One of the things that they never prepared you for in Seminary training was how to deal with the massive amount of junk mail a church receives. Everything from RSOs of the Synod to random Christian outfits scattered around the world they fill the church mailbox with incredible offers for their “services.”
Now these services can be roughly broken down into two basic categories. They are either promising to help your congregation with its stewardship or its evangelism programs. Either they will help you get more cash in the plate on Sunday or they will promise some clever way to bring the good news of Jesus to your community and hopefully put more butts in the pew. Now what I want you to consider, especially with regard to the evangelism programs, is how powerful this draw is to a pastor.
Here is how St. Paul describes the evangelism process in Romans 10, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”… “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
So a pastor is sent to do just that, to preach, to make the bold proclamation that kills and brings forth new life. Faith comes from hearing; it comes from the Law and Gospel doing its work upon the individual. As a pastor is sent to speak such a Word so the congregation is then sent with that Word to speak it to others.
But what happens when this doesn’t seem to work? What temptations arise when the preaching doesn’t seem to change a damn thing? The pews aren’t any more filled today than two months ago, the parishioners don’t seem changed in the least, and everything seems to be simply going through the motions. Well then the preacher is tempted to go begging.
There is a reason so many offers fill our mailboxes, they don’t come because they aren’t being used. They come because so many are looking for something more, something beyond proclamation; something that will make a real, visible, and measurable impact. And so our churches are filled with evangelism programs all looking for that magic elixir that will make it all finally work.
My fear and the reason for my hatred of such programs in general, is that these gimmicks have created a class of lazy preachers. Preachers that have wandered from their main vocation of proclamation and now seek the perfect match of program and congregation to really produce lasting results. It soon becomes acceptable for a sermon to simply be filled with quaint and humorous stories or a how-to guide for practical living for they are not intended to impart faith but simply hold the attention of the audience until the next program starts. And there is always another damn program!