Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Decade

August 28, 2005, the day Katrina hit New Orleans, I was ordained into the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I had been trained and educated in preparation for this call. But after 10 years there are many things I have learned and many things I now know I will need to continue to learn for the coming decades. Perhaps this might be useful for others, so I have chosen to blog it.

In 10 years I have learned...
-Crisis is Continual: This is no big surprise to anyone familiar with the work of Ian Mitroff and others in the crisis management/leadership field. But it was new to me. As a new pastor I yearned to be present in those "key" moments for my community. What I quickly learned is that those moments happen almost daily and that there are very few long periods of "peace" within a congregation. There is always the next issue to be dealt with, the next funeral to be planned, wedding to preside. And that doesn't even begin to include council meetings.

-Leadership Learning is Essential:  When I graduated from seminary I was not familiar with the names Heifetz, Burns, Bass, Greenleaf, Drucker, and so very many more. In fact, I was often discouraged from pursuing leadership study interests because I had been told they were "theologically suspect" and overly focused on American corporate interests. Despite this I was thankfully exposed to some like Friedman and his disciple Steinke. Through this introduction and bibliography I discovered many others that have have helped me immensely to move forward in my ministry. Leadership theory is just that, theory. Praxis is essential. But my leadership would be diminished without this guidance.

-The Myth of "Enough" is Terrifying and Dominate: From the beginning I heard from my subconscious, pastor friends, lay leaders, and everytime I looked at our income vs. expenses that "if we only had" 5 more families, $30,000 more in the budget, a bigger youth room, an additional staff person, that this would be "enough." But it never was or is. My first call grew from 170 to 260 in average weekly worship attendance in four years. We took 16 youth to the 2009 ELCA Youth Gathering (up from 6 in 2006), but it wasn't "enough." My second call has increased its worship attendance and budget 25%, doubled its ELCA benevolence, and paid off all its debts. We took 14 youth to the 2015 Detroit gathering after haven't having any youth attending one in a decade. Yet I must confess that we, including me, still don't feel we have "enough." There will never be "enough," there is only God's abundance and the mission given. Give up on "enough." (Tim has some good thoughts on this in his book Just a Little Bit More).

As such, from this learning I have come to believe some things about Pastoral ministry...
-Pastors must be Entrepreneurs: We must be constantly encouraging, starting, empowering, providing space, for new things. These new things give space for new people, new ideas, and adaptive learning (thanks Heifetz) to grow and develop.

-Non-Anxious Presence isn't a Buzz-Word and it is HARD: In the face of the anxiety of a community, continual crises (Mitroff), and an obsession with the idea of "enough" Pastors must remain calm. Listen, so that one can reflect and redirect. Give the work back (again, thanks Heifetz) but not because you aren't willing to deal with the uncomfortable conversation but because you confront the conversation (Burns). This is preaching and living the Law. We are trained to provide Gospel, but the Law is essential for the Gospel to be relevant.

-Home must be Peaceful: In 1965 my father was given a sage piece of advice from his internship pastor in Baltimore, MD. Dave Manrodt, pastor of Jerusalem Lutheran Church, told him that you cannot pastor a church while fighting a war at home. He was right fifty years ago and he is right today. Being a perfect parent, spouse, and child is beyond the hopes of anyone, especially one called to Pastoral ministry. But being clear on who comes first is possible. Home comes first. Spouse and children (if present) come first. A decade in I have much to repent from and confess.  Yet I pray my partner knows and witnesses my commitment to her in my actions and my life. Also I am blessed to hear as I leave their room more nights than not that my daughters love me "to the moon and back, infinity times." Unfortunately (if you are unclear on the notion of corporate sin re-read the second article of the Augustana) the community a leader serves cannot be expected, and should not be expected, to provide this sort of community and support. Regardless of how effectively the pastor leads the Indigo Girls have it nailed. Communal sin is real. The "snake will always bite the hand that feeds it." ("I'll Change"-Indigo Girls).

-Intentional in Dialogue, not Monologue: Preaching is often a monologue task. Soliciting feedback from a group of more than 20 (especially if they are used to the preached Word experience) won't happen on Sunday morning. Preaching a bold sermon about an issue of the day, confronting a leadership problem in the congregation, or other issue is not to be discouraged. But the preacher must acknowledge they are, while preaching, not in dialogue with the community. This is especially challenging for new preachers. Often we are emboldened to preach and rewarded socially in seminary for our "boldness" in the public word. But are we challenged to life in community? Proclaiming and living the gospel comes throughout the week. In the lunch conversation 5 days later, the bedside manner, the nuance of situation. Preaching on Sunday is vital to the work of ministry but it is a monologue task. So often the most challenging task is living into the dialogue.

The list could go on but these are a few keys I have gained. The reality is these points are, hopefully, not restricted to just pastors. These might be relevant  for any who feel called to public leadership in the world. Ten years is but a blink of an eye in many ways. Subdivisions and sports teams come and go in a decade.

However, others count times in decades or even centuries. Regardless, if they hope to have a successful future the leadership must be aware and focused. When I was ordained in 2005 Facebook was a small internet program focused on Ivy League students. By 2015 Social Media is its own, significant, piece of ministry. What will the next decade bring we do not know. Regardless, it can be predicted with certainty that what it will be isn't what has been before. That is both Law and Gospel. And if we wish to proclaim both, we must be learning constantly.


  1. This is a great post, the things that can happen in a decade. My husband and I, including our kids are getting back into the church scene. Were away for a while as that happens sometimes. We are reading Where Christ is Present by John Montgomery, wherechristispresent.com is his site for it. It's been our motivator to get back where we were, 10 years ago!

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