Recent trends have gotten me to thinking recently that Lutherans are afraid to be Lutheran. In some ways I can't blame them. They look at churches around them who are experiencing numerical success such as Saddleback, Lakewood, Grace Community (Houston, Tx), Calvary Chapel (Melbourne, Fl), and others; and they want that same experience. Part of me says "I can't blame them," because having a large influx of people is exciting. Then the other part of me dreads their excitement because then it translates into why can't we be more like them. We need to change our services. We need to be more contemporary. Toss out the old and in with the new. Now I can see the potential of using the new multimedia tools for conveying the wonders of the Gospel but I wonder do we really need to do the out with the old?
Do we really need to look for new and innovative ways? I think we should do some historical studies and see what worked for the churches in the days of the Roman Empire. Why you ask? It is really simple, they lived in a society that is very similar to ours. Their society was very tolerant of drug use, sexual sins, violence, and any and all religions were good. In fact, if you had a god they didn't they'd just toss up a statue for him in the temple. They even tolerated the quaint Jewish and Christian idea of monotheism until Caesar needed a scapegoat. So with a society so similar to ours I think we should look at what they did.
Articles all over the place are talking about the need to be relational with our message and ministry. You can't get any more relational than people throwing parties and sharing the message with their friends. They didn't have any great programs, the people just went out and shared the Gospel. It really is that simple. Now, we just need non Christian friends.
The worship service was relational and relevant. A tradition I think could find great favor in today's postmodern mindset is the practice of individual Absolution or as I like to call it "The Lutheran Altar Call." It is a far more personal way of conveying the truth and promise of God's Forgiveness than the corporate confession and absolution we currently practice. I think it is time we faced up to the idea that the group absolution that has largely replaced the practice of individual confession and absolution does not cut it in a society that places and emphasis on the individual experience. The practice of individual Absolution is a perfect fit because it is entirely in keeping with the doctrine and practice of the Lutheran Church and it is undeniably an individual experience.
We also hear a need for up beat songs. Ok, give them what they want but be sure to give them what they need. There is nothing wrong with catchy, upbeat tunes, I like a toe tapping tune myself. But you need to make sure they are filled with lyrics that have far more to them than "I will sing praise to you." Praise to who? Praise for what? People have pointed out that Arius used catchy tunes to teach his dastardly teachings, well, don't let the devil ruin a good thing. Use catchy tunes to teach good things. I did it, I'd like to see you say "Almighty Fortress" is not a catchy tune.
Preach to people's felt needs, but make them Lutheran or I shall beat you with a rubber hose. It isn't that hard to speak to people's needs and point them to the great gifts of the means of grace as the answer. Give them sound wisdom (Biblical principles to live by) but be clear that when they fail to live by these principles they should run to cross and look for strength from Christ.
Above all don't be afraid to be Lutheran because at the heart of being a Lutheran is the Gospel. It is the Gospel that is ultimately going to win the hearts of people not a snappy dressing smooth talking preacher.