I've discovered the perfect theme song for the LCMS Convention this summer. Don't political parties always have some kind of pep song these days? Well, Toby Keith has a new record out this week, Big Dog Daddy, the most recent in a string of new records by some of my favorite artists, and the first song on it is perfect. I wonder if there's still time for a late overture to suggest it. Who knows, it could probably even be added to the Lutheran Service Builder.
Toby sings the part of an apartment complex fix-it-up boy. My son has seen the video for this, by the way, and he tells me that "the maintenance man" in question is a big fat slob; but you don't get that from listening to the song. He's a handy man, with all the right tools, and he knows how to get the job done. He's captivated by a good-looking woman living in the complex, who's obviously well-to-do and enjoys the high life. Around my house, "high maintenance" calls to mind our two-year-old Frederick, and any parent of a little boy that age will know what's up with that. I suppose that a "high maintenance woman" is likewise self-explanatory. Not surprisingly, she has no interest in the poor maintenance man.
For the entire time that I've been a pastor, I've been hearing pejorative critiques of "maintenance ministry." This perverse and pernicious label is applied to those pastors (like me) who suppose that preaching the Gospel, teaching the Word of God, administering the Sacraments, visiting and caring for the people of God, and, in short, shepherding the flock, is what they are called to do. The assumption is that such basic "maintenance" of the congregation is detrimental to the mission of the Church. I disagree.
The people of God will share the Gospel with their neighbors in the world, as they receive the Gospel from their pastors through the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments. They will be merciful, as they receive mercy. They will feed the hungry, as they are fed with Body and Blood of Christ. They will clothe the naked, as they are clothed in the righteousness and holiness of Christ, through His forgiveness of all their sins. They will shelter the homeless, as they are sheltered within His Church on earth. They will visit the sick and imprisoned, as they are visited by the Lord, their Good Shepherd, in His tender mercy and compassionate fellowship.
The LCMS may be a "high maintenance woman," but she don't want no "maintenance man." At least there appears to be a drive to maintain the machine, the structures and programs, to tally up numbers and bring in the bucks. But there doesn't seem to be much confidence anymore in the basic tools of the trade, the means of grace. Like a lot of yuppie couples, there are modern congregations up to their necks in debts and operating expenses, who end up being consumed by the relentless need for funding, and for tangible evidence of success, in order to keep going. The steady maintenance of preaching, the liturgy and catechesis, seems woefully inadequate. Then again, so did our crucified Lord, Jesus Christ. There's that theology of the cross again!
I'm not suggesting that pastors and congregations should neglect opportunities for outreach and evangelism, or fail to do what they can within their neighborhoods. I expect that we should all be doing more along these lines. Yet, without the basic maintenance of the Gospel-Word and Sacrament, nothing else the Church may do in the world will matter or make any difference. Music videos notwithstanding, the "high maintenance woman" would do better with the "maintenance man." Otherwise she'll find that, sooner or later, her world is falling apart all around her. No amount of money or prestige will fix the sink without a plumber.
Incidentally, I think that Big Dog Daddy may be Toby Keith's best record to date. He's been pretty steady in turning out the music for the last decade, but not always so consistent. There's not a dud on this new record, though, even if there are a couple songs that aren't as solid as the rest. "Love Me If You Can," "White Rose," and "I Know She Hung the Moon" are particularly good, and these are more mature songs than Toby has often worked with in the past. He can be irreverent, and politically "uncorrect" (thank you, Gretchen), which is entertaining, as well. But I'm glad for the increased breadth and depth and variety in the case of Big Dog Daddy.