When I graduated from the Seminary, I understood the account of the Transfiguration intellectually. Forty-five years later I know it experientially. Ministry is down on the plain, as you know so very well. Our faithful people are down there too, which is why your ministry is so needed.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to church attendance. Weekly attendance used to be the definition of regular worship but now it’s a time or two each month, if that. Word and Sacrament is always THE reason we gather, but what has jumped out of my musings are compelling reasons for weekly attendance that weren’t so obvious in “Christian America” of the last century.
First, faithful Christian living is a constant back-and-forth between the truth of God’s Word and all the stuff we swim in during the week, individualism, emotions, partisanship, peer pressure, and so much of it impersonal, uncaring. Our digital devices make those outside influences greater than back in “Christian America.” Dear parishioner, when you attend only a time or two per month, you’re letting yourself be influenced more and more by the world. Jesus says, “Pay attention to what you hear” (Mark 4:24 ESV).
Second, Martin Scharlemann said somewhere that a pastor’s job is to interpret reality theologically. It’s true that we’re sinners and Jesus died in our place, but our Lutheran theology can play that out in rich and relevant ways to help our people during the week. Insightful thoughts on Sunday inform sanctified living during the week. Worship that doesn’t touch on what’s happening “out there” weakens weekly confession and witness. Dear parishioner, by coming to worship every Sunday you’ll better understand how God is present and working in our public culture. “What does this mean?”
Third, in “Christian America” the church’s teachings about how to live in community (Second Table of the Law) were generally supported by public culture. That’s gone; the differences between the two kingdoms are clearer than ever. A great role for the church in our new times is to be a mediating institution, helping individuals navigate the impersonal, un-Christian and sometimes anti-Christian, public culture. Dear parishioner, by coming to church every week you learn how to deal in a Christ-like way with people out there in the world.
Why should we acquiesce to the new definition of regular worship? Life down on the plain has always been hard, but in post-churched America weekly worship is more necessary than ever, for both practical here-and-now reasons and for eternity. Dear parishioner, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV). Not every worship service is a mountain top experience, but every one lifts up our eyes. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27 ESV).
Blessings on your faithful service!
Dr. Dale A. Meyer, President
Concordia Seminary, St. Louis