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This curiously shaped spot is on the painted concrete floor of a room in the building where I work. To me it looks like the silhouette of a Scottish Terrier, nose to the upper left. Do you agree?! What does it look like to you?

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A new friend in Christ named John Book was kind enough to stop by this site, and on my “About this site” tab he shared some honest observations about his past and present experiences with the Lutheran denomination, many of them negative. It brought to my mind a colleague of mine named Paul, who was pastor of an Evangelical Free Church in the same Texas town where I was pastor of a very small Lutheran church 15 years ago. As a younger Christian man he had belonged to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, when he experienced a rather dramatic sense of call to pastoral ministry (I forget the details, but I remember it was dramatic). He contacted a church official, partly to find out how to become an LCMS pastor, and partly just to share the story of his call and new sense of closesness to Christ. Paul exuberantly told his story, fully expecting the church official to share the joy. Instead, the official listened to the story in stony silence, didn’t acknowledge it in any way, and proceeded to explain the LCMS pastoral training and call process in a detached, businesslike tone. Lutheranism lost Paul right then and there, and he has ministered in a couple of different Evangelical Protestant denominations ever since.

Many Christians have felt let down by their church. As a Lutheran I’m sorry to say that Lutheran churches have let lots of people down. Other brands have also had their failings. Richard, another pastor friend of mine in the same Texas town, was pastor of the Pentecostal Church of God. He and I shared a love for really digging into the deep content of Scripture. He lamented to me more than once that many of his people really didn’t seem to have a desire to grow and advance in their knowledge and application of Biblical teaching. They just wanted to feel the same feelings and have the same elated experience week after week. We Lutherans tend to be a lot more subdued at church than Pentecostalists (with some exceptions; there are Charismatic Lutherans, for example), but we often have our own form of the same failing: we like to be comfortable, non-controversial, and safe, more than we like to learn something new that might force us to grow, get off our duffs, and rock the boat.

One of my personal beliefs about the Christian Church is that as a whole it ought to look quite a bit more like the Salvation Army, that is, we should be very conspicously working to reach out to the poor and needy, to the point that it’s one of the main things we’re known for. As it is, many churches I’ve been part of are very practiced at finding reasons why the plight of the poor is someone else’s problem.

The Salvation Army has its failings, of course, but I respect them to the point that I would seriously consider joining them, were it not for the fact that do not practice Baptism and Communion. I don’t stand in judgment over them for that, but I simply couldn’t live with that myself. Awhile back I took an online quiz that would supposedly determine what denomination is the best fit for you. My Number 1 answer was interesting: “Orthodox Quaker.” I think it’s because my answers reflected a blend of old-fashioned orthodox theology with a concern for social justice and the environment. I was intrigued enough to investigate further, but alas, I found the same issue: Orthodox Quakers do not practice Baptism or Communion.

21 years ago I made a brief but memorable visit to English L’Abri. I was a seminary student at the time, and towards the end of my visit a friend told me that when I had first arrived, some of the other students had been turned off by the fact that I was studying to be a pastor. At that time much of L’Abri’s ministry was to young Christians who felt alienated from and/or let down by the Church as an institution, and I, as a prospective church leader, stood for the very thing that had hurt them. But, my friend told me, I had won them over by being a “good person.”

One of the main formative spiritual experiences of my youth was a great non-sectarian Bible study group my family was part of during my teens. It had begun as a follow-up study group about a film series by L’Abri founder Francis Schaeffer, and it grew into a rich, unique experience of the family of God. It was simply a group of people who loved to enjoy fellowship together, dig into the Word, and apply it to all areas of life. Members of the group included Lutherans, Catholics, a Baptist, members of the Evangelical Covenant Church, and “House Church” people. One of the great letdowns of my life is that churches I’ve been part of usually haven’t measured up to the quality of the fellowship and vision of that little group that I experienced when I was quite young. Another loss is that it’s no longer possible for me to be part of an all-laypersons’ Bible study, because it stops being one as soon as I show up. Some expect “all the answers” from me as clergy, others are afraid I might find something wrong with what they say, and still others close the door because for them I stand for the hurt they’ve received from the Church or from another clergy person.

There are four different denominational bodies I think I could function in; three of them are Lutheran, the other is the Evangelical Covenant Church. I stay in the church body I’m in (the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations) because I think it has a core of good, balanced, Biblical teaching and a rich heritage, because it is a family of people that I know and love, because I’m free to be my maverick self, because it’s open to input from outside (indeed, it would be downright cultish if a group of only 30,000 people in the whole world didn’t think they had anything to learn from others) and because it’s what the LORD has given me; also, my status as clergy in this church body didn’t come cheap. As much as I would love to wander around and search for the perfect Salvation Army/Orthodox Quaker/L’Abri/Old Bible Study group church, I think God’s calling me to impart something of the vision in the setting where He has already brought me.

Having said all that, I’d invite all to use this post as an open thread about whatever is on your heart about these matters. Our key guiding verse is James 1:19, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” I’m especially not here to try to “fix things” if your journey led you away from Lutheranism, or something like that. I’m just here to listen, share, and grow. I like Francis Schaeffer’s approach, described here:

Schaeffer … used to say that “if he had only one hour with someone, he would spend 55 minutes asking them questions and 5 minutes trying to say something that would speak to their situation once he understood a little more about what was going on in their heart and mind.”

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