From the Disk of the Pastor - July 2009
Dear Friends in Christ,
During the recent district convention, there was a presentation on the Transforming Churches Network. It was a really a waste of time. The presenter, Rev. Terry Tieman, spent about three hours rehashing the same old song and dance that’s been around for about three decades and which has never really worked all that well. Furthermore, only in one brief segment did he even mention the Bible. Likewise the pastors have been receiving information on revitalization grants from the synod. These would be monetary grants which congregations could seek to pay for special projects to help fire up their congregation. But there are strings attached - hoops to jump through. Many of these things appear to be counterproductive.
This got me thinking. What if I were a billionaire and therefore had the resources to offer my own grants to congregations? What would I require of congregations? What things really would revitalize a congregation. Some of what I would require is based on my observations of one particular congregation - Advent Lutheran Church, Zionsville, Indiana. Advent was started in the mid- 1990's. It has grown steadily, each year since. Many years it has been the fastest growing congregation in its district, and among the fastest growing in the synod as a whole. First I would require that the pastor preach substantial sermons, heavy with strong, distinctly Lutheran content. Second, I would require the congregation to use services selected from our hymnal. Likewise, I would require them to use hymns from our hymnal, with a special emphasis on those hymns of Lutheran origin. Third, I would require them to offer the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. Fourth, I would require that their Bible Study attendance be at least 80% of their worship attendance, and that their Bible Studies be catechetical in nature. Topics to be covered would include the authority and nature of Scripture, the Small and Large Catechisms, the Augsburg Confession, and the liturgy. Fifth, I would require the restoration of the old Lutheran practice of Private Confession and Absolution and require that at least 50% of those who commune each month also receive private absolution. Of these, only the last item is not in place at Advent, Zionsville. After doing these things for six months, I would give the congregation the grant, for whatever project they are proposing. However, I would do this in the form of a loan, which I would service on their behalf so long as they continued doing these things.
The most controversial probably would be Private Confession and Absolution. If we look at the section on Confession in the Small Catechism it presumes that this will take place in a private setting. It specifically asks the question of what sins we are to confess to our pastor. Further, the first constitution of the Missouri Synod, back in 1847, instructed congregations, wherever possible, to abolish corporate confession and replace it with private confession. Frontier conditions where pastors spent only short periods of time in each parish made this impractical.
Why would I do it this way? Well, because I know that money, while helpful, does not, in itself, revitalize congregations. Nor do special projects. Congregations are revitalized when people are drawn closer to Christ through Word and Sacrament. Part of that growth process is improving life long catechesis. While faith is not bare knowledge, knowing more about who God is and what God has done and continues to do, makes it easier to trust in Him. We cannot believe in a God we don’t know. So in the end it is not the money that will revitalize congregations, but the Holy Spirit, working through Word and Sacrament. If I were a billionaire, I would use some of that money to draw people to these God given means.
Rev. Jody R. Walter