This morning I had breakfast at Waffle House. I hadn't been there in a few years, due to a couple of bad experiences, but one of their restaurants was right across the street from our hotel, and the parking lot was full of local plates, so my son & I took a chance and went in. We had a great breakfast, in a clean restaurant full of friendly workers. It brought back fond memories of my youth, when I used to cook at a Waffle House and learned the importance of doing things "The Waffle House Way".
Those who currently run the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod could benefit from considering the benefits of "The Waffle House Way". They should be open to this, acutally, because they are much enamored of the "church growth movement" and tend to appreciate corporate lingo. They may not be so crass as to speak of "market share", but the overall emphasis on "growing the church" using marketing, mission, and "outreach" techniques means synod & district officials and reports usually have much more talk about marketing strategies than, say, justification or the sacraments.
So let's take a look at what the brand "LCMS" means to folks as if LCMS were in the restaurant business. Working with the "church growth" analogies like this can actually be quite instructive.
First, what LCMS is doing now obscures what the "brand" LCMS means. The Ablaze! initiative, with its focus on adding new "products" such as new worship formats, new worship soundtracks, house churches/small groups, thrift shops, day care centers, and "intentional conversation teams", has resulted in a church body that trumpets not what it is supposedly about - Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins - but rather extols new "add-ons". This would be fine up to a point if there were consistency and if everything flowed from the Divine Serivce (for example, for decades we were known for having an excellent parochial school system, centered on the teaching of Christian doctrine). But the emphasis on various local congregational "ministries" rather than the Lord's Ministry makes it hard for the LCMS to maintain a cohesive identity. And, few people go to a restaurant for the side dishes on any regular basis. (I'm reminded of the old Wendy's ads from the 80's, which asked, "Where's the beef?")
And the problem is even worse than that. For the situation today is not that everyone is selling, say, waffles, but then adding additional but varying "sides" to their menus - which does make sense when the "sides" vary according to regional taste. No, what we have are some churches serving chicken while others serve fish and others serve beef. Our congregations have become like chocolates in Forrest Gump's box: "You never know which one you are going to get!"
Now I can hear the mission execs saying: "But, Cantor, these things are all adiaphora! What's important is the Gospel, and all this is about the Gospel!" Well, leaving aside for a moment the argument that much of what is being promoted is not about the Gospel, let's just assume that it is and again look at this from Waffle House's perspective. If a bunch of WH's were selling fish and another bunch were selling chickens it wouldn't matter if some were still selling waffles. There is absolutely NO WAY the company would say "But, people, these things don't matter. What's important is the protein. All of our restaurants are in the nutrition business and they all sell protein - just different kinds."
Some of the adiaphora that divides us is indeed adiaphora, and so cannot really be condemned. But are we really about promoting our church when we allow such diversity? Wouldn't it be better for people to know what to expect when they see the letters LCMS on a church sign? Certainly the Lutheran fathers and the founders of the LCMS thought so. Luther argued for regional uniformity (so presumably different 'side dishes' in one region verses another were fine); the LCMS constitution prescribes that all congregations adopt "exclusive use" of orthodox liturgies, hymnals, and agendae. Walther wrote about how the hymnal was "a flag by which an orthodox congregation is recognized."
Those who attended our grandfathers' church didn't have Waffle Houses to go to after the Divine Service. But they had the common horse sense to know the importance of a Waffle House doing things "The Waffle House Way". May we again have bishops and overseers in the church who appreciate who we really are and who we are supposed to be. And may we return promoting our congregations accordingly.