By Paul Koch –
It’s not that I enjoy spending the afternoon on my day off fixing things around the house. I would certainly love to be able to sit in the back yard, smoke my pipe, and sip on a bourbon without trying to fix something. But there is a certain reward that comes from fixing things. There is a sense of accomplishment, of doing something outside of my own head that has a lasting result. There is continuation of my children’s fantasy that dad can fix anything. And of course, there is always the appreciation of my bride, which never ceases to inspire.
While fixing a leaky toilet, faulty electrical outlet, or loose door handle may be simple things, they nevertheless seem to tap into a deep desire within us to be able to fix something. And that desire has never stopped at functional objects around the home; it has moved from the small and simple to large and complex systems. We want to fix the political system, fix the educational system, and fix the environment. We often speak about such things as if we know just what to do—with a tweak here and there or even a complete remodel.
Perhaps the most noble (not to mention audacious) of attempts to fix things is when we set our hands to fixing the Church. I suppose the problem is that, if you think there may be a variety of differing opinions of what is wrong and therefore how to fix the educational system in this country, why that variety would pale in comparison to the opinions of what is wrong and how to fix the Church. Things that I might view as deeply wrong and broken, others will laud as great things worthy of imitation. The only agreement seems to be that the Church needs fixing if it is to thrive in the current cultural milieu.
All of this gets reinforced every few years when a major study lines up the stats and highlights the decline of the Church. I remember going to a pastor’s conference years ago where we all read “unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity … And Why It Matters.” It was a synopsis of the “groundbreaking research” done by the Barna Group and was supposed to help our discussion as to how we might go about fixing the Church. Most recently we’ve all seen the latest release from the Pew Research Center on where the “nones” have gone—that increasingly growing section of our society that no longer identify with a particular religious group. When such research hits the marketplace, people rightly begin to try to figure out how we might fix the problem.
In addressing just this issue the last week, my buddy Scott shared a story about Dr. Rosenbladt. Many years ago, he offered twelve Lutheran churches in the area to gather for a Q and A session on what Christianity is and what the bases for its truth claims are—a sort of apologetics primer. It would have been a great way to equip the flock and any curious outsiders with some tools and categories to give a reason for their hope. The offer was met with deafening silence. Scott then doubled down and made his own offer to try and help churches from simply becoming incubators for the next generation of “nones.” While I am happy to hear that he did get some positive response, it wasn’t exactly an overwhelming flood of invites.
But this made me wonder. Why, when there is an abundance of material available to show the broken nature of the Church, aren’t pastors eagerly searching out those with the expertise and training to fix these things?
Now, I think I have an answer. I don’t think it is very popular, but I think it just might be right.
Most pastors aren’t interested in fixing the Church. Most pastor’s eyes glaze over when reading the Pew Research Center or the Barna Group, then they shake off the confusion and get back to doing what they were doing before. I know it is what I’ve done and what I still do.
You see, the truth of the matter is, there is a large industry of fixes for the Church. A pastor working away in his study will receive emails, phone calls, and good old-fashioned snail mail offering him the best way to fix the Church. He will go to conferences and listen to experts about the latest research to make permanent fixes. Without a doubt, he has, from time to time, tried out one of these helpful fixes. He has probably had some small success here and there, but as a whole, the relentless grind of the vocation demands that he abandon the fixes and get down to the crafting of sermons and catechetical preparation over the maintaining of a fix.
I may be naive, but I think this should be applauded and not ridiculed.
In the end, perhaps there are no real outside fixes to the Church. Perhaps the proclamation of the Law and Gospel, the administration of the Sacraments, and the dedication to teach our children the faith we’ve received will simply be broken, blemished, and always an unimpressive thing. And what we today classify as “nones” will later be called something else. That is just the way it goes.
Then again, if we stop fixing the Church and instead live in the freedom we’ve been given as part of the body of Christ, if we offer our gifts as we receive the gifts of others, why then I think we are on to something. If the teaching of the faith can be deepened and strengthened by your creativity, knowledge, and wisdom, then do it. If there are deficiencies in “the way things have always been done” something, then stand tall, point them out, and help make them better. There is no fix for the Church outside of the return of our Lord. In the meantime, what we have is each other.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19-22