04 June 2009

Leading with followers?

In the seminary my class and I assume most of the men that attended the seminary were taught that in order to change practices with in the congregation, you teach and teach and teach, then try the change and teach some more. I think in theory, this is good idea! When I received the placement to this congregation I was asked, pastor could we do the whole liturgy. Music to my ears! Since then (almost 3 years) few changes have taken place. The struggle that is taking place here is when I do seek to change some of our practices, i.e. some of the music, use of the procession, every-Sunday communion, midweek bible studies, services outside of Sunday and midweek Lent and Advent services, I am met with the deer in the head light look from the people I ask about these topics. I tell people that I will not change anything until I teach and the people understand what and why we do what we do. Again in theory this is a good idea. Where does a Pastor teach people about things, new things, old things, past thing? I would think we could have a bible study over such topics. There in lies my problem; in comparison to the size of the congregation I have very few people show up for the Sunday morning bible study. A normal Sunday we have in attendances about 60+ people for the Divine Service, out of that 60+ people I get maybe 5 people to stay for bible class. When I approach people about topics, or reason why they do not stay I get the normal answers, we need to get home to prepare for this or that. I feel these answers are just blow off answers. I have asked if people are not interested in the topics chosen for the bible studies, to which I get “no the topics are fine”. I have asked if the style in which I teach is the problem and again I get no Pastor we learn when you teach.
If we are to teach and lead the people of the congregation but only have few people willing to learn, how are we to teach and enact change? I thought about having longer sermons so I would have the chance to teach of the practices, traditions of the church, but I feel this would force the text into places it may not fit and most likely lose the hearers in the process of trying teach what ever practice. I like to preach the text and let the text go where it needs to go and at times I have been able to preach on various things which I would love to see in the congregation I serve, i.e. private Holy Absolution, more services outside of Sunday, music, communion practices etc. Am I alone in this type of problem and need to take a real look at both the topics of the bible studies and the teaching style I use? What changes have you made and how did you enact them?


WM Cwirla said...

In small congregations, some of the most teachable moments occur in casual conversation over food, at home visits, hanging out in the garage, etc.

Whenever I wanted to teach toward a specific practice or change, I would devote Sunday and midweek Bible classes to it and also provide one or two "town hall" type gatherings where people who were interested to come and discuss the proposed idea. I would also send simple one page FAQ sheets to every household. I find the "town hall" style gathering to be very helpful. We've used it with potentially divisive decisions by the Voters Assembly as well.

There are three kinds of changes, in increasing order of difficulty:

1. Additiions - these are the easiest because nothing old is lost and the new thing can be ignored. Additional services are like this.

2. Substitutions - these are tougher because something is lost and is replaced by something else. Sometimes it's best to first make an additive change and then in time let the other drop away. If you do that, you need to be explicit that this is what you will be doing. Subversive tactics and passive-aggression will get you nowhere in the long run.

3. Deletions. The hardest of them all. Something is lost and nothing takes its place. This requires a lot of groundwork and patience. Removing the flags from the chancel would be one such change.

Some of the changes enacted during my 16 years tenure at Holy Trinity: Exclusive use of the hymnal (LW, now LSB), new organ, processional crucifix, weekly communion, lower age of communion, restoration of the chalice, Easter Vigil, incense (at Evening Prayer), Evening Prayer, chasubles, chanting, private confession, Chinese ministry, removed flags, replaced all felt banners, to name a few. All with a minimum of rancor.

A sense of humor is helpful as is not taking oneself too seriously. Defensiveness just makes matters worse and usually results in unproductive anger.

Sometimes you have to wait until you get a new crop of members before you can have some of the things you think would be helpful. Lutherans are notoriously resistant to change but newcomers have no preconceptions. Many times, one has to tend a new congregation growing inside an old congregation. As the latter dies off, the former comes to full maturity. This is where long pastorates come to the fore.

One of the more interesting challenges in long pastorates is correcting mistakes you've established in your earlier years. It's one thing to blame your predecessor, quite another to blame yourself.

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

One might also use the newsletter to teach, and then at the end of a service you might direct your congregation to read their church newsletter and ask if they have questions.

Rev. Wright II said...

Thank you both for the wonderful suggestions. I have used newsletters articles but found that most people read them in passing. But to be fair I did not follow up like I should and wanted too. I very much like the idea of FAQ sheets and "town hall" meetings. Tonight at our elders meeting I hope to discuss these very things along with and the possible changes. Thank you both for the comments!