Search This Blog

Monday, April 19, 2010

Vine and Branches Conference Report and Encouragement for Pastors

Vine & Branches Postcard

This past weekend, I was at the Vine & Branches Conference hosted at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Lakefield, MN. I was one of three speakers who addressed the topic: "Why Go To Church?" On the one hand the answer to the question seems self-evident. On the other hand, it is a question people ask every week, "Why Go to Church?" and it might be added why go to this particular church instead of another church. Each speaker was given a sub theme: Rev. Dr. Ken Wieting addressed, "To Be Satisfied?" Rev. Jon Sollberger addressed "To Be Uplifted." And I addressed "To Be Empowered." Not speaking about myself, the presentations were well done. Revs. Wieting and Sollberger did an excellent job. 

Rev. Dr. Ken Wieting spoke about the "Gifts in the Divine Service" based in part off his excellent book The Blessings of Weekly Communion. Dr. Wieting is the pastor of Lutheran Memorial Chapel and University Center in Shorewood, WI. If you have not seen his book or read it, I encourage you to check it out. Pastor Wieting's approaches the topic from his pastoral experience. For him, the question arose because a young couple on a home visit asked him, "Pastor, if the Lord's Supper is everything that the Scripture and the catechism say it is, why don't we have the opportunity to receive it when we come for worship each week?" (pg. 9 of Wieting's The Blessings of Weekly Communion) Wieting notes that he thought this was the wrong question and figured he would a question he could quickly answer after a week or two of study. This simple question led him on an 18 year question, culminating in a Doctorate of the Ministry from Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne and the Concordia Publishing House book The Blessings of Weekly Communion. Dr. Wieting's presentation on Vine & Branches focused on going to church To Be Satisfied, primarily being satisfied in the receiving of Christ's body and blood. 

abc3+, Rev Dr Ken Wieting, Barbara Wieting

I had the good fortune to have Pastor Wieting as my vicarage supervisor in 1995-1996. Who would have ever thought that 15 years later we would meet up as speakers at a conference in Lakefield, MN. Pastor Wieting has supervised more than a dozen vicars over the years, a great service to the church.

Ken Wieting spoke about weekly communion on Issues, Etc. with Todd Wilken on 28 July 2008. You can listen to it below.

Rev. Jon Sollberger presented on the theme "To Be Uplifted." He took on the controversial subject of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) or "Praise Band Music." What made his presentation different than other presentations on the subject is that Rev. Sollberger, before becoming a pastor, was a worship leader in a Contemporary Christian Music group that travelled all over the country. His former vocation as a CCM leader gives him a compassionate and sympathetic approach to people who enjoy this type of music. His presentation include demonstrates with his guitar on how music affects the emotions and moods of people. He argued that in many churches that utilize Contemporary Christian Music, it is the music itself rather than the message, sermon, or Scripture that creates the "uplifted" or "Spirit filled" atmosphere that many people find attractive. Music is not neutral. This begs the question, if the music is truly manipulating the emotions of people, is the uplifted, spirit-filled worship people describe truly authentic? As a person who attended the Synod's Model Theological Conference on Worship in January 2010, I thought Rev. Sollberger's presentation, with his interactive guitar demos, would have been a welcome addition. At the Synods Model Theological Conference on Worship, one of the themes frequently repeated was "Hospitable and Authentic Worship." One of the goals, as stated by LCMS pastors who use CCM in their services" was to create an environment that was "hospitable and welcoming" to guests and vistors. Music plays a big part in this, as the music can create feelings and moods in the audience. The music can make people feel welcome. I supposes churches and pastors who utilize CCM in their services would argue this is simply one of the tools to help reach out and spread the Gospel. A phrase that Rev. Sollberger repeated frequently was "Feelings never give rise to faith, but faith does in fact give rise to feelings." It would be good for this conversation to continue in our Synod. 

Rev. Sollberger has presented on this topic in several other forums such as Higher Things and on the Issues, Etc. radio program. Below is an audio recording of Rev. Sollberger from Issues, Etc. from 26 August 2006, titled, "God Pleasing Music." Click here for the archived link or listen below. 

My presentation was titled, "To Be Empowered." I leave it to others to say how helpful it was. The basic point was that "empowered" comes from the Greek word energéō -- the root of the English word "energy." In the Scripture this word is used of God working in and through people. So to be empowered is to have God working in you because of the gifts he has given you in the service. So how does the Lord work in you? The focus of my presentation was on showing mercy to your neighbor in need. The connecting point is the dismissal from the Divine Service, "Go in Peace." From there Christians are empowered to show mercy to other people they encounter. Also touched on splachna, the word used to describe Christ's compassion, and had a section on suffering under the cross and the promise that all things work for good.

A Slide from my presentation

Vines & Branches was held at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Lakefield, MN. I stayed at the home of Pastor Jon Nack and his wife, Jovita,  and family, Corey and Hannah. Their hospitality and conversation made the stay very enjoyable. I cannot thank them enough for hosting the conference and for providing me with room and board. I also had the opportunity to preach at Immanuel on Saturday evening and Sunday morning and to conduct Bible Class.

Immanuel Lutheran Church, Lakefield, MN

On this conference, I met many fine pastors. For someone who lives in Saint Louis, MO, I was momentarily surprised that pastors would have to drive an hour or more to meet together. The closeness of churches and pastors in metropolitan areas makes it easy to forget that a good number of pastors and congregations are separated by 30, 50 or more miles, especially the further West travelled. In some cases, these pastors serve multiple parishes separated by 20, 30, or more miles. Driving through rural areas from Minneapolis to Lakefield, MN, I could not help but think of President Pfotenhauer as he described the lonely life of pastors and teachers on the frontier of Minnesota in the early 20th century. In 1894, Pfotenhauer, then the president of the Minnesota and Dakota District wrote an address titled, "Encouragement to Lonely Pastors and Teachers." It seemed to me that even with the advances of modern transportation, the distance between pastors and congregations in some rural areas can still result in lonely pastors and teachers, who face challenges brought about by rural life. One of the pastors told me, the problem is jobs. There are no jobs in this town and the children move away when they grow up. It seems hard to imagine that any sort of Congregation Revitalization Program could help a rural congregation facing declining demographics or grown children relocating to urban areas for employment. In fact, when driving through rural Minnesota the State government posts signs along the highway announcing or encouraging various economic development programs for these small towns. This certainly presents a challenge to pastors and teachers who endeavor to be faithful to their callings as well as dealing various demographic and economic realities of these rural areas.

Perhaps just as applicable today as it was in 1894 are Pfotenhauer's words (taken from Matthew Harrison's At Home in the House of My Fathers, pg. 702):
Thus most of our preachers and teachers must live in great loneliness, far from their brothers in the office, without the conveniences of modern life with which our contemporaries squander away their days. Also, carrying out the duties of the office is often combined with great difficulties. Because of the large land holdings of individual farmers, and the sparse populations, our congregations, as a rule, take in wide areas. Each of our preachers serves an average of three congregations. How many thousands of miles must be traveled every year before the congregations of our district have the Word of God preached to them, before children are baptized, and before the dying may be consoled? One of our preachers who is not even formally a traveling preacher [Reiseprediger] wrote to me recently that he has in the last eleven months had to travel 4,000 miles in service to his congregations. Among us, travel is so common that one cannot conceive of himself as a pastor of the Minnesota and Dakota District without a carriage and travel bag. We also have to contend with the climate of our district. The summer is very short. Planting and harvesting must occur in the span of a few months. During this time, farmers work continuously from early morning to late at night. And oh, they completely forget about diligently hearing the Word of God, perhaps confident that with the long winter, they can make up for what was missed. The preacher, however, must complain about poor church attendance and watch as a portion of his hearers fall into the concerns and riches of this life and are stuck in them. After a short summer, the northern winter descends upon us with all its fury. The rays of the sun provide not the least trace of warmth. Snow and ice cover our land. Roads disappear under the terrible snowstorms, and all life is paralyzed. Often, Sunday worship must be cancelled, or is only poorly attended.
So when one of our preachers expends all of his ability on the widespread and lonesome roads, traveling over unending fields of snow, in great danger and with great exertion, or when he sits at his desk to prepare for the next Sunday, it is easy for the tempter to suggest to him: “You work in vain, and your abilities are accomplishing nothing. In another district, under more favorable circumstances, you could make better use of your gifts. Here, your health is going to be ruined in a short time.” When such thoughts come, the prayer truly applies: “Lead us not into temptation.” “God indeed tempts no one, but we pray in this petition that God would protect and preserve us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us, or mislead us into misbelief, doubt, and other great shame and vice; and though we be troubled by them, that we finally overcome them and attain the victory” [S.C. Lord’s Prayer, Sixth Petition].

May the Lord grant these faithful pastors in rural areas the strength, encouragement, and faithfulness to continue their calling and work.

Fredrick Pfotenhauer
President of Missouri Synod, 1911 - 1935.

No comments:

Post a Comment