|Salem Lutheran Church||
|Salem Lutheran Church||
“Love the Lord your God, walk in all God’s ways, keep God’s commandments, hold fast and serve God with all
your heart and with all your soul” (Joshua 22:5).
As Faith Formation, Confirmation and Worship Services get into full swing after summer hiatus, congregations
often attempt to offer a full fall schedule of programs and services to meet the needs of its active members,
inactive members and potential new members. The question becomes, “What services do you offer at your
church?” We may wish to respond, “we offer some of the best services in the area!” We may be envious of
those who seem to offer more and better “services” than we do, or be disheartened because our “services” are
somehow not as attractive.
As a pastor I struggle to maintain that balance between “offering services” and living with integrity and
proclaiming Joshua’s message, “to love God and serve God with all our heart and soul.” It was Joshua who
remembered the failure of the people and the servanthood of Moses and said, “as for me and my household, we
will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). We are called, gathered and sent, not to be served…but to serve. So how
do we together become known as the place that loves God and serves?
This is the struggle…to serve and not be served, or perhaps to first be served and then be sent to serve. This is
perhaps best illustrated on the night before his betrayal when Jesus washed his disciple’s feet, fed and served
them (John 13:1-20). Remembering his life, love and promise of forgiveness, we gather on Sundays, the day of
Christ’s Resurrection to do as he commanded; be washed and fed, worship and learn how to be sent out in
service. Each week we end with some form of a sending, “Our worship has ended, go out in service!” to which
we respond with a hearty, “Amen!”
But, sometimes we forget, in our use of language, that we don’t come to church (this building) seeking primarily
“services.” Together we gather in this place for opportunities to worship, learn and serve. We are sent out with
those experiences, equipped and inspired to be the church (God’s people) in the world. Too often we come to
church (the building) as consumers asking, “what services do you offer?” and when those services don’t meet
our needs we complain or go church shopping, looking for the place that best serves us! We have come to see
the church as a building, where another commodity to consume is offered, in an overly very busy world that
saturates us with choices and lures us in by seeking to satisfy our wants and needs. Should this be the church’s
With an increasing awareness of membership decline, church growth specialists - often for a substantial fee –
gave advice on how to offer a better experience based on best practices in the service and hospitality industry.
For over a decade churches were told how to have better signage, parking lots, bathrooms, webpages and
effective social media and sometimes a menu of service times and styles to meet the expectations of that
elusive group of individuals who were church shopping. That became the central focus, meeting the
expectations of those seeking better “services.” But, Jesus did not look kindly on those who made places of
worship into marketplaces (John 2:13-23).
After a decade of continuing decline, some church growth specialists began to realize something interesting. Of
those churches that truly embraced membership growth based on the best practices of the service and
hospitality industry, roughly a third saw some measure of increased attendance. Another third found the
changes too difficult, divisive and expensive and it actually had an aversive effect on the congregation, and for a
final third of the congregations, their attempts had no qualitative or quantitative effect at all. Perhaps there
needs to be a different focus other than market driven analysis. So now we are hearing thankfully more about
discipleship and faith formation and reclaiming our identity, becoming places where people have the
opportunity for a deeper connection to their faith and learn how to practice that faith in their daily lives.
Churches can’t offer better coffee than Starbucks, we can’t out entertain or outperform the plethora of other
opportunities available on Sundays. But we do have an unmatched identity! We belong to God! In our
sometimes frenetic attempts to grow based on marketplace principles, maybe we lost our focus and mission. I
wonder if we can now reclaim our identity and become a community that truly offers sabbath rest and the
shalom, hope, love and forgiveness God offers and some still seek.
We are at our best when we are faithful to what has brought people together in almost every time and place,
the good news and promise of good things to come, from God alone. Here we learn we are more just members
of a consumer society who just happen to meet once a week at a building on 401 S. Lake Street, in Lake Mills,
Iowa. Here we are set free, to live in God’s kingdom and share that promise hope and vision with others, to love
and serve God and our neighbor.
“The Lord now sends us forth with hands to serve and give, to make of all the earth a better place to live. The
angels are not sent into our world of pain to do what we were meant to do in Jesus’ name; that falls to you and
me and all who are made free. Help us, O Lord, we pray, to do your will today” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal
Pr. Joel Guttormson