28 September 2010

Simply to Work, or Because of a Need?

There is an assumed, unspoken idea that Pastors need to get people more involved in "Church" - where "Church" refers not specifically to worship and bible study, but to activities and volunteer opportunities. The idea is that if you have more and more people volunteering and showing up to Church over the course of the week, that this is ultimately good. Get them doing something.


I don't mean this is a pejorative way, but simply as a call to reconsider our thinking. Why? Why do we do this?

Let me explain what got me thinking about this. A friend of mine told me that he was asked to do some work with college aged youth at his church. This is brilliant - if he were attending my Church, I'd try to put him to work too. He's a diligent, intelligent, devout man, and would be a great example to folks he interacted with. Great! So I asked him, "What are they going to have you do?" His response: they don't know yet.


Now, the simple Germanic Planner in me is revolted by this. Why wasn't there brainstorming done, why wasn't there at least a rough outline of what was going to be done? So I asked if he was going do x or y, things I knew were going on at the Church. Nope - they've got that covered, and it goes well, but they'll want to put him to work with something else that is as of yet to be determined.

Again, this isn't me being critical - because if he were here at my congregation, I'd want to FIND something to put him to work doing. But why?

If there is no need for someone to do something, why do we think we need to find something for them to do (okay, for this guy, I'd like to ship him off to the Seminary, but that's another point entirely)? Do we approach volunteering in the Church on a basis of a need to accomplish some goal of service, or is it a matter of simply putting people to work?

I think that we end up assuming that a person volunteering for something will make them better members of the Congregation, will enrich their spiritual life. That's the assumption - that if you show up to Church during the week, you will be a better person for it.

I don't know if that is true. I have plenty of people who are active in the service life of this congregation, who do their elected or volunteer roles faithfully... and I can't remember the last time I've seen them on a Sunday. I don't think simply having someone work with X makes them more spiritually focused.

And perhaps there is another downside to this. How are we approaching the very idea of "work" within the Church? Is it a matter of we as Christians showing love as love is needed, wherever and whenever - or is it more a matter of almost a backdoor "works-are-what-makes-the-Christian" sort of approach? Do we have people thinking that they have done their time at Church... that Church is about the service I give and do rather than receiving Christ's love and then reflecting that love to others?

So what about it? Why do we try so hard to get people to do things? Is it self-serving (if they work, maybe they'll give more offering -- which is actually probably backwards)? Is it backdoor Pietism where there are Christians and then the "Good Christians" who help out at Church? Is it just trying to get people to attend service without simply saying, "You should be attending service"? And have we lost a focus on the works of the Church truly being works of mercy and service to those in our midst and those without?

27 September 2010

In Praise of Deconstruction

(Simply because I haven't given anyone a heart attack in almost a month)

I admit that I find postmodernism fascinating - and I'm sure that this is partially because I despise modernism and rationalism with full fervor. Post-modernism is designed, above all else, to point out the foolish, arrogant, and even damnable assumptions rationalism makes about anything and everything.

The tool that is used for this is deconstruction. What is it to deconstruct? To demonstrate that a perceived truth is not a universal truth, but rather something specific to the moment. For example, if you were to ask the typical American how criminals are (in theory) supposed to be punished, the answer is that they go to jail (and if you ask a liberal they might add "to be rehabilitated"). This is a perceived truth, but it is not a universal truth. In many places today the default punishments are not prison terms but corporal in nature. More over, historically, this wasn't true in the US either - go back 200 years and our own use of prisons were vastly different. That which is perceived to be capital T truth is show just to be a cultural construct, a particular adaptation of our own society.

While we might not want to admit it, we use deconstruction all the time. It is the basis of Lutheran apologetics, where all we are doing are breaking down the false, preconceived notions people have about themselves, the Christian faith, and the world. And this is nothing new. To disabuse someone of false notions of reality is precisely what Christ does over and over in the New Testament. "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband" is deconstructing this woman's idea of what it is to have a husband.

But why is this idea of deconstruction or postmodernism so scary to us as Lutherans? Because the rampant, crass postmodernists have started deconstructing the Church. So we freak out and run in terror - when the very language of postmodernism and deconstruction shows us how we can defeat them.

The key is this - to successfully deconstruct, you must show how a perceived truth is not true in all places and in all times. Hmmm... let's think about that, do we as Christians have a word to describe something that is true, is real in all times and in all places. . . hmmm.

To assert the catholic nature of the Church is to assert that, according to the standards established by postmodern thought and deconstruction, the doctrines of the Church are true and more sure than any individual perception or thought.

"That's just your truth!" No, actually it is not mine, it is not one of my own deriving, it is one I have received, one I confess with Christians of all times and all places. It is not unique to me, but it is Universal. Do individuals botch and abuse it - sure, of course - and the catholic faith teaches that all are sinful, so of course individuals are going to mess it up. But there is reality in this faith. There is reality in this service. And it goes beyond what our eyes can see, what our minds can comprehend (take that rationalism!), it goes beyond what you or I determine for ourselves (take that, dumbed down Postmodernism!).

The counter to any claim of a social construct is catholicity.... After all, what is "contemporary" worship but an abandoning of catholic structures to construct something that one thinks will appeal to society?

Don't be scared of deconstructionism. Don't let the postmodernist scare or intimidate you. Deconstruct them. Show how their perceptions fall short of the catholic truth - and then maybe they will see.

23 September 2010

PMI: Maybe Not TMI, But MTP and TWI

Missing The Point and The Wrong Inquisition

I'm wondering how much TLCMS, Inc. has already "invested" in postage for this Spanish inquisition, the proper name of which I cannot recall (because the blizzard of mailings I've received on it are in a pile at church). "Preparedness for Ministry Inventory," or some such thing, is what it is called.

When I got the first request, this past spring, to participate in a trial run of this new instrument, purportedly advocated by the seminaries, I was reluctant to do so. I've frankly lost my confidence in anything from the Corporation's Capital City pertaining to the pastoral ministry or the actual life of the church, though I am optimistic for the future now that we have a pastor and a theologian in the office of the president. We shall see.

Anyway, I was reluctant to participate, but I asked my board of elders and church council for their input, opinion and recommendation, and they suggested that it might be helpful to the synodical boards and seminaries to have some input from a solid confessional congregation like ours. They encouraged me to participate, and I agreed to do so.

Since then, I've received at least five other mailings about this thing, thanking me, reminding me, thanking me, reminding me, letting me know it was almost on its way, then the thing itself, and then another thank you and reminder. Somebody's functions have certainly survived the summer, clearly enough, and TLCMS, Inc. is doing more than its share to support the U.S. Postal Service, too. Kudos, I guess, to those who are finding such ways to keep busy and to spend money we don't have.

President Harrison certainly has his work cut out for him.

But what is it that the Corporation is spending so much time, energy and postage promoting? This instrument is intended to evaluate the preparation of pastors for, well, presumably for the pastoral office, but apparently for the position of some kind of program director and social coordinator, part politician, part schmoozer. It seems the authors of this survey may want pastors to be some kind of pansies, too, if the leading questions of this Spanish inquisition are any indication.

Not that I've seen the actual survey that I was asked to distribute to half a dozen or more lay members of my congregation. Trust the mortal princes and do as your told, or so the policy goes, leastwise where the previous synodical bureaucracy was concerned.

The accompanying survey, which I was asked to complete as the pastor, dealt not with the means of grace, nor the preaching of the Gospel, nor the catechesis of the Word of Christ, nor pastoral care, nor anything pertaining to the actual life of the Church, but with community demographics and sociology. I was not asked how often I hear confession, nor whether I go to confession with my own father confessor. I was not asked how often the congregation is gathered for the Word of God and prayer. I was not asked about visitations, nor the piety and practice of the Holy Communion, nor the observance of the Church Year and the celebration of the Divine Service.

Now that the laity who were given the sealed instrument to complete have been fulfilling that task, I'm hearing about the sort of things they were asked. At least some of them were quite put off by the character and content of the questions (I haven't heard from the others). Since I was not privy to the actual survey, I can only go on what I've been told, but it evidently has more to do with program development and direction than with the pastoral office and ministry. That doesn't surprise me, 'cause it's the same ol' same ol' thing that I've been hearing from the Corporate Capital for the past decade. But, still, it makes me downright sad. Not for me and my congregation, who are living and growing in the joy of the Gospel. But it makes me sad for the fellowship of the Church on earth; for my brother pastors who are beleaguered and wearied and driven to exhaustion and despair by misguided and wrongheaded expectations and criteria; for the dear people of God who are given propaganda and marketing strategies instead of pastoral care and catechesis; and for the faithful seminary professors who are surely more interested in preparing real pastors for Christ's Church instead of program directors for the Corporation's clientèle.

How long, O Lord, how long, until the called and ordained stewards of Your sacred Mysteries are encouraged to be faithful in that stewardship, and are helped and supported in that stewardship, by their fathers and brothers in office, instead of being cajoled and corralled into misguided enterprises and wrongheaded undertakings of human devising?

How long, O Lord, how long, until the actual Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, that is to say, the pastors and congregations of Your Church who share this fellowship in a common confession and administration of the Gospel, set their hearts, minds and bodies on doing just that: namely, confessing and administering Your Gospel, in the confidence of Your Cross and Resurrection?

Pastors are prepared for the pastoral ministry by the pastoral care of the pastoral ministry: which isn't about marketing or propaganda, but comprises the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the ongoing catechesis of the Word of Christ unto faith in His forgiveness, the hearing of confession and the absolving of sins in His name and stead, and the regular reception of the Body and Blood of Christ. Where those things are not at the center, neither is Christ Jesus. Where those things are the heart of who we are and what we do, there Christ is our true treasure, and we live by the grace of His Gospel, unto the life everlasting.

Kyrie eleison! Christe eleison! Kyrie eleison!