What’s Wrong with the Church–LCMS Church & School

I am going to begin this personal analysis of what is wrong with the church with an examination of my own church and denomination, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). The LCMS is notorious for providing opportunities for Christian education in conjunction with the church. Unlike Catholic schools, there are no strict nuns running around and typically most don’t require student uniforms. In 2009, there were over 98,000 students enrolled in almost 900 LCMS K-8 schools and 90 high schools with an enrollment of over 16,600 students in the United States.

I attended an LCMS K-8 school in rural Minnesota almost 40 years ago. At that time, there wasn’t an LCMS high school in the area, so I transferred to the local public school. Coming from a class of 9 students into a class of 150, the transition was surprisingly quite easy. Academically, I was about a grade ahead of my fellow ninth-graders.

Now living in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, I had the opportunity to send my own child to an LCMS K-8 school, as it was only 5 minutes away from our house. The school is attached to our church, and the church supplements the cost of tuition as long as you are a member of the church. There is also an LCMS high school right across the street from the church and school, and most of the children who go to the K-8 school transition over to the high school. I opted, however, to send my child to the public school as there were more opportunities for her there. The thought of paying $8,000/year for tuition at an LCMS high school that had limited sports and a marginal, at best, music program, did not make sense to me.

For the most part, the K-8 school has excellent teachers that provide a good education. I will forever be grateful to what my daughter learned there over the course of 8 years. Having “religion” as a class every day helped her stay grounded in her faith once she went to public school. About to enter her junior year of high school, she still does not swear or curse, and constantly reminds her friends not to say, “Oh my God!” She, too, had an easy transition from a class of 12 to a class of almost 600, again a testament to the fact that she received a quality education prior to making the switch.

However, now as a parent with a child that has “left the fold” and is not attending the “connecting” LCMS high school, all of a sudden I realize that the church and the schools are kind of like one big clique. None of LCMS students attend Sunday School or youth group provided by the church, because the parents feel “they get enough religion in school.” As a result, for the few students who go to public school, the Sunday School and youth group are sparsely attended. For a high schooler, there is no motivation to go to youth group or Bible Study on Sunday when there are only two or three other students there. As such, my daughter’s religious education and continued spiritual enrichment has ceased.

I recently found out that the LCMS high school across the street from our church did contemporary worship services and held a student-led Bible study on Saturday nights. I asked if anyone could come, or was it just for the LCMS students. The response I received was, “Sure, anyone can come!” I asked why they didn’t advertise it in the church bulletin or reach out to some of the public school students, or why they didn’t reach out to youth in the community. I thought, what a wonderful opportunity to reach out to the unchurched youth in our community! I just got a blank stare as my answer.

Some additional observations–I rarely see students from our church that attend the LCMS high school in church on Sundays. Not sure if this is again part of the “they get enough religion in school” theory or not. I also see former LCMS high school students and teachers enjoying their kegs of beer after church-sponsored softball games, or having five or six rounds of drinks while they bowl on the church bowling league. I’m not being judgmental, but it’s probably not a wise thing to drive after having six drinks within a two-hour period. My ex and I bowled on the church league for about three years. My daughter would beg to come and watch us bowl, but I wouldn’t bring her, because I didn’t want her to see her 5th grade teacher half blitzed.

Finally, what is the purpose of Christian education? Is the purpose to make sure that children don’t fall into the evils of this world? Is its purpose to segregate them from the mainstream? Or, is its purpose to build up children to be followers and disciples of Christ? To further their education so that they can be witnesses and bring others to Christ? I would think and hope it would be the latter. Instead, I see the LCMS families that promote and continue with the Christian education staying within the four walls of the church and its schools. I do not see them venture out into the community, sponsoring programs or activities that might bring the unchurched walking through the doors.

This could all be the very reasons that LCMS churches and schools are diminishing in size and ultimately closing their doors. According to the LCMS, declines in membership have been reported for the past 40-some years–average weekly attendance is about 150. Next week, I’ll explore the reasons why the LCMS appears to be a dying denomination.

 

 

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What’s Wrong with the Church–Part 1

Over the last year, I have been, what some people would call, “church shopping.” My ex-husband and I attended the same church every Sunday for 5 years, until my daughter was confirmed. It was shortly after that when I asked him to leave and promptly filed for divorce. A victim of verbal and emotional abuse, I struggled with my decision, as it was my second divorce, and to the outside world, he was a very nice person. Behind closed doors, he was verbally abusive to me, my son and our daughter. I was also sexually assaulted throughout the entire marriage. We underwent years of counseling, and it never changed. It was time for me to move on, if not for my sake, then for the sake of our then 13-year-old daughter.

As such, it was difficult for me to continue to go to church where we had attended as a family. My daughter volunteered her musical talent for the worship band at least one Sunday a month, so my daughter and I attended on those Sundays. My ex had often worked a part-time job on the weekends, so I had hoped that most people would just think he was working, so I wouldn’t have to explain his absence. To my relief, no one asked. This practice continued, and for a year, we were not in church on a regular basis, nor ever together. This was contrary to our past church attendance. Over the summer, we went 3 months without any of us stepping foot in the door.

No one ever questioned why we weren’t at church. No phone calls, no emails, nothing. “Hi, how are you? Is everything OK? We’ve noticed that you haven’t been in church for a while. Just wanted to check in to make sure everything is OK.” My ex and I at least agreed on one thing, how Christian is this, our brothers and sisters in Christ for over 5 years, and no one is noticing that we aren’t there?

We both took this to heart, and I probably more so than my ex. After all, I was the one that was trying to heal from 16 years of abuse. My ex quickly found a new prey for his behavior, dating someone he worked with after only one month of his moving out.

I sank into deep loneliness, and yes, borderline depression. I wanted someone, anyone, to reach out with some comforting words. I wanted to talk to someone about my situation. I wanted to cry on someone’s shoulder. I wanted to know that God’s forgiveness was real, even though the Bible clearly states that He hates divorce.

During this time, our pastor retired, and the church was in the process of calling a new minister. About 5 months after the new pastor came on board, I decided to meet with him and explain my situation. It was now a little over a year since my husband left, and 3 months since our divorce was final. It would be easier talking to the new pastor. He didn’t know me or my ex. I could tell him what I went through, and he’d be understanding. I cried. I told him I didn’t feel support or love from the congregation. He validated my actions and said in God’s eyes, I did the right thing. It was an abusive situation. But he also said that I couldn’t fault people for what they didn’t know. My thought was, how could they not know something was wrong? People just don’t stop coming to church for no reason. Am I supposed to put a notice in the monthly newsletter? Hey everyone…just wanted to let you know, I’m divorced. Not doing so well. Could use your prayers.

Regardless, I thought I would give my church another try. I thought I made a connection with the new pastor. Maybe the news would slowly make its way through the congregation, but the pastor would clarify that I did not take divorcing my husband lightly. People would come up to me and say, “I heard. I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”

Well, it’s been another year, and no, really no one has said a thing–only one person, the youth director, because she was concerned about my daughter. Even the new pastor says nothing to me. In fact, he can barely look me in the eye.

Now, my daughter and I have started to church shop. Our attendance at our home church is very rare–again, only when my daughter is part of the worship band, which she is volunteering less and less for because of the lack of warmth we feel when we enter those doors. As a new pastor knowing the situation, maybe, just maybe, I’d be concerned. A phone call, a note, a kind word. No. These are my brothers and sisters in Christ.

And so, this begins a series of blogs based on my situation with my home church and my observations of other churches as my daughter and I search for a place where we feel at home.

Blank Pages Available on Kindle

The culmination of the blog, Blank Pages…A Life Erased is now available as a Kindle book on Amazon.com. The title of the book is Refilling the Pages, by Marti Lynn Lewis.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IBTYTM2

Sin

The church I attend has been doing a sermon series on “acceptable sins,” and the series is based on the book, Respectable Sins, by Jerry Bridges. I think you can figure out what the premise of the book is. There are sins that we think are really bad–murder, theft, adultery. Then there are those that we know are sins, but they are “little”, right? Like gossip, jealousy, pride and selfishness.

But, a sin is a sin–no matter what the size. I remember my ex and I used to disagree about this all the time. He felt that his attraction to pornography wasn’t as bad as someone having an affair. Even though he went to church on a regular basis, it was clear he never read scripture. Jesus said in Matthew 5: 28, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” And, murder, is really bad, right? Jesus again says in Matthew 5:21-22 that whoever murders and whoever is angry with a brother or sister shall be subject to judgment.

Every day I struggle with the fact that I have been divorced twice. I took vows in front of God, yet I broke those vows in front of men. But, every day I also say unkind things, to my daughter in anger because she hasn’t finished her homework in time or isn’t going to bed when she should be. I also say unkind things about people I work with–those that I feel aren’t doing their job. I chime in with gossip when I hear it. I also am quick to judge those that I feel aren’t very Christian. I’ve been struggling over a year now with the people in my “home” church because they haven’t reached out to me since the divorce to see how I’m doing–I judge them for that.

The good news is, as we all know, that Christ took all these sins with Him to the cross so that we are forgiven. But, it doesn’t mean that God now tolerates these sins. How many times have I thought, “Well, I’m not perfect, so I’ll just do it, and thank God for His Grace, that I can keep on doing this wrong thing, and He’ll just keep forgiving me.” I grew up Lutheran–the all-saving Grace of God!

The more and more I stay in God’s Word, the more and more I realize these “acceptable sins”.  Just as I’m about ready to say something negative about a co-worker, I feel this tinge, and a little voice in my head says, “Don’t do it…don’t do it!” Sometimes I listen, and sometimes I don’t. The fact that I’m aware is good. The fact that I continue on with my negative words is not. The fact that God forgives me is good, and just as He has forgiven me, I need to forgive others. My ex, my daughter when she irritates the heck out of me, and the co-worker that I can’t seem to tolerate. It’s all the same, no matter what the sin, circumstance or person.

The Purpose of the Church

Today is Sunday. Most of us, hopefully, attended church services, where we worshipped with fellow believers, heard scripture and perhaps participated in the Lord’s Supper. One of the reasons that I attend church on a regular basis is to connect with fellow believers, as we are supposed to be brothers and sisters in Christ. Another reason, is to be inspired by God’s word, whether it’s the scripture reading for that day or perhaps the pastor’s sermon. At times, it may even be the words to a song that brings me closer to the Lord.

Sometimes I go “church shopping,” because I get frustrated with something that may or may not be happening in my church. Or, perhaps I’m bored, and want to experience a church that provides more entertainment. But, is that what church is meant to be? Do you find yourself saying, “Ah, that was a good message,” or “The choir sounded so good today.” What if the choir sounded awful? What if the organist made lots of mistakes? Do we criticize? Do we judge? Is this what church means to us? I don’t think this was God’s intention for His church.

This brings me to a discussion of the mega churches today. Great music–worship bands that are comprised of professional musicians. I once knew a church that paid professional musicians over $400 each to play on Easter Sunday–they had a 30-piece orchestra. They have pastors that have dynamic stage presence. They make the message captivating and entertaining, therefore making it memorable. At first, I thought that this is all good. It’s a great way to get the message out to unbelievers and those that have fallen away from the traditional church. Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19). Whatever way you can get them to faith, right?

But let’s look at the example of Jesus. He gave this instruction to his disciples–a small group of common folk. There was no fanfare when Jesus came to preach. He associated with the poor, the humble and the sinners. He spoke His Father’s word, and didn’t use entertainment to capture the crowd’s attention. Maybe the church has become too concerned with how we get people inside versus how it can go outside.

Jesus traveled with His disciples, teaching and preaching God’s Word. He didn’t build a church with brick and mortar. He took the Word to others. Even after His death and resurrection, the early church met in homes where they inspired each other to continue the mission of bringing others to Christ.

Spending every Sunday morning in church is great inspiration, but what is your church doing beyond the Sunday morning services to bring others to Christ? What are you doing personally? Are we using the church as a means to seek salvation for ourselves or a means to bring others to salvation?

I invite others to comment on what they think the purpose of the church is meant to be and share how your church is helping to build the Kingdom of God.

Celebrate Freedom to be a Christian

As I sit here writing this blog on the eve of our nation’s birthday, I hear people outside laughing and celebrating by shooting off fireworks and fire crackers. Tomorrow, people will gather at community parades to see floats, hear marching bands and shake hands with politicians. Once it is dark, bigger and brighter fireworks will light up the sky, and people will gaze up and slowly repeat, “oooh, ahhh.”

It’s a celebration–a celebration of freedom. Freedom of religion. Freedom to worship. But as Christians, how free are we really? We are free to attend church and worship within the confines of those buildings and our home, but what about outside of those areas? Are we free to worship in school, to pray if we so desire? No, if we mention God or speak of Christianity, we may “offend” someone. We no longer speak of Christmas or Easter. It’s Winter Break, Happy Holidays, and Spring Break. We have taken the “under God” out of “one nation”. I wonder, how has Christianity become offensive, and where is the Christian’s freedom?

John Adams, our second U.S. President and signer of the Declaration of Independence said, “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.” Our government today, as well as the liberal left, are trying to remove any trace of Biblical/Christian ideas that were the foundation of this nation.

As Christians, how do we deal with this situation? Well, I believe most of us remain quiet. We accept teachers who tell us that Creationism is a myth. We don’t pray in public. We learn to say “Happy Holidays,” even though we celebrate the birth of Christ. Are we afraid? Embarrassed, perhaps? And how does God feel when he looks down on us? On this country? I would think He is sad, as He sees a country pulling further away from Him and His word, and as He sees His people continue to show acts of denial.

We should be celebrating! Celebrating that we have a God who loves us, protects us and promises to take us to be with Him for eternity in a place where there will be celebrations every day. We should be dancing in the streets, thanking and praising Him for everything He does. He gave us this wonderful country, which gave us the freedom to be children of God without being ridiculed.

So, shoot those fireworks off and shout out praises to the Lord. Make July 4th a celebration of the gift that God gave our forefathers so many years ago. Remember that we are, “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Yes, even for Christians!

Psalm 33:12–What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord, whose people he has chosen for his own. 

Let’s show everyone that we are truly joyful, because we are His! Read more of this post

Please Like Lone Rock Publishing

As many of you may know, I abandoned this project a while ago due to possible legal implications. As such, I have not posted or even visited the blog since my last posting. When I logged in tonight, I was amazed that I am still receiving close to 100 page views every month.

So, I’m asking a favor of all those of you who visit Blank Pages–if you haven’t already, please like the Lone Rock Publishing Facebook page. The link is listed here on the blog site. Thanks ever so much, and stay tuned. Who knows what could happen next….

What Would You Do?

I’ve been quietly sitting here every day contemplating what my next move will be in regards to my book. I told you late summer that I would be publishing it as an E-book this fall.  Fall is almost over. No book.

Lots of things to consider. First, protecting the characters–it’s been made loud and clear that certain people don’t want people figuring out who their character is in the book.  Second, the financial aspects of self publishing. Third, I began to rethink how I’ve positioned this book. Those of you who know the characters know that this is a true story. But it was hard to piece together everything accurately because it happened so many years ago, and no one has the same recollection of what exactly happened. Lots of rumors and gossip, as well as personal opinions and speculation make what really happened hard to define. Some people have passed away and others are no where to be found. 
So as such, I changed the names and places and filled in the missing information with sensationalized fiction. In addition to protecting the characters, it also protects me from any libel action. But does making it a complete work of fiction take away the importance of what really happened here? I mean, a grown man completely lost his memory due to ECT in the early 1990s at a world-renowned medical clinic. Unbelievable–does making it fiction then make it untrue because it’s so unbelievable?
I was going to put Blank Pages to rest and not publish, but I’ve continued to get hits on this blog, even though I’m not posting anymore. Every day, I have new readers who are reading each posting and continuing through the story. Every day, people say, “When is your book coming out–I can’t wait to finish the story.” 
So, blog readers…tell me, what do you think I should do? 

Coming Soon….

Blank Pages was going to be released this Spring.  Well, we all know how life gets in the way, don’t we?

I’m pleased to announce, however, that editing and design are currently underway, and expect to see Blank Pages as an E-Book later this summer.

Sections of the first half of this book have been posted on this blog, but there is still so much to Joe’s story that hasn’t been written about on this blog.  Stay tuned for more information as the pub date gets closer.

Page 34: Back in the Hospital

As Christa slowly approached Joe, she could see that he was crying, and she knew at that point that he was not having one of his seizures.

“Joe, honey, what’s wrong?”

“I got out of the car. I couldn’t find the house,” Joe sobbed.  “I started walking.  I don’t know where I am.”

John had come up behind Joe and Christa and overheard what Joe had said. “That’s it, Christa. We’re taking him back in, right now.  He can’t live his life like this, and neither can we.  They need to do something.”

John and Christa took Joe to the car, and John immediately headed toward Rochester.  Thirty minutes later they were standing in the emergency room of St. Mary’s Hospital, explaining Joe’s situation to the attending nurse.

“I’m not exactly sure what we can do for your son, sir,” the nurse politely explained.  “I would suggest that you call his psychiatrist in the morning.”

“We’re not going anywhere.  If we can’t talk to his psychiatrist until morning, then you are putting him in a hospital bed tonight.  It’s unsafe for our son to not be under proper supervision,” John demanded.

The nurse made a phone call, then left the nurses’ station for a few minutes.  When she came back, she began completing the paperwork to have Joe admitted.  “We can admit Joe back up to the psychiatric ward for tonight, but in the morning you will need to get a referral from his primary psychiatrist over at the county clinic.”

“What about Dr. Spitzack?” Christa inquired.  “Can’t he refer Joe?”

“Unfortunately Joe was originally referred to us by Dr. Owen at the county clinic.  Once Joe’s treatment was complete, he was no longer under Dr. Spitzack’s care. You will need to call Dr. Owen in the morning,” the nurse instructed.

With that, six weeks after he had been originally discharged, the Aden’s signed the admission papers for Joe to be placed back in the psychiatric unit at St. Mary’s, and Joe was taken up to a room and given a sedative to help him sleep.

As Joe dozed off, Tessie came to see him again.
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