“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Galatians 5: 22-25
Pastor David Wendel has written a series of articles for the North American Lutheran Church that provides insights for both pastors and congregations in the “call process”. The Call Committee has been sharing these articles over the past 4 weeks and today is the fifth article in that series. The hope of the call committee is that the congregation will read these articles. Then with prayer, thoughtful consideration and the Holy Spirit arrive at the congregational workshop on Saturday, January 29, 2022 prepared to help write a congregational profile and discuss the characteristics of a pastor that would serve and provide pastoral care for All Saints Lutheran Church.
In Pastor Wendel’s article, # 9, “Comforting the Afflicted”, he discusses the question “why so much tension and conflict between pastors and congregational leaders”. “Afflicting the comfortable” is the phrase that he uses to describe the idea of change. He understands that many times, pastors, with good intentions, want to make changes that will benefit the congregation. But the pastor needs to be sensitive to the high level of tension that these changes can cause. In times of great anxiety, maybe a better approach is to provide love, stability, and pastoral support.
In article # 10, “Love, Respect, and Good Communication”, Pastor Wendel compares a marriage to the pastor-congregation relationship. Couples sometimes lose the respect and love that were present in the early days of the marriage. And many times, this happens due to a lack of communication that is honest, open, and straight forward. The pastor-congregation relationship must maintain this honest approach to communication to avoid the pitfalls of unhealthy coping mechanisms when there is anger or displeasure with one another. He lists 8 strategies in this article to help the congregation and the pastor to develop honest and open lines of communication. His advice to all members of the church would be to memorize Galations 5:22-25 and to live by those words.
Reminder: All Saints Congregational Workshop on Saturday, January 29, 2022 from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. A continental breakfast and a light lunch will be provided. Childcare will be available as well. Please make this workshop a priority. Pray that the Holy Spirit would guide the congregation in this important event in the history of All Saints Lutheran Church. Amen
ASLC Call Committee
“Comforting the Afflicted”
Pastor David Wendel Assistant to the Bishop for Ministry and Ecumenism
“And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” — Matthew 6:27
Recently I had the opportunity to join an adult Bible study class at St. John Lutheran Church in Boerne, Texas, as I was there for the installation of their new pastor. They were talking about the struggles and challenges that we face in our day and age.
There was a list of these concerns in the Bible study guide. The leader asked the folks to reflect on these concerns. I found it interesting that — almost to a person — they said anxiety was their greatest struggle, challenge, and concern today. And for all the reasons you might expect.
Many said they had never experienced this before in their lives. But the lack of trust in the government, the reality of terrorism and violence, the concern over health care and health-care costs, together with illness, divorce, and increasing drug addiction — even in the smallest of rural towns — caused them to confess that they were truly anxious and anxious in a way most had never been before.
And as an assistant to our bishop, I find this surprising but also important information. Another reality that surprises us who serve the NALC is the level of conflict that exists currently between pastors and congregational leaders. Although the actual number of such situations is a small percentage of our congregations, in conversations with other denominational leaders, it seems we are not alone or unique. So, we regularly ponder the question, “why so much tension and conflict between pastors and congregational leaders?”
I believe the Bible study class in Texas may give us a clue to understanding at least some of these conflict situations. It may be grounded in the reality that pastors see themselves as agents of change and change is often anxiety-producing. If pastors push for change within congregations already experiencing increased anxiety, it may be that the natural response of congregational leaders is that of rejection, criticism, and impatience with the pastor.
Although this is theory and conjecture, as I work with congregations experiencing such conflict, it is often clear that the negative reaction toward the pastor begins with changes being advocated or executed by the pastor. The reaction may appear irrational or unreasonable, given the proposed changes. Yet it is valuable for the pastor to be sensitive to the anxiety level of the congregation at any given time and to shape ministry accordingly. In short, it may be that we are currently in a time when it is important for pastors to “comfort the afflicted,” rather than “afflict the comfortable.”
It was in 1902 that this phrase was first coined by writer Finley Peter Dunne to describe the role of newspapers in society. Martin Marty, however, applied the phrase to God and Christian ministry — seeing God as both judging the comfortable and being merciful toward the afflicted.
Many pastors graduate from seminary thinking of our Lutheran congregations as comfortable and privileged so that we understand part of our task to be prophetic, wishing to “afflict the comfortable,” challenging folks to step out of their comfort level to love God and neighbor. And
while that is still important, it may be time for pastors to realize that “comforting the afflicted” is our primary task at this time in human history.
We pastors and preachers can be very adept at “afflicting the comfortable.” I wonder if we are equally competent comforting the afflicted. I wonder if some of us pastors are afflicting our congregations with additional anxiety at just the time when anxiety is already extremely high, creating conflict and tension — and at a time when what is needed for congregations are the words of our Lord and of Holy Scripture, communicating peace, promise, reassurance and hope.
There may be times when the trusted pastor pushes, and pushes hard for change, transformation, and movement forward within the congregation. However, pastors must be sensitive to the realities of life for the children of God within their care. In a time of great anxiety, the best a pastor can do is to provide love, pastoral support and stability, in the midst of doubt, fear, worry and concern.
“Love, Respect and Good Communication”
Pastor David Wendel Assistant to the Bishop for Ministry and Ecumenism
“This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” — John 15:12
Having served 30 years as pastor of two congregations, one sees parishioners at their best and at their worst.
It was always sad to see couples who had been together 20, 30, or 40 years in marriage, yet treating one another more unkindly and unlovingly than friends, co-workers, or strangers! Often communication has broken down so that husband and wife speak to one another sarcastically if at all, with the normal pattern being passive-aggressive behavior toward each other.
Rather than speaking honestly and straightforwardly with each other, couples will publicly suppress their feelings and opinions, while allowing them to surface in unhealthy ways — through sarcastic comments, muttering, inappropriate facial expression, and lack of respect. Couples who have fallen into such patterns are often unpleasant to be with, hard to be around, and try to pull others into their unhealthy relationship. Is this what God intends for holy marriages? Surely not.
Although every metaphor breaks down at some point, it’s helpful to envision the pastor-congregation relationship as a marriage. In these Ministry Matters articles, we’ve touched on that several times, as there are many ways in which the two relationships are similar. Yet another way is that pastors and congregations often fall into unhealthy patterns of relating to one another — and passive-aggressive communication is one indication that relationships in the congregation have broken down and there is need for seeking helpful and hopeful ways to improve how to relate to one another.
The first and most obvious indication that there is a communication breakdown in a congregation — whether between pastor and council, pastor and congregation, council and congregation, or between congregational members — is lack of straightforward, honest, open communication.
Passive-aggressive communication is sometimes described as a range of behaviors designed to “get back” at someone else, without that person recognizing the underlying anger or displeasure.
In congregations, this can surface as subtle sabotage of leaders, ministries or activities. When a member of the congregation, or the pastor, doesn’t get his or her way, rather than deal honestly with their displeasure, they may mutter to themselves, try to stir up dissension “behind the scenes,” send anonymous hurtful letters. Such behavior is certainly dysfunctional and indicates reliance upon unhealthy coping mechanisms, often by people who never learned how to relate to others in cooperative, productive and positive ways.
Pastors, council leaders, and congregational members may all be guilty of such behaviors and anyone who has witnessed it realizes that no community can be healthy and forward moving when such behavior is tolerated. It is the responsibility of pastors and council leaders to teach and model love and respect within the congregation, which will lead to open and honest communication.
Here are some helpful steps and strategies:
1. Pastor, congregational leaders and members realize that it is not “my” or “our” church. At times decisions will be made for the good of the whole body. Rather than being disappointed at not getting their way, the decision that is best for all should be supported. This mind-set keeps us from being angry or displeased with decisions, actions or the direction of our ministry.
2. When angry or displeased, acknowledge it in a healthy, productive way. Discuss it openly with a friend, fellow member, or pastor. Anger, disappointment, and displeasure are all natural human reactions. We always strive to use anger “creatively,” for the good of ourselves and for all — not to tear down or sabotage.
3. Be a good listener, respecting the thoughts and comments of others, even when we disagree. Pastors and council leaders often become defensive when there are disagreements, and defensiveness shuts down and discourages communication. This is why, at the end of every council meeting, there should be time for “processing” the meeting. Was everyone heard? Is there something that wasn’t said? How did we do at listening and hearing each other? Were we loving, respectful and Christ-like toward one another?
4. Make clear, straightforward comments. When a congregation values and models open, honest communication based on mutual respect and love, there is no need for muttering under one’s breath, whispering negative comments to another, or criticizing people or positions while standing in the dark parking lot after a meeting!
5. Exercise self-control. Discipleship, at its root, involves discipline, and discipline means self-control. We control ourselves; we think twice before speaking, we seek to be Christ-like in our thoughts, words and actions.
6. Express respect to one another! St. Paul beseeches us to “respect those who labor among you” (1 Thessalonians 5:12). He is speaking of those who are “over you” — but we can certainly broaden that to respect for all who labor among us in the church. We are to respect each other as we labor side-by-side in the Body of Christ.
7. Work together for a positive outcome. Although this should be obvious and need not be said, the reality is that the all-too-human Body of Christ — in every part of the world, in every denomination, in every congregation — struggles with our sinful humanity. Pastors, councils, and congregations often work at odds with each other, hindering mission and ministry. The church is a body, and it only functions well when all parts of the body are cooperating, communicating, and working together for the good of all.
8. Finally, every congregation and council will find itself blessed by memorizing and living by Galatians 5: 22-25: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”