Pastors need to stop dressing like slobs. I am so tired of going to clergy meetings in the middle of the work day and encountering other clergy dressed like they were interrupted in the middle of some home plumbing repair or gardening adventure and only stopped off at the meeting on their way to the hardware store.
Don’t be a slob.
Pastors complain about the lack of respect they encounter in the world around them, and yet for some reason faded blue jeans and t-shirts are equated with work clothing.
Every day cannot be casual Friday.
Maybe that is stating things too strongly, but when the phrase, “Dress for the job you want not the job you have,” is part of our common understanding maybe pastors should sit up and take notice.
I understand there is a wide variety of styles of dress out there. I realize different parts of the country have different dress codes. I realize not every denomination has a tradition of wearing clerical collars.
Still, there has to be a line in there somewhere. Yes, the culture is tending to dress more casually. Yes, every church now seems to have a logo embroidered on a polo shirt. But should pastors really just look like the came off the sales floor at the local Best Buy or Staples?
Everyone has their own style and their own look. Everyone has their own way of dressing. No, the clothes should not matter one bit. But they do and they always will. People will judge you based on your clothing every single time. You might not like it. You might think they are wrong for doing that. You might even be correct.
But it does not matter at all.
Your clothes matter.
And when your clothing gets in the way of the gospel, when people’s response to your dress is strongly negative, they are not going to be open to hearing much about Jesus.
Your clothing makes a statement to the world around you.
So what do your clothes say? What do you want your clothes to say?
It seems there was a skinny teenaged boy who was self-conscious, like every other teenage boy, and wanted to be part of the group, thought of as cool, respected and the like. Early one summer the story goes, he got his hands on some steroids. (This is the part of the parable where I get in trouble.) He was elated. He did not care about long term health consequences, he saw all the pictures of all the buff and muscle bound guys. He knew the steroids in his hands were the key to it all. He took the steroids that summer.
So what happened? Did he show up at school huge and strong? Did he suddenly make the high school football team? Did all the girls suddenly swoon as he walked by? Nope. None of that happened. That summer he took the steroids, but he forgot to lift, so he just got fat.
This young man and his story is a lesson for everyone who is connected in some way to a church, whether you are a member or the occasional attender. Faith surely comes as a gift, but like that gym membership, if you do not make it a part of your life you can’t really expect anything to change in your life.
So here is the list: Ten ways to get the most out of your church.
1. Show up.
Some things really are that simple. Show up in worship. Be with the gathered people of God Sunday after Sunday. Not when you feel like it. Not on the Sunday morning when you feel like you need to be there. Every Sunday, or Saturday or whenever your church worships. You get the point. Be with the people of God and make it a regular part of your life.
2. Tithe your income.
By tithing I mean give 10% of your income to the church. Sound like a huge commitment? It is. Trust me, I know from experience. If you can’t just go to 10% start smaller, 5% or 6%, but set a percentage and work to increase it over time.
Why? Because giving generously frees you from the hold money can have on your life. Because we care for and support the things we give money to. Because our spending and giving habits reveal priorities.
3. Volunteer, take a class, be part of a group.
Don’t just be generous with your money, be generous with your time as well. Find something in the church that interests you, something that speaks to things you care deeply about. Maybe it is feeding the hungry. Maybe it is learning more about the Scripture. Maybe it is singing in the choir. Whatever it is give your time, be with the people of God and make a difference in the lives of other people.
4. Help lead worship.
Most congregations have lay people (people who are not pastors) help lead worship. Do this. Lead worship. After you lead worship a few times you will forever experience worship differently. You will understand the flow of the worship service. You will pay attention differently. You will be changed.
5. Bring food and eat with people.
Sharing a meal helps connect you with other people. Sharing a meal makes it easier to talk to others. If nothing else you can start with, “How about that Jell-O salad!” And see where the conversation goes from there.
6. Start something new.
Have a passion? Is there something you care about that the resources of your congregation could contribute to? Organize it. Lead it. Plan it. Talk to your pastor and other leaders. Start something new, but be willing to put your efforts into making it happen as well. People with great ideas who are only assigning tasks to other people are rarely appreciated. Take initiative and lead. Find an outlet for the things you care deeply about through your church.
7. Wear a nametag and introduce yourself to people you do not know.
First let me be clear, I realize many people, myself included, are not terribly interested in walking up to people and saying, “Hi, I’m Paul, what’s your name?” But when you show up at church you are surrounded by people who all claim to be your brothers and sisters in Christ. You get together in a group and you pray together. You sing together. The least you could do is risk introductions. At churches with multiple worship services the most common excuse for not talking to strangers is this: I do not want to be embarrassed when I find out they have been members for ten years and usually go to the other service. So own it. Lead with: You have probably gone here forever and just attend the other service, but I do not know you…
< Click on. Have a better church.
8. Read the Bible.
Start with the gospels. Start anywhere you want, but read scripture. Make that a regular part of your life, day in and day out. Let those holy words become part of your vocabulary. Read the Bible regularly and as you do reflect on your experiences in worship, listen for connections and for those moments when the still small voice of God might be speaking to you.
9. Pray for the people at the church.
Use the church directory. Picture directories are even better. Pray for the people. One by one, day by day. Lift each person up in prayer. Even pray for the people who challenge you, the people you have a hard time being with. Pray for God’s people and discover how you are changed.
10. Take your pastor out to lunch.
Okay, as a pastor maybe this one is a little self-serving, but the idea remains. Spend some time with this person. Share who you are. Share your hopes and dreams. And ask questions. Every wonder why something is in the Bible? Ask. Not quite sure about an illustration in the sermon? Ask. Ask theological questions, that is, questions about how God is alive and active in the world. Just be prepared to share a few of your insights as well.
In other words: if you want to get something out of your church, see it as a gift, but don’t forget to lift.
Finally this: Ten things you can do makes for a nice list, but this is hardly definitive. Why not post a comment after this and add your own ideas. What do you do to get the most out of your church?
We’ve been asked by many if this can be reprinted for your church newsletter. Yes, indeed, it’s perfect for that and please do so.
We just kindly request that you credit the author and this site:
Paul Walters, Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Master, Troy, Michigan
This article is not just for Lutherans. It applies to most North American faith families.
The above chart spells unmitigated disaster. And it’s a few years old. It’s gotten much worse since it was first printed.
And better theology is not going to rescue us. We Lutherans have always had the odd idea that if we could “nail” the philosophical content of the Gospel, then everything would line up and we would thrive. Truth is, we have right-leaning Lutherans (LCMS) and left-leaning Lutherans (ELCA) and ALL of us are headed down the same demographic waterslide hand-in-hand.
When eco-feminism is preached from our pulpits, the demographic results shouldn’t surprise us
I’m a theological conservative with no illusions that more conservatism would stem this tide. Our big problems are demographic.
We have HALF the demographic footprint we had in 1960; the year I was born. Then, the ELCA’s predecessor bodies had 5.3 million members. That’s 29.4 for every 1,000 Americans at the time. Our nation has almost doubled in population since then, and the ELCA now has 4 million members. That’s only 14.12 ELCA members for every 1,000 Americans.
The gay issue in the ELCA churchwide assembly of 2009 will be seen as a blip, historically, compared to the real crises:
1) Lutherans don’t have enough babies. We seem to see them as a liability. Ironic that we did backflips, inducing great trauma to the ELCA, to include the LGBT group (on their terms) which has the lowest fertility rate on earth. It’s like we’re trying to form a no-baby union.
When I was young, it was common to hear church leaders encourage dating, marriage, family formation and getting about the business of having and raising kids. “Be fruitful and multiply” was taken as marching orders. Such encouragement is seen as “gauche” at best and perhaps even taboo today.
Here are confirmation pictures from 1969 and 2004 from the same Lutheran congregation. These trends are the rule, not the exception, for most congregations. Do the math.
2) Lutherans don’t retain enough of the babies they have.
3) Lutherans have no clue how to do evangelism which leads to large-scale adult conversion and baptism. Some even have an “in principle” allergy against doing it; for them, praying with someone to become a Christian is some kind of theological felony. We did 14 adult baptisms at our last church picnic (and we are only a church of 200). Have a look at the video>> LINK We are shooting for 30 this year.
4) Many of our congregations are led by informal juntas of empty nesters and retired people which sabotage every step taken to try to create a young-adult-friendly environment, young adults who tend to have babies, by the way. The trauma many of our missional pastors carry is not unlike that of soldiers returning from Iraq. PTSD is rampant among the younger half of our clergy roster (which is tiny–the average ELCA pastor is 59 and aging). It’s not the pagans who beat on them, it’s their own church members.
5) Lutherans do not do well in urban areas where they have had many churches (big cities like LA, Chicago, St. Louis, etc.) when those zip codes diversify ethnically. In general, we’d literally rather die than reach the new immigrant residents. And we seem to think that urban Latinos and African Americans are looking for high-church worship with a PC message; intelligent Catholicism in black and white without the magic. Small wonder they are staying away in droves
6) Our denominational corporate structures are clueless about the “opt in” revolution created by social media. They still think they can control their rosters and not have to attract, cultivate, and maintain “opt inners.” Both the lists of congregations and clergy are brittle and fragmenting. Denominations are like Tower Records trying to discipline iTunes. Good luck.
7) Lutherans are also clueless about the communications revolution. Most of them spend half of their office hours producing bulletins and newsletters which are among the poorest quality print media in America, and no one reads them. Most of our pastors don’t have blogs or a social media presence of any kind, let alone a podcast (click for example) that would hold anyone’s attention. Many Lutheran churches have no website or screens in the church. And the ones that do have websites usually have a big picture of a Jetsons-Gothic postwar church building (see pic below) with other useless information. Generalities abound on such websites (e.g. love the world and love God), and there are no branding distincitives (i.e. what makes us unique) that would attract someone. The mission statements are so vague that Taco Bell could probably use them. And you can never find a picture of the pastor or get a feel for her or his vibe. Anti-branding. Fine, don’t have screens–and while you’re at it, get rid of your parking lot and hope streetcars will come back. If you’re not at least toying with the idea of crafting a smartphone “app” for your church, you may simply never catch up.
8. We have over-merged. Some talk about the “emergent” church. Well, we are the “overmergent” church. A few generations ago, when Lutheranism was thriving, we had a bunch of solid medium-sized Lutheran denominations which were very relational (every pastor could go do every national gathering), and each one had clear branding and vibe. There was loyalty to their one seminary and tiny handful of major global mission fields. Now we have two mega corporations which have no branding and spend all of their time fighting, because we are forcing together constituencies that don’t belong together. Many of our seminaries are going broke. Our leaders can’t name our global mission fields. Former ELC pietists have no business slugging it out for turf within the ELCA with former ULCA East Coast types. No branding, no new customers.
9) Most Lutheran sermons are virtually impossible to understand. I was a Fulbright Scholar and I can’t follow most of them. We tend to preach in the formal register with tertiary reflection; writing a weekly term paper for a professor who isn’t even there. And we are humor-impaired. Our preaching culture is non-existent. We don’t celebrate our (few) preaching stars. Name them. See?
10) We treat our successful churches like pariahs. Reading the Lutheran for years, you’d have no idea which churches they are. The ones that are growing and thriving, reaching lots of new converts, and baptizing them. The ones that are transforming their communities. Heaven forbid we celebrate any success. Synod staffs, churchwide, and struggling congregations tend to be at least passively aggressive towards any success. And if new church plants innovate? Don’t let them on the roster! Unless they impersonate the other dying congregations.
11) I value the opinions of leftists. Some of them I share; some I don’t. Respectful leftists return the favor. Some just scream at you. Bless them :-).
But with a drift toward PC “left-ism,” comes, without question and statistically provable, a less church-going population (see the recent Gallup results–a conservative is twice as likely to be in church as a leftist), and less tendency to have big families (NPR families have way less kids than NASCAR families) that will carry on the important missional work we are doing for generations to come. I think that’s worth questioning, once in a while. Even if I’m wrong, which many of you believe and may indeed be the case, I will plant my flag on the right to ask the question. The survival of our movement is at stake.
12) Along with leftism, follows harder-edged feminism and “green” mentality–taken for granted by most of our clergy. Promotion of these two “isms” leads to less births. Why?
Feminism, in its sturdier forms, can be outright hostile to traditional family formation, shaming “cookie bakers” as somehow embracing stunted femaleness. Women’s desire to get married and have lots of kids (so prominent in movies a generation ago that it’s almost shocking to watch) has to be expressed in hushed tones today in order to avoid a rap on the knuckles from radfem types. Family formation is delayed and less kids are a result.
And greens? I’m pretty green in my thinking. But eco-mentality-ism carries with it the basic assumption that humans are bad for the planet and the less of them the better. Truth is, the population of the world is not a problem at all; in fact the real problem is that most of us will see the global population peak and nosedive within our lifetimes (I know I just messed with your worldview, but it’s true). Economically, this could create huge challenges with an aging group of retirees and less kids to support them.
Truth is, the entire earth population could stand comfortably (all together) with one square meter of space, on South Stradbroke Island off Queensland. Fly across America and get a window seat. Our continent is empty.
So when “eco-feminism light” gets preached or implied/assumed from the pulpit, guess what the demographic results are?
There will always be Lutherans in America.
We are too strong in the Upper Midwest to disappear entirely. But we have squandered our “pole position” which we had after WW2. Instead of contributing to the core of the project that is America, we seem to be choosing to be a quirky footnote to life here.