Pastors and congregations both lie. Congregations don’t even know they are doing it, but they do. In the first place they always think they are conservative and they rarely are. In the second they think their experience and practice is the defining criteria of true Lutheranism. For example, congregations that are used to using printed services and hymns from Creative Worship don’t even know they are doing it. They think that because they have hymnals they are a hymnal congregation or they think because they against homosexuality that they are conservative.
In these days of photocopiers, internet, and constant updates from the COW, there are very few truly “one hymnal only – no variation” congregations, if any. I’d be absolutely shocked if there was even one congregation in all of the LCMS who used TLH exclusively for one year straight – along with the TLH Agenda. Even the strictest of TLH congregations are using LW for Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals, Installations, and so forth.
Congregations also claim to want the things that they think they should but don’t. They are being pious. That is good. Therefore every congregation in the LCMS says it wants good, solid Biblical Law/Gospel preaching. In fact, they usually put that as the most important thing. But they don’t even really know what that is! If you give them that, which you should, you will get into trouble – but so did the prophets before you.
None of us is rational in what we want or like. We often don’t even know what the real issues are. For example, consider the so-called “children’s sermon.” Children’s sermons serve an important liturgical role in the congregations that have them: they take people out of the uncomfortable presence of God. The ceremony of the children’s sermon is key thing, that is: the parade. It is about watching all the children march up to the front. It is a chance to relax and laugh and enjoy a little show. But they’ll never tell you that. They’ll tell you that it is about teaching the faith or involving the children. It is a waste of time to argue about whether or not children’s sermons teach the faith or involve the children. Those are not the real points. The people that advocate these things don’t care about Doctrine and Practice. They’ll say they know what they like but they won’t admit that what they really like is the parade. And if you don’t like the ceremony, then they will take that to mean that you are against children. Emotionalism rules at every corner. One woman crying at the microphone is all it takes to turn a synodical vote. Wading through all of this and guiding them to the higher ground takes wisdom only God can provide. That wisdom always looks like utter foolishness to men. And through it all is the fundamental reality that you are really no different than them. You just have different issues.
Thus, read anything a congregation sends you about itself with great cynicism. They were just as honest on it as you plan on being in your SET. Their view of themselves is always skewed, egocentric, and proud – again, just like you.