Saturday, June 15, 2013

What is a pastor to do?

I have recently come from the NC synod assembly, and like many others, one of the conversations was about the "nones."  Here is a post about a synod assembly that took this one step farther - click here.

The question becomes, just how do we as pastors go about reaching the "nones?" Of course, there are some who do not want us to reach them, but I notice that sometimes, once they know we are pastors, we are the first person they come to with some question about church, or forgiveness, or some related topic. They do not want to be in church, but they do want to be able to ask questions.

What format works best? Is it an informal session at the local pub, coffee house, or is it an informal session at your place of worship, such as in informal midweek service, an open coffee hour some evening, or something else? It is clear that these conversations are important. It is clear that many (but certainly not all) of the nones are people who have been hurt by their previous participation in a church (many times a very conservative church) or by what they have seen happen in or to someone in a church.

We are often labeled hypocrites because we talk about leading sinless lives, but yet there are so many sinners in our church. I was once told "I would not go to that church because so-and-so goes there and you know all the things so-and-so has done." We know, especially as pastors, that the church is for the sinners, and that there is always room for one more, but what do we do about the perception that we are all "saved" and therefore sin no more?

This may be one of those places where Lutherans get lumped with a lot of other Christians and we need to let our own voice be heard - especially our belief that we are both saint and sinner. Lutheran believe in the both/and, not the either/or. We know we are saved - "for by grace you have been saved through faith (Eph 2:8)," but how do we articulate this so as to open doors, not shut them? How do we be inclusive rather then exclusive? If we truly believe that God's grace is available to everyone, what language do we use that does not sound like the "insider" language we use in worship?

I guess I am really troubled by the reports from the "nones" that worship is too confusing, too intimidating, too "insider." Why don't we do a better job of leading worship? Why don't we do a better job of mentoring those new to worship? Why don't we have people trained to go sit with the new people and help them follow a worship service?

It seems that most of our problem is that we are still operating like we did 40 years ago when it was assumed that everyone went to church, everyone knew how to read a bulletin and follow a service, everyone knew at least the basics of how to worship. The reality is that none of this is true. We need to assume that every new person who walks through our doors knows nothing about worship, or at least about how we worship. and we need to do everything we can to help that person become familiar and comfortable with how we worship. Be redundant in our instructions. Remind everyone what page the creed is on and why we profess it. Do all the things you can think of to be more user-friendly to everyone who visits - whether for the first time, or the 1000th time. Even our older members will be appreciative of the extra reminders of what page we are on!

Not that I have proposed any grand solution here, but these are thoughts on a Saturday morning after reading the article I linked to in the beginning. Be sure to read that article, as it really opens the discussion and offers some good questions and insights.

Peace be with you!