The Church is Not Weak

By Paul Koch

A member was sharing an experience he had when visiting another congregation one Sunday. It was the usual setup: One service was “traditional” with the organ and the boring old liturgy; the second service was “contemporary” and exciting with a praise band and lyrics on the screens. He is a talkative guy and was chatting afterward over coffee and donuts with the pastor. The pastor asked him his thoughts on worship that day (he had gone to the contemporary service). He replied that he enjoyed it but truly was more of a traditional guy. To this the pastor replied, “Yeah, but nobody comes to that anymore. If we’re going to grow, we need to adapt, and this approach seems to be working.”

Now, this isn’t anything shocking. As a pastor I’ve heard it all before. There are always people who will tell you the right combination you need to put together, the magic elixir that will cause the church to grow. If the ancient forms of the liturgy aren’t doing the trick, just shift the ingredients a bit, add some newer music styles, drop the creedal confession, insert a motivational video, and boom—you’ve got a recipe for success.

Now this may or may not be the case, though it often appears to work quite well from the outside. The problem with this, in my opinion, is that it presupposes that the church is some weak and fragile thing. The church’s survival is dependent on how well it can adapt and conform to the culture. The felt needs of the individual congregants, or even worse the prospective congregants, become the driving force of the fellowship. Such a place would be all milk and no meat. It would be like the nervous little dog that barks when there is a fence between you but runs scared when there is nowhere to hide.

But the church is not weak. The church is not some dotcom startup that is seeking the perfect angle to make a name for itself in a competitive market. The church is the bearer of the very gift of life. It possesses a truth that surpasses fear and worry and every other temporal emotion that limits mankind. The church is certainly made up of weak people. It may look foolish and silly to the world, but it is not weak.

While we are certainly free to use contemporary and creative worship ideas, we don’t need to go chasing the latest and greatest simply to appeal to the consumerist ideology of our age. We are not a group of beggars before the world, but beggars before the Lord alone.

Nassim Taleb has made popular the concept of the Lindy effect. The Lindy effect states the future life expectancy of non-perishable things (like technology or an idea) is proportional to their current age. In other words, a book that has survived in publication for five years has a great shot of being around another five years. If the same book makes it to 10 years, it will most likely be around another 10, and so on. And I think this lesson might apply well in the church. It is a lesson about what is strong and what endures. Perhaps it might focus us on what ought to be prioritized. If the choice is between something that is a few years old or something that still speaks after 100 or ever 1,000 years, what has the best chance of enduring?

As we make our stand in this age, let us stand firmly upon the lasting foundation that has stood the test of time. Let us stop acting like weak and scared children confused by every wind and wave or our changing culture. Let us instead continue to be that bold witness to a dying world of something permanent and real.

2 thoughts on “The Church is Not Weak

  1. Paul, you bring up some good points about “traditional vs contemporary” worship. I attended an LCMS in Tucson when we lived in Arizona a few years ago. They offered both services, and traditional was popular because the congregation had many retired people and “now birds.” Many were German and from Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, and surprisingly, a high percent were farmers. The church had an elementary school and younger members as well. Having attended both traditional and contemporary, I was surprised how many seniors liked the contemporary services more. Both services were God glorifying in my view. The contemporary songs played by the congregation’s mix of old and young musicians were great. It was not an “entertainment” service by any means. It was quite uplifting. I think we should view change on a case by case basis, and it is not unacceptable to make some forms of our worship a little more contemporary without getting crazy or going overboard. I was blessed to be a member of that congregation, Ascension Lutheran,Magee Road, in beautiful Tucson. The preaching was strong, and the spirit of the church was very reverent and friendly. I can tell you it was a church I enjoyed more than the one I attend now in New York, which never strays from the predictable worship style, and the preaching leaves much to be desired.

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  2. I adore the liturgy and I keep learning so much from it. I also enjoyed some teaching of a well respected theologian(Dr. Kleinig) regarding holiness in Leviticus. It really shines a light on the Divine Service and what is happening there.
    I have attended the contemporary and found that there eventually seemed to be so little in teaching on baptism, the Lords Supper, confession/absolution, the office of Holy Ministry which I found sad. Also a lack of learning what is sacred.

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