“Circle the Wagons”: Duane W. H. Arnold, PhD
If you grew up in the 50s or 60s, you’ll remember the films and television shows about the Old West. At one point or another in most of these film depictions of the West, one would see stout-hearted settlers in a wagon train making their way across the prairie. Suddenly, a threat would be seen on the horizon. It could be a war party of Native Americans, or it could be a gang of outlaws. Immediately the head of the settlers would cry out, “Circle the Wagons!” and the train would form itself into a defensive perimeter to withstand the attack and, if fortunate, the cavalry might even arrive to save them. At night, the wagons would again be formed into a circle to corral the livestock, keep the settlers secure from dangers outside the confines of the camp and to prepare for any assault that might come with the darkness.
Now, while this might have been an effective strategy for nineteenth century pioneers, I’ve increasing witnessed its use in the twenty-first century, only now it is used in politics and, increasingly, in churches.
When The Boston Globe began its “Spotlight” investigation into sexual abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, the first reaction of the church authorities was to “circle the wagons”. As we now know, this was a disastrous strategy, both in the medium and long term. In the short term, not admitting guilt and protecting those within might have seemed a reasonable approach. Maybe the enquiries could be fended off and all could be dealt with privately, with minimum of publicity? Maybe the real issues could be set aside? Of course, we now know that was an impossibility. After the initial revelations a priest was brought in to be a liaison with the press. That priest, now a bishop, is a friend of mine. In talking about his role, I once asked him how he handled things with the reporters and press outlets. He replied, “I strove for full transparency”. He explained that most of the facts would emerge eventually in any case. His job was to gain and maintain the confidence of the reporters by informing them in a timely manner concerning what he knew at the moment. He knew that if he shaded the truth, made excuses, failed to address the real issues, or was less than forthright, he would lose the trust of those he was speaking with. In other words, circling the wagons was not an option.
Now, this may seem an extreme case, but I think it also provides lessons for us.
For instance, I am an Anglican. Yet, if you asked me about going to an Anglican or Episcopal church in your city or town, I would hesitate and probably ask you a number of questions. You might ask why is this the case. It is very simple. I refuse to circle the wagons in the hope of defending my tribe. I would have to explain to you that there is a large portion of The Episcopal Church that is heterodox to a lesser or greater degree. There are, however, portions of the denomination, such as those connected with the Foreword Movement, Forward in Faith and other such groups, that are wonderful, nurturing and sound communities. If you were to ask me about ACNA (Anglican Church in North America) I would have to tell you that while many of their churches are truly Anglican, others, quite simply, are “barely Anglican”. It is almost impossible to tell if you will encounter a parish that makes use of The Book of Common Prayer, or if it will be a praise band and a hipster evangelical sermon, or if you will stumble into an Anglo-Catholic Mass, or if you will find yourself in a mega-church wannabe. Again, I refuse to circle the wagons and ignore the reality.
The desire to circle the wagons, however, is an ever present reality in most churches and, from my experience, is not limited to individuals, or individual churches, but, unfortunately, it is modeled by those in leadership positions. I could cite numerous examples from the leadership in Calvary Chapel churches, or Lutheran denominations, or the United Methodists, or even the Presbyterians, but I will limit myself to Anglicans here in the US.
The most common form of circling the wagons has become the refusal to acknowledge, much less address, the genuine problems and issues which are evident. This is generally done by lofty and, often, very spiritual pronouncements. As an example, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church was recently interviewed by Harvard Business Review. Now, I’ve never met Bishop Curry, but he seems like a very nice man and I thoroughly enjoyed his homily delivered at the royal wedding. Yet, when asked what strategies he would employ to address the 24% loss of membership in The Episcopal Church in the last decade, he said the following:
“None! Questions about church attendance and church decline are second-order questions. The first-order questions are whether we are helping our people—Episcopalians—to have living relationships with God and with other people. If the answer is yes, then issues of church growth will take care of themselves, or we’ll figure out how to handle them.”
Now, while I might agree with his lofty sentiments, the question, and the issues behind the question, remain unanswered and unaddressed. No mention of aging clergy; no mention of aging congregations; no mention of seminary closures; no mention of entire dioceses abandoning The Episcopal Church; no mention of almost 50% of parishes being served by only a part-time priest; in fact, no mention of any of the real issues facing the denomination. One merely “circles the wagons” and hopes… Maybe, the cavalry will arrive…
We must note, however, that those who have separated themselves from The Episcopal Church over issues of sexuality or doctrine, fare little better in this regard. In ACNA, for instance, there are very real issues concerning the education and training of those who are ordained and then sent out to establish new churches (some having only become acquainted with Anglicanism for a matter of months before their ordination). Yet when I raised this matter with an ACNA bishop, I was told that these ordinations were similar to “battlefield commissions” and “we’re trusting in the Lord” that they will somehow discover what it means to be a priest. Now, with no real acquaintance with the Book of Common Prayer, the Liturgy, the Daily Office, Anglican history, Anglican pastoral practice, and placed on their own with minimal oversight, what is one to expect will be the outcome? Yet, when this is brought up for discussion, ACNA leadership, like the leadership of The Episcopal Church, will not address the issues, which are real, but, with spiritual phrases, will merely circle the wagons as though under attack or protecting themselves from those outside the camp. While the theology may be different, the leadership of each is a mirror image of the other.
Circling the wagons and refusing to address the real issues has also become a reality in church bodies outside my own. The recent problems in the Southern Baptist Convention could easily be seen as a struggle between those who want to address issues and those who want to form a circle. None of us are exempt from this inclination, from Calvary Chapels to Roman Catholic dioceses. Transparency and honesty are called for if we are actually to address the problems that confront us. It has to begin with each of us as individuals and then, perhaps, it may continue into our communities of faith.
Which latest issues in SBC?
Don’t Anglican priests go through something like 4 yrs of seminary before being called and ordained by a congregation? What is a battlefield commission like – just a good popular speaker making a lateral transfer as a Baptist pastor to Anglican priest and he will find a Book of Common Prayer in his new pastor’s office?
One other thing. I think churches go through a life cycle and eventually die. Why are we so preoccupied and bothered over this? If individual churches, and even denominations die, this does not affect Christ’s Church at all.
On the abuse issues…
Oh, OK. There are always a myriad of issues going on in the SBC. Curious which you were thinking of 🙂
MLD may be right at 8:07
The normative route in the Episcopal Church was:
Interview by a Diocesan Commission on Ministry
Three years of Seminary
General Ordination Exam (4 days)
Psychological Testing (2 days)
Final interview by a Diocesan Commission on Ministry
Ordination as a transitional Deacon (1 Year)
Ordination as a Priest
I know of free church evangelicals who have joined ACNA, who have been ordained within months of becoming an Anglican.
I think cycles are one thing… what’s happening now, I believe, is something different.
The Lutheran Church is flourishing – just not in America. Africa, Asia and Latin America are on fire. Many denominations in fellowship with the LCMS dwarf the LCMS in population. We look at that as a very good thing.
Our efforts are in helping them train pastors, supply them with good Lutheran resources.
There are cultural roadblocks in the West that impede church growth here – it’s not all church unfaithfulnes by a long shot.
“None! Questions about church attendance and church decline are second-order questions. The first-order questions are whether we are helping our people—Episcopalians—to have living relationships with God and with other people. If the answer is yes, then issues of church growth will take care of themselves, or we’ll figure out how to handle them.”<<<
I actually agree with this. Help true Christians to actually live their lives in Christ and let the dross fall away.
Maybe there just aren't very many Christians alive in the West these days. Strengthen what remains. If apostate seminaries, denominations, etc. fail, let them and good riddance.
God's people know where to find each other.
We went frm the Catholic to the Evangelical church thinking that being more modern created a connection to todays Christian and would not ever cover up or continue abuse within the church. Was I wrong. I do think it is big issue today and complicated. It’s a cultural shift of families from the 50s etc not questioning priest bc of them being holy which allowed the abuse to brew and grow. That is not the case now, bc the ones abused are speaking out in their generation. Same for women being sexually assaulted by pastors etc. our culture is much more open and transparent. Read about returning men frm WW2 those men spoke of nothing, they came home frm fighting the Nazi’s and never spoke of what they saw. Then look at Vietnam, our men came home w emotional scars and stories and today’s struggles w PTSD w the Middle East. Same w our church abuse, culture hs changed. And with it the churches need to be accountable, transparent, if not sadly I see it folding. Even 9/11 responders demand answers to cancers. My faith has not been changed but I do not attend or belong to a church. In a world where we are busy, streamlining and educating on everything frm what food we eat to how we drive to work etc. so will the churches need to change not their faith but their accountability. We won’t stand by with the “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” in the Wizard of Oz. We also should not become attached to the man preaching in the pulpit that mega churches have marketed. Churches have been feared, marketed and covered up long enough. They need to change or they will dwindle.
Yes, Anglicans are flourishing in Africa, Asia and the Indian sub-continent… albeit with struggles, scandals and theological mis-steps (such as the prosperity Gospel message).
In any case, as I think I mentioned, “I will limit myself to Anglicans here in the US.” Yet, I believe the same thing is happening to other denominations here in the US.
I think there is a good bit of truth in your comment…
Personally I think there are two gross problems which affect church population, at least speaking for Lutherans.
1.) Parent’s refusal to have more kids. They have bought into cultures claim for either population control and / or the current day thought that in is cruel to bring children into our world today. They have forgotten that God is in control and can handle it.
2.) Parents refuse to teach their own children the Christian faith at home. For all the reasons they do not want to go to church (abuse, hate organized religion, want to go play golf etc) is no reason to not bring the kids up as mature, spirit filled Christians.
Interesting, but not actually what the article is attempting to address…
I my denomination I see two regrettable phenomena, which work and in hand: First, it begins with pastors and denomination leadership who have their heads buried in the sand. Maybe they aren’t trained for evangelism, maybe they’re biding their time until retirement, maybe the’re burned out or lethargic, maybe they’re afraid of ecclesiastical criticism. But they can’t or won’t see and rise to the challenge of doing church in a post Christian culture, so they ignore the short and long term issues.
That leads to the second phenomenon: When someone in good faith raises the issues or wants to address them with potential solutions or initiatives, the folks with their heads in the sand “circle the wagons.” Instead of looking for solutions and interpreting our Confessions faithfully in light of our 21st century circumstances, they use the Confessions as a defensive weapon to maintain the status quo.
Although there is not a church I would rather be a part of, because I have seen no church with less flaws, every year the trajectory is that more and more traditional, confessional, Lutherans are unable to worship in their own home town, because churches are closing in higher numbers than are being planted in the US.
I usually send out my articles in advance to a private list of friends. On this article, I heard back from five of them – a Lutheran, two Anglican (one Episcopalian and one ACNA), and two UMC pastors. They all said essentially what you have laid out in your comment. These are not “complainers”… they are good people trying to do a difficult job… and the leadership is not listening.
Martin Luther’s Disciple you kind of showed the cultural shift by yr comment. Stats are 1 in 6 are sexually assaulted, divorce is 50% of couples, yet the old way is have more children and raise them right that will solve it all. I have not seen enough good men’s ministry within any church that are attacking our problems today in our nation. When you raise a family to have males lead, and their church pastors are fired for moral failing and sexually abuse it is hard really hard to explain over and over again in every church why? I don’t regret having children and mine were planned and prayed for. But in a society that white washes abuse in and out of the church and seeing my own loved ones suffer from assault. It is really hard to boast have more kids will help this problem. I raised mine right Biblically and educated. So educated they asked questions, like why they could not wear a bathing suit without a long T-shirt to bible camp and the boys could go shirtless? My kids want to adopted needy children in our world bc they have a heavy heart for that instead of having their own, although they are all in college not married and I am sure their views will change. The church needs to step back and take a long look at their contributions in the issues we sadly face today. And respectfully your comment and opinion although I do not agree with it as a solution.
“The church needs to step back and take a long look at their contributions in the issues we sadly face today. ”
Like seeking forgiveness, we first need to admit what is wrong. The abuse crisis is simply appalling. Yet, there are other issues, such as Jean raised (and I sought to raise in the article). We need to be honest about what is actually going on if we are going to “correct course”.
Jessica – at least you recognize that there is a right way and a wrong way. Most of American culture does not – so they see no benefit to the church.
I agree that the church may reflect the cultural problems of society – I refuse to believe that the church is the cause of such issues. Especially since I am sure that 90% of American churches do not abuse their congregations – they just sail along fine.
Your comment from the kids about female modesty may be more telling about cultural shifts. This question was probably not asked in previous generations, why? – folks understood why.
1Peter 5:8 the roaring lion… Sober, vigilant Christianity? We don’t see much anymore… at least not on public display
Circling our wagons? hmmm… maybe, we should pray to be blessed with circling angels as we stand in our armor?
Too esoteric for today’s church goers? Maybe, but not for the Church…
Just pondering … ?
I think another issue is, “Will churches or church life be a presence in the culture?” I am thinking about both a spiritual and physical presence. I have a friend in Texas. He is UMC and a “Lay Elder”. He drives 320 miles each weekend to care for three churches without pastors. He has little support from his bishop apart from “we need to wait until they close”… It’s happening all over the country.
Either “church” is essential or it is not. What makes church attendance essential in today’s society?
How many times do we hear from “christians” saying you do not need to go to church to love Jesus or to be spiritual?
How many times do we hear from “christians” denying the efficacy of the sacraments?
Can’t I have a Jesus and me experience – why do I need to be around others? – just me Jesus and my Bible?
Can’t I just watch YouTube sermons – isn’t that good enough?
If going to church is not essential, why do we wring our hands when churches close?
At best we may be looking at a generation of Amazon church people – never go to church for what you can get online. I don’t wring my hands over department stores closing.
I, for one, consider church to be essential. Moreover, the Church came to life in a secular/pagan society almost 2000 years ago. I don’t think scripture or sacraments have changed, but perhaps our priorities have…
“but perhaps our priorities have…”
Perhaps, but I think it falls on the general population first. In today’s world, even with all the problems, people are fat and happy and can’t be bothered.
9/11 gives a great example – put a little turmoil in the lives of folks and they don’t flock to the mall or the theater – no, they ran headlong to the churches and prayed as if they knew God on a first name basis – and then security and serenity set in and people realized they had some room left on their credit cards and returned to the mall and their real gods.
“Perhaps, but I think it falls on the general population first. In today’s world, even with all the problems, people are fat and happy and can’t be bothered.”
Somehow I missed that part of the Great Commission…
And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.<<<
I think MLD and Jesus are in agreement here.
Almost all Americans and Western Europeans are rich, that is to say fat and happy.
Perhaps Anglicans are lacking in this area but most churches do go out and engage with the population – whether personally or electronically.
The way we know that they are fat and happy and can’t be bothered is by their response.
I do wonder why the Jewish synagogue attendance has dropped the same as the Christian church? Are they abusing their people – are they unresponsive? or do people not have an ear to hear?
If abuse is the problem, why are the 2 most abusive religions up in their numbers? Mormons and Islam have seen tremendous gains in the US since the early 90s.
“Almost all Americans and Western Europeans are rich, that is to say fat and happy.”
It still does not void our responsibility in terms of the Gospel or church life. The culture in which the Early Church grew (especially in the urban centers of Antioch, Alexandria and Rome) was not that terribly different and, at times, was actively hostile. In any case, I’m not sure that placing the blame outside our doors absolves us within our churches – both laity and leadership.
I think the “inside work” is what Bishop Curry is talking about.
“If abuse is the problem…”
I’ve looked through the thread and can find no place that I said this, other that to reply to Jessica that “The abuse crisis is simply appalling…” and stating that there are “other issues”. Oh, you just made it up…
I only wish he was… but I think not.
Duane, you opened up with the sex abuse in the RCC and commented about the abuse in the SBC, which then opened it up to Jessica’s comments.
To my point, I don’t think abuse is the issue – as I stated earlier, I am sure that 90% of the individual churches in America to not abuse their folks physically or spiritually.
But people will latch on to the sensational to absolve themselves of not attending.
As I said in the article, “…this may seem an extreme case, but I think it also provides lessons for us.”
It is not the main issue that I’m addressing. I also do not believe that the dysfunction within many of our churches is the fault of the general populace. In my opinion, blaming those that are “outside” for not attending church is just another “circling of the wagons” and trying to shift the blame elsewhere…
I’m sure the folks here are familiar with the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Regrettably, many churches and pastors (i.e., shepherds) are not going after the lost and the strays, but expect them to find their way back to the fold. Here I am talking about baptized members.
Even in my tradition, which does not believe in free will in the matter of faith, we act as though our members have free wills and expect them to exercise them and make their way back to church. Then, when they don’t show up, we disclaim any responsibility for them.
Duane, you seem to be very much like Charles Finney – find the method that works to get them in and then find the method that will keep them in.
I guess that will work also, but you will need to keep escalating “the methods”.
If the church is so dysfunctional, why are we still there?
I will say this about one thing I would do and I spoke to my pastor about it yesterday. What can we do to get those on our membership role back into church. We did this at my at my last church. 15 groups of us went out to 30 homes each, and actually knocked on their doors to ask where they have been and told them they were missed and invited them back. I had 2 families return and I think we ended up with 20-25 total.
We had about 1,000 missing and most we couldn’t find. Many had moved to different churches, many just got out of the habit (and many like their new habit.) At least with those who were missing from our roles we didn’t mind the interaction – if they were still on the rolls they were still under our pastor’s care.
That is funny that my post followed Jean’s that way. 🙂
From my personal observations, the reasons people (including family members) either don’t go to church or have abandoned Christianity altogether:
1. People believe the wrathful God of Calvinism is a monster and they don’t want to have anything to do with him. They mistakenly assume this is the God all Christians worship. Their mind is set; they don’t want to hear anything about a different kind of God. <— It's become an excuse not to believe and to remain in their sins. They have convinced themselves that they are better people than God is.
2. One relative has decided that since churches don't have female pastors (although many do), it's a hateful patriarchy and they will not participate. <—- An excuse to stay home and eat croissants on Sunday morning, hardened into a leftest screed against Christianity.
3. Another relative's best friend is a homosexual who is always there for her when her car breaks down on the freeway at 2AM. He's a better person than most Christians she knows (this isn't actually true) but if this guy is going to hell for being a homosexual, she doesn't want to have anything to do with Christianity and has talked herself into a rather hostile agnosticism. <— An excuse. There are plenty of "churches" around that cater to homosexuals. And she is overlooking all the help she has received from Christians.
4. Almost every non-Christian ex-Catholic middle-age/ older man starts out with "I used to be an altar boy…." None of the ones I've talked to claim to have been abused, they are now atheists on behalf of the ones who were… or so they say. <— Another excuse. They don't want to give up their pornography habit, in the case of a creepy neighbor. Ain't nobody gonna tell *them* what to do.
5. Trump. <— I don't like him either, but using him as an excuse will hold up at the Pearly Gates. People look around and see Christians practically worshiping this man, but that's only been 2-3 years. What was their excuse 5 years ago?
And so on and so forth. People have their excuse that they trot out for why they refuse to become a Christian but they are excuses.
People do not want to become a Christian because they love darkness more than light. You cannot convince them that they are sinners. They call evil good and good evil.
It will take something supernatural to turn them around. Happily, God is in the supernatural business.
but using him as an excuse will hold up at the Pearly Gates. <<<
WON'T hold up
By the way, my old Calvary Chapel was not the worst CC by far, but it had its oafish episodes that caused people to leave. Everyone who left, that I can think of, went right away to another church. They did not abandon church and they did not abandon the faith.
“Then, when they don’t show up, we disclaim any responsibility for them.”
Yes, it is common in almost all of our churches. As I said above, it’s easier to circle the wagons and blame the people “out there”, with little self-reflection or self-examination…
“Duane, you seem to be very much like Charles Finney – find the method that works to get them in and then find the method that will keep them in.”
Not looking for a method, looking for the Church to be the Church…
“It will take something supernatural to turn them around. Happily, God is in the supernatural business.”
And I’ve always believed that the Church was to be a part of that “Supernatural business”. Excuses for abandoning Christ and the Church are as old as the NT itself. My concern is not to blame those on the “outside”, but to consider what we can do on the “inside”. Jesus spoke of the Church as light, salt and leaven – reaching outside of itself… He never spoke of “us four and no more” which seems to be the attitude of some…
Duane, I want to agree with you but I can’t figure out what it is you want.
Every church I know has some kind of outreach. Every church I know, from my old Baptist church thru CC to several Orthodox churches are interested, to a greater or lesser extent, in outreach. Some do a spectacular job, some, because of limited resources, do what they can. I may not agree with all their methods- some seem worldly to me- but everyone I know cares. Every church I have ever been part of welcomes everyone to come in and hear the Good News.
A pastor preaches the Gospel: Repent and be baptized!
An unbeliever listens and says: I don’t believe in God and besides, I am a good person. No thanks.
This is carried out a thousand times every Sunday. The church (every church I’ve ever been connected with) proclaims the Gospel message: “God loves you, He sent his Son to die for your sins, repent and follow Christ.” Often this message is accompanied by gifts of food, money, etc. if needed. Yet people still reject Christ. It’s hard to see how this is the church’s fault. They were being as obedient to God as they knew how to be.
Of course, there are whackadoodle exceptions but I am talking about the vast majority of churches big and small, protestant, RC and Orthodox.
Duane – I think you are looking for big massive actions to show that the church is the church. I am happy with the little things – perhaps things that no one notices and no one may even consider “outreach” to the general population.
This past week we had VBS. For most churches this is no big deal and expected. The unique aspect of this for us is we haven’t had VBS in 7 years – because we have no kids in our church.
We reached out in the surrounding neighborhood and generated an average of 30 kids each evening – and pastor gave an adult Bible study for the parents while the kids were doing their thing.
Right now we don’t know if we will see anyone back, but that was not our goal – our goal was to minister to those families – if only for a week. Perhaps in passing one of the parents will mention us to a friend who is looking for a church – that is all up to God.
Not bad for us 4 and no more – 😉
You all know I am no fan of megachurches, but I visited one in Michigan on Mother’s Day and the pastor announced that usually, they give all the moms flowers or candy but instead, this year, they are donating $10,000, in the name of Jesus and the moms, to a battered woman’s shelter.
The Orthodox Church up in the mountains has a big thrift store and they give a way literally tons of clothing and household goods every year. Needy people get a voucher and go shopping for free. They come out with everything they need to set up a simple household.
A large number of churches in our area give the homeless a place to sleep every night. Christian volunteers come pick them up in vans.
Another church provides hot lunches at a park every day for the homeless. And a place to stay, if there’s space available.
The local Compassionate Pregnancy Center, started by my old CC, provides free baby clothes, strollers, car seats, child birth classes and labor coaches. Homeless moms are given a place to stay, in a Christian family’s home, oftentimes.
Last year an elderly friend died. She used to be an RCC nun. A local Episcopal church, who didn’t even know her, agreed to hold her funeral. The congregation (Mostly Hispanic) provided a fantastic meal afterwards, out of the goodness of their hearts.
The Catholic hospital in a neighboring town refuses to do abortions.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. And this doesn’t count “small” things that people do on an individual level which are dear to God’s heart.
I am not bragging on behalf of the Bride of Christ. I am defending her.
I’ll answer in two parts. Firstly, from observation and from first hand experience, (here I speak of my own tribe, but others are similar) there is a dearth of leadership, nationally and regionally. In my own group we have been navel gazing over issues of gender and sexuality for decades, meanwhile turning out people from seminaries who, quite honestly, don’t know a great deal about the faith they supposedly profess. When people first began to leave the Episcopal Church in droves, the attitude was, “We’re better off without them”. The wagons were circled and excuses made… Now I see the folk who have left doing the same thing… except now we blame the culture, wealth, Trump, millennials, anything but looking at ourselves and asking tough questions as to how we pass along this faith to the coming generations. I don’t have the answers. If we don’t start honestly asking the questions, however, we’re unlikely to find any answers. If we were to consider the amounts of money spent on administrative offices rather than mission, I think we would all be shocked.
Secondly, I would agree, there are many churches making an attempt, but even in this thread you can hear the voices of, “if churches close, let them close”. It is worse than circling the wagons, it’s an attitude of resignation that this is the way things are going and there’s nothing we can do. I simply don’t believe that. Or, perhaps I should say, I refuse to believe that. I think we’re being very simplistic in attributing the decline of churches to society. Are there societal challenges? Of course. When has the Church not had societal challenges? I think we need to dig deeper to find some of the answers…
… anything but looking at ourselves and asking tough questions as to how we pass along this faith to the coming generations.<<<
What specifically to you have in mind?
When I look at that large Orthodox Church in the mountains I mentioned, I can’t think of one thing they should be doing differently. I can’t think of any tough questions they need to be asking themselves. They give, both the Gospel and materiel goods. People either accept or decline. They belong to a jurisdiction (the GOA) that has serious problems, but this isn’t stopping them from loving God and loving their neighbors. All churches, all Christians, can do likewise, if they have a will to do so.
In this, I am not speaking of your tradition, but of mine and some that are closely related to mine. “What has happened to the ordination process?”, would be one big question. Have we allowed desperation for “warm bodies” and people who can “plant a church” to be prioritized over matters of a sound faith, the ability to teach, and an understanding of worship? That might be a start…
“All churches, all Christians, can do likewise, if they have a will to do so.” I agree. Another question, “Why do so many lack that will?”.
“What specifically to you have in mind?”
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the LCMS has 400 plus or minus congregations which worship less than 50 members per week. That could mean around 15 families.
When the pastors at those churches, who average, let’s say, over 55 years old, retire, die or leave the ministry, what is the synod’s plan for those families and communities?
I see a lack of planning and realism with the options to go forward. I think Duane is writing about this kind of scenario.
“Why do so many lack that will?”<<<
Well I just gave a list of examples that show that many of them do have the will. 🙂
As for why many don't… they are bedazzled and distracted by the things of this world, as Christ said would happen:
And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”.
Jean, ok, that makes sense. I suspect the cost of seminary would prevent some young men from entering the pastorate. Maybe seminary should be free, if a local church discerns the man has a vocation from God.
That scenario is playing out among Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans and so many others… and the leadership of all is doing very little.
Then, of course, you have the circumstance of the smaller parish not being able to support an pastor/priest… again, all being ignored… And, of course, how do you convince someone to go to seminary for three years, acquiring a mountain of debt, then to serve parishes which cannot pay them. So, they have to be bi-vocational…
I do not attend church and don’t know if I ever will. I was raised Catholic and attended church weekly as a kid, when my childhood priest past away recently I realized with his passing went my innocence of great memories of the last generation and an era not polarized growing up about the scandals and tragedy of the church. I attended another church that baptized my children only to see the priest walk out on a Sunday leaving a letter to the members that he left his wife. His mistress ended up committing suicide and killing her daughter too. It rocked my community. Then I attend CCftl, and dug my heart and feet into the church, made a great church family regardless of Coy the church had made its name for really helping the community back in the day and it was great serving the community ministries. I read the blogs about CCftl and was aware of the issues but felt effective in helping the community through their ministry. I stayed for a bit after Coy resignation but left after “the business Wally” was being shuffled around about what happened. It became obvious they handled it by covering up. So we took a break from church. Then the molestation hit the surface. I had enough. As a Sunday school volunteer I had enough having little kids ask what Moral Failing was? How sad is that? Etc. I had to go through Coy issues w teenage kids and try and piece meal what happen so to make sure they would find a church comfortable. Sometimes they still go back or attend other churches. I am happy they attend many Christian churches right now but we are not planted anywhere. For me it is too emotional to see pastors, priest etc fall to complete failure. Fall in ways I was not raised to ever experience. Molesting children, cheating and leaving wives, suicide, embezzlement. And then we see the Southern Baptist community stands and applauds a pastor who asks for forgives for raping a girl in the news. Idk anymore. I have seen local pastors in the presbyterian church get accused of rape frm when they were a youth minister leave the church only to pop up 35 miles away w a new independent church. I know of a church where the pastors wife is agnostic. Then we have Tullian Tchividjian down here. I bought Driscoll marriage book you know the one that did NOT hit the NY best sellers list lol. I am afraid to attend anywhere bc I don’t want to see train wrecks. I grew up w DJ Kennedy at Coral Ridge in Ft Lauderdale way way before Tullian Tchividjian neon lit up that church and now we have issue after issue. So no
Thank you to church at least in S Florida. To balance my rant, I am sure being a pastor is hard. I think churches need to give more support to pastors in way of an elder team that can be a support and accountability to the pastor. So in the event the pastor has a weak/temptation or lack of accountability trip up, the team comes in and puts into place immediately a plan to help the pastor and family before it gets out of hand in way of a leave of absence or counseling. Change needs to happen to uplift pastors, but to protect the flock and respect the church by implementing a proactive plan.
Jean, isn’t seminary tuition subsidized by the districts or synod these past couple of years?
Churches of 50 or less will need to be covered by pastors with 2 or 3 parishes.
Many of these churches will need to go back to operating as they did when they were new plants.
These issues have been discussed for years, primarily around the SMP. (specific ministry program).
You will certainly be in my prayers. It breaks my heart…
The conservative wing of the LCMS is intent on putting a nail in the coffin of the SMP program at this year’s convention.
Multi-point ministry is easier said than done. Probably not on any pastor’s top of list for accepting a call. Congregations get little more than a circuit preacher.
The financial aid available in the LCMS is very good. I don’t think it extends to living expenses. And since it is residential, this is a material expense all by itself.
Yes, these issues have been discussed for years, but the circled wagons have prevented long term good solutions.
I like the SMP as a stop gap but it does have it’s issues.
Hey if tuition is covered, the seminarians has to live somewhere – so they pick and move to St Louis or Ft Wayne.
Pastor’s are recognizing the need for multi point ministry (I had not heard that term before). Wolfmueller just left his long time parish in Colorado for a duel parish call in Texas.
I don’t know about the circling of the wagons as these issues are constantly being discussed. Sometimes there just isn’t a clear answer. Sometimes it needs to be settled locally as a stop gap.
The parish up river about an hour in Needles CA closed last year. The pastor retired and the congregation dwindled to about 12 people.
The 80 yr old deacon from my church and the retired pastor from Bulkhead City (another hour up river) told the elders that if they could gather a dozen people the would come do the divine worship service. It’s been 8 months and they are up to 40 people – just operating as if they were a new plant, with a building.
Gotta do what ya gotta do.
God never said it would be easy.
MLD, as we have discussed before, the good experience that you mentioned in Bulkhead City could never happen in conservative Districts such as mine, where there are deacons and SMPs are not allowed.
The deacon is working with the retired pastor who is a defacto vacancy pastor.
You don’t have deacons or they wouldn’t be allowed to work independently?
For the outsider here, the struggle in the LCMS is over the interpretation of a properly called pastor as spelled out in the confessions.
Add Rozell to the list of Predatory Christian Churches.
“For the outsider here, the struggle in the LCMS is over the interpretation of a properly called pastor as spelled out in the confessions.”
We all have our issues… while the outside world looks for the Gospel…
I was thinking a bit about this and I may have arrived at a more drastic conclusion.
There is a Gospel glut in this country…you can’t escape it on the airwaves, internet, and other places where ideas are discussed.
Our real problem may be that this culture simply doesn’t value what we have to offer.
Church life and pastoral care both require participation in a group and commitment…and it may be that people would rather do without the benefits because of the cost…
Duane, you need to read your Bible – Jesus struggled with his posse, the early church struggled around Paul and there was great struggle in the first few centuries of the church – and the gospel still went out to the masses just as it does today – even amongst all the dirty laundry.
No matter what our issues, there is absolutely nothing that impedes a person from hearing and interacting with the gospel.
Stop being a constant hand wringer – Jesus has this. Isn’t it cocktail time?
“Stop being a constant hand wringer – Jesus has this. Isn’t it cocktail time?”
I have to say, some things are too silly and shallow to respond to… even with a cocktail…
while the outside world looks for the Gospel…<<<
Do they really? I do not believe this to be true. Most have heard the Gospel. They don't care to believe it. And even if they don't know the particulars, they know where they could go to find it.
I think that may once have been the case, but, in my opinion, things have changed. Much of evangelicalism is tainted with right wing politics. The mainlines no longer have a clear message. There is much talk, but little content. Combine those factors with well publicized scandals and, I believe, you have a different landscape.
I tend to agree with you that the outside world looks for the Gospel, as in “good news.” I heard someone say something that resonated with me: If the church creates a gap in right theology, someone else will come along and fill the gap with something, usually with something counterfeit.
Last week I saw a poster up on the bulletin board of my local gym. It was an invitation to a new moon meditation event. The cost was $20 in advance and $25 at the door. The most surprising thing is that people will pay good money for such an event.
The same person who talked about the church creating gaps in theology also said many people have a strong desire for spirituality. So they are looking for something spiritual.
The sad thing is that historic Christianity offers Christian spirituality, but many historic Christian churches have not figured out how to carry out the Great Commission in their own backyards. Sometimes they come across so defensive, it appears they’re afraid; at other times they are tempted to adopt the church growth methods that they see being adopted by their non-denominational neighbors.
I think I got the phrase from Walter Martin, but I use to say to my classes that “heresies and cults are the unpaid bills of the Church”. That is, what we fail to provide, there will be a cult or a heresy that will step into the gap.
I refuse to resign myself to simply watching the decline. As I’ve said, I don’t have all the answers, but I want to keep asking the question. Rilke said, “If we live the questions, we will live ourselves into the answers”…
I won’t belabor the point here, but as a concrete example, the American church is at a moment in time right now when it can shine the light on society or become part of the darkness.
In my opinion, every Christian church has a duty to affirm the brotherhood of man publicly in the face of the evil spirit emanating from the White House.
God made them in His image, male and female He made them. All of them, of all colors and all races and ethnicities. Jesus Christ died for the sins of all mankind, male and female, of all races, colors and ethnicities. In Christ all of us, of whatever color, race or ethnicity, are the royal brothers and sisters of Jesus, children of our heavenly Father.
It is the peculiar order of the church to represent God’s view in the face of racism. People are watching and listening. Our children and grandchildren are watching. God is watching.
I could say much, but shall refrain. It is enough to say that when the Gospel is tainted with such views, it is less and less heard by large parts of society…
This is silly. How is the gospel message preached by my pastor Sunday tainted by a Trump tweet?
I spoke to 3 people this morning on my walk about Jesus and not once did I apologize for Trump’s tweets.
This is the kind of crap that develops when an academic and a lawyer take charge of a conversation.
“This is silly…”
Yes, it certainly is… as is your comment.
The silly part is your continual charge / hand wringing that the gospel is silenced by my actions or a presidential tweet.
“The silly part is your continual charge / hand wringing that the gospel is silenced by my actions or a presidential tweet.”
Of course, I did not say this. You are simply lying again… as usual.
I lie not. You have this continual drumbeat that the people of THE CHURCH are doing it wrong (as in circling their wagons) and it is muddling if not silencing the gospel from going out effectively.
You have this sense that there is this apparatus called THE CHURCH with a steering wheel and if it had better operators, all would be well.
Phooey, to use a theological term. I know nothing of this church – only Jesus sees that. My emphasis is to help people locally to be more faithful to their local body and community.
So you are entitled to your opinion, and if you want to work on THE CHURCH, go right ahead, while I work where it is effective.
The last word can be yours.
“You have this sense that there is this apparatus called THE CHURCH with a steering wheel and if it had better operators, all would be well.”
Really? Can’t recall ever writing that. But then, twisting people’s words seems to be your speciality. I would guess that setting up straw men so you can knock them down must do something for you, but it does little to advance a conversation or discussion. But then, I imagine you are aware of that…
I believe that the point Duane and I are making is that the acts and omissions of the church and Christians individually, both for better or for worse, impact people’s receptivity to the Gospel. This could be demonstrated with Scripture as well as with common sense.