Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Confessionals Are No Better

"Transitioning" a congregation can be a minefield--"Transitioning" meaning taking an established congregation and completely overhauling it to make a modern, consumerist church on the Willow Creek/Saddleback model (there has to be a better word for all this). It is difficult work that some in the congregation will oppose, many will eventually accept, and some gladly welcome.

Most troublesome is the perception of what happens: a pastor, called to shepherd his people, begins his ministry in order to destroy and re-create. It makes the pastor an enemy of the congregation that called/hired him, for the purpose of making it into something new when all will be reconciled to the new way. Confessional pastors in the LCMS point out the harm such men do to congregations and wag our fingers at them. Skim through the pages at the link above. You'll find advice to stay connected with the older generation with the ulterior motive of making them part of the "change team." The author denies that he is advising manipulation, but that is what it is. It appears pretty slimy to me.

Yet one can read these steps to "Transition" a congregation and easily substitute a few words here and there and find that Confessionals do the same thing. Exchange "praise song" for "canticle," and "medley" for "Gospel Processional." All the advice and steps of transitioning a "traditional" congregation into the new "seeker model" can apply to good ol' Confessional pastors who arrive in a congregation that is not perhaps confessional enough, or who suffered some poorly done transition in the past. At Concordia Seminary I heard Professors on "both sides" giving us the very same advice on how to effect change in a congregation. It was up to the student to determine if he would change for praise choruses or away from them.

There is something very wrong with this picture. There must be a better way.


  1. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    And heaven help you if you suggest to someone who is Confessional that they are pushing changes too quickly. . .

    There are two things the people often forget. First, there is a difference between teaching and manipulating. If you are approaching a situation with the goal of changing a person into something else, making them act differently - that's manipulation. Here's how you go about positioning the change. Not what pastors are given to do. We are to teach. Teaching is giving information, opening the Scriptures - and God brings about any changes. Too often we are too focused on getting a result and try to manipulate rather than focusing on teaching the truth and letting what happen happen.

    Second, there is a difference between what is necessary and what is nice. There are many things in a congregation that are nice. I think chanting is nice. But it is in no way necessary - it's not something that is fundamental to being a solid, Lutheran Congregation. We don't chant here. If I'm here for 40 more years, we may very well never chant. Oh well - it's not something that defines a congregation, it's not what defines a Church.

    Part of the problem is that pastors have to remember that they are called to serve a congregation, not make it into their ideal of what a congregation ought to be. That comes up on both sides - and is horrible on both sides. One side pushes false doctrine, the other besmirches true doctrine by pushing adiaphora. Thus is life in the Church Militant.

  2. Fr John W Fenton said...

    Sometime ago I too pondered the statement, "There must be a better way." Then another series of questions suggested itself: "What are the roots of pastors being 'change-agents' rather than catechists and liturgists? Who taught us this was necessary or even desirable? What liturgiology teaches against the sound liturgical instinct that resists change because the faithful parishioner realizes it means change in faith or doctrine? In brief, why must it be this way?"

    Note: Preaching and teaching toward reform of life (i.e., repentance) is not the same as being a "change-agent" against a parish tradition (whether 'happy-clappy' or 'liturgical'). A priest/pastor always urges repentance; but must he urge us to repent of liturgy, hymns, rituals, traditions (whether by instituting new, redefining common, or re-instituting old)?

  3. Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

    In my last Lutheran parish, I "transitioned" the people towards weekly communion (it took 4 years), exclusively liturgical worship and traditional hymnody, and reverent treatment of the sacred things.

    Then the head of the altar guild, a fine woman and theologically astute, moved and attended a parish with disposable plastic communion cups. After she talked with the pastor there over a period of several months, she got him to "compromise"--the disposable cups were double-bagged before they were tossed in the trash.

    I realized finally that the hour had come. I realized I could work as hard as possible for years, and none of it would matter: the next guy could come and change it, and nothing could be done about it. I had to leave.


    Fr. Gregory

  4. Doorman-Priest said...

    I tried the fifth column approach from within and gave up in exhaustion. You tend to feel that if the Spirit is telling you something, why on earth isn't she telling everyone else?

    I notice you've not visited recently.

  5. elephantschild said...

    As a person who has seen two previous congregations I was a member of bludgeoned by pastors forcing change without accompanying explanation and catechesis, I can attest first hand to the damage done.

    What was so awful was that had the pastors taken the time to teach, most everyone would've seen it their way!

    But no, every change had to happen overnight, under the cover of darkness. Sometimes literally.

    It was nearly enough to chase me an my husband away from confessional Lutheranism - not because we disagreed with the theology, but because every pastor we had known up to that point had been, well, a bully.

    Thankfully, a job change and interstate move landed us in a congregation with a good confessional pastor who is picking his battles quite cleverly and carefully. Is there more that needs to be changed? Yup. But he understands that these things take time!

  6. Dixie said...

    You know...this reminds me of my former Lutheran church. Our new pastor waited one year but then implemented weekly communion. Of course there were some complaints...too expensive, too much work for the Altar Guild, it won't make the Lord's Supper special any more. (I am certain the Lutheran pastors reading have hear 'em all in this regard.) A handful of years later, this pastor gets called away and the congregation calls a new pastor. My husband tells me the new pastor is not in favor of weekly communion but the congregation likes it now. Nonetheless, I understand that my husband is expecting to be transitioned back to every other week communion.

    Maybe I could understand if the issue were about something more benign than the Eucharist.