Last Sunday, we sang a song in church that was new to me. The song was ‘Christ is made the sure foundation’, Lutheran Hymnal 248. As I struggled to pick up the tune and join in, I noticed that the family I was standing next to were experiencing the same struggle. While the parents and I managed to be confident by verse 3, the teens were disengaged.
Here’s my confession: I didn’t grow up in a congregation that sang hymns. That’s something I’ve had to learn during my time at Australian Lutheran College, and while being a pastor. I have often felt somewhat misplaced in our church because I don’t know the old, familiar songs. Combine that with an internal call to engage with communities in contextually relevant ways!
It is like Bishop Mark’s challenge to consider, ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?’ (Psalm 137:4) and the ongoing opportunity for us as Lutherans in Queensland and in Australia.
This is what Jesus calls us to do as His disciples. All throughout Jesus’ ministry, He met people where they were. He had no problem in going to the places where people needed Him the most. Whether it was a dining table, sitting by a well, on the side of the road, or in a boat, Jesus met with those in need of love, forgiveness, and healing. What continues to strike me as I read through the gospels is how Jesus makes people and places holy and sacred simply through His loving presence. This, to me, is Jesus singing a new song: a new song of grace; a new song of hope.
What does this mean for us? I know it’s a very Lutheran question, but I believe it is an important one. We have all seen the disengagement from institutional church in our society. Likely we will see reflected in the next census statistics a rise in those who do not identify with any formal religion, and if we are honest with ourselves, we know the old songs, methods, and programs we have previously used just don’t cut it anymore. The temptation may be to focus inwards, circle the wagons, and protect the little influence we have left.
However, that is not the way Jesus worked. He consistently went out to seek and minister to those in need. Jesus continues to call us into the many opportunities that surround us. I believe that the future of the church is found in relationships and people, over programs. The way in which we seek to learn new songs that help prioritise young people and their families will open us to the abundant opportunities for the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. These will be the new songs we sing. Yes, they may take time to learn, but the benefits will long outweigh the challenges.
Pastor Lee Kroehn is married to Anna and has three great kids. When he’s not telling lame jokes, doing jigsaw puzzles, or admiring his amazing Marvel Lego collection, he’s the pastor at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Rochedale. Lee also serves the LCA as the chair of Grow Ministries and has a passion to see to see the church renewed and to enable the church to empower the next generation as it adapts to the changes that surround it.