I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:1-3)
By now, word is spreading that there are some big changes going on at Messiah, and change is never easy for anyone. Our new worship time was generated by multiple requests to our worship team by lay members. Your elected leaders took this forwarded request (as with all inquiries by members) very seriously. They offered a survey to try to better discern preferences and insights, but they also have been reading and discussing articles, studies and books on congregational life, growth, and attendance patterns. They have considered historic practices at Messiah and the current practices of other congregations. They wrestled with the lack and inconsistencies of our financial and volunteer resources. They have attended retreats and workshops on stewardship and mission to help serve God, the church, and you better. I thank them for their service.
Your council made such efforts as much of the literature and research indicates that leading by seeking consensus alone tends to kill churches. Such church polity has been shown to promote both stagnation and discord. It can easily pit brothers and sisters against one another through lobbying, alliances and simple votes – breaking apart congregations as people take sides; resulting in support of what’s popular and not necessarily God’s call or what’s prudent. Governing the church by consensus isn’t biblical in and of itself. Yes, your council needs to consider the desires, expressed needs, and possible reactions of others out of love, but the church has always called leaders forward to use their God given gifts and seek the will of the Spirit all the more.
As promised when this process started, I said I would agree to whatever was deemed best for the health of the church. I did not vote on this matter, and I tried to play a Devil’s Advocate to all views. In the end, your elected leadership unanimously made their decision fully knowing not everyone would likely be happy or accommodated. They hope to promote health and stability in our shared mission.
No matter how you feel about this decision, I encourage all of us to remember our ultimate strength is found in loving God and one another even amidst differences. We won’t always agree as Christians. None of us always make the right or best decisions as human beings. Yet promoting unity and peace while continually seeking God’s guidance is always our best way forward.
I encourage all of us not only to give this effort a chance, but also to voice your questions, concerns or alternative ideas gently and in love to your council. If you feel called to do so, run for council or participate in ministry teams. I ask that you pray for patience, guidance and wisdom – for your own, but also for mine, the council’s, and the church’s benefit. Pray especially for those you feel are “enemies” or are failing you at any level.
The survey made clear that we are a very eclectic group with extremely varied needs and preferences. Worship styles, attendance patterns, giving and volunteering are dramatically changing across denominations. No congregation can ever meet all your needs any more than you can meet all of any congregation’s needs. Yet, we always need God and one another. The Spirit works in community despite our human frailty and sin. Community is the vehicle Christ has chosen to move his mission forward – asking for faith, hope and love rather than our perfection.
Christ’s peace be with you,
This post originally appeared as a pastoral letter in Messiah Lutheran‘s newsletter, The Messenger (September 2015).
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.
© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.