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“Eakingspe Inye Ongueste”

16March2012

Having been a church planter for a few months now, I can assure you that there’s nothing quite like it. It’s like somebody put a blank canvass in your lap, handed you a couple of brushes, and said, “Paint!” There are no rules. Nothing about “the way we’ve always done things.” There’s no history either, and therefore, no baggage. 

Still, the challenge of church planting is that it will make you rethink absolutely everything. Who are we trying to reach and why? Where do they live, and what are the challenges they face? How will we meet and engage them? What will our process be for making disciples? And once people actually start to show up for meetings and small groups, the question becomes, “What should our worship look like? Will it be “contemporary” or “traditional,” or a bit of both? And what is it about us that feels the need to draw such sharp distinctions?

The Lord has recently given me the opportunity to be involved in an Oromo Evangelical Congregation here in Columbus, Ohio. They are Ethiopian. And though they speak English, they prefer (at least the ones who are my age and older) to worship in the Oromo language of their homeland. Since they are currently without benefit of a called pastor, my wife and I were asked to preach and preside at their monthly communion service. They meet in an upper room of a Nazarene Church, about 90 or 100 in number, beginning somewhere around 10:00 a.m. (it could be 10:20 though, you never know) and ending a few hours later. The music is rhythmic and vibrant. And often repetitive. I have learned to sing some of the choruses, and even catch a familiar word or two now and then. But without someone to help me, my spirit prays, apart from precise understanding.

Which brings us to the title of this post. Speaking in Tongues. Surely that must be what liturgical Lutheran worship seems like to the uninitiated. Hence, as St. Paul insists, the need for interpretation. The need for pastors and leaders to constantly explain what is being enacted and said in worship. On the  fourth Sunday of the month, my new friend and church elder, Temtime, sits beside me in worship. During a song, he’ll lean over and say, “We are leaping like a calf, because God has set us free!” And I smile widely and nod, able now to more fully enter into praise.

My new experience as an “outsider” has reminded me that many of the people we’re trying to reach through the ministry of Genesis Church are unfamiliar with the language of praise, prayer, and liturgy. Over the years, a popular solution among those called to plant and develop new missions has been to dumb down the tradition, eliminate the old hymns, and throw out the liturgy all together. The equivalent in preaching has been to eschew biblical words like sin, justification, and sanctification in favor of other words like self-esteem, acceptance, and “reaching your full potential.” In other words, re-define the overused words of the tradition into a secular, non-religious idiom that is immediately accessible.But I’ve never been comfortable with that re-defining. What if in our attempt at translation and meeting people’s needs, we wind up with a completely different gospel? If you’re sensing that I think that’s already happening in too many places, you’d be right.

 So instead of re-defining the Tradition, why not just explain it? Most skills, hobbies, and disciplines are not immediately accessible. They take time to learn.  Like my friend, Temtime, we pastors could do more interpreting on Sunday morning. From confession to creed, from the Lord’s prayer to the sign of the cross, from the meaning of Lent to the purpose of the benediction, and everything in between, we pastors could take time to explain why Lutherans do what we do, where it comes from in Scripture, and why its important. We have several generations of unchurched young people who are not rebelling against the Tradition. Most have grown up in a culture where so much is up for grabs that they long for what is deep and permanent and meaningful. So let’s give it to them straight up, without abbreviation, amendment, or apology. Let’s explain and interpret and teach what has been handed on to us, entrusting it to a new generation of disciples who will do the same.

 Eacepe andye Essingsble,

 

JAM@CCD

 

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