Wednesday, October 8, 2014

In Defense of "Maintenance Ministry"
When a non-Lutheran Christian says "once-saved, always-saved," they're saying that once you become a Christian, you will never lose your saving faith. So if you are baptized or you accept Jesus in your heart, pray the sinner's prayer, or however it is they think it is that you become a Christian, no matter what you think or say or do after that point, your eternal destination is locked in and guaranteed.

Lutherans don't confess the idea of "once-saved, always-saved" because we understand that a Christian is able to renounce the faith. A child of God can choose to disown his family and reject his inheritance. Related to this, the Good News (evangel, Gospel) isn't just for the unbeliever who has been condemned by the Law, but the Good News is also for the Christian. The Christian continues to need to hear and receive the Good News, the Gospel, the Evangel, on a regular basis. Law and Gospel happens daily in the life of the Christian and at least weekly in the life of the Church. You never get away from it. Law and Gospel is not a one and done thing where you find a lost person, convict them with the Law, and then proclaim the Gospel to them, then they're a Christian and they focus on being a better Christian and converting others the same way.

We are sheep. Congregations are flocks, and pastors are shepherds (or undershepherds). Shepherds tend to the flocks. They protect and take care of the sheep. That's not to say that our pastors shouldn't be saying or doing anything to find lost sheep or to bring new sheep into the fold, but they shouldn't be doing so if they are neglecting their duty to the sheep that God has already entrusted to their care. Reach out to the lost without neglecting the flock.

Let's use a business parable. A man has a nice supper club (that's a restaurant for you non-Wisconsinites). Sales are alright but not off the charts. He doesn't have the fire marshal closing him down because he's over capacity, but business is going well enough. He has a good menu, good staff, a good customer base. It's all good. He has his regular customers and they keep coming back for more of the goods. Would he like more customers? Sure. He wouldn't turn anyone away, but his plate is pretty full, so to speak. 

What happens if our restaurateur stops focusing on keeping the business up and running and focuses on acquiring new customers? Maybe the business will grow in the short term, but disaster looms in the future: the regulars will stop showing up and the new customers won't stay. Why? He stopped delivering the goods. The goods are why the regulars kept coming back.

Another analogy. Some sort of medical doctor. A doctor can only serve so many patients. If he tries to serve too many patients, the quality of his entire practice suffers. You can't take on more patients when you're not taking care of the patients you already have. 

Whether a restaurant or a health care practice or the church, your focus isn't to bring more people in, your focus is the ongoing care of your regulars. This is maintenance. You maintain high standards. You maintain your focus where it belongs. You can do other things, but not at the expense of taking care of that which is already infront of you. Don't neglect your patients, don't neglect your regulars, don't neglect your sheep. Patients have ongoing need to see their practicioner, regulars get hungry three times a day (even if they don't always eat at your restaurant), and parishioners have ongoing needs that can only be met by God in His Divine Service on a regular basis. Parish ministry IS maintenance ministry.

Some use the term "maintenance ministry" as a pejorative. It means neglecting or hating the lost, the "unchurched," the non-Germanic, etc. It means that your church is a museum to the "old, dying" way of "doing church." If you're in maintenance ministry, you're part of the dying orthodoxy instead of the vibrant and exciting cutting-edge outreach methods or whatever. You're just defending the status quo, and the status quo is NEVER good enough!

Well, sorry, but if you're a pastor and you're not doing "maintenance ministry" as I described it (not the pejorative way) then you're not doing your job.

I'm not married to any outreach model, but I lean toward an uncomplicated plan: pastors take care of their people by preaching the Law in all its sternness and the Gospel in all its sweetness, faithfully administer the Means of Grace, the people receive God's gifts on a regular basis, and as opportunity arises, the people (in their various vocations serving their neighbors) spread the word about God at work in the Word and Sacrament ministry in this place. Pastors, give the gifts, people, receive the gifts, and the church will grow when and where it pleases God (despite our best efforts).

I'm just thinking that the pastor who makes a concerted effort to minister to the church in a Law and Gospel way will find that doing so will take up the lion's share of his time and effort (when he's not spending time with his family or pursuing avocations). And that's not a bad thing.

Final note: I'm not advocating non-evangelism evangelism, either. That's nothing more than trying really hard to look like you're not trying to "do evangelism." That's just stupid.

P.S. - What happens when you don't maintain your car? What happens when you don't maintain your firearms? What happens when you don't maintain your teeth? What happens when you don't maintain your retirement savings account? What happens when you don't maintain your lawn? What happens when you don't maintain good habits?