Style vs. substance

The Lutheran Zephyr has a great post on style vs. substance over here. His main observation is that many people choose churches based on the style of worship and the community rather than theology, ecclesiology, etc. And he suggests that denominations such as the ELCA, which predominantly offers one "traditional" worship style, are making a mistake limiting solid theology to one or two predominant styles. He notes:
Style is what catches the eye of many potential churchgoers, but our denominations are overwhelmingly offering only one way of ministry.

If you believe (like me) that the substance of our tradition can be authentically expressed, experienced, portrayed and conveyed in a variety of ways, then the unholy, monogamous marriage of our tradition to one particular style of ministry is simiply unevangelical, artificial and lacking vision. Our denominations need variety - not necessarily within individual congregations - but within the denomination, between parishes. Not only will this variety draw in people of different backgrounds, interests and walks of life, but this variety will more greatly contribute to our experience of God, the church's mission in the world, and our relevance in this new century.

Read his post and the comments. There's some good food for thought there. Here's what I wrote:

Amen. It only makes sense that people are drawn to a style first. People new to faith are going to be pulled by an inner stirring of the Spirit, but that usually doesn't come with a whole lot of theology or dogma -- the appreciation of theology comes as one grows in faith. And de-churched people are likely focused on avoiding what wounded them. The substance, important as it is, only attracts the churched and relocated (or shopping).

In Christendom we could expect people to come with a predisposition for a certain flavor of substance. In post-Christendom, we have to earn the right to talk substance with people, and that comes through our contextual engagement with their lives, including the style of worship/discussion/etc.

There's nothing wrong with "traditional" worship or a century old style of education if it works for some people, and it does, for *some*. The lack of diversity that you describe, and that I have experienced, says pretty clearly that others need not apply, that we're not interested in them enough to be with them where they are...we want them to be like us first. How unlike how God comes along side us in Jesus!

You're right -- we've got a problem! We seem happy to let people who don't like "our" style wander off into other places, where if they hang out they will be formed by other theologies and practices. If this keeps happening, will Lutheran theology be anything more than an historical footnote? I hope this never happens, but we're going to have to explore contextual styles if we're going to avoid it!

What do you think?

Back again

Sorry for the loooooong gap between posts. I'm sure both of my semi-regular readers have been missing my insights. I wish I could say I did a lenten blog fast or some such, but, well, I don't have such a good excuse. Let's just say its a strange season, what with preparation for the upcoming Assembly, its election of our next bishop, a couple extra projects, Holy Week, my son choosing colleges, etc. There's not been much time or energy left over for blogging. There still isn't...but I'll try not to let that stop me. :)


episcopal oversight

In just over a month, our synod will elect a new bishop. There has been an ongoing process of discernment that has attempted to hear the yearnings of our people and God's leading for us as a church body. In that spirit, I came across this post from Jay Vorhees in Nashville, commenting on the divides preventing the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee from electing a bishop. I don't know the entire backstory to this process, and I don't see the same kind of division in our body. Still, Jay's wise words about clergy and lay listening to each other, and about hearing God's call being the heart of the process, are worth reading and reflecting on as we approach the election process. May we be open to the nudgings of the Spirit now, and always.