14 January 2009

Fellowship or Franchise?

In the thirteen years that I have been a pastor, a number of folks have left Emmaus for other local congregations, and as many or more have transferred to Emmaus from other local congregations. This sort of thing happens, of course, and no doubt for all sorts of reasons. My own rule of thumb is that one should be a member of the nearest congregation wherein the Gospel is rightly preached (the Law and the Gospel rightly divided) and the Sacraments are faithfully administered (reverently in accord with the Word of Christ). I realize that it can sometimes be a bit dicey and more difficult to measure and discern these criteria in practice, and that other attendant circumstances also come into play, but this isn't my main point.

In every case when I have had members of a sister congregation visit Emmaus more than once or twice, and certainly when any such members of a sister congregation have expressed interest in transferring their membership, I have insisted that they visit with their pastor and express to him whatever concerns they may have. In most of these cases, they have already done so; in each of the other cases, they have done so after speaking with me. In several situations, I have also contacted the other pastor in question, myself, as a matter of collegial courtesy. It has simply seemed obvious to me that such a conversation should certainly take place. In any event, I won't accept the transfer of members from another local congregation without proceeding in that manner.

It has not always worked that way in reverse, when members of Emmaus have found their way to other congregations in the area. Transfer requests have sometimes appeared out of the blue, occasionally without any prior hint that such a thing was in the works. Other transfers have come about as no real surprise, but still they were not preceded by any pertinent conversation. From what I have been able to gather, I am not alone in having this happen to me, but it troubles me that it should happen at all.

I realize that people have their reasons for doing what they do. Sometimes they are theological reasons; sometimes not. Sometimes they are good reasons; sometimes not. Lay people do not always know the proper protocol, and they simply proceed in naivete. Some folks are shy or nervous or embarrassed, and so they are reluctant to approach their pastor with a conversation that is likely to disappoint him or hurt his feelings. I understand all this, and I am sympathetic, even though it is a shame. People should communicate with their pastor if they have questions or concerns, or if they desire to transfer their membership for whatever reason; but in the end, I am most concerned that they be hearing the Gospel faithfully preached and receiving the means of grace from a shepherd of their souls.

What I don't understand is brother pastors who would welcome the sheep of another pasture without a word. Is there no admonition to do the right thing? Or does it simply go unheeded? Is it such a difficult thing, or considered so unnecessary, to call a person's present pastor and inquire as to the circumstances? Does not even courtesy suggest such an effort?

Sometimes it seems to me that the "LCMS" is less a fellowship than a franchise, and that, instead of living in communion with one another, we are engaged in a competition over heads of sheep. But I don't want to think of things that way. Although I have different opinions and practices than some of my brothers in office, and some points of significant disagreement, I don't view my colleagues as competitors, but as fellow ministers of the one Gospel of our one Lord Jesus Christ. That is why I will not receive their members into my congregation and pastoral care without first of all making sure that they are "in the loop" and respected for the sake of their office and their labor in the Gospel. Indeed, I have done the same when Christians approach me from outside the Lutheran Church altogether. But what does it mean for the fellowship of the Missouri Synod when brothers in office do not afford each other the same courtesy and respect? Is this typical or unusual?


wmc said...

Proper churchmanship, especially local, is rare indeed. There are the occasional bright spots, as you describe, but on the whole we are competing franchises, though McDonalds has much greater uniformity when it comes to product and practice.

"Loose Federation" is probably a more accurate description.

Welcome to reality.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Too many times the local congregation is worried about itself - finances, numbers, what a person or family might mean to it. Occasionally we will get visitors from neighboring congregations, and people will have their eyes light up - maybe we will grow -- and it takes a bit to convince people that this isn't really "growth."

Of course, as I think half of the people in my circuit at one time were members of my congregation, but then moved into town and transferred, it makes sense that this attitude would develop - almost a little bit of getting our own back.

From the perspective of the person who goes from congregation to congregation. . . we are franchises. Why should there be specific loyalty - the importance is my relationship with God. Besides, you can even be a good little Lutheran, because after all you are jumping to another Lutheran congregation - not like those people who became Baptist or what have you.

And yes, echoing Pastor Cwirla, franchise isn't the best word. If I go into a McDonalds anywhere in the country, I expect to be able to get a quarter pounder with cheese. There might be some local variation - NM McDonalds let you get green chiles - but you know the basics will be there.

Maybe instead of a fellowship, we are like a box of chocolates - you never know what you are gonna get - and if you don't like what you got, just go pick another one. . . maybe it will be more pleasing.

wmc said...

"aybe instead of a fellowship, we are like a box of chocolates - you never know what you are gonna get..."

Ah, quoting the famous LCMS theologian CFW Gump.

wmc said...

In our circuit, we are making serious efforts at informing each other when our sheep are wandering into other pastures. What Rick describes is a real problem, especially as it pertains to congregational discipline. Without genuine oversight, this is going to be a persistent problem much like the communion admission problem we discussed earlier.

ToddPeperkorn said...

I can't even count the number of times I've discovered that my members are now parishioners at another congregation without my knowledge. When someone joins my parish, I do my best to at the absolute least inform their previous congregation, regardless of their synodical affiliation. It seems the least we can do.

PMagness said...

When one's chief theme is "growth" or "mission" rather than the forgiveness of sins, one is going to face a much stronger temptation to care about number$. So it does not surprize me that in the three circuits I have served, the more confessional churches have been fairly transparent in their relationships with sister parishes regarding transfers, while the more (fill in your label here) churches just don't communicate.

I guess the best construction one can place on it is that they are just too busy with all their dynamic and exciting programs to have time to care - even as they are busy "loving people to Jesus" - but that of course doesn't make it right. Families communicate.

And yet confessionals are usually the ones accused of not being good members of the synodical family.

BTW, the McDonalds analogy is great. I remember being chez McDo in Paris and encountering some funky sauce packets that were NOT ketchup. Some sort of ersatz Bernaise sauce, I think. But you still had the Big Mac, the then-meatfat-driblled fries, and the "triple thick" shake.

For all of Synod, Inc.'s obsession with marketing, you'd think they'd understand that you can't be a franchise without uniformity.

But that is the problem we face. In right-hand things, Synod Inc. wants freedom in fellowship. But in left-hand things, Synod Inc wants uniformity in franchise. But the way we should go of course if unity on the right (spiritual matters) and freedom on the left (temporal).

This certainly isn't your grandfathers' synod anymore, is it? Hopefully fresh leadership will get things turned back around soon!

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for your comments, Phil. I think your observations and analysis are pretty spot-on.

Your comparison/contrast between the different approaches to "fellowship" on the right and on the left is quite insightful.

CaptainCatechism said...

If more people worried about being faithful and not "marketable" the problem would solve itself.
What are we doing to teach towards being faithful to our God, or brothers and our Confessions?