Last weekend, I attended a family baptism held in a suburban church—one of the largest in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The five-year anniversary of that Synod locking out our congregation and claiming our property is eleven days away.
It took four worship leaders—at least three of them pastors—to lead the service that wasn’t much different from a service led by just one pastor—or in many cases—no pastor.
For much of the service, all four were seated behind the altar with just the tops of their heads visible over the altar, looking a bit like “Kilroy was here” graffiti times four.
Having visited more than 80 churches in the same synod over the last three years, I have to wonder about pastors and the call process. Most of the churches we visited were getting by with minimal professional leadership—part-timers with limited commitment toward any growth needs of the congregations. God calls them, we are to believe, to “caretaker ministries.” That’s the church terminology when earthly leaders give up on God’s people. Caretaker ministers are considered successful if they live up to earthly expectations. Failure is the only goal. Yet, much is likely to be made of these “calls” to do little.
What happened to the God of the Bible?
The God of the Bible was forever calling leaders to forsake comfort and go to the needy. He dragged them from the rich, prosperous neighborhoods and put them on the fringe. He asked them to trust in his goodness (the Old Testament lesson last Sunday was the Exodus story of manna).
The God of the Bible didn’t negotiate salary packages with benefits.
Does God call pastors only to the large suburban churches, where so much ministerial effort is exerted just in management?
When “God” gives the larger churches the right to vote on ministries in distant neighborhoods of which they have no firsthand knowledge, the disparity within the Church and the called community is even more striking.
Perhaps the coming demise of the mainline church has something to do with our craving for comfort over mission. Perhaps it has something to do with making the model for ministry the creation of places for people to come to—instead of going to them.
Our bishop told us “A church without a parking lot has no chance for survival.” We visited many churches without parking lots, some of them doing pretty well!
Did God change? Or did we stop listening?
I’d like to see some form of “Kilroy was here” dotting the urban church landscape. That symbol gave courage and hope to soldiers when they saw it wherever they went in World War II. That symbol in the Church is supposed to be the cross. (Last week was Holy Cross Sunday). But our cross, in our neighborhood, with its burnt base having survived a 1920s fire, has been locked away for FIVE years with no SEPA congregations called to care.