The concern is genuine; the apprehension palpable. Worry gives way to fear that sounds the alarm. Income lags behind expenses. Fewer people are attending church on a regular basis. The slide parallels that of the surrounding community. How are we going to turn it around? What will it take to get more people in church who then contribute money to meet the budget? Sound familiar? It is being voiced throughout the United States in communities large and small, urban and rural.
Scapegoats are sought. It doesn’t take long before the target is acquired. Sharp barbs of accusation are launched. “The pastor is driving people away.” “His personality is not winsome and charming.” “The sermons are lack luster and boring.” “If only he was more like Pastor So and So.” “You know, the one nearby.” “He’s a great story teller and loves to crack jokes.” “Ah, if only our pastor was not such a loser” “We expected the perfect pastor for our situation but each one that comes is flawed in ways we refuse to overlook.” “What’s wrong with our universities/seminaries/district/Synod?” The same thing that is wrong within you and me.
There is none that is righteous, no not one. No one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Rom. 3:10-12). Stop and think about what people in your congregation say about your church, your workers and your people? Is it positive? Is it negative? Does it glorify God’s name and His Word (Ps.138:2)? Sinners excel at sin. Their throat is an open grave. The venom of asps is on their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness (Rom. 3:13-14). What do your words sound like to God and others? James writes regarding the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father and with it we curse people. From the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not be so (James 3:8-10).
What’s a sinner to do? Repent, repent and repent again as often as necessary. The good news is that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. It is not the healthy who need a doctor but those who are sick. By nature everyone is born with the terminal disease called original sin. This soon gives way to actual sin, even among the baptized. Those who are baptized have the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-39; Titus 3:5). This is not a license to sin for hateful words grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30). Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:29, 31-32).
The questions raised at the beginning are genuine. No one person is to blame. Go back and read President Harrison’s column in the June/July Lutheran Witness. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The first three commandments are routinely broken with hardly a blush of shame or even an apology. The answer is surprisingly simple. It follows the actions of those baptized on Pentecost. They continued steadfast in the Apostles’ Teaching, in the fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). These are the reasons for the Divine Services and Bible classes. When you are in Bible class it is like Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet. When you attend worship you are knit closer in the fellowship as forgiven sinners receive the body and blood of Jesus. The prayers are another way of saying the liturgy, the ordered service of the church back to the days of the synagogue rich in Scripture and the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. Miss any of them and you are spiritually starving yourself. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it (Luke 11:28). Why not say with the psalmist: I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (Ps. 122:1). I look forward to seeing you in worship AND Bible study.
(Found originally here)