Thursday, July 31, 2008

Increasing The KFUO Budget To Save Money

Mollie Z. Hemingway over at Steadfast Lutherans has a post that brings to light the fact that KFUO’s new budget is $3,761,960, a whole $71,168 increase over prior year. Mollie reminds us that the whole reason for the cancellation of Issues, Etc. was to save money as the program was 40% of the AM station’s deficit.

Now that they have cut Issues, Etc. shouldn’t their operating budget be, oh I don’t know, lower than last year. I guess LCMS, Inc. believes they will need to spend money to save money.

Another interesting point brought up in the comments by Mark Dowell is LCMS’s budgetary changes as a percentage in various categories without the inclusion of Ablaze! funding:

Budget Categories % Change

Missions 94%
KFUO 110%
Ecclesiastical Services & Commissions 128%
Synodical Officers & Administration 125%
General & Administrative 145%
Higher Education (Pastoral & University) 87%
District & Congregational Services 102%
Communications 125%
Human Care 84%

Note the decreases in missions, human care, and higher education of church workers all the while the corporation that is LCMS, Inc. grows.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Getting Spun

I was listening to Chris Rosebrough’s program Fighting for the Faith on Pirate Christian Radio yesterday and about fell out of my chair. Mr. Rosebrough played a clip of Rick Pino singing a modified "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" as a praise song.

"You Spin Me Round" is a song originally released by Dead or Alive on their 1985 album Youthquake and was a number one hit in the UK but only reached the eleventh spot on the US charts.

I remember this song playing in all the clubs in Germany when I was serving in the armed forces during the 80’s. Not once did I imagine I was listening to a future praise song, not once.

As it turns out, Mr. Pino removed the word baby and inserted the name Jesus to enable "You Spin Me Round" to become a future beloved hymn. Yessum, that’s all it takes to create a new dynamic hymn that is relevant for today’s Christian.

Here's the original lyrics;

If I, I get to know your name
Well if I, could trace your private number, baby
All I know is that to me
You look like you're lots of fun
Open up your loving arms
I want some,want some

I set my sights on you (and no one else will do)

And I, I've got to have my way now, baby
All I know is that to me
You look like you're having fun
Open up your loving arms
Watch,out here I come

You spin me right round, baby Right round
like a record, baby Right round round round
You spin me right round, babyRight round
like a record, baby Right round round round

I got to be your friend now, baby
And I would like to move in a little bit closer
All I know is that to me You look like you're lots of fun
Open up your loving arms Watch out, here I come

I love our new hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, but I'm already looking forward to a new hymnal where hymnody that I once danced to can be sung in church. Yep, can't wait.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Things You Shouldn’t Put On Your Church’s Homepage

The days of looking for a church by thumbing through a phone book in a motel room are over, period. It is now the responsibility of church webmasters to present the congregation in a way that the folks who conceived of the yellow pages couldn’t even dream of.

I’ve relied on WebPages for researching congregations for some time now. I can get a pretty good idea where the congregation is theologically by how the present themselves on the web.

In the before times, in the long, long ago, the brand LCMS meant you could walk into a church and pretty much know what to expect. Those days are as dated as looking for your grandfather’s church by scouring two year old phone books in your second floor room at the Euclid Motel over on Route 31.

In looking for a congregation to visit this weekend via the web, I’ve felt like I’ve walked into a McDonalds run by Hindu’s afraid to serve up their most sacred animal. It’s frustrating that when I want a Big Mac that I only see tofu on the menu board.

The following are things that shouldn’t even be on a church website much less their home or front page;
1. Anything highlighting your dynamic puppet ministry that’s conducted during the worship service. I don’t care if you got the puppets for a really good price during the Lenten season blowout spectacular at CPH, leave Elmo at the house.

2. Mission statements explaining that while Christ’s Church is two thousand years old, you just now figured out how to make it relevant to me today.

3. Mission statements explaining that while Christ’s Church is two thousand years old, you just now figured out how to make it dynamic to me today.

4. Any pictures of Pastor Mike dressed up as John the Baptist. If Pastor Mike thinks himself a thespian, he should prayerfully consider a career change. Actors belong in a theater, not in a church on a Sunday morning.

5. Any reference to any document that was issued by a consulting firm to show you how to market yourself. The very fact that you have gone out and got people in the secular realm to tell you how to do your sacred job speaks volumes. If you paid one penny for such drivel, you got ripped off. Some guy named Luke already wrote a model for how to grow your church and didn’t charge one red cent for the darned thing. Read it. It’s been on the best seller list for a couple of years now and from the time it came out, it’s worked. Again, read it.

It’s a sad commentary on the health of churches in our country when it’s easier to find a Big Mac than a church.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Name Of Frank, A Weapon Of Choice?

In the last two days I’ve had bizarre conversations that just have me scratching my head.

The day before last I was chatting on the phone with a friend who made mention that my name had recently come up in a conversation.

“Uh, why exactly did my name come up” I asked.

“Oh, you know, I brought up your name, sort of like a weapon, because I was making a point and brought up you because you are the most cynical person that I know!” was the response.

I’ve never thought my name would ever be used or even thought of as a weapon! I know for a fact that my name has been used as a curse as well as cursed on more than one occasion, but used as a weapon, wow.

And what’s the deal with calling me a cynic? Just because I agree with the Calvinists concerning the whole total depravity thingy? Hey, as a member of the priestly caste who happens to be a friend of mine says; “A person who believes in total depravity can’t be all bad!”

Anyhoo, the more I thought about my name being used as a weapon the more I started to laugh about it. The more I started to laugh the more Fatboy Slim’s Weapon of Choice video kept popping into my head. The video stars one of my favorite actors Christopher Walken in all his dancing glory. So I thought I’d share my second favorite Christopher Walken short with ya’ll. What’s my favorite Walken skit? “I need more cowbell”, of course.

Enjoy Weapon of Choice.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Missions, Money, And Giving The Middleman His Cut.

There are a number of good posts over at Brothers of John the Steadfast discussing what passes for missions in our beloved synod.

Pastor Todd Wilken has a post entitled A Conversation with a Middleman that looks at synodocrats demanding their piece of the monetary pie from congregations that wish to support mission work.

Rev. Andrew Simcak, Jr breaks down where the money goes and brings to light how very little actually goes to missions. He points out in that less than a penny of every dollar raised actually goes to world missions in a post entitled What is Accomplished with the Money Coming to Synod and the Districts?

Finally, Mollie Zeigler Hemingway reports that missionaries that are out in the field are required to raise from 85-100% of the monies needed to keep them in the mission field in her post appropriately titled Mission Creep(s).

It is shameful that my beloved synod has not read Acts 6:2-4 which says;

So the twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

I guess supporting missions by financially sustaining those pastors who will be out in the field preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments without growing the bureaucracy just isn’t in LCMS, Inc.’s business model.

I wonder what the disciples would say to being told that a proper mission required them to wait on tables and earn 100% of the required money before they bothered with prayer and preaching. Furthermore, I wonder what the first century disciples would say to the idea that once they were in the mission field that they would still be required to work and earn 85% of the mission’s money to remain there.

Hmm, I wonder…

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Chronicles Of Narnia, Veggie Tales, And Teaching Children

For those of you who are new to Putting Out The Fire, I have, for some time now, taken questions sent in via email. The following query showed up in the inbox;


Just out of curiosity - I know you like the "Chronicles of Narnia" SNL skit, but what is your take on the comparing and contrasting of Christ's sacrifice and the life of the Church with the Chronicles? I have an issue with it because I don't want my kids to see a lion in a movie and think "Gee, he's like Jesus!" Same thing with "Veggie Tales" - I don't want them to think a piece of asparagus died on the cross for them. A cartoon/fictional movie should be just that and shouldn't involve elements of our Faith because that's just like the Churches that lower themselves by bending with society for the sake of attracting the unchurched. I'm not a big CS Lewis fan to begin with, but I'd love to hear your opinion. I have relatives who are die-hard Veggie Tales fans and I think it's disgusting - hence my post about people who will try to influence my child's spirituality. These are the same people who have a problem with Harry Potter - although I see that as entertainment as I do Star Wars because it doesn't bring in Christianity at all. Let me know your take –


Ok, where to begin? I guess I’ll start with the Chronicles of Narnia part of your question…

Yes, I do like that "Chronicles of Narnia" SNL skit, probably a lot more than I should I guess. Your question however was about the series of books by C.S. Lewis and not about my questionable taste in pop culture late night comedy skits.

I think the Chronicles of Narnia books are just fine for your child(ren). The seven book series is a brilliantly written body of work that is tailor made for kids. If I had kids reading the series, or if I was reading it to them, I would clearly explain to them that the series means to put in plain words churchly things though the use of metaphor and fantasy. I would tell the little crumb crunchers that C.S. Lewis is using his stories, much like Jesus uses parables, to explain Christ and His Church. I would also tell them that this is sometimes a technique that pastors can use in sermons or that I sometimes do the same when writing posts for my blog.

Furthermore, I would also explain to them that while Lewis, and Mom and Dad (or Uncle Frank in my case as I have no kids), use metaphors to explain a point of Scripture, the Narnia tales are still just fiction. I would make the distinction that Scripture is God’s Word and is true and inerrant because it comes from God and not metaphor or hyperbole as some would suppose. As long as you properly explain this to them they shouldn’t get confused and think Jesus is an imaginary characters like Aslan.

While the Chronicles of Narnia books aren’t exactly my cup of tea, I do like Lewis’s writing. I think Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and The Great Divorce should be read by all Christians with the latter being my favorite of all of Lewis’s works. Lewis, while only a layman, has a much better understanding of what Scripture says and lays out for the Church than many who claim to be church leaders in Americanized Christianity today.

I think if you give Lewis another chance you might just be surprised. Lewis’ use of symbolism and metaphor puts more Christ in his one of his novels than Joel Osteen managed to do in two of his non-fiction bestsellers. Lewis’s stuff isn’t the blending of culture and church that so many these days try to do to reach the “unchurched,” rather; it is the elevation of fiction in order to explain something that is a mystery without comprising the message.

Lewis’s gift as a writer is that he doesn’t need water things down to the point where the message is unrecognizable to a Christian. Contrast that with what passes for missions and outreach in my denomination, the LCMS, and I think you’ll appreciate the Chronicles of Narnia maybe a little bit more.

A.L., I’ll answer the Veggie Tales part of your question in the next post.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It’s A Prize Puzzle

Pat Sajak: Jeri, did you remember that it’s a prize puzzle? Any guesses as to where to we’re sending you? No? Well, I’m sure you’re going to have a great time in…did I mention that your going to hell!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Looking For A Congregation To Visit In Orland

I’ll be attending another conference on metrology, this time in the Orlando area from August 1st to August 7th. Just as my with my visit to Minneapolis last year, I will need to find a congregation so I may attend the Divine Service where the Word is preached purely and the Sacraments are administered rightly. Does anyone have a suggestion?

Last year I two great suggestions for a church visit. Dr. Veith had reported that University Lutheran Chapel was very good and TKls2myhrt had suggested Glory of Christ pastored by Klemet Preus. Certainly two great congregations and it was hard to pick one.

I decided to visit Glory of Christ and was made to feel as welcome as any place I’ve ever visited if not more so. I also had the opportunity after Pastor Preus’s Sunday school class to get to talk to Pastor William Cwirla who was in town for a Higher Things conference as was what seemed like nearly all of the Higher Things staff. Pastor Cwirla and I had a neat chat about vocation, chemistry and the field of metrology that probably bored those around us. Probably.

Anyhoo, I was just wondering if anyone had any ideas for the Orlando area that won’t make me think that I’m in some kind of goofy magical kingdom. Websites are sometimes ambiguous and not so helpful or simply misleading. I’m know there was a time when the “brand” LCMS meant something clearly defined but that was your grandfather’s church and as synodical officials are fond of reminding us, those days are long gone. With the LCMS trying to out-evangelical the evangelicals and be more “seeker sensitive” planning ahead and interviewing congregations has become a part of my travel strategy no matter where I go. Sad, but necessary.

So, any ideas….anybody?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Reaching The NASCAR Unchurched

click on picture to enlarge

In what shall remain for the most part a private email, "J" took me to task for my last post in which I was a wee bit critical of the C3 megachurch’s attempt at a reaching the lost by bringing in a replica of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s racecar to get ‘em in the door. That’s fine, I can take the criticism.

Again, my problem with using gimmicks or props to promote any message, whether it be sacred or secular, is that said gimmick or prop frequently overshadows the message. The linked news story is proof of that in spades. At no time is Jesus the focus of the church’s message if the story is accurate. In fact, Jesus isn’t mentioned, not even by the staff of C3!

On the other hand, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is mentioned six times.

So, I ask, what is the focus of C3 last Sunday? If a person has to go out of his or her way to find Jesus being proclaimed how is that helping the unchurched NASCAR fan? It ain’t. NASCAR may be entertaining if that’s your sport of choice, but NASCAR offers no salvation from sin, death, and the devil. Jesus on the other hand does offer eternal life for all who would by God given faith believe.

But, just to prove that I’m not heartless, well, maybe I am little, I do have an idea for reaching the unchurched racing fans all: the LCMS Studebaker. As we who belong to LCMS congregations are painfully aware, the LCMS is usually a little behind the times. Our normal modus operandi is to follow techniques and trends that are at least 30 to 40 years behind the times, so why should our racing outreach programs be any different? Why not repurpose the LCMS Studebaker and dedicate it for mission outreach?

So everyone needs to email and call their ecclesiastical superiors, district and synodical representatives today and tell them to pull the LCMS Studebaker out of mothballs and meet people where they are at; the racetrack. Megachurches like C3 are already getting them in the doors by this technique and there is no reason at all that we can’t out-megachurch the megachurches. We need to demand that the LCMS Studebaker get an oil change and be put back on the roads immediately. There is no reason at all that this tremendous mission outreach tool go the way of the LCMS balloon of the 1980’s. No reason at all.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Skipping Jesus To See Jr.’s Car

In a market driven society gimmicks rule. During holiday weekends the promise of free pillows and free delivery are used to close the deal when 12 month same as cash financing just ain’t enough to get you to make that once a decade mattress purchase. Most people realize at some level that the price of the pillows and the delivery are already built into the cost of said mattress. Sadly though some folks don't understand Marketing 101 and if not, P.T. Barnum had a charming little saying that applies.

Churches are certainly not immune to using gimmicks. My own beloved synod seems to chase one fad after another to reach the “unchurched.” The LCMS has spent millions of dollars to have marketing consultants tell pastors how to make their church appealing enough for those who say they don’t even like church to begin with. Breaking down denominational walls based on real theological differences to become relevant and seeker sensitive is the order of the day as we try to grow God’s kingdom apart from the purely preached Word and administered sacraments.

Sadly it seems we are content to follow the herd of Americanized Christianity. But every now and then the herd follows us and does it better.

Not too long ago the Southeastern district highlighted St. John's in Farmville VA in a newsletter. The congregation received a firetruck and repurposed it to be a witness tool in the community. They dedicated it for mission on Sunday, June 29 in a show of support for the LCMS’s Ablaze! evangelism program. Said Pastor Joel Giese:

"The idea is simple. People, children especially, like fire trucks. They will come to see the truck and we have the opportunity to speak about Jesus. As the vehicle moves to and from events, it acts like a rolling billboard. I believe it will spark interest. The best part is that it is easy and fun, who knew that easy and fun could be used to describe Evangelism!"

Yep, I think it’s in the 29th chapter of Matthew where Jesus tells the disciples to use whatever gimmick they can to reach the lost.

I’m gonna guess that the megachurch C3 caught wind of this and was determined not to be outdone by a bunch a staunchy Lutherans. So what technique did they come up with to get folks in the door? A replica of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s racecar.

From the News and Observer;

But the prime attraction was Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s revered race car, an 800-horsepower NASCAR speedster sponsored by the National Guard. Some skipped their regular service just to glimpse Dale Junior's racing machine.

"Dale Junior represents a lot of blue-collar hard-working people, and that's the majority that comes to church," said Keith Boykin, a plumber from Clayton. "He represents pretty much what's good about America. He comes from solid country roots."

And this tidbit;

But the prime attraction was Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s revered race car, an 800-horsepower NASCAR speedster sponsored by the National Guard. Some skipped their regular service just to glimpse Dale Junior's racing machine.

"Dale Junior represents a lot of blue-collar hard-working people, and that's the majority that comes to church," said Keith Boykin, a plumber from Clayton. "He represents pretty much what's good about America. He comes from solid country roots."

When I go to church I like my prime attraction to be, oh I don’t know, Jesus. And just in case anyone thinks I just being hyper critical, here’s another quote from the story in the News and Observer:

The minister's stage appearance was preceded by a 10-member rock group. He punctuated his sermon with frequent jokes and informal expressions: "cool," "hang out" and "awesome!"

As Fry paced the stage and sermonized, he occasionally sipped from a can of Amp energy drink, raising the can in a salute to the audience. His image and movements were shown on four big screens.

His sermon was dedicated to the theme of courage, and it was enlivened with NASCAR references instantly recognizable here.

"You might be a NASCAR fan if you say, 'But officer, I wasn't tailgating -- I was drafting,' " Fry quipped from the stage.

When churches have to resort to gimmicks whether it be a fire truck or racecar to get people in the door; what really is the message? When the message of salvation from sin, death and the devil can’t stand on its own and needs the help of a replica of a race car or a slick Madison Avenue style brochure; what does that say about your view of the message? When you skip your regular church service that should focus on Christ and His gifts to see a replica of a car, what does that say about you?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Issues, Etc. Quote Of The Day

The Issues, Etc. quote of the day comes from Chris Rosebrough in response to Mollie Z. Hemingway’s post concerning the large amount of listeners wreaking havoc to the on-demand server over at Brothers of John the Steadfast.

1. Since the synod claims that Issues, Etc. was cut for “financial reasons”. I think it is time for the next round of cost cutting measures for KFUO AM.

KFUO AM needs to cancel the Afernoon Show and fire Diane Summers and the Rev. Steve Siegel (hosts of the Afternoon Show) and put Issues, Etc. back on the air in its normal time slot.

This would save KFUO AM at least $150,000 per year in employee overhead. Lutheran Public Radio may even be willing to pay a ‘nominal fee’ for the air time at KFUO AM. That being the case, KFUO AM could be making a profit during that time slot rather than losing money.

As I see it, canceling The Afternoon Show is the ONLY financially responsible thing for them to do.

Oh yeah.

Update: Mollie's now got the comment up as a post as well here.

Where’s The Official Ablaze! Firefighter?

A bit ago, last month I think, a reader of POTF asked why I haven’t been posting as much on our beloved synod’s Ablaze! evangelism prog… eh, movement. “Have you relinquished your title of the official Ablaze! firefighter?”

Nah. The reason I haven't posted anything lately on the theological goofiness that is Ablaze! is that here in the Haut South Ablaze! has really taken a back seat to other programs and fundraising campaigns. Even paid staff from the district have had to “tone it down” a good bit to sell congregations like mine on giving the district even more money than we already do.

One of the ways this is done is by allowing us to target where our monies are going. By personalizing our mission funding the district has found a much more receptive audience. In the past, when the Ablaze! nonfundraising fundraising campaign was first rolled out, we were asked to give blank checks and told that we should simply trust that the money was being put to good use. Good stewardship took a back seat to trust in proper oversight of missions that were in favor with our ecclesiastical superiors. Now at least we can have a say in the district's missionial outreach by supporting a congregations vicarage program or the sending of pastors overseas to preach in places such a Siberia or some such endeavour. All this is positive even if a district skims a bit off the top for “administration fees.” Missions are funded by congregations and districts get to claim that that the “movement” moves forward.

Recently ,visits by district officials have shown huge cracks in our beloved synods favorite evangelism movement. When paid staff from the district start off a presentation to a congregation by saying “hey guys, even I have some problems with some of this stuff” one can’t but help but think that there are more people out there than just one or two lonely congregations. The very fact that the district feels that it is necessary to temper its message and deviate from the Ablaze! script so as to have a shot at getting folks to write a check is proof positive that all is not lost.

Are things peachy? No, they certainly are not. Synod continues to drift from dead orthodoxy to a slick market driven organization that strives to market itself to the “unchurched” in a manner that in no way resembles the historic Church catholic. “Meet people where they are at” and “this isn’t your grandfather’s church” are the mottos of the day that convey that at all cost we should in no way offend or scare off the unchurched by looking too much like a church.

While the Ablaze! prog…uh, movement may not be front and center as much as in the past, the theology behind Ablaze!’s church growth tactics remain both at the synodical and district level (and obviously at some congregations as well). There is plenty still to write about I can assure with a good deal of certainty.

And for what its worth I wouldn’t want to write serious stuff all the time anyways. I rarely take everything serious and why would POTF be any different. Sometimes it’s just plain fun to write about Ablaze! Death Rays and the like. Sometimes the jokes just seem to write themselves as with the Witness Duck (which my district did take seriously but was alone in that regard). Sometimes, ya just gotta laugh.

So, again, am I relinquishing my role as the Official Ablaze! Firefighter™? No, I’m not. Sometimes it’s just necessary to see the forest for the trees and that may mean that I write about teaching youth or hymns as catechetical tools. The reason that our beloved synod is in the state she is in is the lack of catechesis (or complete disregard thereof) and this won’t be overcome by me or any other individual overnight. This task is a serious effort that needs to done by a whole slew of people united by one common confession.

And for what is worth… with things in a bit of a slow down ‘round here, I’ve been working on something that will expand the role of the Official Ablaze! Firefighter™! Yep, as they say; the devils hands are idol playthings ;-)… more on that front soon.