And when they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:17-20 (NKJV)
Marc Funderburk, Chair of our Call Committee, shared with you last week that our Call Committee has been learning about the process of calling a new pastor to lead our congregation, and Pastor Baker and resources from the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) have been instrumental as we prepare for this new chapter at All Saints Lutheran Church. This is a serious, complex, wonderful, and exciting undertaking and the NALC has provided a Call Process Manual (NALC, 2021) to call committees and congregations to help us analyze and identify the characteristics of our congregation; our strengths as well as our “areas of opportunity” for growth and development. The Call Process Manual has several articles in it that were written by Pastor David Wendel that have helped the Call Committee to learn and think about the role and responsibilities of a pastor, as well as the role of a congregation.
This week, we want to share with you Pastor Wendel’s article on Maintaining Unity (2016) (see attached). In this article, Pastor Wendel writes “…one of the most misunderstood and neglected aspects of leadership within congregations is that of maintaining unity.” He goes on to say “that one of the greatest hindrances to evangelism, mission and growth within any congregation is conflict and disharmony within the body.” Pastor Wendel goes on to state that unity comes from acknowledging when differences arise and “addressing conflict openly and directly allows for involved parties to be heard and to hear, to have conversation, plan a positive course and foster healing.”
Pastor Wendel’s words are a tremendous reminder as we move forward in the process of calling a pastor to ASLC. We must work together as a congregation, and with our pastor, so that we don’t lose focus on our “Great Commission” to “…make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”
With this in mind, the Call Committee will be hosting a Congregational Workshop on Saturday, January 29th, 2022, from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm. We will provide a continental breakfast and lunch, and babysitting will also be provided. This workshop is extremely important as we prepare our Congregational Profile that will be distributed for available Pastors to look at and prayerfully consider our request. The workshop will be led by Pastor Mark Braaten, the Dean of the Local Mission District, and we need all of you to help us prepare for our new Pastor!
ASLC Call Committee
Pastor David Wendel, Assistant to the Bishop for Ministry and Ecumenism
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” — Ephesians 4:1-3
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood and neglected aspects of leadership within congregations is that of maintaining unity. Although this is, or should be, one of the primary tasks of the pastor, he or she cannot create and maintain unity alone. It is the work of the leadership team as a whole — pastor, congregational officers and council. Indeed, the NALC model constitution, article 12.04.f states one of the responsibilities of the council is:
To promote a congregational climate of peace and goodwill, and, as differences and conflicts arise, to foster resolution of such conflicts according to Biblical principles.
In 1986, after five years in my first congregation, I was asked by my bishop to consider being called to a congregation in Colorado Springs which had been conflicted for 15 years (they were only in existence for 15 years!). After accepting the call and beginning our ministry together at this troubled church, many folks were baffled that in spite of the many visitors who showed up for worship each week, they rarely returned and the congregation rarely welcomed new members. I was baffled that our congregational leaders couldn’t see the simple fact that visitors don’t want to join a congregation that is conflicted! One Sunday morning visit was enough to sense the tension, pain and hurt present in the congregation.
Thankfully, the climate changed and growth began to happen. But this experience impressed upon me the reality that one of the greatest hindrances to evangelism, mission and growth within any congregation is conflict and disharmony within the body.
Whether the conflict and tension is between the pastor and council, members of the leadership team, or rank and file members of the congregation, lack of unity and harmony within a congregation drives folks away, and keeps new folks from wanting to come and participate. It is Job Number 1 for all congregational leaders — pastor and council — “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” To do so, it is important to understand what unity is not.
Unity in the Body of Christ is not the lack of conflict or disagreement. Many in our congregations mistakenly believe that peace comes from never disagreeing about things. Some will actively seek to silence or quell any difference of opinion, fearful that leadership will not be able to handle or manage conflict, bringing about negative consequences.
The truth of the matter is that negative consequences arise when conflict and disagreement are not handled openly and positively for the good of the whole. The more a pastor or council tries to silence and suppress any disagreement, the more it will often fester and grow until it becomes an open sore in the body, making healing more difficult.
Addressing conflict openly and directly allows for involved parties to be heard and to hear, to have conversation, plan a positive course and foster healing.
What will this look like in the congregation?
1. Direct, open, honest communication within the congregation, with no anonymous communications or criticisms, no triangulation, no secret meetings. The pastor and council set the tone for this kind of communication by the nature of their own relationships and dealings with one another.
2. Seeking no agenda other than that which is faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, obedient to God’s Word and serves the well-being of the whole congregation. Pushing personal agendas, wishes, wants and desires are not the chief aim of the pastor or council (or members, for that matter).
3. Build consensus within the leadership and the congregation as a whole. When the congregational leadership team informs the congregation, communicates openly and regularly and makes decisions only when there is a consensus, trust develops and unity grows. Although congregational constitutions usually provide for “majority rules” decision-making, this results in “winners” and “losers” — factions and division within the congregation. Rarely is any decision so pressing that congregational leadership must act before informing, communicating with and building consensus within the congregation as a whole. It is important to note, however, that all must understand consensus-building is not about “getting what I want,” but acknowledging that what I want may not be what is best for the congregation. Although we never will compromise with regard to the Word of God, living together in community always requires sacrifice and compromise. This is how we arrive at consensus and unity around decision-making.
4. Live the Scriptures! As it says in the model constitution, as differences and conflicts arise … foster resolution of such conflicts according to Biblical principles. One of the most useful strategies for handling conflict and difficulty within congregations is to heed the guidance of our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew 18:15-20. Here Jesus suggests how believers can be reconciled one to another in a godly, loving manner. Sadly, many Lutherans are not aware of these teachings of our Lord and seek to handle conflict and disagreement according to the ways of the world, using gossip, back-biting and under-handedness, rather than straightforward, open, honest communication, offered in love.
So finally, to live the Scriptures in our daily lives and in the community of the Church, we need to:
5. Know the Scriptures! How can we live God’s Word if we don’t know it? In the last generation or two, many Lutherans have become functionally illiterate when it comes to the Bible. To foster and maintain unity, harmony and peace within the Body of Christ, we will want to again become people of the Word of God. We will want to again learn what it means and how it is to be God’s people within the Church and within the local congregation.
This is how we may begin “to lead lives worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”