing a church is understanding the importance of your vocation. Contrary to the popular notion, not everyone is a minister, but everyone is a priest (notice, small “p”). Remember that God calls us to life at conception. He calls us to faith at Baptism. And He calls us to our vocation with some men called into the Office of Holy Ministry. God calls us all into vocation which is that we are priests. Remember also that the role of the priest is to offer sacrifices, and the sacrifices we offer are our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord (Rom. 12:1). We all live our lives in various vocations at the same time, such as husband, father, brother, uncle, son as well as any work or career such as carpenter, architect, electrician, computer technician, farmer, rancher, salesman, garbage collector, custodian, teacher, and so forth. Whatever our station and vocation in life, we are to live as priests. We are to live our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord so that as others see us and know that we are Christians, they get a good understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Of course, this is where we often fall into our sinful nature and fail to be a Christian witness as we bad mouth our church, our pastor, or our fellow members. Too often we give a bad witness by refusing and rejecting the gifts God gives by absenting ourselves from Divine Service, and others see this witness that we make. When we make a bad witness and then ask our neighbor if they would like to come to church with us on Sunday, their response of “No” should not surprise us. However, as we, with the help of God, make a good witness, then when we are asked concerning our hope and faith, we know that God will give us the confidence as well as the words to speak in response of our faith. And the words we speak are those words the Holy Spirit stirs in us to speak, words which we have heard in Divine Service and Bible Class.
The final step in growing a church is putting these things into practice. The Lutheran Biblical approach to evangelism and to growing a church is practicing what we preach. If we want to grow St. Matthew Lutheran Church, the first thing we will do is be in Divine Service as often as and whenever offered. And we will encourage each other, especially those who continually absent themselves from Divine Service, to return. The second thing we will do is live and work in all our vocations as priests, living lives of faith (even if imperfect lives of faith), always speaking and putting the best construction on everything, and always speaking well of our congregation, its members and our pastor. And we will always be ready to give an answer for the faith and hope we have in Christ as our Savior. Finally, we will be conscious and intentional in speaking to others, inviting them to Divine Service and Bible Class, and speaking God’s Word to them, doing so with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15).