Does your church need a drive-through window?Published 10:49am Friday, February 8, 2013
By the Rev. Todd Walsh
Grace Lutheran Church
It’s May 2011 and I’m sitting in the Lutheran Cathedral of Peter and Paul in central Moscow. Our group has jet lag. I have jet lag. The church heating system is turned off for the winter. It is really cold in there. We are the guests of the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of European Russia. I would rather go lay down for a few minutes in warmer confines.
But the church is holding one of its organ concerts. They do the concerts to invite people from the congregation and neighborhood. The concerts are an evangelism tool. It didn’t work for me that day; I was cold and tired and wanted to go lay down! But through the jet lag and cold the concert was impressive. The organist spoke about the works to be played — in Russian — and that didn’t help matters. But then we knew something of what he was talking about when he started to play. Music is a universal language. The 100-year-old church was also impressive with its newly restored interior.
So here we have an example of organ concerts to get people interested in the church.
It’s July of 2011 and a pastor I know from Germany is coming to visit. He is taking his teenage children on a vacation to tour the United States. We talk about entertainment options for the day. He explains the options to the children, and I could tell by facial expressions that the plans were not making an impression. Then I suggest the Mall of America and explain that it is the largest shopping center in the world. Father then explains in German. Children’s faces light right up. We have a plan.
My pastor friend and I talk church on the drive. He explains that the church he serves in Germany hosts rock concerts at which beer is served. It is a way to get people to gather and for people to see that the church is part of the community. It works to get people together but not many people join the church.
Here we have another example of music to get people interested in the church.
So what do Lutherans in the American Midwest do to get people interested in church?
We serve lutefisk. Say no more.
Have you noticed that churches do all sorts of things to get people interested in church? I have joked that we need a drive through. You pay at the first window. You get communion at the second window. Quick and convenient. Just like everyone else does it.
There is something wrong and right about what I have written so far.
The wrong part is to ask some questions. Is the life of a Christian about organ concerts? Rock concerts? Beer? Lutefisk? Are we getting to the heart of the message? Is the church just trying to fit in to survive? And if the church does survive, can it still be called the church? Can it still be called Christian? Are we going to just end up running concert halls, beer bashes and peculiar suppers?
The right part is that the gathering of people is important. Relationships are important. We met people at the organ concert in Moscow. My pastor friend from Germany likes to mingle at the concerts. And it is interesting to see who is attending those lutefisk suppers!
The right part is that the church exists to introduce people to and nurture them in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything else the church does must connect to that relationship or it is just a distraction at best.
So can an organ concert introduce people to and nurture people in a relationship with Jesus Christ? Yes, and it depends on those of us who attend to make it so. A rock concert with beer? Same answer. Lutefisk suppers? I dare say it is the same answer again!
I find it comforting and empowering that Jesus calls his first disciples in essentially the same way. He says to them, “Follow me.” He offers up simple words of invitation. In those words is the promise that Jesus will be present and that he will be the guide. Even when met with someone’s hesitation, one of Jesus’ own disciples already knows it is about invitation and relationship. He says, “Come and see.”
Let me ask you some questions. Have you accepted the invitation of Jesus that comes from one of his believers? Have you accepted that invitation in a prayer life? Now this acceptance language can be a one time done deal type of thing. But it can also be a daily acceptance of the invitation and all that God has to offer. How are you nurturing your relationship with God? There are many ways and many faith communities to help us. How are you helping others in their relationship with God? Your faithful witness in worship is a help to others. Your volunteering in your church is a faithful witness. Even your attending those organ concerts and rock concerts is a help to others. A beer with a believer? Why not?
A final disclaimer to lutefisk lovers: I’ve eaten it before. But I go for the meatballs. And I enjoy the company of the meal. But I have to ask a question. Why would you eat a food when the best thing you can say about it is, “You have to get used to it?”
It must really be about the relationship.