Posts tagged Life Together
“Who were the three people who never had parents?” Answer: “Adam and Eve,” of course, and then also “Joshua, the son of Nun” (Josh. 1:1).
The riddle came to mind with all the talk these about “Nones,” the 30 percent of our population today who, when asked for their religious affiliation, answer “none.” A goodly number of these people once graced the pews of our LCMS churches. Among them are the children who were baptized but not confirmed, or the children who were confirmed but did not stay with the church as young adults. They may still consider themselves Christian, but their priorities have been changed by circumstances surrounding or impacting their lives. To such, immersed in today’s Internet-driven, “modern” way of life, the simple story of God’s grace and mercy in Christ Jesus can easily seem out of touch.
While it is certainly not safe to stay away from the church and the means of grace, hopefully many of these Nones will be okay. When times get tough, as they always do, many of them, brought up in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6), will not have entirely departed from it, as promised. They will still remember their baptisms, their upbringing in Christian homes, the consolation of the 23rd Psalm. A spark of faith is a powerful thing.
Of greater concern must be the next generation, the sons (and daughters) of Nones who will not have a Proverbs 6:22 background. Through no fault of their own, they won’t be able to recall their baptisms and upbringing in Christian homes. There may not even be a spark to be fanned into flame. How important it will be for the church to remember them as it plans its outreach, helping them to become comfortable when they show up one day, catering to their particular interests and needs, holding out the Gospel to them as the one thing needful, being there for them when they begin to realize that they are falling, providing opportunity for the Gospel to reach their hearts–even though they happen to be sons and daughters of Nones who never had parents who were active Christians.
My contributions to this WMLT blog are often less than inspiring. While they address matters of our “life together,” in the minds of some they might better be called “blahgs,” for they usually have to do with life together according to bylaws.
But life together according to our Synod’s Bylaws is important, for this is how we have agreed to walk together. And this particular blog is particularly important for it is about FOEs. We often hear of FAQs. This is about FOEs, “Frequently Observed Errors” in the manner in which we prepare to send delegates to our Synod conventions.
Bylaws 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124 provide very detailed processes to be used to elect delegates to national Synod conventions. Every detail has been thought by our Synod to be important to the process. Here following are seven frequently troublesome areas.
(1) “Each electoral circuit shall meet….” [126.96.36.199 (a)]
The bylaw requires a face-to-face meeting to provide opportunity for discussion of candidates and ballot votes for elections. This can create hardship for some electoral circuits with many miles to travel, but our Synod has determined that this is worth the effort once every three years.
(2) “…not later than nine months prior….” [188.8.131.52 (a)]
Circuit counselors, it is important to plan early for this meeting. It will be ideal also to establish an alternate date, in case unforeseen circumstances make the agreed-upon date for the meeting impossible. The bylaw offers no opportunity for exceptions to this date.
(3) “…one pastor and one layperson from each member congregation….” [184.108.40.206 (c)]
Representation at circuit forums is different from representation at district conventions. In the case of circuit forums, each congregation of the circuit is entitled to send a voting lay representative to the forum in addition to its pastor. This includes each congregation of a multiple-congregation parish.
(4) “All pastors who are not advisory pastors….” [220.127.116.11 (d)]
Sole or associate pastors of congregations are eligible for election as delegates—not assistant pastors or other pastors not in charge of congregations. Bylaw2.13.1 (b) (1) also adds specific ministry pastors to the list of those not eligible. While they are indeed pastors in charge of congregations, they are ineligible to serve as voting delegates to national Synod conventions for other reasons.
(5) “…each congregation shall nominate one layperson….” [18.104.22.168 (e)]
This is truly a FOE. Nominations of lay delegates may not take place at the circuit meeting. While each congregation should nominate a layperson from within the congregation or from another circuit congregation prior to the circuit meeting, these names must be provided to the circuit counselor prior to the day of the meeting. If there are no layperson nominees prior to the day of the meeting, there can be no lay delegate elections. Circuit counselors will want to make certain that they have received names of nominees well in advance of the day of the meeting so that a slate and ballot can be prepared for the meeting.
(6) …eligible for election as an alternate.” [22.214.171.124 (f)]
It is essential that circuits elect alternate pastoral and lay delegates. Each triennium, a goodly number of elected delegates are unable to attend the convention when the time comes. Only when an alternate delegate was elected who also cannot serve can the district president step in and appoint a replacement.
(7) “…selections must be completed at least nine months prior….” [126.96.36.199 (b)]
This final FOE pertains to the selection of ordained and commissioned minister advisory delegates. If such selections did not take place at recent district conventions, they will need to take place at official district ordained and/or commissioned minister conferences. Hopefully those conferences will take place on or prior to October 20, the deadline for advisory delegate selections.
Call this a “blog” or call it a “blahg,” but call care taken to avoid these frequently observed errors very important to our life and walk together. Thanks for reading.
Some years ago I was working with a small congregation in a small town during a vacancy in the pastoral office. The congregation, never large, had been declining in recent years. The previous pastor had left for a more attractive position in another state.
When I asked them why they had no Sunday School, they told me there were no children in the congregation. When I asked them what their mission was, they insisted that just about everyone in town already had a church. They thought there was no mission field.
I decided to challenge them. “Go to every other church in town and find out what their average church attendance is, then add up those numbers for all the churches in town.” Several weeks later I heard their discovery. On any given Sunday less than half the population of the town was in any church, and many of the congregations also drew from the surrounding country-side. “There’s your mission field,” we said.
Every one of our congregations is surrounded by a mission field – even yours! I do not know of a single county in the USA where more than half of the population is found in church, and in many, many locales the percentage is far less than half or even 25%.
No, this is not the time for blame! Don’t be saying, “Well if these people were more welcoming or if our members were truly Lutheran, or whatever, we’d be able to do more.” Don’t be thinking, “Well, if our pastor were a better preacher, or more with the times, or whatever, then we’d…”
Instead, here are some other questions, some basic “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” questions, to ask together, and with God’s guidance seek positive answers, TOGETHER:
Witness: Who are the people around us who do not know Jesus? Or have become disconnected from Him? How might we connect with some of them? Where are they? Who among us meets them as part of our various vocations? How might we get to know them so that we have the opportunity to confess the name of Christ? How might we find ways to baptize and teach them?
And we have seen and testify (witness!) that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God (1 John 4:14-15).
Mercy: What are the needs in this community? Who are the “invisible” people in the community? The people no one else notices? How many folks in your community are hurting? Why? Who are they and what are their needs? What do we have to offer them in the name of Christ? How can we be the arms of Christ’s mercy for them? How can we find them?
We love because he first loved us. If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:19-20).
Life Together: What is the health of our fellowship? How are we connected to one another? More importantly, how are we connected to Jesus Christ? Are we regularly in the Word of God, remembering our Baptism, receiving our Lord’s body and blood, in which He gives life? How many of our people are? Does our congregation live in love with one another as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us?
If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:6-7).
In other words, the things we do as the body of Christ in “Witness, Mercy and Life Together” are part of sanctification. That is, they grow from our justification. Christ has made us His own, forgiven our sins in the blood of His cross, and declared us righteous by His resurrection. Receiving these gifts by faith, we can revel in them, knowing our connection to Christ is sure. Living as His forgiven people, witness, mercy and life together are simply what we do as the body.
Our congregations are all outwardly different. The communities we serve vary significantly. The specific answers to these questions may also look different on the surface. But the purpose is the same – drawing people, by the Spirit’s work in Word and Sacrament, into the worship of the Holy Trinity, the only worship that gives life. We witness so that the Spirit might connect some to Jesus. We show mercy that hurting people may receive the love of Jesus. We live together in Christ’s Word, because
God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9).
Well, what happened to the congregation I was visiting? The Lord sent them a pastor who helped them discover children in the community who needed a place to go after school. Their Sunday School never really revived, but their three hour program for kids Wednesdays after school regularly drew dozens, and even brought parents and families. People were connected to Jesus, and the Spirit grew the congregation.
How will you prayerfully ask these questions in your congregation?
+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice President
So you want to improve your pastor? He’s not done anything wrong for which he can be removed from office in your parish, but you think he could do better, be a better pastor.
More than that, you also know just what he needs to do to improve! Should you tell him? How do you tell him? You want him to grow, of course, so you go to him with your laundry list of complaints – concerns you have, plus some you have “heard” from others.
Now pastors who are wise will listen to and benefit from constructive criticism. But pastors are human, too, sinners just like you! When the list of faults is long and the discussion becomes personal, it’s not hard for the pastor (and his family!) to become more and more discouraged.
I ask you now, who benefits from a discouraged pastor who’s “down in the dumps?” No one! (And believe me, I’ve seen and talked with my share of discouraged pastors.) But you still really would like your pastor to grow and improve! What do you do?
Here are some questions you first need to ask yourself (actually, this article is developed from a conversation I had along these lines several years ago with my friend, Pastor Mark Willig of St. John Lutheran Church in Chester, Illinois).
So you want to improve your pastor? Are you Lutheran? “Well, of course I am!” you respond. Then you will remember that Lutherans believe in the means of grace that God does His work of saving, forgiving, encouraging, strengthening us in faith through His Word and through Baptism and Holy Communion. That means when we speak God’s Word, God Himself is speaking that Word through us to accomplish His purposes.
Now here’s another question. Do the means of grace also work on pastors? Does the Word of God work, is God also speaking, when someone speaks that Word to a pastor? Yes, of course He is, right? Perhaps you haven’t thought of it this way, but this is exactly what pastors need! They need to hear the Word of God spoken to them!
If your pastor grows in faith, it will help him be a better pastor, right? How do we grow in the faith? As Lutherans we know we use the means of grace. So, how do you “improve” your pastor? You use the means of grace on him. You can’t baptize him all over again, but you can use the Word of God on him. In fact, the most important thing you can do for your pastor is to speak the Word of God to him. Tell him of Jesus Christ and His love for him. Tell him that Jesus died and rose also for him. Demonstrate that Word of God to him by your words and actions.
It happened to me one Lent about 20 years ago. We had come through some minor difficulties in our parish (I don’t even remember what they were) when some women of the parish, during Holy Week, took it on themselves to send me a card, a flower, a word of encouragement from the Word of God every day that week before Easter. God used them, spoke through them, to “improve” their pastor. And I was truly strengthened for the task of bringing the resurrection Gospel with renewed vigor that year.
What I am advocating for you, the lay people reading this, is a simple approach centered in the Word of God. We are Lutherans. We believe God Himself speaks in His Word. So SPEAK that Word to one another, and especially to your pastor.
What you will find is that you will not “improve” your pastor – we can’t do that ourselves anyway – but that God will. He can and He does work through His Word. What does Jesus say about your pastor? He’s forgiven, washed in Jesus’ blood, just like you are. Through His Word, God fills him with the Spirit.
That’s why we want to make the center of our meetings, everything we do, our very life together, the speaking of God’s Word to one another. See each other through the eyes of Jesus, who loves each of us with an everlasting love. God “improves” us by forgiving us, restoring us, renewing us in Jesus Christ.
Just in case there are any pastors reading this, it works the other way, too. So you want to “improve” (or grow!) your congregation? Are you Lutheran? Yes? Bring the means of grace to them, over and over. Speak the Word of God to them, day in and day out, the Word focused on Jesus. Keep on speaking. It’s what you have been given to do, even when you are tired of it. Tell them what a blessing it is to serve them with the Gospel, how precious they are in God’s eyes.
God will work through His Word – He promised! – to accomplish His purpose. May we in our parishes, pastor and people, live as St. Paul describes the church in Thessalonica:
“We also thank God continually because, when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice President
Recently I have spent time skimming through some of the historical convention proceedings of our Synod. I found an interesting report in the 1917 Convention Proceedings that is very similar to current events. Back in 1917, President Pfotenhauer established a committee to look into the impact of recent federal legislation that made it impossible for pastors in some states to secure communion wine. In June 1917, the Post Office Department of the United States issued an opinion based on recently passed legislation in the Congress that made “unmailable all matters containing advertisements or solicitation for order for intoxicating liquors without exception.” Based on the committee’s recommendations, the convention delegates, in the summer of 1917, agreed to send a letter to the president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, referring to the new legislation as “interference with the religious liberty, constitutionally guaranteed to our and other Churches”. The convention also developed a “protest” that was prepared and forwarded to members of Congress. Additionally, 9,000 copies of the protest were printed and distributed at convention so that each delegate had three copies for each congregation in his circuit. Here is a link to read the pages from the 1917 Convention Proceedings.