Bill of Rights (and Responsibilities)

Posted by brianmaas in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

As I continue to make my way through this first year and work with individuals and congregations alike, it occurs to me that it would be really helpful if all of us who are part of a congregation, whether as a rostered leader or congregational member, could agree to a basic set of principles. Of course we have the whole of Scripture, Confessions and Tradition to turn to, but there are just a few fundamental behaviors that, if we all abided by them, would save a whole lot of pain and effort. And would leave the synod staff with a lot less to do.


I would appreciate your thoughts on what such a list would include. It would be helpful if we had a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities posted in every congregation of the Nebraska Synod, and reminded ourselves of it every time we gather in Assembly, seat a new Council, welcome new members, or begin any effort. What needs to be modified, removed or added to the following?

We, the members of the Body of Christ, commit to recognize and fulfill the following Rights and Responsibilities:

1. To communicate with and not about. It’s impossible to estimate how many difficult situations arise because we don’t talk to each other–or how many difficult situations get worse because we talk about each other, instead of directly to each other.

2. To have clear expectations, and to be given helpful feedback about them. Whether a pastor, a Council member, a Sunday School teacher, a worship leader or a volunteer, all of us step into expectations. We need to be clear about what those expectations are, and helpful and honest in giving feedback about them.

3. To be in prayer. Too often prayer is an agenda item we just check off, and not a life-giving conversation with God in which we all participate. Congregational (and individual!) vitality and prayer are linked. Every event, every effort, every day should begin and end in prayer.

4. To be in the Word. Daily reading of the Bible, regular opportunities–long- and short- term–for Bible study, and sermons filled with the Word should be markers of our lives together. Pastors and parishioners should demand as much of each other.

5. To learn, endlessly. Lifelong learning is a proven element of mission vitality in congregations, and a contributor to health and happiness in individual lives. Congregations have a duty to insist that their rostered leaders make regular use of their Continuing Education time and funds–and rostered leaders have a duty to expect as much of congregational members.

6. To live gratefully in God’s abundance. We are in bondage to the consumerist definition of “enough,” which is “more than I have right now.” It puts us in a perpetual condition of scarcity. Faith recognizes what we have and from Whom it comes. It lets us get beyond “Can we afford it?” to “What is God calling us to?”

7. To be healthy. Physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social and financial health are all intertwined, and are directly related to healthy boundaries in our daily schedules and daily choices. Making–and honoring–decisions about those boundaries is critical. And making use of professionals in each of those areas should simply be expected, whether it’s an annual physical check-up, an occasional visit with a counselor, a season of discernment with a spiritual director, or a conversation with a financial advisor.

8. To forgive and be forgiven. Painful as it sometimes is, acknowledging our own errors and apologizing for them is often the shortest–and healthiest–route between a mess we’re in and the healthy resolution we could achieve. And forgiving others sets us free from a limiting past to a limitless future. “To err is human. To acknowledge error is exceptional.”

9. To enter worship with expectancy, ready to encounter the living God. Thriving congregations are marked by two elements of worship, and they aren’t the music or the preaching. They’re a sense of anticipation and the experience of God’s presence. Leaders and worshipers alike are responsible for both.

10. To die. Daily. Experiencing these rights and fulfilling these responsibilities are all possible when we let the demands of our pride and the shame of our sin die a watery death, and rise up anew to live as the baptized people of God. These are not high-sounding theological terms. This is what we are called to do, and we need to be more honest in holding one another accountable to it.

I am eager for the collective wisdom of this community to help draft this list. What do “We the people” have to say?


13 Responses to Bill of Rights (and Responsibilities)

  1. Rev. Sylvia Karlsson says:

    Thank you for these comments.

    Continuing to learn how to approach differences of opinions or ideas with prayer and openness is a lifelong commitment. I think about the explanation to the Eighth Commandment in the Small Catechism when speaking about ‘our neighbor:’ “we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.” These words of explanation do not say we have to agree on everything.

    • brianmaas says:

      I agree, Sylvia. Someone has spoken of our goal being “unity, not uniformity; relationship, not agreement.” The Eight Commandment is echoed in more than one of the rights/responsibilities posed here. It should be automatic for us, but we have work to do. Thanks for the comments!

  2. Mary Hock says:

    As we look at a covenant for participants at Spirit of Grace in Holdrege, your “Bill of Rights” should give us a great kick start! Thank you for your words…

  3. Michael Ostrom says:

    Not only would “save a whole lot of pain and effort,” but would revitalize the life and purpose of our congregations! I suggest that you reprint this as your article in the next Nebraska Lutheran. These thoughts are too important to be limited to a blog.

    • brianmaas says:

      Will do, Mike. Good suggestion, and you just saved me time to boot.

      • Mary says:

        We’ve prepared it after a lot of meeting, redoing, adjusting, etc.! We’re going to vote on the congregational covenant on Dec. 8. We also have a separate “Leaders’ Covenant” to adopt as well!

  4. Casey Lieneman says:

    Fantastic “Bill of Rights”. I think the comedian Sam Adams got you thinking creatively and politically! I would echo Michael’s comments on publishing this on a wider scale than just this blog. A couple extra things came to my mind as I read through your thoughts.

    (1) Seeking Others: Regular, continual, and intentional focus on evangelism and seeking others not only helps keep our churches healthy but it was the parting mission given by our Lord. While evangelism doesn’t have to be door-to-door knocking, churches need to be deliberate in reaching out to the unchurched within our own communities.
    (2) Vitality and Excitement: Is the church important in people’s lives? Being of a younger generation I hear often how church doesn’t have much to speak to them and is unfortunately “boring” in many ways. Vitality and excitement can come in many different ways but churches need to strive to meet those goals. Church shouldn’t be an obligation it should be the highlight of the week.

    Love the first 10 and Bishop you always word things better than I do but thought I’d share my two cents. I’ve enjoyed reading this blog and the increased attention to digital platforms and social media you’ve helped bring to the Nebraska Synod.

    • brianmaas says:

      Thank you, Casey. Your suggestions are helpful ones. As I drafted this list, I was thinking of commitments we make to one another within the community of faith as we encourage and hold one another accountable for living beyond the community. I’m thinking of ways to state your first suggestion in that format–something along the lines of “To invite always and practice hospitality at all times.” What do you think?
      Your second suggestion is much in line with the “expectancy” I mentioned in #9. We can’t practice faith with vitality and excitement if we show up week after week mostly hoping that nothing too big will happen. God always shows up for worship. But if we’re not expecting to meet God, we’ll miss that presence every time. When we experience that presence, vitality and excitement follow.
      Thanks for being part of the conversation!

  5. Suzan says:

    I think “To be in the world” might fit well and tie in with Casey’s first item. I don’t mean we should become “worldly,” but rather we should not separate/isolate ourselves in a “safe” community apart from the world. Rather we ought to walk alongside others as positive, loving examples of what it means to be a follower of Christ in the world.

    Your #10 is key to all the rest. I agree, publishing these to a wider audience is an excellent idea!

    • brianmaas says:

      I think you’re right. “To be in the world” incorporates what Casey was lifting up, and suggests an accountability to one another not only to get out of our buildings, but to make sure that we don’t leave our faith in the buildings when we go–to let our faith live in the ways that we are “in the world.”
      Thanks, Suzan!

  6. Vera Hummel says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful Bill of Rights. Here’s another # you might want to add:
    When the inclination in relationships is to REACT, pause instead to REFLECT. What are some other options one might choose? Then, ask this question: What is the most loving thing I could say or do at this moment?

    This is consistent with the greatest commandment to love God, heart, mind, and soul. And of course, the second, to love others as ourselves.

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