Monthly Archives: August 2011
Gene Veith over at Cranach: The Blog of Veith draws our attention to the recent blog on CNN – Belief Blog identifying the real demographic that makes up the unchurched. It is not our middle to upper class youth, or the hip slickster attracted to the Mega-Church-Emerging Church, Evangelical, Relevant,Hipster, Pastor trying to be like everyman in his congregation and peddling best buddy Jesus and re-writing God’s story of salvation. No, it is not the target audience for the church growth institutions. Rather it is the less educated, lower income, blue collar folks who are not as hip, intellectual and sophisticated as those who we want to grace the doors of our auditoriums for the super, awesome, entertaining mega rock concert with an amazing light and video show with a bit of teaching thrown in. But don’t take my word for it. Read Veith’s blog post below, then click through and check out the comments on the post. They are quite challenging and thought provoking and should challenge us in our outreach efforts.
You want church growth? You want to reach the unchurched? Stop the preoccupation with middle class suburbanites and young urban professionals. The fields that are in the greatest need of harvest are the less educated, the lower income, and the blue collar. THAT’S the group that has stopped going to church:
If you don’t have a college degree, you’re less likely to be up early on Sunday morning, singing church hymns.That’s the upshot of a new study that finds the decline in church attendance since the 1970s among white Americans without college degrees is twice as high as for those with college degrees.“Our study suggests that the less-educated are dropping out of the American religious sector, similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, who was lead researcher on the project.The research, presented this week at American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, found that 37% of moderately educated whites – those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s.Among college-educated whites, the dropoff was less steep, with 46% regularly attending religious services in the 2000s, compared with 51% in the ’70s.The study focuses on white Americans because church attendance among blacks and Latinos is less divided by education and income.Most religiously affiliated whites identify as Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews.Lower church attendance among the less-educated may stem from a disconnect between them and modern church values, the study theorizes.Religious institutions tend to promote traditional middle-class family values like education, marriage and parenthood, but less-educated whites are less likely to get or stay married and may feel ostracized by their religious peers, the researchers said.via Less-educated Americans are losing religion, study finds – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.
Why do you think these folks, who used to be avid church goers, have become alienated from churches? What in churches today, including their church growth strategies, would turn them off? How might they be brought back into the fold?
UPDATE: Be sure to read the comments for some very insightful and challenging thoughts.
A couple of months ago I posted an article entitled “Do We Miss the Point of Worship? Is it for Seekers and Evangelism?” I have been thinking about that article quite a bit lately in the context of the worship life of the church. Seekers are generally thought to be unchurched persons who have a desire for things spiritual. They know there is something more, they are just trying to find it. They are said to be seeking God, looking for Him. We are told that our services need to be user friendly, non-threatining, not offensive, and accessible so that unchurched visitors — seekers — will not be turned off to our message and will return. Listening to an Internet radio program the other day — Chris Rosebrough on Pirate Christian Radio — the commentator observed that there are no seekers in the church. As the basis for this statement, he referred to Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapter 3:9-12:
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
Paul quotes Psalms 14 and 53 here, for the proposition that no one seeks for God, that we have all turned aside, becoming worthless, pursuing what pleases us. This recognition that there is no one who seeks after God, therefore, has ancient authority as the Psalmists attest. Paul says elsewhere in Ephesians that we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Read the rest of this entry
I have become a sermon junkie of late, seeking out good preaching to fill in quiet times. Preaching that tells us the whole story of God — the law and the Gospel — wrapped up in Christ. A couple of week’s ago, my wife shared a sermon from Rev. Jonathan Fisk of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Springfield, Pennsylvania with me on 1 Kings 22. This is an example of expository preaching on a particular text, preaching that is designed to draw out the meaning of particular passages of scripture and throw a clearer light on the meaning of the passage.
In this text, Ahab of the northern tribes of Israel meets with Jehoshophat, King of Judah to talk about joining forces to go to war with Syria to take back the land of Ramoth-gilead. Before doing so, Jehoshophat tells Ahab to inquire of the Lord whether they should do this or not. Ahab gathers his gaggle of prophets together, 400 of them, and they all support the king and his plan. One prophet is left out, Michaiah, because he does not tell Ahab what he wants to hear. This sets up an interaction between the false prophets of Ahab and the true prophet of God, Michaiah. Michaiah tells Ahab that he will be killed in battle. What makes this sermon so compelling is that it takes you where you do not expect. Normally, you would think that the lesson to be learned here is listen to the Word of God and do what it says. Ahab did not listen to God’s Word given through the prophet, he was killed in battle, and the northern tribes were thrown in disarray. Ahab listened to false teachers who led him astray, therefore, beware of false teachers. Not so fast. Rev. Fisk takes the listener through the story straight to Christ and shows how Ahab — yes Ahab — and Micaiah prefigure or are types of Christ in this story. The layers to Scripture are deeper than we can ever imagine. Scripture is broader than we can conceive. But it all, in the end, talks about that one thing needful, Jesus Christ. Click the link below to listen to the Sermon, you will not be disappointed.
Pr. Hans Fienes has a great satire on creative evangelism and outreach ideas. The MMA outreach activity has been done before. There is a with MMA apparel called Jesus Didn’t Tap. This stuff is out there just be aware. Check out the Lutheran Satire video:
If you have not yet checked them out, take a look at Higher Things. It is a Recognized Service Organization of the LCMS, aimed at cultivating a Lutheran identity among our young people. The folks at Higher Things put on conferences and retreats, and use the internet and other multimedia to assist parents, congregations, and pastors in connecting youth in our churches today. On the heels of this past summer’s Coram Deo conferences, Higher Things now has an internet radio program. The initial shows will take a more in depth look at some of the topics addressed in the break out sessions of the conferences. You can find the program at Higher Things : Higher Things Radio or check them out at Pirate Christian Radio. Here is the promo from the HT website:
Join Pastor George Borghardt each week in his latest and greatest project, Higher Things Radio to learn more about the Gospel and Jesus Christ delivered for you! Pastor Borghardt’s new program will air on Pirate Christian Radio Thursday evenings, so tune in your web browsers and check him out. If you miss him, don’t worry we’ll be podcasting his show right here from the Higher Things website! Each week on Pastor Borghardt’s new radio program he’ll be interviewing your favorite catechists and columnists from Higher Things. In addition, Pastor Borghardt will be cold-calling his friends up with your questions in a special segment called, Is this a sin?. Send in your questions today to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Where Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Spirit to create, call, and gather the Christian church, apart from which no one can come to the Lord Christ.” Large Catechism II.45 (Kolb/Wengert, 436)
“Wherever there is God’s Word, no matter whether it is in Baptism, in Absolution, in the Sacrament [Lord’s Supper] there God Himself speaks to us. In the Absolution, He Himself absolves us from [our] sins. In the Sacrament or the Lord ’s Supper, Christ Himself feeds us with His body and blood. We thus have God’s Word in the church, indeed, in the home. Whenever the pastor speaks to us in the church or the father in the house, then God Himself speaks to us.” Luther, sermon on Luke 18:31-43 (1534). Quoted in J.T. Mueller, “Notes on Luther’s Conception of the Word of God as the Means of Grace” in CTM 20 (August 1949), 588.
“The Lutheran assertion that…preaching, in so far as it is Lutheran preaching, is God’s own speech to men, is very difficult to maintain in practice. Instead, it is very easy to slip into the idea that preaching is only speech about God. Such a slip, once made gradually alters the picture of God, so that he becomes the far-off deistic God who is remote from the preached word and is only spoken about as we speak about someone who is absent.”
Gustav Wingren, The Living Word: A Theological Study of Preaching and the Church (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 1960), 19.
“It is remarkable that during his sojourn in Corinth, Paul was day and night wrestling with the problem how to bring Christ into people’s heart and how to lay a solid foundation for their faith in Christ and their joy in Him. Jesus Christ was the marrow and substance of all his preaching, the golden thread that ran through all his sermons.” C.F.W. Walther, 39th Evening Lecture in Law and Gospel (CPH, 1929), 405.
Quotes taken from Faithful and Afire, Participant’s Guide, Rev. Dr. Peter Nafzger, www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=1161.
I am amazed at the excuses we make for not using words, more specifically, THE WORD, to proclaim the Gospel. I have heard it said, “I do not know the Bible as well as others do.” Or, “I am not a good speaker.” Or, “Evangelism is not my ‘Spiritual gift.'” Or, “I am not a preacher.” Or, “We just need to model Christ, be a good example.” The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” He also writes to the Romans:
“For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:5-17, ESV.
This faith that we are given, this faith that we live is more than simple belief and trust. That is what it is in its most basic form. Yet this faith is more than simple belief and trust, it is living, breathing. It is made alive by the very Word of Christ. In us, it is like the mustard seed that, although it is the tiniest seed of the garden plants, grows to be the biggest. Not because of any work or obedience on my part, but because of the working of the Word that quickens my soul. So it is with the Word of God that is sown in us, it produces tremendous yields of fruit working in and through us. It is the Word acting, working, producing yield beyond our wildest imaginations.
This Word is not just in our hearts so that we can be an example for others. It is, as Paul says, in our mouth — your mouth, my mouth. Ezekiel and St. John give us pictures of eating scrolls containing the Word of God, something that we can chew, taste, ingest, absorb. But the Word is placed in our mouth, not simply for our own personal benefit, to nourish only me — the Gospel must be proclaimed. It is the Word of faith that we proclaim. We confess — that is we, publicly declare, praise, give thanks, declare, speak with another to a reasoned conclusion — with our mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Greek — and I am no scholar — always seems to have a deeper connotation than our English. This confessing is more than simply saying I believe. It is coming together with another person and speaking to them the Good News of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. For if the Gospel is not spoken to another, they cannot hear, and so cannot receive the faith that comes from Christ.
But you say, I can lead a godly life and provide a Christ-like example for others. They will know Jesus, by seeing the Jesus in me. All I need to do is share the love of Jesus with others, and those who are speakers will do the rest. God will take care of that. We must, certainly, lead a godly life and be an example for others — our actions must show that we are followers of Christ. A good tree bears fruit, while a bad tree bears no fruit or, even worse, bad fruit. But our deeds MUST match our confession — there must be a profession of the faith we have been given.
Christ Himself tells us that we must proclaim Him before this world. In Matthew 10, He speaks of persecution that will come to His followers. He tells us that we will be called to bear witness of HIM before this world, its kings, princes, and rulers. Our Lord tells us not to worry about what to say, that we will be given the words at that time. If He promises to give us words to speak when we are called before great and mighty people, how much more so will He give us words to speak to the least of this world? Do not be afraid, speak Christ! Proclaim the Gospel! A city on a hill cannot be hidden; do not put the light of the Gospel under a bushel! It is meant to be seen! Christ issues a stern warning to those who would hide Him, when He has made Himself known to us: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33, ESV.
Hide who you are, who Christ has called you to be, remove references to Scripture in your print materials, provide a different face than who you claim to be at your core, and you are hiding Christ. You are, in effect, denying Him before men. Whatever the reason — marketing decision, attempt to appeal to the world, self-preservation, not a good speaker, more of a behind the scenes person — there is a deception involved when dealing with others. More importantly, there is a failure to trust in the God who comes to you in your Baptism, and in the very Word we are called to proclaim. Just as you do not get the full import of God’s saving message by reading only bits and pieces, for the Gospel encompasses all of God’s story (you cannot have the Law without the Gospel), so too the Christian life is not complete without confessing Christ before men, sharing the Word verbally with others. Moses was not a good speaker and God found a way to use him and his voice. But what if he only led by example? What if Moses never proclaimed the salvation of Israel before Pharaoh? Better yet, what if Jesus said nothing? No, the good news is always proclaimed before men by divine imperative. God’s Word never returns to Him void, in spite of our attempts to circumvent His plan for us.
The next time you are tempted to make an excuse as to why YOU cannot share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others, why you can only be an example by sharing the love of Christ, remember our Savior’s parting words to us: “I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”