Six Elephants in the Room

Imagine seeing six elephants in one area.  Such mammoth creatures would dominate that particular setting.  This image comes to mind when I think of the challenges we face in the U.S. in 2017, challenges that are interconnected.

Elephant 1.  The challenge of a geographical mismatch by which most congregations and schools of the LCMS are located in the middle of the country and in rural areas but most of the population lives on the two coasts and in huge metro areas.

Elephant 2.  The challenge of the multi-ethnic population in the U.S., of reaching and attracting Hispanics, Africans, and Asians into our predominately Caucasian congregations.

Elephant 3.  The challenge of non-church-attendance.  Surveys reveal that on any given Sunday only 18% of the U.S. attends a church.  There are numerous reasons why over 80% do not attend, but in the end most Americans are simply not “into” church.  As Robert Putnam would put it, they go “bowling alone.”

Elephant 4.  The challenge of working in a multi-religious environment not only with non-Christian religions but also with many different versions of Christianity.  For example, liberal churches typically substitute a radical-left ideology of inclusivity for the biblical gospel.  Prosperity groups substitute the demand for “health, wealth, and happiness” from heaven for the biblical gospel.  The Americans we seek to evangelize are not tabula rasa.  They already have preconceived notions about Christianity, notions that are typically distortions of the Christian faith and life.

Elephant 5.  The challenge of biblical illiteracy among church-going Christians.  Surveys indicate the prevalence of biblical illiteracy, especially when it comes to Moses and the Prophets but also concerning the Gospels and Epistles.  Many Christians cannot speak and think in biblical ways; they only know a few biblical soundbites.  Along with this goes an unfamiliarity with theology and doctrine, for Lutherans, an unfamiliarity with the Small Catechism not to mention the Large Catechism.

Elephant 6.  The challenge of living in a Christian way in this time and place.  What writes the script for non-Christians writes the script for many Christians as well, dominant influences such as the entertainment industry, social media, corporate America, radical individual autonomy, and popular ideologies.  As a result, the actual life of many Christians differs very little from that of non-Christians.

Every generation is called to be faithful in its own time and place, to confess the truth of the gospel (Galatians 2:5), to teach the written Word of God in its truth and purity (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:15-17), to walk in the ways of the Lord (Isaiah 2), to proclaim repentance unto the forgiveness of sins to all nations (Luke 24:44-49).  With such huge, overwhelming, elephant-like challenges facing us, we are tempted to lift up our hands and cry out in utter despair, “What’s the point?”  But it is 2017 anno domini, in the year of the Lord.  Jesus the Messiah, crucified and risen for all, is Lord.  Therefore our labor in his name is not in vain.

Are there other elephants in the picture?  What elephants do you see in your context?

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16 Comments

  1. Michael Mueller June 22, 2017
    Reply

    A succinct recounting of the major problems facing the Church today. Viewed this way, it’s too much. Taken to the microcosm of our individual lives, addressable. We cannot hope to change the world, but we can bring the Christ within us to those around us, and thus they can be changed by the Holy Spirit.

    • Chris Navurskis June 22, 2017

      I would argue that your statement, “We can’t hope to change the world,” is the shared belief among Lutherans that keeps us from doing exactly that. Christ has called us to all nations. He said, “Go!”

  2. Deus Reva-Latte’ – Wir sind alle bloggers June 22, 2017
    Reply

    I think an elephant in the room is the fact that calling our churches a “geographical mismatch” is how we overlook the extreme racial and cultural diversity of those “Congregations and schools located in the middle of the country”. St. Louis is more culturally diverse than Seattle and Portland. It rivals LA and even East Coast cities.
    The narrative is currently: “We are too sheltered in the Midwest”. The elephant is: If this is true, it is because we want it to be true.

    Rev. Brandt Hoffman
    Pastor and School Director – Christ Lutheran Church and School
    Coos Bay, Oregon

    • Rev. DWChamberlain June 28, 2017

      Believe you are correct. There is a group of pastors that are so exclusive who would want to become a part of such a congregation?

  3. Andrew Walker June 23, 2017
    Reply

    I think a huge elephant would be silence over life issues that extend beyond pre-/post-natal, end-of-life, and disaster relief, e.g. justice in the racial and economic spheres. It’s one thing to address the fact that our church is so largely white (and kudos for doing so) but another entirely to address its silence and inaction regarding gross systemic, societal injustices for fear of political backlash, disruption of ‘life together’, or any other reason, including apathy and lack of awareness. It’s not the synod’s job to right these problems, just as it is not the government’s, but we can start guiding and equipping churches to address these issues in their neighborhoods, congregations, and individual lives.

  4. Ronald Briggs June 23, 2017
    Reply

    The fact that Lutheranism is so divided doesn’t help LCMS and yet the truth of the Gospel is the Christian Church to which I want to be related. A move to separate that name from the unbiblical Lutheran churches should exist other wise LCMS needs new Identity. Is it not a wonder Martin did not want his name attached to the church! Either LCMS needs an advertising program defining what we are or we will mosey along as life is. Those that accept the doctrine of the “real presence” and who don’t endorse the gay-lib movement could some how become related. I feel very emotional when I see that LCMS and NALC cannot live and worship together.. Living in the deep south LCMS is few and far between. I cannot drive 50+ miles to Divine Service so I attempt to bring to fruition a LCMS mission only to lose by 1 vote. The NALC is more doctrinely pure than many other “Christian” groups here.

  5. peter Steinke June 23, 2017
    Reply

    elephant 7. Theological education needs to become contextualized …done in parish settings with talented teachers locally or through assignment…
    institutional training is costly and students leaving with huge debts and moderate compensation is poor stewardship…Elephany 8. How long can we keep 60% of the church on the sidelines and blindly ignore the spiritual gifts of women…

    • Wes Gillaspie 21 days ago

      Peter, I led a young man through our Synod’s SMP a few years ago, and my experience is that it is not nearly as good as actually being on campus at our fine LCMS seminaries where students daily interact with profs and each other and are immersed in the seminary life of chapel, student fellowship, the library, and so many other activities. And if you are talking about the ordination of women, you should be aware that churches who do so are not exactly growing by leaps and bounds. As Dr. Matthew Harrison recently said, it’s time to stop beating each other over the head with those reasons for the lack of numerical growth.

  6. Rev. Dr. Paul B. Dancy June 26, 2017
    Reply

    The “elephant in the room” which all can see but refuse to acknowledge is the vast difference in the focus of our two seminaries. One is focused on training pastors to fulfill the Great Commission, while the other more on propagating an extremely narrow view of high, ultraconservative worship forms that are emptying the pews of our churches. When form and tradition become an end in themselves we have lost sight of simply saving, feeding and strengthening souls through the means of grace, becoming all things to all men so that by all possible means we might save some who will never enter a church where there is chanting, genuflecting and singing accompanied by an organ. Spiritual wisdom is knowing what must change over time, and what must never change.

    • Ronald Briggs June 27, 2017

      As an old man one might think that I would fight to the last to maintain the traditions of old. Quite to the contrary, while I see the scriptures in the liturgy the “HIGH CHURCH” can be blended with the old and can even have the new of the younger generation included. Do we want to throw the baby out with the bath water? NO! But it does need changing. Even though 10 kids in a tub was not uncommon in my earlier days, thank God for running water and even hot water and what about the shower. They all accomplished the the same service for man. Rev. Fr. Roger Pitellko had an outline of the basic elements for a Divine Service in gathering the people. Elegant vestments and surroundings can become the worshiped instead of the Creator. Entertainment church sure gathers the people in but it too can loose the focus on God. Playing church is dangerous. Let us not get caught up in all the fauldural (sp) only to loose sight of the Gospel

    • Deus Reva-Latte’ – Wir sind alle bloggers June 27, 2017

      I went to Seminary in St. Louis. I even entered with the largest (and most diverse) class in LCMS history. After five years of study (including pre-sem classes and vicarage), I learned some valuable lessons:
      1. The two Seminaries aren’t much different.
      2. Some people go to seminary with their minds made up. (They go to teach and not learn)
      3. People are always trying to drive a wedge between us.
      4. People are transformed by the Gospel even when the Devil has us chasing the “tail” of relevancy and contextualization.
      5. Finally, and most importantly, Concordia Seminary in St. Louis has the superior basketball team. 🙂

      Rev. Brandt Hoffman
      Christ Lutheran Church and School
      Coos Bay, OR

    • Rev. DWChamberlain June 28, 2017

      This is most true and should be elephant #1. So many of our hymns are beyond the musical ability of most people…when they are used you can hear mostly silence & low mumbling. Even many contemporary songs are sung only by the “praise group”.

    • Wes Gillaspie 21 days ago

      As a 1986 graduate of CTS, I take exception to your statement. That was not my experience there. We only had a couple of classes that focused on worship. The vast majority were on historical/exegetical/systematic/practical theology (Sermon Theory, the book of Romans, Parish Education, Archaeology and the OT, etc). Even though that was 30+ years ago, I doubt that it has changed that much. And I know plenty of Ft. Wayne grads who use some form of contemporary worship.

  7. Ronald Briggs June 29, 2017
    Reply

    who has the best cantors?

    • Deus Reva-Latte’ – Wir sind alle bloggers June 29, 2017

      Both have excellent cantors.

  8. Ron Briggs June 30, 2017
    Reply

    I have always believed that LCMS would be my church until death but with all the hassle maybe it isn’t that important anymore. I think that we can have enough musical variety, varied liturgical formats, and even collar/no collar issues. Where is the joy of the Lord? Maybe a new reformation in Rome will try to reunite us so that we may be one even as the Father and I are one. Fortunately true faith is a heart condition manifested in works among us. How can we all be Christians and still fight among ourselves? God has given us the road map but many can’t read it or see around the curves in the path. There were differences all throughout Biblical history. Has anything changed?

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