Thursday, April 27, 2017

Essentials for congregational change. . .

So, I opened up my email and found this in one of them.  I was told that every day leaders wake up knowing that their congregation must navigate change or. . . the congregation will distance itself from being a vibrant community with wider influence.  And the problem is:  Inertia. . . that wakes up even earlier every day and has already resolved itself to fend off any feeble attempts at desperately needed change that would challenge status quo.

I guess this is an email for me -- since we use the hymnal, have a tradition and foster a sense of continuity, preach rather traditionally, teach the catechism, and, well, look like your grandpa's church.  Inertia looks like my parish.  All around me are big box evangelicals and Southern Baptists who look like them and they have bought into everything from screens to vision casting to the last words of any dying congregation -- we've never done it that way before.  But not Grace.  We have not moved the cheese and it is still where it always was (Word and Sacrament).  Our liturgy clearly ties us to the once and ancient church and to our Confessions.  The last trend we embraced was to have soup and bread on our Lenten and Advent schedules.
So, here are 3 essentials the leader(s) must deliver for congregational change!

Give people an inspiring, motivating, uplifting vision that’s big enough to overcome the “just stay here” status quo. People are afraid to try new things…afraid they’ll fail…afraid it won’t work. Give them a picture of what could be.

Clarify why we can’t stay on the present path. Name reality. Don’t make excuses. Don’t call it something that it’s not. People need to have a burning conviction that it would be unconscionable for us to do nothing and to be content with status quo.

Clearly articulate the first few steps down the path from “here,” where it would be unconscionable to stay, to “there,” the vision of a new and different reality.

So for congregational leaders this is not easy. You need…

  • Clarity around your own identity and purpose.
  • A God-inspired sense of vision or direction…not a used, borrowed one from another congregation.
  • A team of leaders…the board, the staff, the ad hoc committee that can straighten their backs and summon courage and resolve to lead together.

Church members want stability, especially when the world around them is unpredictable and unstable. (Some of the others became frustrated and discouraged and have already left your church.) They’ll pursue status quo until they die, never realizing that status quo is killing them…until they die.

  • Initial, emotional resistance causes most leaders to flinch before a thoughtful consideration of facts can be made.
  • It’s more difficult than you think…some days gaining ground, other days slipping backwards.
  • These are areas that should have been resolved a few years ago. There are other areas that have emerged that you as leaders don’t want to admit even exist.
But. . .

The miracle is we are growing.  Like 6 7 baptisms during the Easter Vigil (pretty old school service) and most of our members join through adult confirmation and we have loads of young people -- both young families and young singles.  We wear vestments (pretty traditionally styled) and we sing to the sound of a pipe organ and we have a weekly Eucharist.  And the people keep coming.  The status quo is not killing us -- it is part of the reason we grow!!

No, we are not perfect and we have oodles of problems.  We screw up and fail at things all the time.  But our people are friendly and welcoming and the Divine Service is tied to the pursuit of our best for His glory (in everything from music to preaching to liturgy and facility).  We are not all that we could be or should be.  But the growth is the fruit of the Word proclaimed faithfully and the Sacraments administered according to Christ's institution.  We do what we can do but we trust the Lord to do what only He can do and what He alone has promised to do.

There are contemporary congregations that are dead and traditional congregations that are dead but that death is awakened to life by the Word.  Know who you are and be who you are.  That is my plea to Lutherans from a Lutheran who struggles every day with just that.  Don't be spending all your time looking over the fence to see what others are doing in their back yards.  Do what the Lord has called you to do and be faithful in that calling -- from pulpit to pew and back again.  Parents teach your children well, husbands and wives love and serve one another, be friendly to the stranger, and serve your neighbor in need.  Yes.  But be faithful in worship, hear the Word of the Lord (and pastor, preach it!), and receive the Lord's Supper with a repentant heart believing in the promise.  It is one package.  Do it all and if you grow, God is the reason and if you are not growing, do not give up and lose heart.  The Word will not return to Him empty handed.  We say it.  Lets act like we believe it in the Church.  I am not sure the Church needs leaders but I am very confident the Church needs pastors who faithfully fulfill their calling and people in the pews who faithfully fulfill their baptismal vocations.  And those who do this are the leaders God calls and the world needs.  The Spirit is the change agent of God and the means of grace are how the Spirit works.  Leaders maybe we are but to be sure we must first be the led!


Janis Williams said...

"Leader". Translated to German is "Fuhrer." Does that one have any negative connotations? Saw on the Babylon Bee (sarcasm) that Merriam Webster had changed the definition of "Fascist" to ..."Anyone who disagrees with..."

I for one am glad the new/old seven last words of the Church are: "We have ALWAYS done it that way."

Anonymous said...


jwskud said...

"Know who you are and be who you are. That is my plea to Lutherans from a Lutheran who struggles every day with just that. Don't be spending all your time looking over the fence to see what others are doing in their back yards. Do what the Lord has called you to do and be faithful in that calling -- from pulpit to pew and back again."

Gold. Thanks for your steadfast approach to the faith, Pastor! Would that every Lutheran pastor would do the same...

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Excellent post....encouragement and optimism coupled to real faith will keep each of us in the right frame of mind to serve the Lord.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters:

Are the new members disaffected big box evangelicals and Southern Baptists? I wonder how your congregation witnesses to Evangelicals.