By Rev. Dr. Dean Nadasdy
I may have won an Observation merit badge as a Boy Scout, but I’m not the most observant guy. I need someone (like Jesus) to say, “Behold!” Then I might notice. Things usually have to repeat themselves for me to take note. By the time I have them on my radar, they may even be a trend.
So it is that five years into being your district president I have noticed a few things worth mentioning. They are important for us to see in our life together, especially as Lutherans. Here they are:
- We don’t smile very much when we worship. Someone must have told us that it’s alright to feel joy deep in our hearts but not to wear it on our faces. This is true, I think, because we are mostly German and Scandinavian. It’s different with our African friends in worship. They wear their joy. I think visitors would be more drawn to us if we looked more joyful like them.
- We quote Martin Luther a lot, especially this Reformation anniversary year. Sometimes we quote the reformer more than the Redeemer, especially we pastors. I love to quote Luther. I’m pretty sure, though, that Luther would not be happy with this. He was so Christ-centered, not narcissistic at all. He didn’t write to be quoted. I think we would do well in our witness to adopt the Reformation’s complete focus on the full sufficiency of Christ, quoting him first and most.
- We still don’t sit in the front pews of our churches. Even if the church is half full, we like the back. Don’t invite us up either (as in the parable) because we’re not budging. It’s almost as if we’re afraid the pastor will ask us to do something or use us as an illustration in his sermon. I suspect this won’t change soon. It just looks silly, the gap between pastor and people, as if they’re afraid of him (or God) or mad or shy or somewhat but not fully engaged. I know. I usually sit in the back.
- We sure are hung up on offices. The word for “office” in German is “Amt.” Germans like Amt. They value hierarchy, position, and structure. Some of our churches have more positions to be filled in their governance structure than they have worshipers on a Sunday morning. It seems to me that what we do matters more than what title we bear, that the kind of people we are speaks louder than our position.
- It’s difficult to find organists these days. Some churches use recorded music. Others may use a pianist. Churches expect that if they begin “contemporary” worship, the crowds will come. If it’s hard to find an organist, though, it’s harder yet to find an entire band that sounds good. Few of our churches can do this well. The key here seems to be that we worship with excellence. I hope our churches, especially our smaller ones, can still do music beautifully.
- Many of us insulate ourselves from those outside the church. Our closest friends are in the church. We simply don’t place ourselves where outsiders spend their time (Colossians 4:5). No wonder we don’t see many visitors in our churches or ever find ourselves explaining what we believe. Our churches would grow. I think, if more of us intentionally placed ourselves in cafes and coffee shops, at soccer games and town hall meetings. Instead of waiting for outsiders to come to us, we might consider going to them.
- The Body of Christ, the church, is beautiful. I knew it before, but now I see it with a wider lens. I’m in three or four churches a week, and I can say that the church is as beautiful as ever – Christ still giving His gifts to His people, Christians loving one another, leaders serving, disciples growing. I’m pretty sure that the more we look like Jesus, the more beautiful we become.
This is some of what I’ve noticed. I wanted you to see it, too.