Messiah Lutheran Church in Midland, a congregation in our Midland Circuit, will be opening a second "Journeys" coffeehouse in November. The first "Journeys" coffeehouse was opened a few years ago and is located inside Messiah's building. This second "Journeys" coffeehouse will be located in downtown Midland. You can read about this here.
I was a bit confused when the article from the Midland newspaper was brought to my attention last month. I knew that Messiah had applied to the Michigan District for an "Ablaze/Fan into Flame" grant for this "mission" a while back, but had been denied. So, I wondered where they got the money to go through with this. Did they raise the money themselves? Did the Michigan District reverse its decision? Where did the money come from?
[NOTE: Pr. Doerner informed me on the phone earlier today that Messiah only received $200,000 from the District, not $250,000, as I had reported. I apologized to him for not checking with him about this before posting, and told him that I would correct it here].
Evidently, from what I've been told, the money came from the District, but there is still some question as to how that happened exactly. I was informed by a couple of brothers in our circuit that Pr. Ed Doerner of Messiah mentioned during Winkel on Tuesday, September 14 (I wasn't able to make that Winkel, as I was traveling back from our trip to St. Louis that day) that Messiah was given a $200,000 grant from the District. This was not an "Ablaze/Fan into Flame" grant, but a grant given by the Michigan District directly from the proceeds it received from a now defunct congregation. And, from what I understand, the approval/authorization for this grant came from the District President's office, without having been discussed and/or approved by the District Board of Directors. That seems odd to me (and others). I would think that the disbursement of $200,000 would have to have BoD approval. But, maybe not. I honestly have no clue. It could very well be that there is some other mechanism for such approval in place, or even that the DP's office has this authority. As I said, no clue.
But, regardless of how the grant was given to Messiah, what grieves me is that it was given at all. I cannot fathom how Lutherans could even consider the opening of a new coffeehouse to be mission work. I mean, I know the argument those in support of this sort of thing put forth - "People love coffee and we can use this coffeehouse to reach out to those people with the Gospel" - but I don't buy it. This is nothing more than the "bait and switch" technique employed by the Americanized Evangelicals (and Lutherans doing their best impression of Americanized Evangelicals). As Pr. Doerner is quoted saying in the article linked above, "When people say, 'What about this place is so amazing?' it gives us a chance to say, 'This is a place where God is.'" Really? Is it really God's presence that is going to make the place amazing? If people are amazed by the place, won't it be because they like the coffee, or the atmosphere, or the music in the back, or the nice people serving them, or the friends they hang out with there, etc.? NEWSFLASH: People don't go to coffeehouses to meet God. They go to drink coffee and hang out with friends, or study, or relax, or . . . NEWSFLASH #2: God has not promised to locate Himself FOR US in coffeehouses. He locates Himself in His Church. He visits us with His presence in the Divine Service to gift us with forgiveness, life, and salvation through His Holy Word and Sacraments. In other words, Jesus is not in your mocha, no matter how good that mocha may be.
[NOTE: Pr. Doerner assured me on the phone today that there is no confusion regarding the purpose of the new "Journeys." He understood how those reading the article might be confused by the seemingly contradictory quotations of himself and Mr. Sean Bartley included in the article, but made it clear that this was not due to there being actual confusion, but to the selective writing of the reporter. The new "Journeys" will not be "just another place of business," but an extension of Messiah's mission and ministry, a place "to introduce people to Christ" through a variety of means. "The Word of God will be permeating through the place," he said.
Therefore, I have removed the paragraph I had written about the seeming confusion I noticed in the article about the purpose of the place. I also apologized to Pr. Doerner for not talking to him about the article before making the comments I did. I do not agree with him that I am guilty of slander here, nor that I had a Christian duty to follow Matthew 18 before posting this on my blog, but I do agree that it would have been the courteous thing to do to contact him and get his take on the article, since I know that newspaper articles don't always accurately reflect the actual interviews done in preparing the article.
With that said, I stand by everything else I have written in this post.]
But, besides all this, what really irks me about the whole thing is that there are far better ways for the Michigan District to be dispensing money to support the actual mission and ministry of the Church. I get regular letters from the District about stewardship workshops and resources. Why should I take them seriously when the District exercises such poor stewardship as it has here? We have struggling schools in our circuit that would benefit greatly from a grant of $200,000. We have a wonderful campus ministry at CMU that I'm sure would benefit greatly from a grant of $200,000. Heck, give our congregation a grant of $200,000 so that we could start a campus ministry at Alma College! And there are a plethora of other far more beneficial ways that our District could have distributed this money within our circuit or elsewhere. Instead, it goes toward a new coffeehouse. Sad. Very sad.
But, what's even sadder to this Lutheran pastor is what I witnessed when I explored Messiah's website, after being directed there by one of the parishioners I serve, who has family connections there, and spent an hour watching an archived video of a worship service done there. I was curious when I saw the "message theme" they used throughout the summer, titled, "Come see Jesus, Go be Jesus," so I scrolled down to the first Sunday in that series and clicked on the link to watch the video. There was absolutely nothing Lutheran about what I watched transpire before my eyes. And the "message" still has me befuddled (if you don't want to click on the link above to watch the whole service, you can click here to just listen to the "message"). Pr. Doerner spends a lot of time talking about the difference between "believers in Jesus" and "followers of Jesus." The point he is trying to make is that we need to move on from being mere believers to actual followers. But, how do we do that? We discern through prayer and study where God is leading us and set out to follow Him. Where might God lead us, you ask? Well, that is up to you to figure out in your faith relationship with God. And, hey, it might very well be that God is leading you not to attend Church on Sunday, so don't worry about, or apologize for, missing Church. Go where God leads you, whether to the amusement park, the campground, wherever God leads you. Just go and be Jesus. Now, if you find yourself drifting a bit, then come back to Church, so that you can be motivated to get back out there to wherever God is calling you and be Jesus to others. Oh, and while you're out there being Jesus to others, be sure to look for the "God stories" and then come back and share those "God stories" with us.
Don't worry about missing Church. Go and be Jesus. Look for the "God stories." What the heck?! How in the world can this in any way be considered Lutheran preaching? You might catch the couple of passing references to the Gospel, but it is completely done away by all the Law. This is typical "Evangelical" preaching - Jesus has done His part, but now it's up to you to do your part. It's the whole "WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?)" fad revisited.
As I listened, I just felt sad for all the people there. What a burden they have being placed on them. They have a lot to figure out to become the followers of Jesus they evidently need to be. I mean, how can they ever really know that they've accomplished that? Think about it. What does it mean to be a "follower of Jesus," to move on from being a mere "believer in Jesus"? I thought we were "followers of Jesus" when we regularly go to the place where Jesus IS; the place where He speaks to us His Holy Word and fills us with His Holy Body and Blood. But, according to this "message," to be a "follower of Jesus" means to go out and BE Jesus to others. Talk about a completely impossible task! We cannot BE Jesus. Um, that's kinda the point of His whole coming down from heaven to become incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. He came to live the perfect life we can't live; to fulfill the Holy Law in our place, and to take all of our failures, all of our sins, upon Himself and pay the full price for them all with His Holy and Precious Blood on the cross. If we could BE Jesus, He would not have had to come to BE US!
But, hey, after watching this "worship service" and listening to the "message," at least the whole "coffeehouse mission" makes a little more sense. When the idea is being fostered that we need to get out there and BE Jesus to others, and the Divine Service where Jesus IS Present for us is de-emphasized, then, yeah, open a coffeehouse. And when people ask you why you're at the coffeehouse instead of in Church, just tell them that you are BEING Jesus to them. And, heck, why stop at a coffeehouse? Why not open a bar, or a dance club, or even a strip club? People like those places, too, you know. Am I being silly? Maybe. But, no sillier than those who believe that a coffeehouse is a "mission" of the Church, worthy of funding with District dollars. That's more than silly. As I said above, that's just plain sad.