Saturday, November 29, 2008

Justifiable concern

Here is any interesting comment from a WELS blog: There is a concern — and I would argue a justifiable concern — that some segments within WELS are flirting too much with methodology that leave the proclamation of the gospel behind just so we get people in the door.

Self-analysis and self-criticism for a church body, LCMS and WELS included, are healthy exercises these days when church growth methodologies abound and the gospel seems to be shrinking out of more and more pulpits and classrooms.

It seems that the concerns pointed out on this blog and elsewhere are justifiable and valid. It is interesting that Pastor's Strey's blog has not received comments about how "unloving" his concerns are. His concerns are shared by many. Yet during this economic crisis Paul Kelm was called back to 2929 as a leading Church growth expert.?. Ed Stetzer is still coming to Milwaukee next November. Mission churches have been asked to not hide their Lutheran identity yet the Rock and Roll churches persist.

It's re-energizing to read Pastor Strey's words and to especially note that Pres. Schroeder is going to make a confessional stand. But I wonder about a house divided.


Anonymous said...


I thought you might find this interesting:

"Quitting Church Part I"

The author who is speaking about her book is of a charismatic flair, but her complaints about "seeker-sensitive" services are similar to what I am hearing in the WELS/LCMS.


Anonymous said...

You have to be kidding to cite these religious flakes as support for any sort of serious point. These people would sniff and dismiss liturgical worship as irrelevant. These are folks that want church to be crafted to fit their wants or they want nothing to do with it. These religious dropouts want a "ME" church where they call the shots and dictate teaching by committee, "passing around the microphone." Listening to this podcast was a waste of good time.

Anonymous said...

Ummm...did I not say they were from a different religious perspective? I don't think I was unclear on that fact. *shrug*

However, the podcast discussed the "dumbing" down of the Gospel message. How the fluff of the Emergent/Emerging church only fits people under the age of the goal to bring in people to the "church building" takes away the focus on Christ.

I also think it made an excellent point about how the visible church is experiencing "brain drain."

As for "passing" around the microphone--she was lamenting not being able to participate in the worship service because it's all about the "performance." While she is not liturgical--did you not see the desire to be part of the worship service?

Do not some Lutherans feel that way too when liturgical worship is considered passe? Liturgical worship involves the worshipper. Just because the speaker didn't see that--her desire to participate in worship reminded me of the importance of litrugical is that a complete waste of time?

I don't think you listened to the whole thing. I believe you had your underwear in a bind before you even started listening because they weren't "Lutheran" and so you missed the bigger picture.

My point is this: Not everyone outside of Lutheranism is in love with the seeker friendly or church growth models. This issue is bigger than Lutheranism & in that, I think we can clearly see that it is a disease within the visible church at large--it just hit the Lutheran church a bit later than it did other denoms.

The podcast is not a waste of time--it paints a picture of what is going on in visible Christendom as a whole and I believe that is important to fully understanding the destructiveness of church growth if we are to address it in knowledgable manner within Lutheransim.

To the Anon poster--listen to the whole thing in context. You didn't do that the first time around...your response is evident of that.


Freddy Finkelstein said...

I listened to the program. Yes, Evangelicalism is in the process of collapsing; and with the demise of Church Growth, the Emergent Church (EC) is one direction that Evangelicals are heading. I remember this starting back in the early '90s, only back then they were called “Family Churches” or “House Churches.” Christians disgusted with bubble-gum worship on the one hand, but, on the other hand, so poorly taught that they are left totally unequipped to assess the doctrine of a church apart from “sensing the Holy Spirit at work,” have sought to create their own congregations to provide the meaningful experiences that they “feel in their spirit” is pleasing to God and personally edifying. It has taken a generation, but this is the result of anthropocentric Church Practice. The teaching among ECers, as pointed out in the audio sequence referenced by SMW, suffers all the more, but the experience they generate for themselves is apparently gratifying enough to perpetuate the movement. The result, by all descriptions, seems to be of little more genuine substance than a meeting of the Society of Friends – and is just as damaging to true Christianity.

Interestingly, the commentators in the audio sequence referenced above, pointed to the rather effeminate nature of Evangelicalism, of the unnatural and eventually repulsive d'amore of “contemporary worship.” They also pointed to the “divisions” that Evangelicals have found difficult to resolve, prompting their departure. In my experience, much of what sufferers in these circles complain regarding “division” is really the conflict generated by an appeal to (ostensibly) Biblical teaching that is at odds with what they feel ought to be Spiritual and therefore True. Doctrinally untrained as they are, and equipped only to draw conclusions from what amounts to “spiritual intuition,” they leave the church, “following the Holy Spirit's leading” -- which really means they are trying to to satisfy their own feelings.

Expect more of this – lot's more. George Barna, who, as an ardent Church Growth advocate made himself famous with his research firm, Barna Research (now, The Barna Group), which he developed to provide Evangelicals with statistical/marketing data designed to serve the needs of CG methodologies, has recently declared Church Growth a complete failure, statistically speaking, and has thrown himself behind the Emergent Church movement. After American Christians have dumped over $500 billion into Church Growth methodologies in the past two decades, Barna has reported, there is no evidence of the growth predicted by CG theories; instead, all we have seen is denominational shift while Christianity has declined dramatically by percentage in American society. That's it. Yet, with an apparent disdain for “conventional church,” and instead of directing Christians back to congregations and Church Bodies that have largely rejected the Church Growth nonsense he embraced, Barna has declared the Emergent Church as the true Apostolic form of “Church” (whose concern, according to him, is simply being the “Universal Church”), rather than “church” (the local congregation, or what we would call the “Visible Church”), and has launched headlong into providing the EC movement with positive support in the form of “leadership advice” based on his research, and has actively run interference for EC by authoring books like Pagan Christianity, criticizing “conventional churches” for their “pagan roots.” Frankly, I see Barna's support of EC as nothing more than a business decision: the ECers are the only one's left who are gullible enough to listen to him. Anyway, here are a couple of articles from Barna, for background and a sense of what is to come: A Faith Revolution is Redefining Church..., House Churches are more Satisfying..., Americans Embrace ...Alternatives Being Fully Biblical

But Evangelicalism is hemorrhaging from both ends. Of significance equal to the EC movement is the exodus of Evangelicals to the substance of the liturgy. Several articles last spring, using the season of Lent to comment on the rise of it's observance among Evangelicals to stave off losses to Catholic and Anglican/Episcopal churches, revealed this fact – and such commentary was extended as Os Guinness and friends issues their Evangelical Manifesto shortly thereafter. We see the same commentary this Advent season. Here are a couple of articles on this, as well: The Future Lies in the Past -- good article, I think, Evangelical Christians Adopting Advent, Evangelicals Adopting Advent

My long-winded point is this: C&C Church Growthers among us have no leg to stand on, neither doctrinally nor pragmatically. If we insist on looking to statistical evidence for “what works,” we have enough in the experience of pop-church Evangelicalism – the result is that Christians leave the church after a generation of anthropocentric practice hoping for doctrinal substance, but looking for it in religious experience rather than in sound teaching.

Freddy Finkelstein

Freddy Finkelstein said...


Your comment @9:28PM is right-on. Of the many good things you point out, you state, Not everyone outside of Lutheranism is in love with the seeker friendly or church growth models.

Still maintaining my many contacts among Evangelicals, I can tell you that this is definitely the case. Rob, in a previous post, defined it as "Butts in seats." He must be connected outside Lutheranism as well, because this is the line my Evangelical friends spit out with disdain -- yes, enunciated so forcefully that spittle flies out their mouth. In fact, a good friend of mine, a fairly accomplished jazz guitarist, has a good deal of mega-church mass-manipulation experience that has served only to sear his conscience. Church Growth is dead, and we Lutherans surely don't need to resurrect it.

Freddy Finkelstein

Anonymous said...

Isn't it amazing, that when something in apostate quarters is said that agrees with one's premise, then their "insights" are welcomed. However, when they don't agree with us, then they are labled as false teachers not to be listened to or learned from.

I don't need the perceptions of people connected to false theology to understand what goes wrong inside a congregation or a church body. Real faltering is always caused by a faltering committment to the power of Word and Sacrament. This has been true in all the ages of history, not just today.

If you want to use this podcast to support your point of view, then I suppose the feelings of the Willow Creek-like mob concering modern culture and context might be used by others as sorta right, too.

Isn't it true that many faithful Lutheran congregations with liturgical practices are numerically faltering in regards to shrinkage of membership and attendance of existing members? Why? We are living in evil days. Success in the church is not measured numerically, but rather in faithfulness with the Word. God, whether days be easy or hard, calls us to faithfulness in doing his work by proclaiming Law and Gospel. What positive advice can you offer to those who are pastors or members of congregation's that are facing decline? What strategies can pastors and members of such a congregation employ without being labled as church changers?

I like Franzmann's hymn "Preach You the Word" which pictures the Christian simply sowing the Word "to those who like or like it not" and even though the results are not always what we humanly had prayed for, having the trust to say as we see "Oh, what of that, and what of that?" Preach Christ crucified faithfully, trust in the power of Word and Sacrament, and ask God to make you faithful to the work, to bless it in spite of you (Luther's Sacristy prayer) ... and humbly rejoice as the Holy Spirit works in your life and the lives of others.

Ok, off to my first cup of coffee. Sorry for the soapbox! Thanks for making me think, always good but dangerous! :) Have a great day everyone!

Freddy Finkelstein said...

Anon@7:06AM -- Thanks for re-centering the discussion where it ought to remain...

Freddy Finkelstein

Anonymous said...

Q: "What strategies can pastors and members of such a congregation employ without being labled as church changers?"

A: "Preach Christ crucified..."

I think you did a great job answering your own question.

Reading some of Pastor Strey's sermons, I saw a focus on Christ, which is refreshing. (Not that numbers matter, but did he state his congregation had 1260+ members? Sounds like a mega-confessional church if I read that correctly.)

As a personal observation, I think many think they hear or preach Christ through Law and Gospel, but really spend more time on issues of "sanctification" or reaching the lost. I certainly could be wrong, and I am not a pastor, but the theme and mass (no pun intended) of many sermons, articles, blogs, etc., is not Christ crucified - it's about what we should be doing because he was crucified. I don't know if you find that to be the case.

Freddy, I do have a number of good friends outside of Lutheranism, but I got the "butts in seats" phrase most appropriately, but I don't think ironically, from corporate America.

Interesting stuff about the Emergent Church and connection to anthropocentric worship. A guy I work with advised me of his home church after tiring of American Evangelicalism. I can see the attraction and the danger.


Anonymous said...

My point wasn't that we could "learn" from the...merely see the "bigger" picture.

This model of church growth started outside the Lutheran church, yet now--even we are affected by it. It clearly shows how false doctrine can seep over denominational lines.

I didn't post the link to "teach" us anything...just to display how false teaching works in the visible church.

Praise be to God that our hope is not in the visible, but the invisible (aka The Holy Christian Church--which spans across visible Christendom and only visible to God Himself.


Anonymous said...

According to WELS' statistics Pastor Strey's congregation numbers 134. I believe the 1260 number Pastor Strey refers to is the number of congregations in WELS. I think the exact number in the latest report was 1263 congregations.

Anonymous said...

134 sounds more like it. I would have been surprised to see such a large WELS confessional church. I thought that might be the number of churches, but I read it as possibly his church.

It's interesting to me to read about the emergent church and the current culture. It seems, and I have friends who have moved, or are in the process of moving, to something other than American Evangelical and something more liturgical. They've found the mega-churches lacking and were unfulfilled by the plethora of options within them, just like me. A natural tendency is to feel the need to "get more involved" which usually means thinking more works will fill the emptiness. But what we really need is the gospel for our weary souls. And not preaching about sharing the gospel through whatever "our ministry" is, but the actual gospel. That's what drew me and other refugees of contemporary worship to Lutheranism. It's unfortunate to have such problems and division within. Unfortunate, yet expected.


Anonymous said...

I was heartened to see previous comments bringing up the need to distinguish between the visible and invisible church. When pastors and laity fail do to that, Church Growth will become more enticing. Getting people into "my church" will trump getting people into THE Church. Thus, the means of getting people into THE Church will be downplayed.

Here's a paper presented at this year's WLS Symposium that addresses this issue in depth.

Anonymous said...

Yes, WELS is setting itself up for failure and disaster. The Bible holds the answers along with directives on what to do. Many leaders choose to ignore the directives. Instead they look for an easy out, for example, copying someone else -- even if someone else is just talking about solutions without making them work.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile WELS wallows in embarrassing dyfunctionality -- dysfunctionality stemming from parroting pat answers of yesteryears. Sound reasoning must replace crazy superstition. Obedience must replace seeking easy outs. The turnaround when and if it comes will involve accepting everything God says -- not spins that appeal to laziness.