What the Church Needs Now

I am simply amazed by the recognitions that many in the missional movement continue to make. I have applauded them for their honesty and willingness to make such diagnoses. First, there was the recognition that attractional worship models no longer work. Next, was their observations that mega-churches are a bust; then small groups are a flop; then programmatic churches are failing to make disciples; then, more recently, being “missional” itself has become a burden that potentially blinds the mission.

I have chronicled each critique and have been impressed by their candor. But I remain equally flabbergasted by the unawareness of these admissions by some “missional” minded folks in my own church body (LCMS). (Please remember, I am absolutely for missions, for reaching the lost, and for growing the Kingdom of God! But I am also for being honest about the way my Lutheran theology shapes how Lutherans do that.)

Nonetheless, I’m now in an even greater state of amazement over one of the most recent critiques of the North American church by missional guru Skye Jethani. In short, he notes the church is in desperate need of recognizing, get this, the value of vocation!

I have long urged the need for the church to recover and celebrate the depth of our Lutheran understanding of vocation. It’s a doctrine that became integral to my own congregation’s mission and strategic plan (see the diagram for a snapshot of our congregation’s mission strategy). My forthcoming book emphasizes its importance. And I have written about vocation numerous times on this blog.

What Jethani says is utterly affirming and deeply insightful about what has been missing in “missional” theology (particularly for young adults), but is aptly present in our historic Lutheran theology:

[T]he missional approach relies on a young adult’s spare time, extra resources, and expendable energy. It doesn’t capture a core identity issue the way family-based ministries do. When a church helps a 40-year-old mother with her struggling marriage and anxiety-driven parenting, it is applying Christian faith to the center of her life and identity. Missional ministries that try to engage a single 30-year-old don’t accomplish this because they ignore what’s at the center of his life to nibble at the margins. And what is at the center for most young adults? Vocation.

Despite being a significant focus of Reformation theology for centuries within the Protestant tradition, contemporary churches are largely silent on the issue…

What does it mean to be in business to glorify God and bless others? How does Christ want me to engage the health care sector? Does being an artist matter to God? How do I serve in the public school system as a follower of Christ? Apart from not being dishonest, does it matter how I run my business? I’ve been offered two jobs, how do I discern which one to take? Does it matter? Can I be a soldier and be a Christian? Does my work have any meaning apart from the money I earn and give to the church?

My guess is most church leaders would have to think a lot longer to answer any of these questions. We have not been trained or conditioned to consider a person’s vocation as a central part of their lives or spiritual formation. It is not a venue most churches value or equip their members for. But work is where most adults (young and old) spend most of their time and what occupies most of their identity. Without the ability to connect faith to either family or work, there is little remaining to engage young adults other than entertaining gatherings or a celebrity in the pulpit. http://www.outofur.com/archives/2012/01/back_to_a_theol.html

Please. I am pleading. I am urging. I am begging all my Lutheran brothers and sisters—rejoice in our theology! Let’s study it. Let’s talk about it. Let’s share it. Let’s allow it to guide our understanding of what it means to be The Holy Christian Church.

As always, I invite your collegial and constructive comments as we seek to dialogue about what it means to be a 21st century Lutheran who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

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15 responses to “What the Church Needs Now

  1. One wag quipped years ago that some conservative churches (i.e., we) have a habit of climbing onto bandwagons just as they are grinding to a halt. Thank you for reminding us of the uniquely Lutheran treasures we have to bring to the contemporary missionary task. Ironically it may take nonlutherans like Jethani to cause us to take a second look before we toss them out. In the meantime, your blog is a refreshing voice for sanity. Keep up the good work!

  2. You have given us (me) much to think about…ponder, consider, and pray over. I have been thinking over this issue for these past three years as a pastor. I have been involved with and witnessed “family” centered, “contemporary” worship style to attract others and find myself stepping back now to re-tool, re-think, re-assess what I thought was good, right, and helpful. Although there is some value in these approaches, they arent the center. Our Theology is. And you are right. We are not talking about that. (i should say…I am not and should be.)Your article today is very timely. Thank you.

  3. I love the illustration. When will your book be coming out?

  4. Pingback: Steadfast Lutherans » Great Stuff Found on the Web — What the Church Needs Now

  5. Excellent insights. May I borrow the wheel graphic?

  6. It seems that as soon as we neatly define a category for a church (missional, programmatic, etc.), it stops working. The church as a whole has, for the most part, forgotten how to adapt. We stumble upon something that works and say, “Aha! We’ve figured it out for all time!”, and then we stop being useful.

  7. Gone are the days when missiologists asked “what can we learn from the business world?” but now they are asking, “How does Christology inform missiology?” In this respect, where contemporary missional theology is across Christendom is actually quite encouraging to me. When people are asking “How does Christology inform Missiology” I believe they are asking the right question. The emphasis, then, is away from “attractional” ministry, and more toward “incarnational” ministry — which, frankly, opens the door wide open for Lutherans to offer a guiding hand via our teachings on vocation. If the question they are asking is “how do we live as the Body of Christ in the world,” the larvae Dei of our teachings on Vocation have a lot to say. At the same time, I think we do well to note that we do have hidden “paradigms” we may not realize left over form our heritage, our former German-speaking context, etc., that have hung on and aren’t necessarily confessional (i.e. we still tend to treat the life of the Church as though it exists at the heart of society, when in fact it is on the margins… which is also why a re-emphasis on vocation is important) and sometimes we have things we can learn too. In short — we have a lot to contribute to missional theology across Christendom today, and we’d miss a grave opportunity if we were not to add to the conversation.

  8. excellent.. excelllent thoughts … that is how we live out our baptismal calling and our mission ….through our vocations …. salt, light, yeast and 1 Peter 3:15!!!

    May I add I think this is where we’ve missed the boat with post-confirmation (making it more about mastering content and readiness for receiving Holy Communion and less about God using those He called …. even young people!!! … in His service where they are).

  9. Gone are the days when missiologists asked “what can we learn from the business world?” but now they are asking, “How does Christology inform missiology?” In this respect, where contemporary missional theology is across Christendom is actually quite encouraging to me. When people are asking “How does Christology inform Missiology” I believe they are asking the right question. The emphasis, then, is away from “attractional” ministry, and more toward “incarnational” ministry — which, frankly, opens the door wide open for Lutherans to offer a guiding hand via our teachings on vocation. If the question they are asking is “how do we live as the Body of Christ in the world,” the larvae Dei of our teachings on Vocation have a lot to say. At the same time, I think we do well to note that we do have hidden “paradigms” we may not realize left over form our heritage, our former German-speaking context, etc., that have hung on and aren’t necessarily confessional (i.e. we still tend to treat the life of the Church as though it exists at the heart of society, when in fact it is on the margins… which is also why a re-emphasis on vocation is important) and sometimes we have things we can learn too. In short — we have a lot to contribute to missional theology across Christendom today, and we’d miss a grave opportunity if we were not to add to the conversation.

  10. Thanks for the post. The Lord’s truth is indeed a light unto our path! I pray that we continue asking not, “what works?” but “What does God say?”.
    The Lord bless you!

  11. Rev. Eric Nelson

    Thanks for the post, Lucas. I have been teaching in my church for years that we need to reclaim our doctrine of vocation and put away all of the programs and methods (i.e. fads and trends) that simpy don’t work. It’s good to see that another pastor (just down a few miles a way to boot!) who believes, teaches, and confesses likewise!

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