The Lower Susquehanna Synod has posted an article I wrote regarding the ministry that the disciples of St. Stephen have begun over at Flying J.
The longer I go through this seminary process, the more I am reminded of things I learned in my past and how important they are to my future.
A big one is that the church and politics are so similar in both good and bad ways.
I won’t spend much time here, except to list some of the negatives – there’s ambition to rise from some people. There is politics in the church – both real politics and office politics. Appearances, performance, and spectacle all rear their heads from time to time. People love a speech from someone important in the church – especially if they can take a selfie with that person.
None of those should shock anyone – and they aren’t always bad. In fact, sometimes, they can be quite useful in a good way.
And there are also some positives. Again, I’ll just list them briefly – the church at it’s finest presents a vision of what can be. It can rally and motivate people to be and do things differently. The church has an organized structure that helps people to get things done.
I want to talk about this last point a bit more. I hear people complain about the structure of the church – “it is too bureaucratic.” “It prevents things from happening.” “What do those people in the central office know about our situation?” Organization has it’s positives and negatives, just like anything else. It’s a tool and if it is used effectively, can be a great tool.
I’ll take the synod structure of the ELCA for example. (That’s the church I am a part of). Does it have some challenges – sure does. Anytime people are involved, there will be challenges.
A lot of people pick on the synod. Let’s face it – it’s easy to pick on. There’s a level of authority that is within reach. Just look at the past – people want to lay blame at some level of authority higher than them. In the Lutheran Church, it’s the synod that gets the blame.
But, I want to present something a little different – a different way of looking at the synod.
For me, the synod is like a state-level political party organization. Now, hang in there for a few minutes while I make sense of this.
The state-level political party serves a few functions. 1. It’s job is to plan, prepare and carry out practical things that will fulfill the vision of the party – what it thinks is best for the country or state. 2. It actively recruits candidates who can win and in winning, can carry through the vision of the party. 3. It supports those candidates financial, with advice, guidance, staff support and other resources. 4. It provides financial and other support to the national party, so that the national party can do a similar job as the state-level party, but on a broader scale. 5. The state-level party has a chairman that becomes the spokesperson and main cheerleader and vision keeper for the party.
That’s how a state-level political party is supposed to be anyway – more like an ideal.
I could go on, but I’ll stop with five. Now, instead of party, put in synod. Instead of candidates, put in pastors.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but I would argue that it’s pretty good. And again, it’s an ideal. Politics and religion have something else in common – they have something intangible – what they sell is a vision for living. A way of expressing how society should be set up and run. This is unique to politics and religion and a reason why both of these are so close to people – if something is intangible, how it gets interpreted will vary from person to person.
As much as I keep running from my past in politics, I keep learning that this past is so very valuable for my experience in the church.
I wonder what other people would compare their church with. Tell me, I want to know.
Today was the first full day of the Lower Susquehanna Synod Assembly. For those you not familiar with what a Synod Assembly is, here’s the quick version. I’m a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Our churches are group together in regions that we call synods. Each year the synod (group of churches in the region) gather together to worship, pray, conduct business of the synod, and hear about what else is going on in the synod and seeing how God is working in South Central PA.
It’s a nice event. We see friends from around the Synod, hear some good speakers, worship together, learn and eat (wouldn’t be a Lutheran gathering without food).
This year I got to lead a forum at lunch time. I chose to lead a forum on earned media. My wife asked me how many people were going to my forum. I said “I don’t know. They don’t tell us because people don’t have to register for which forum they are going to. I’m hoping for 10 people. That would be great.”
Well, it turns out that about 50 people showed up. That’s a best guess, the room was full. It went well. It turns out that there’s a lot of interest in learning how to obtain earned media (which is media attention you get because there is a story, as opposed to paid advertising). The session went well, which I was thrilled with – people were telling stories and asking questions and talking. That’s a sign of a good session as far as I’m concerned.
Some overall observations about this year’s synod. 1. We have an amazing Bishop. Bishop Dunlop has done a great job of focusing the message of the synod. He’s even stated it as “we want to be known as the synod that feeds people.” Nice, simple, memorable. It says it all. And, there is consistency throughout the assembly from the food packing event yesterday, through the educational forum, and everything else.
2. The synod is a small world. The people who come to Synod Assemblies are a small group of people who go to many synod events. You get to know who people are pretty quickly. You recognize others you haven’t met yet, but you know that at some point you’ll be introduced to them. This really helps in building relationships throughout the synod.
3. This synod assembly, more than the previous two, feels more focused on worship. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because there is less official business to take care of. Maybe it’s because we had a service of ordination and consecration. Who knows. I think it’s nice and sets a good tone.
Tomorrow is a shorter day, but I know it will be just as good.
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