Friday, September 30, 2011

About that clergy "shortage..."

Baptized and confirmed membership is down. The number of congregations is down. And the number of clergy is up. Draw your own conclusions about the reality of a "clergy shortage."

Baptized membership fell by 33,525 (to 2,278,586) and confirmed membership
decreased by 20,115 (to 1,764,024).

The number of member congregations in 2010 fell by 20 (to 6,158). The number of ordained clergy serving in parishes was up by 33, to 5,369. The number of
clergy serving in other capacities fell by 49 to 630, while the number of
retired clergy increased by 29, to 2,928.

Read the whole press release here.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

You Spin Me Right Round, Jesus?

Here's another example of "worship" that speaks volumes about what's wrong with Praise Bands, if you have ears to hear (and eyes to see). I mean, either we have to say, "OK, nothing wrong here, folks, it's all adiaphora, and there's no detectable false doctrine, so you can't judge," or you have to agree with us that the divine liturgy is not a matter of indifferent things. If you take the time to read the uploader commments at the youtube site, you'll see that this is in fact the discussion people are having there.

It's also another example of the kind of thing I was seeking to show in my most recent Liturgical Observer (for a subscription to the print version of our quarterly journal, click here), of a singer taking a popular rock song and changing the words a bit to convince himself that he has made it acceptable for worship. The example I had listed in the Observer was George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord," for which someone replaced the background lyrics from the Bhagavad-Gita with references to Jesus. This example is actually creepier than that one, because it takes a song which is unquestionably about hedonistic sex -- "You Spin Me Right Round, Baby," by the overtly homosexual band Dead or Alive (to see for yourself, click here) -- and seeks to make it Christian. I expect few of those kids in the audience who were, um, spinning right round for Jesus were aware of the ugly origin of that tune, and who knows, perhaps some of those dancing Israelites were similarly unaware that their "worship" was unacceptable to God (for the final word on it, check with Moses).

So raise your hand if you think these people are actually worshiping Jesus. And if you raised your hand, it's likely you wanted to take of your shoe and spin it around too, like the people in the video, right?

I can't decide, but I think maybe this is Gnosticism, the ancient religion named some of its gods "Truth," "Word," "Life," and "Church" but was as far from Christian as darkness is from light.

HT: Dr. William Tighe

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A modicum of church order

The men who penned the Formula of Concord (as well as the men who penned the Small Catechism and the Augsburg Confession, for that matter) also penned binding church orders - the words and rubrics to be used in Lutheran churches. There was no allowance for "creative worship," for each pastor and parish to make up liturgies as they liked. Instead, whole churches (that is, all the congregations within the territorial boundaries of a prince/city council/duke who had accepted the Reformation) agreed together how worship should be conducted within their churches and then stuck to it. Martin Chemnitz had the task, as Lord Superintendent, to see to it that all the pastors were indeed sticking to it. He wrote a book to examine them in their doctrine and their practice, the Enchiridion (available from CPH), according to which they were examined twice yearly. In that work's third part, he wrote,

Part 3. With regard to the doctrine concerning ecclesiastical ceremonies (which we first said would be the third chief part of this examination), it is contained and set forth in the church order. Pastors should also be examined with regard to that very doctrine, so that they might both have the right understanding of it and be able rightly to explain it to their hearers. Likewise, one should inquire whether and how they observe those ceremonies. Superintendents should also confer with pastors regarding marriage orders, incorporated in the church order, that they might have the necessary understanding also of them.

What is this "church order" to which he refers? It is the order of Braunschweig-Wulffenbüttel of 1569. (By the way - I am quoting from a draft translation of this provided to me by Fr. William Weedon - the translation was done by Fr. Matt Harrison in 1999 and revised by A. Smith in 2011. I have no idea if they plan to publish it, but they should!) What sort of things did this church order legislate? Both doctrine and practice. In the matter of worship, the exact order of Divine Service, in both word and deed are given. For example,

the pastors and ministers [kirchendiener] who desire to hold mass when communicants are present shall not merely in their common clothing, but rather in their ecclesiastical vestments [ornatu ecclesiastico] such as alb, cassock and chasuble, very honorably and with great reverence and invocation of the Son of God approach the altar and commence, hold and accomplish the office of the mass [officium missae].

There is plenty in this order that any given reader of Gottesdienst will like and also plenty he will dislike. I like the bit about vestments above. I don't like the bit where the elevation of the Sacrament is forbidden. But please note the reason given for discontinuing the elevation: "because the elevation [elevatio] has been done away with in the neighboring reformed churches of this and other lands for good and important reasons, it shall thus be discontinued in all places, so that the dissimilarity may not produce disputes."

Hasn't the dissimilarity of worship around your circuit, district, and synod caused disputes? Isn't it insane that you can't go on vacation and find a service you recognize in a Lutheran church? But just how much similarity is needed? That's the question that AC XXVIII and FC X leaves up to each church jurisdiction. We are not about to arrive at the sort of unity and harmony in worship that was required by this church order in 1569. But surely, we would benefit from more than we have today. And really, the Synod's constitution has a very broad sort of church order. We ought to follow it. It is not oppressive. It allows for much local variation in ceremonies - but it also provides for a healthy amount of unity and harmony.

With that in mind, check out this resolution that will be headed to the NID district convention's floor committee for 2012 (HT: Fr. Ben Ball). It might be something you want to send in to your district as well.


To Encourage Harmony in the Worship Services of Congregations of the Northern Illinois District

Whereas, the Scriptures say that in Christian worship "all things should be done decently and in order" (I Cor. 14:40); and

Whereas,, the Scriptures say that, "'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful,' but not all things build up " (I Cor 10:23); and

Whereas, the Formula of Concord states that the Church "in every time and place has the right, power, and authority to change, reduce, or expand [church] practices according to circumstances in an orderly and appropriate manner, without frivolity or offense, as seems most useful, beneficial, and best for good order, Christian discipline, evangelical decorum, and the building up of the church" (FC SD X.9); and

Whereas, the Augsburg Confession states that "it is lawful for bishops or pastors to establish ordinances so that things are done in the church in an orderly fashion....It is fitting for the churches to comply with such ordinances for the sake of love and tranquility" (AC XXVIII.54-55); and

Whereas, the Constitution of the Synod states that one of the "[c]onditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod" is "4. Exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms in church and school" (Art. VI); and

Whereas, controversy has continued in the church for some time concerning pastors and congregations who write their own orders for public worship, or draw them from sources other than those mentioned in the Synod's Constitution, therefore be it

Resolved, that the Northern Illinois District solemnly encourages each congregation in the district to offer public worship services exclusively according to the rites and services of the Synod's three English hymnbooks/agenda (The Lutheran Hymnal, Lutheran Worship, and Lutheran Service Book) as well as the supplemental hymnbooks/agenda prepared by the Synod's Commission on Worship (Worship 1969; Hymnal Supplement ‘98; All God's People Sing), the French hymnal of the Lutheran Church-Canada, (Liturgies et Cantiques Luthérien), and the Spanish hymnals of the LCMS (Culto Christiano and ¡Cantad el Señor!) and be it finally

Resolved, that the Northern Illinois District Praesidium investigate what other languages in our district are in need of worship resources consistent with our confessional subscription and synodical constitution and formally request the Synod’s Board for National Mission to produce for Synodical convention approval resources as needed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gottesdienst Speakers' Bureau

Have you sat through enough tedious pastors' conferences yet? Well, then, maybe you should pass on this information about the Gottesdienst speakers' bureau to the folks on your district committee. Better yet, volunteer to serve on that committee and work directly to bring in one of our speakers. You can pick a wide range of topics and speakers as you can see from the full brochure. (NB: Some folks seem to have problems logging in to Scribd - if it asks you to log in via your Facebook account and you don't have one, there will be a link that says "I Don't have a Facebook Account" - click that and you will be good to go.)


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Weedon nails it

My colleague down the road a pace has hit the nail on the head: Kind for President.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Speaking of Synod and Districts...

It's all over the web today: the MN South District BOD has voted to sell the University Lutheran Chapel's building, probably to a real estate developer, for no less than $3.2 million. Read more about it here. The congregation and pastor don't want to lose their building. Wouldn't even the Fugger bankers give the congregation and pastor until the end of the year to raise a competitive bid? Doesn't that seem like the minimum of human decency?

Check out the link above and let the district office know that you are willing to send in a donation. Ask them to give the congregation time to raise the funds.

UPDATE: I tried to call Pres. Seitz (952-223-2150) - his voice mail says he will be out of the office until Sept. 28th. Go figure.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Memo to Synod: Mind Your Own Business

This article was published in the Easter 2011 issue of Gottesdienst. By request it is being posted here. Word is that the mischief herein mentioned is still going on.

Naiveté can get one into trouble. I should have smelled something fishy when I received a request from the LCMS International Center to have my parish participate in a “Perceptions of Ministry Inventory,” a survey designed “to enhance the formation and professional development of parish pastors”; had I been paying closer attention, I might have wondered why the Board for Pastoral Education and the Council of Presidents wanted to assure me that my “privacy and anonymity will be preserved throughout the process.” I might have been a bit suspicious about the fact that the survey packets I was to hand out to various congregational leaders were sealed. Why the secrecy? But I shrugged, Why not? What harm can a little survey do?

Next thing I know, the survey packets are being returned to me by confused people wondering why they are being asked to pass judgment on their pastor’s performance. Fortunately for me, there’s no undercurrent of unrest in my parish. What if there were? These survey questions could be lethal:

How often have you seen that [your pastor]
Expresses his confidence in the Lord.
Recognizes his own intellectual, emotional and physical limitations.
Focuses on important issues in a conflict situation.
Worries about what others think of him.
Belittles a person in front of others.

That second-last one would probably get a higher ranking if the pastors knew what was in these sealed packets going out to their members. And the list goes on:

Appears to believe his own opinions as a pastor should be accepted without question.
Tends to be pessimistic and negative in his attitudes.
Talks and acts as though he is unable to forgive himself.

There are 117 questions in all. Each question is framed in a way that asks the participant to make a moral or value judgment about the pastor.

Frankly, it’s all rather creepy. It’s really creepy. Here we have the bureaucracy of the Missouri Synod butting its nose into the life of the parish, and for what purpose? What good could possibly come of this kind of thing? In the first place, the parishioners are subtly being asked here to craft their thinking in a way that is manifestly contrary to the meaning of the Eighth Commandment, which tells us to “explain everything in the kindest way.” But no matter: the survey needs to be filled out, which apparently grants permission to set the divine directive aside for a moment and become judge and jury! And to judge the pastor, of all people to forget to treat with the benefit of the doubt!

There are already plenty of parishioners around the Synod who are eager to do this very thing. The real reason they don’t like their pastor is likely to be (and usually is) that he has some confessional stamina, and so is unwilling to compromise the truth. Say he practices closed Communion, or refuses to allow the Gideons to speak to his people, or will not bend the rules forbidding members of Lodges to be members of his parish. Or say he’s more liturgical than his predecessor was, or conducts the liturgy in a less emotive kind of way, or won’t choose hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross.”

One of the questions asks how much “eye contact” he makes. Seriously? Eye contact? There will always be people who don’t like pastors for all the wrong reasons, which makes holding the confessional line a very difficult task for some pastors—particularly young or new ones. Persistence may require a boatload of patience and indomitable courage. But now, although the pastor is painstakingly hoping to lead his parishioners to a better and richer faith, they find in their hands this ghastly survey that provides them with a howitzer’s worth of ammo for use against him.

Does he behave “like a bull in a china shop”? Why yes! Yes! He does! That’s just it! He’s ruining our church! Is he “argumentative”? Yes! Exactly! He never listens to us! Why, I am led to wonder, aren’t they being asked if they ever listen to him, which is in fact the reason they are called “the hearers” in the Catechism?

And this one’s particularly rich: does the pastor remain “positive and constructive toward antagonistic members”? And now, by a stroke of coincidence, those very members have become more antagonistic.

What’s especially insidious about this project is that the pastor gets some survey questions of his own to answer, but they are of a different stripe. They’re all entirely bland, requiring no sort of assessment at all: questions of age, marital status, years of service, type of parish, etc. Not one of the 38 questions on the pastor’s form requires a judgment of any kind, leading the pastor—as it certainly did me—to think the whole exercise is entirely innocuous and harmless as a dove.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There are no assurances given that these surveys would not be shared with district officials in the midst of a “reconciliation” process between a troubled parish and her pastor, for though a promise of confidentiality is made, the results of the survey could still be given anonymously. And come to think of it, that could actually be devastating if used to accuse a pastor of flaws: anonymous accusations are the worst.

Dr. Glen Thomas, Executive Director of the Board for Pastoral Education, is the one whose name appears on all the correspondence about this, so I called him to express my concerns. Naturally he demurred, but he also said that the survey results may well be used by District Presidents to discuss areas of concern “fraternally” with the pastors whose members’ surveys may have led him to think some areas of pastoral improvement might be in order. I can’t quite imagine the benefit of a fraternal conversation with a District President encouraging me to make more eye contact with my people. Whatever happened to parish visitations in which superintendents looked for and encouraged pure doctrine and practice?

I pointed out to Dr. Thomas that the questions overall seem crafted in a way which encourages or elicits a negative assessment of the pastor, and all he could say was that a low mark on the negatives would itself amount to a positive mark. Right, and by the same token there was nothing sinister about the Pharisees’ temptations, since Jesus did the right thing by refusing to fall for their tricks! Further, Dr. Thomas told me several times that if the pastor determined he did not wish for his congregation to participate, he was free to choose that they not do so. Yet this reply sidesteps the feint embedded in the tool which leads the pastor to think the questions asked of his parishioners would be of the same vanilla flavor as the questions asked of him. How could he know otherwise? The parishioners’ packets were sealed. Dr. Thomas was pleasant enough to talk to on the phone, but I note that he did, er, “appear to believe his own opinions should be accepted without question,” and while he was polite, he also came off as rather “argumentative” to me. Let’s see, who’s his District President?

Even if these survey questions were not be used in any way to add fuel to a parish fire—though we now know that they may well be used for that very purpose—still, the ramifications of any high negative ratings would reflect poorly on seminary training. And what would come of that? Seminary training in psychobabble, anger management, or a host of efforts to make the pastor somehow nicer, while more likely serving to emasculate him. Forget integrity, theology, faithfulness; let’s concentrate on things like eye contact.

But the worst in this is that these kinds of menacing questions can get a train rolling along the perilous track of unintended consequences in the parish in which the questionnaires are circulated. They serve to help the “antagonistic members” to frame complaints in more concrete ways, even if the concretion of the complaint would bear little similarity to what is really irking the complainant. Is the pastor strong in his confession? Now he can be called stubborn, unyielding, hard to get along with. Is he willing to persist even when attacks on his person depress him? Now he can be called one who “distances himself,” is “easily hurt,” or “fatigued.” Honestly, if the devil himself wrote this thing I couldn’t imagine it being worse.

The Catechism quotes 1 Timothy 3 in saying that “the overseer must be above reproach,” etc., and to be sure, that list of requirements for a pastor is daunting: “. . . temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” That list is enough to deal with in itself. The last thing the pastor needs is a cadre of people whom the Synod has now abetted in their opposition to his efforts to be faithful, by offering them a potential list of nebulous character adjustments.

So here’s a little memo to the Synod: mind your own business, will you? If you really want to be of service to the churches, how about some encouragement for struggling pastors? How about reminding parishioners of what they owe their pastors? Gee, that sounds awfully “abrupt,” “driven by guilt and fear,” and needing “to have the last word,” doesn’t it? I suppose we might have had to change the way it’s put, were it not from the Catechism.

Go ahead, fill out a survey about me, and when you get to the question “can relate to others on a feeling level,” be sure to give me a high mark, because I do know how—I feel—how difficult it can be for those young guys who are just trying to be faithful. And on the question, “expresses anger or hostility toward other people or institutions,” you can rate me high on that one too, especially right now. Count this pastor as one whose anger is particularly reserved for meddlers.

You may get yourself a subscription to Gottesdienst by clicking here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Worst Sermon Face-off: Worm eating vs. Urination

By Larry Beane

In this corner, the worm-eating college president...

And in this corner, the preacher with a penchant for proud pee proclamation...

Which one is the "winner?"  Thanks be to God for one thing: neither of these trainwrecks happened in a Lutheran church!  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Out of the Barn!

King David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel, expressed the thrill of his heart when he knew and experienced the Lord's help in time of trouble in the 18th Psalm. It has always been one of my favorites. The imagery is gripping and intense:

"In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth. There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet. And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind."

And it occurred to me, as I was preparing the latest issue of Gottesdienst for mailing at the PO this morning, that, inasmuch as the Lord always uses means, and that his means of rescue is the Holy Gospel, there is truth to the sentiment that the sending forth of Gottesdienst is in some small sense a bit of this imagery come true. Gottesdienst is full of the Gospel, and exists for the purpose of defending the Holy Liturgy of the Church in which the Gospel has been encased throughout all of history. Therefore when the Lord's words in Gottesdienst are mailed out, I think it's ok to say that this is in some sense the Lord himself riding upon a cherub, flying, riding upon the wings of the wind, coming to aid his people.

Though we certainly take no credit for the Lord's work, we are pleased to have been given this task. And it certainly remains a thrill to be able, every quarter, to say these words again: Gottesdienst is out of the barn.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

He won't care how much you know until he knows how much you care

Dear Board of Elders of Wrath of God Lutheran Church,

I'm sorry to hear, through the grapevine, that you are having problems with your pastor. That's a rough business and doesn't do anybody, nor the church catholic, any good. I'm sure that more than one of your gripes have some basis in fact. I know that your young whipper snapper of a pastor is wet behind the ears and has a lot to learn from you men who were born and raised, and in turn begat and raised kids, in this parish. But, you know, he won't care how much you know until he knows how much you care.

Have you ever had a good boss or manager? My first really good boss was Lowell Highby, now communications director for Lutherans for Life, but once upon a time the program director of a small Christian radio station where I cut my teeth in broadcast. I was terrible: I would accidentally toss what I that I was cuing up on the air, miss breaks, and stammer through the weather. Lord willing, all of my aircheck tapes have been destroyed. But I wanted to get better and worked at getting better because I loved Lowell Highby. He was kind to me when I flubbed and was such a genuinely nice person who genuinely cared for me that I wanted to work harder and be better. I did get better because of him and eventually even landed a gig for a short stint as an interim news director at a real live commercial radio station.

Well, I'm boring you with this anecdote right out of a Lutheran Hour sermon for a reason. If you want a good pastor, treat your flubbing, goofy, odd, somewhat lazy young pastor like Lowell Highby treated me: with kindness, fatherly wisdom, and friendship. Show him love, and love for you will grow in him and make him want to serve you better.

But I didn't really learn all this from Lowell Highby, though I learned so very much from him - I really learned it from my board of elders. Once, when I was once again shocked by their kindness and generosity to me, a young whipper snapper with crazy ideas, I mentioned to them how blessed I was to have men like this who supported me and my ministry. And one of them said, "Well, we learned a long time ago that a pastor is kind of like a wife, he's going to do what he wants to anyway, so you might as well get on board."

Now, this was half a joke and we all laughed. If I told them to pray to saints or quit baptizing their children they would toss me out on my ear, as well they should. But it was only half a joke; there was a lot of truth to it, too. They could see that things like chanting, kneeling, getting younger kids into confirmation classes, and having communion every week were important to me. They could see that I was getting my stuff from the Bible (or at least it wasn't against the Bible) and that it went right along with the Synod's hymnal and agenda. They may not have particularly cared for my style, but clearly I was Lutheran. So they took my bad with my good, showed kindness to me and my family, supported me at voters meetings - and by golly did this make me want to be a better pastor for these godly men who loved me for no other reason than that I was their pastor.

And then, the same elder told me this story. Once they got a good pastor: he visited the shut ins, he was a go getter, nice young family, etc. This was several decades ago. Well, about three years in he got a call and took it. They were pretty bummed out, but so it goes in rural congregations: the good ones go on to greener pastures. But they still wanted to do something nice for the guy, so they rounded up some money and bought him a going-away present: a 27 inch color TV, which was quite extravagant at the time. After his last service when this was presented, he said to the elders, "I never knew they liked me."

Now that made them think. That good pastor might have stuck it out here, might not have taken that call, if he had known that his ministry was appreciated - if he had known how much they cared.

Now, maybe you don't think that your pastor is a good one. Well, all I can tell you is that I'm not a very good pastor either - I mess up, I drop the ball, I let people fall through the cracks, I forget to visit Mrs. Schickelgrueber when she is in the hospital, etc., etc. But they treat me with kindness anyway, they gently restore me when I err, and they show tangible evidence of their love for me and my family. I know how much they care - so I care very much what they know, I value their counsel, and I want to be a better pastor because of them. I know that there are no greener pastures for me and I am so very thankful to God for being here.

Your quickest route to a better pastor is to do the same for the one you've got.

Pastor Curtis

Worship Attire

By Larry Beane

An interesting article regarding the trend toward casual clothes in worship (and one way to address this pastorally):  "No Hooters shirts in Mass, please."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"Filter by Service"

Muslim name AND a French Beret

By Larry Beane

The new and improved LCMS Locator on the website has an interesting feature.  When you are looking for a church, you can specify the type of service you are looking for.

This could be a helpful feature, considering the "box of chocolates" nature of our Synod - you never know what you're going to walk into on Sunday morning.  So, you might expect when you "filter by service" you would see certain fields in the drop-down box, maybe a list like this:


or perhaps:


... or some such.

I was surprised to see that it is actually a list of ethnicities (for the most part).  So, you might imagine a list something like this:


with maybe a token




thrown in for a little Lutheran-style diversity.

However, the list is a little more diverse than one might expect.  But hey, Lutherans are all over the globe, speaking every imaginable language these days, so this isn't such a crazy list after all:

CHINESE (an hour later and you want to go back to church)
FRENCH (a.k.a. FREEDOM PEOPLE by the FOX-NEWS crowd)
GERMAN (ya think?)
HMONG ("Everybody blames the Lutherans...")
JEWISH (Wait, what?)

Whoa!  Back up...

MUSLIM.  Did I just read "MUSLIM"?  Yep, MUSLIM.  That's what Confessional Lutherans call the "TURK" or the "MOHAMMEDAN."

At any rate, you can actually search for MUSLIM services in the LCMS at the LCMS website.  That's, er, interesting.

I still think a search tab for "traditional" would be more helpful and practical, though.