Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Confessing Scripture's Message: The Outreach Method of the confessional Lutheran

The final edition of Rev. Spencer's “Getting Right to the Point” series was posted on Sunday. Begun in August, these posts are a series of newspaper ads which are run by his congregation over the course of the year – one every two weeks for a total of 27 ads. For those who missed the series, or popped in sometime in the middle of the series and didn't understand what was going on, here is a listing of those posts:

There Is Such a Thing As Objective Truth!Jesus Is The Only Way To Heaven!
Every Human Life Is Sacred!Church Isn't Group Therapy or Mere Entertainment!
Surprise – Lent Is Not All About Us!Paying For Our Sins Was Expensive!
It’s The Lord’s Supper, Not Ours!The Resurrection of Jesus is a Fact – of Faith!
Christ Is In Control!Prayer Is Worship, and That's a Fact!
“Born Again” = Believer in Jesus – PERIOD!The One and Only True God Is the Holy Trinity!
Marriage Is Defined By God!Baptism Means To Apply Water – Any Way You Choose!
Homosexuality Is Against God's Will – Like It or Not!Are We Really “One Nation Under God?”
Don’t Take A Vacation From The Lord!Yes, Our Church Is The Only “Right” Church!
Too Much Education Can Be A Dangerous Thing!God Put Us Here To Work – For Him and His Truth!
Please Don’t Pray To Angels!Believe It or Not – The Church Does Not Just Want Your Money!
Martin Luther’s Reformation Was Not A Revolution!There Is No Such Thing As The Millennium!
Thank God for Who and What He Is!Christmas Is NOT a Pagan Holiday!
This New Year May Be Your Last!

I, for one, found this series to be a refreshing example of truly Confessional outreach and evangelism. It stands in stark contrast to contemporary Church Growth recommendations which impress upon congregations the use of gimmicks of various sorts, the sole purpose of which is to draw a crowd – like advertisements for special events, entertaining worship, and/or social services of various sorts, all of which amount to little more than self-promotion – and from which the message of Scripture is conspicuously absent or shunted off into the background. Not so in this series, where communicating the teaching of Scripture is central and unobstructed, and distributing that teaching as widely as possible is the sole motivation behind it. Rev. Spencer even admitted to us in private,
    “Can’t even say how many hundreds of thousands of mailings I’ve done over the years! Plus billboards, plus bus ads, plus fair booths, plus you-name-it. Even put a 'boiler-room' in the fellowship hall for a month – nine additional phone lines, twenty members calling every night for a month – hit thousands of homes; got mostly answering machines.

    “From all of it – never one single solitary soul walked through the door of our church because of any of this stuff, not one...

    “But... got some great members who came out of the blue during those times. 'No, sorry, didn’t see your ad... mailing... billboard... get your phone call... don’t know what you’re talking about. The wife and I were just looking for a place to go to church and thought we’d try this one.' Others planted, I watered, God gave the increase.

    “Just do the work – God will bless it when and where and how and IF He sees fit.”
Given this attitude – an attitude expecting, quite correctly, that no measurable growth in the Church will result from man's efforts, that such growth is exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit – I consider Rev. Spencer's distinctly Confessional approach to doing “outreach and evangelism” in his “Getting Right to the Point” series to be among the finest examples of Christian Stewardship I've seen. If one has been granted limited tangible resources by his Master, and, desiring to be a good steward, is looking to invest those limited resources in His Master's interests to produce for Him the “greatest return,” what investment vehicle should the good steward use? How about that vehicle which the Master Himself has promised the steward, “Will not return to Me void.” (Is. 55:11)? What a complete waste of resources it is, then, when a steward expends the limited resources God has given him in his own interests instead, by using evangelistic methods devoid of Scripture's message and therefore having no such guarantee by God at all, methods which are primarily designed to produce a tangible return which pleases the steward; and how fraudulent it is when the steward claims that his interests are really His Master's interests, when the truth is really the opposite.

The Means of Grace are always Central to Lutheran Practice – even in Outreach and Evangelism
For those relatively new to the controversy over the intrusion of ideas and methods from the Church Growth Movement into Lutheran congregations – yes, even WELS congregations – rest assured, neither the controversy nor the public discussion is anything new. For example, the blog Bailing Water was active for several years through the latter half of last decade, dedicated to discussions over issues concerning trends in doctrine and practice in confessional Lutheranism, especially in the WELS. Although not really very active anymore, the blog owner still maintains it as a “Confessional and historical resource”, and it remains so for those desiring background on issues that have since been taken up by Intrepid Lutherans. I mention Bailing Water because the distinctly Confessional nature of Rev. Spencer's “Getting Right to the Point” series, reminds me of commentary following a 2008 Bailing Water post entitled, Growing Our Churches, in which a commenter shared the fruit of his congregation's multi-year study into the issue of congregational evangelism. Excerpts from his commentary are worth considering today:
    The Holy Spirit works by Means of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament to produce and strengthen faith. This is what we believe, teach, and confess. It is what we live by. So when Christians consider evangelism, what we are concerned with is that the message of Law and Gospel is received by those with whom we communicate, that the Holy Spirit may work in them through His message, and draw them into relationship with Him. As a congregation, our further concern is that we use our resources in the most efficient way possible, to meaningfully carry this message to as many people as possible. Indeed, this is the commission Christ left us, it is the reason we gather together to be equipped and emboldened, that together we may carry out this task for the sake of Christ... Following the example of the Apostle Paul, who studied the people and culture of Athens before addressing them at Mars Hill, the start of this project was the culmination of nearly two years of research and assessment regarding the nature of our congregation and community, and also regarding past and present changes and future trends in our community and congregation. It was also the culmination of study and application of Christian teaching to the question of leading a congregation in the task of evangelism. Such study was intended to help us determine what, for our congregation, (a) constitutes genuine opportunities for evangelism in our community, and to (b) develop a strategy for exploiting those opportunities at the corporate level, that (c) would also remain valid going forward. The result was a three-phased approach attempting to balance mass appeal methods with individual contact that functions well in a corporate setting...

    Concerning Mass Appeal
    ...Then we considered the question of what to communicate. The objective we settled on was to communicate a clear, complete, yet concise Law and Gospel message. Our hope with this objective was to put the Means of Grace – the Gospel message – in the hands of everyone who received communication from us, that the Holy Spirit might work through this means to create or strengthen their faith. This was especially critical to us. Given that we were expending resources that God had provided us with, we considered that communication attempts devoid of the Gospel’s message, or providing an unclear or incomplete message, would have been a wasteful use of these resources. Given the likelihood that most, if not all, recipients would at most only read the message, or only part of it, we considered, and concluded that merely sending invitations to join us in worship (where the recipient would have to respond ...before s/he benefited from the Holy Spirit’s work through the Gospel), had a much lower likelihood of accomplishing our goal, which was to meaningfully communicate the Gospel to as many people as possible. That is, while we could eliminate or significantly reduce our communication of the Gospel via this medium, and instead replace it with content about our congregation, like our helpful ministries, our adult and youth programs, our meaningful worship experience, and, of course, our special people, we could probably draw more visitors. But far fewer people would actually receive the Gospel in a meaningful way. No, this is precisely the type of Church Growth strategy that we consciously chose to reject. Such a strategy requires us to make the Gospel a secondary message, while making Us the primary message, drawing people to Us on false pretenses, based on what they stand to gain by association with Us, rather than with God. It significantly reduces our representation of, and actual communication of, the Gospel. It is not Biblical evangelism. Direct and consistent use of Law and Gospel is, however, and it is this approach we embraced and have maintained. Knowing that the Holy Spirit would work through the Gospel to produce or strengthen the faith of those who receive the Gospel, it was our hope that He would also draw them into a relationship with us. Whether or not this would happen, however, it was still our Joy and privilege to share the Gospel with them...

    Concerning Face-to-Face Evangelism
    ...But why is face-to-face communication necessary to begin with? After all, if our concern is that the message of the Gospel is received, there are many ways for a message to be received that do not require people to directly interface with other people. It must be admitted that this question did occur to us. The answer, however, was clear. While the Great Commission was given to the Church, the task of evangelism was also directly given to individuals. Even in the context of the organization we call “the congregation,” the clear emphasis in Scripture is people personally carrying out this task and communicating the Good News. In addition, while the most effective method of propagating a message is mass appeal (a valid and important tool used even by the Apostles), the most effective method of communicating a message is person to person. Thus, mass communication and individual communication are both methods that need to be used, but which require a balance favoring person to person communication. Even our use of mass appeal should be calculated to favor personal communication – it should be clear that people are responsible for the communication, not just an organization, and the communication should invite further, personal inquiry...

    Finally, the conclusion
    ...With the issue of resource expenditure, the question arises, "What is our measure of success?", "How do we know that we are doing any good?" This is a difficult question to answer, as we must admit that in this life we will never know what benefit, specifically, most of our evangelistic effort has been. Those who hear the Word of God as a result of our effort may be at any stage in the Holy Spirit's process of creating and strengthening faith – in some cases we may be just scattering seed, in others we may be watering sprouts, and in a few cases we may actually be doing the harvesting. We know that all Scripture is inspired of God, and is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. We also know that God's Word will accomplish the purpose for which He sent it, that it will not return to Him void. Therefore, to the extent that we use the Scriptures to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, we can have every confidence that we are doing "some good", employing the Means of Grace and giving opportunity to the Holy Spirit to work. One thing the Board of Evangelism has been adamant about is that correlating success in evangelism to an increase in collected revenue is strictly out of the question. We are engaged in the all important work of delivering the Gospel message to those in our community solely for the sake of Jesus Christ, and we look for no return on this effort – particularly financial return. We also cannot use an increase in congregation membership as a measure of our success. Our objective is not an increase in number, our objective is to joyfully communicate the Gospel as widely and as effectively as possible. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to produce faith through the Gospel and to draw new Christians into fellowship with other believers. He will produce an increase when and where He sees fit. Whether this means increase in our congregation or not, our commission to preach the Gospel remains clear, and it is our joy and our privilege to carry it out to the best of our ability.

    Indeed, the Holy Spirit works by Means of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament to produce and strengthen faith. This is what we believe, teach, and confess. It is what we live by. So our concern is that the message of Law and Gospel is received by those with whom we communicate, that the Holy Spirit would work through this Means. Therefore, since our job is communication, it is reasonable to put forth some effort to assess how well we communicate. Do those with whom we wish to communicate actually receive our message? That is the success we desire, and to measure it, we can only rely on feedback from those with whom we attempt to communicate. Whether via telephone, land mail, email, website visit, personal conversation, or a visit to our congregation, whether they provide positive or negative comments, or merely inquire further, all of these measures constitute feedback indicating that someone we have attempted to communicate with has received our message – the Gospel’s message. Communication is difficult, as is reaching our intended audience with a specific message. That is why it is important that all our communication be seasoned with the Good News...
There is more information shared by this commenter, and others, in the thread following that post on Bailing Water – some of it is good, some of it less than good. Regardless, it is important to point out that Rev. Spencer is not the only one to independently discover that our job is simply to communicate Scripture's message and to let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest – a hard fact to land upon in pop-Christian environments aggressively pushing man's methods of drawing crowds as necessary to “man's task of gaining souls for heaven.” The fact is, others have landed upon the simple truth demonstrated by Rev. Spencer, as well. In fact, over the next couple of weeks, we will be sharing with our readers ANOTHER example of an evangelism series, produced by a WELS congregation, which flies in the face of advice emanating from the Church Growth Movement, doing almost nothing but placing a substantive message of Law and Gospel directly in the hands of those they attempt to reach. No gimmicks. No crowd-pleasing programs. Nothing but the Offense of the Cross and the full expectation that the Holy Spirit will use that Offense to create and strengthen faith, and draw believers into fellowship with one another.

Stay tuned for more examples of confessional Lutheran evangelism – advice that you will probably not receive from any other source...

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